Perhaps indicating which ports it thinks should be the winners in the race for deep water, the Obama administration announced in July that expansion and modernization plans would be expedited for five ports: Savannah, New York and New Jersey, Charleston, Jacksonville and Miami. Such projects can take years to get off the ground and a green light from the administration is important.
Clearly the administration thinks these port projects are very important and need to be addressed, Foltz said.
Its all about the post-Panamax world, said PortMiami Director Bill Johnson. He spent years lobbying for federal funding for Miamis $180-million deep dredge before Gov. Rick Scott announced last year that the state would kick in the remaining $77 million so that Florida can take another leap forward in international trade.
But Steven M. Cernak, director at Broward Countys Port Everglades, said the need for deep water goes well beyond expansion of the canal.
A new generation of post-Panamax ships is coming online, he said, and they will gradually replace older, smaller ships. All the ports have to be ready for that day, Cernak said. Were already seeing this size of vessels.
In October, the MSC Texas, with a capacity of 8,200, 20-foot containers, became the largest ship ever to call at Port Everglades. But because of the depth limitations, it wasnt fully loaded.
With an environmental lawsuit behind it and the necessary approvals in place, Miami appears likely to win the race among the U.S. ports that dont currently have water deep enough for post-Panamax traffic. It hopes to be ready for the 2015 launch of the canal expansion.
Meanwhile, Savannah, a port that handles almost as many containers as Miami, Port Everglades, and Jacksonville combined, is facing lawsuits from environmentalists who say the dredging requires a pollution certificate from South Carolina. The dredging, they contend, will stir up toxic cadmium from the Savannah River bed and deposit it on the South Carolina side of the river.
I think anyone dealing with a project of this magnitude has lawsuits, Foltz said.
But Savannah got good news in late October when the Army Corps of Engineers completed its review and gave final approval for the deepening project.
Regardless of the outcome of the lawsuits, Foltz said, the federal government made it clear, it wont let a state stand in the way of a project of national interest. U.S. Assistant Secretary of the Army Jo-Ellen Darcy said if necessary, she would seek an exemption to the Clean Water Act to prevent inappropriate delays to this project due to pending litigation.
Foltz said he expects the digging to get under way by mid-2013, with work completed by the second half of 2016. The project also includes a mitigation plan that will help restore and improve the nearby ecosystem, which includes the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge.
While Savannah will miss the target date for the launch of the canal expansion by about a year, Foltz said 80 to 90 percent of Savannahs navigational improvements should be ready by then.
Miami plans to award the contract for its deep dredge early next year. Its also building a four-lane tunnel for truck traffic that will link directly to the interstate highway system, avoiding the current trek through downtown traffic.