Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co. began a project Wednesday that will deepen shipping channels at PortMiami so they can handle the megaships that will begin crossing an expanded Panama Canal in mid-2015.
The current canal is too small to accommodate so-called post-Panamax ships, which can carry more than three times as much cargo as the biggest vessels that now use the canal. Without the channel deepening project, fully loaded post-Panamax ships wouldn’t be able to dock in Miami either.
“Not all the equipment has arrived yet but the project has started,’’ said Paula Musto, a spokeswoman for PortMiami. Port officials are hopeful the dredging project will be completed by the summer of 2015, but the Army Corps of Engineers, which is overseeing the project, said construction would go on for around two years.
The Army Corps said the project will be done in two phases and includes deepening federal navigation channels from 44 to 52 feet, widening some portions of the channels, relocating coral and creating an artificial reef.
The excavation will result in the removal of approximately 2.1 million cubic yards of material — some of which will be used to construct a sea-grass mitigation site.
The contract with Great Lakes Dredging is for $205.8 million but management and other costs, which will be shared by the state and Miami-Dade County, will push the price for the entire project to around $220 million.
To prepare for the era of big ships, PortMiami recently took delivery of post-Panamax cranes that are large enough to unload the wider ships and invested in strengthening its wharves in preparation for the dredging project.