BROWARD

Corps of Engineers’ report details impact of deepening Port Everglades

 

A report issued Thursday on the proposed deepening of Port Everglades, already one of the country’s deepest as well as one of its busiest, said the project would improve safety and lessen delays, allowing even more cargo and cruise ships to use the port.

However the study, written by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, also acknowledged there would be some environmental damage created by the construction.

The proposed deepening from 42 to 48 feet would cost $313 million, according to the report, with the federal government providing about two-thirds of the funds. The remaining $102 million would be drawn from state funds and fees levied on ships.

Broward County, which would not be expected to contribute any funding to the renovations, stands to gain economically.

“The combination of our port’s three priority cargo projects — deepening, adding new berths and building an on-port freight rail facility — will create 7,000 new jobs locally and support another 135,000 jobs statewide when at full capacity in 2027,” said Broward County Mayor Kristin Jacobs.

The expansion is the latest in a trend of U.S. ports scrambling to improve their ability to host a new generation of cargo ships that will require larger width and depth clearances.

The Panama Canal, with its 40-foot depth, has long been a choke point for these super-sized cargo ships. But with a project on track to deepen the canal to 60 feet by 2015, East Coast ports especially are planning to ensure their harbors, which facilitate billions of dollars in trade and tax revenue, are future-proof.

The cities of New York, Norfolk, Baltimore, Charleston, Savannah, Jacksonville and Miami are among those planning or engaged in projects to deepen their ports.

According to the U.S. Constitution, Congress must approve port infrastructure construction. But with many politicians more focused on debt reduction and austerity than infrastructure improvements, there may not be enough funding for all of the projects.

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has introduced legislation to increase funding for port upgrades. The legislation also asks that the Army Corps of Engineers draw up a report to prioritize the most pressing and promising locations.

There are several aspects that make Port Everglades a good choice for federal funds.

“One key draw,” the report points out, “is Florida’s first and largest Foreign-Trade Zone, conveniently situated in the heart of Port Everglades.”

It is also already the deepest Atlantic Ocean port south of Norfolk, Va., and the third most popular cruise port in the United States.

In terms of pure cargo tonnage passing through, Port Everglades is dwarfed by many others, especially a large number of ports in the Gulf of Mexico responsible for shipping out domestically produced petroleum. The port is, however, the primary storage and receiving facility for South Florida’s petroleum.

Environmental groups have yet to weigh in on the report, but the impact statement admits that there will be inevitable environmental damage with the construction.

The bulk of the nearly 300-page report is dedicated to showing the Corps’ efforts to “compensate for the unavoidable adverse effects of [port expansion] on various significant habitat types.”

Given the report’s admission of environmental damage even in the best-case scenario, public approval may rest on Floridians demand for jobs versus their desire to maintain the unique environment that includes wetlands, lakes, forests, beaches, and the ocean itself.

POLITICO reported Wednesday that Broward County had hired Capitol Counsel, LLC to lobby for federal approval of the port expansion project.

The release of the Corps’ report kicks off the 45-day public comment period, as mandated by the National Environmental Policy Act.

Florida residents are encouraged to send call Terri Jordan-Sellers at 904-232-1817 or email comments to: Terri.JordanSellers@usace.army.mil by Aug. 13.

Public meetings are scheduled for 1 and 7 p.m. July 23 at the Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center. Attendees will be required to show a government-issued photo ID, such as a driver’s license or passport, for entrance into the port where the Convention Center is located.

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