Photo courtesy Port of Long Beach

Port of Long Beach Channel Deepening Project Wins Federal Authorization

Mike Schuler
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December 28, 2022

The Port of Long Beach’s $200 million channel deepening project has won federal authorization. The project promises to improve navigation and safety, especially for bigger vessels, at the nation’s busiest port complex.

On December 23, President Joe Biden signed into law the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2022, the biennial legislation authorizing federal flood control, navigation and ecosystem improvements.

Long Beach’s Channel Deepening Project was one of only five navigation projects nationwide that made the cut for construction authorization under the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2022, which was packaged with the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2023, which President Biden signed into law last Friday, December 23.

“This project will widen and deepen the harbor serving one of the world’s top 10 busiest container port complexes,” said Port Executive Director Mario Cordero. “Increasing the safety and efficiency of vessels transiting our waterways supports our mission to remain competitive while reducing pollution from port-related operations.”

The Port of Long Beach’s Channel Deepening Project is a central component of the port’s Master Plan and has been in the works for more than eight years. The project includes deepening the Long Beach Approach Channel from 76 to 80 feet, easing turning bends in the Main Channel to deepen a wider area to 76 feet, deepening parts of the West Basin from 50 to 55 feet, constructing an approach channel and turning basin to Pier J South with a depth of 55 feet, improving the breakwaters at the entrance to Pier J, and depositing dredged material in nearshore sites for reuse or in federally approved ocean disposal sites.

Benefits will include more room for the largest tankers and containerships to transit the harbor and fewer delays related to tidal flows. Deeper, wider channels also reduce the need for “lightering,” where large vessels transfer liquid bulk cargo or containers to smaller vessels before entering the harbor to ensure large vessels have the underkeel clearance to navigate in the harbor.

Because ships will be able to maneuver more efficiently while in port, the project will also result in environmental benefits due to lower fuel consumption and associated emissions of particulate matter, nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides.

The Port of Long Beach is sharing in the cost of the project with federal government via the Corps. Setting the stage for congressional authorization, the Corps issued a record of decision in July 2022 endorsing the project based on multiyear environmental and cost-benefit studies of project, which concluded deepening and widening channels in the harbor would lead to improved vessel navigation, safety, and national economic benefits valued at more than $15 million annually. In September, the Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners certified the project’s companion environmental impact report.

Earlier this year, President Biden’s 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law allocated nearly $8 million for early planning, engineering and design work.

Federal authorization of the Channel Deepening Project allows the Port of Long Beach and the Corps to proceed with engineering agreements, detailed planning and budgets, bidding and awarding construction contracts and procuring funding.

The Port of Long Beach and the Corps are expected to execute a design agreement and initiate the design work in 2023, and construction is projected to start in 2027 and last approximately three years.

“We are grateful to members of the House and Senate and the Army Corps of Engineers who championed this bill, the many lawmakers from both parties who voted for it and President Biden,” said Board of Harbor Commissioners President Sharon L. Weissman. “Their overwhelming support recognizes how vital international trade through the Port of Long Beach is to the U.S. economy.”

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