The project to make the Port of Virginia “wider, deeper and safer” has taken a critical step forward after receiving final approval for the project from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The Army Corps’ Chief of Engineers’ Report, issued Tuesday, is the final federal review of the project and clears the way for the deepening and widening of the commercial shipping channels serving Norfolk Harbor.
The dredging project will take the channels to 55 feet deep, from their current depth of 50 feet, and widen the channels in select areas to allow for two-way traffic of ultra-large container vessels.
The positive report allows the project to be included in the federal Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) bill, which is a larger list of projects eligible for federal matching funds. The projects in the WRDA bill that receive funding are determined during the federal budget process.
The largest ships in the Atlantic trade are already calling Virginia, but the added depth will allow for even bigger vessels and their safe, uninterrupted passage to and from the harbor.
“The positive outcome of the Chief’s Report and this whole process could not have been achieved without our partners at the Army Corps’ Norfolk District office and the support this project has received from our governor, the Virginia General Assembly, Virginia’s Congressional delegation and the Virginia Maritime Association,” said John F. Reinhart, CEO and executive director of the Virginia Port Authority.
“It has been a three-year collaborative effort and the result will drive growth at the port and economic development and job creation throughout Virginia for decades to come. Wider, Deeper, Safer also holds benefits for taxpayers in those Heartland markets served by The Port of Virginia – Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Illinois – as they’ll be able to move goods, both exports and imports, more efficiently and economically than ever.”
The project will be executed in two phases. The preliminary engineering and design, at a cost of $20 million, is the first phase and is expected to take 18-24 months. The dredging phase is scheduled to be completed in 2024 and will cost an estimated $330 million.
Virginia Gov. Ralph S. Northam and both state legislative chambers agreed in June to invest $350 million to deepen the harbor.
“The support this project has gotten in Washington, D.C., in Richmond and locally shows true foresight and ensures The Port of Virginia will be able to remain an attractive and competitive global gateway for trade for decades,” Reinhart said. “We will be completing our $700 million expansion project at our two primary container terminals in 2020. That work will create the capacity and velocity necessary for handling the next generation of big ships and the increased cargo volumes they will bring. In order to safely and efficiently operate, those ships are going to need deep, wide channels.”
Deepening to 55 feet and widening the channel in certain areas will allow for the big ships to load to their limit and make way for two-ship traffic, said Col. Patrick Kinsman, commander of the Norfolk District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. A channel that can accommodate two-way vessel traffic, increases the pace of commerce and makes way for the movement of Navy vessels in a time of need.
“I am extremely proud of the effort and collaboration from the Corps team, The Port of Virginia, and the many stakeholders who helped make this historic milestone a reality,” said Col. Kinsman. “This port is critically important, not only to the Commonwealth, but also to the security and economy of the nation. Thanks to the professional teamwork of all involved, we’re now much closer to making these vital waterways wider, deeper and safer for all maritime traffic.”
The Chief’s Report completes an effort that began in 1986, when the port was given authorization in the federal Water Resources Development Act to deepen the Norfolk Harbor to 55 feet. In June 2015, the port and the Army Corps’ Norfolk District office signed the Feasibility Cost-Share Agreement and began collaborating on the Wider, Deeper, Safer effort.
Lieutenant General Todd Semonite, Chief of Engineers, said the speed at which this project moved through the three-year study, review and approval stages is an example of how the Army Corps of Engineers is streamlining its process.
“Our Corps team from Norfolk and headquarters expedited this process,” Semonite said. “Old processes would have kept us on a timeline to complete in December 2018. We streamlined this through collaboration between the district and HQ and in doing so, cut review times in half while incorporating real-time engagement across the Corps in the development of this report.
“This allowed the Corps to provide a quality product by June 2018, six months ahead of the planned schedule. This is a critical project that energizes the economy while at same time ensuring we are protecting the environment,” Semonite added.