Port’s dredging project begins ahead of schedule

Published 9:01 pm Wednesday, November 6, 2019

The Port of Virginia announced last week that it has begun work on a project to deepen and widen its shipping channel.

The staging of heavy equipment for the project got under way last week following one last approval from the federal government, the Oct. 31 press release states.

John F. Reinhart, chief executive officer and executive director of the Virginia Port Authority, made the announcement at the Hampton Roads Navigational Summit, an annual meeting where regional navigational projects are prioritized.

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved use of an offshore site for placement of the dredge material, and that approval triggered the notice to proceed, according to Reinhart.

“Today, the work to make the Port of Virginia the deepest port on the U.S. East Coast gets under way,” Reinhart stated in the press release. “This project holds long-term benefits for Virginia, for the port, for cargo owners, our customers and the ocean carriers.

“Safe, two-way movement of ultra-large container vessels, unrestricted by tide, is a significant competitive advantage for our port,” he continued. “This project and all other improvements we are making at the terminals tells the ocean carriers ‘we are ready for your big ships.’”

In early-October, Reinhart signed a contract with New Jersey-based Weeks Marine to begin the deepening of the western side of Thimble Shoal Channel. The contract for the first phase is $78 million and the total cost of the project, including the preliminary engineering and design work, is $350 million.

According to the press release, the work includes dredging the shipping channels to 55 feet — with deeper ocean approaches — and widening them up to 1,400 feet in specific areas.

When dredging is complete in 2024, the commercial channels serving the Norfolk Harbor will be able to simultaneously accommodate two ultra-large container vessels, the press release states.

“Modern container terminals served by deep, wide channels and the ability for cargo to reach important markets by rail, truck and barge positions Virginia to be the East Coast’s premier trade gateway, and this will fuel cargo growth, job creation and economic investment across the Commonwealth for decades to come,” Reinhart stated.

The dredging project will enhance accessibility to the Port of Virginia while providing significant benefits to the national economy and national security, Reinhart stated in the press release.

“When the flow of cargo is efficient, it is the consumer and the economy that benefit,” Reinhart stated. “Additionally, movement of vessels to and from Naval Station Norfolk becomes more efficient because the wider channels allow for safe, two-way passage of military and commercial vessels.”

The deepening effort got under way in 2015, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the port agreed to share the cost of evaluating the benefits of dredging the Norfolk Harbor to a depth beyond 50 feet.

The dredge work is beginning nearly two-and-a-half years ahead of schedule, and more than two months ahead of the aggressive start date of January, according to Reinhart.

According to the press release, the port’s preparation, its collaboration with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, its understanding of the streamlined permitting process and the support of the elected officials on the state and federal levels were all factors in securing final, early approval.

“The support of the governor, the Virginia legislature, the Army Corps’ Norfolk District office and the Virginia Maritime Association for this project cannot be over-stated,” Reinhart stated. “This has been a collective effort, and we are grateful to all who were behind it. This is what a world-class port looks like.”