The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Wednesday awarded a $122 million contract to Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Corp. for deepening the entrance to the Port of Miami to 50 feet, the company said.
Excavation is expected to commence in August and be completed in time for the opening of the expanded Panama Canal in 2015, which will enable 14,000 TEU container vessels to reach the U.S. East Coast from Asia via the Pacific Ocean.
Miami would become the third port on the East Coast, along with the Port of Virginia in Norfolk and Baltimore, with a 50-foot draft and berths that can handle the big ships. Baltimore only has one container berth at a depth of 50 feet. The Army Corps is expected to complete deepening for the Port of New York/New Jersey by 2015, and the port authority is trying to raise the Bayonne Bridge by mid-2015, so that big ships can pass underneath to several marine terminals.
As previously reported, Florida and the Port of Miami may require congressional approval to spend more to finish the project to cover construction inflation
. A second contract to provide access to the port's berthing areas is expected to be awarded in January. Those options, if awarded, would bring the value of the project to $206 million, but it is only authorized for $181 million.
The state of Florida has pledged $112 million toward the project, including $77 million for the federal share that has not been appropriated by Congress. Miami-Dade County and state officials view the deepening, new on-dock rail and a port connector tunnel under construction as necessary infrastructure that will make the port a prime gateway for Latin America and Asia trade.
Great Lakes Dredge said it would deploy a heavy-duty rock cutter suction dredge to excavate the hard limestone found in Miami. More than 300 people will be tasked to the Miami dredge operation.
Project sponsors and the company are going to great lengths to mitigate any environmental impact. The project includes the restoration of more than 16 acres of seagrass in northern Biscayne Bay and the creation of more than nine acres of artificial reef, the relocation of many hard coral colonies, and divers to monitor turbidity and sedimentation effects during and after dredging. - Eric Kulisch