The massive $1.5 billion Harbor Deepening Project, under way for more than 20 years, is nearing completion.
Work has been undertaken through 14 construction contracts. Three are completed or nearly complete, two are under way, and several will be in bid in 2009. “It can’t be done under one giant contract,” said Tom Costanzo, Manager, Waterfront Development Capital Projects for the Port Authority of NY & NJ. “You can’t just close down a section of the major channels. Commerce must continue.”
In each case, one side of a channel remains open while the other is dredged. “It’s very much like leaving one lane open for traffic on a highway during construction,” Costanzo said. “The only difference is that it’s in the water.” Dredging on one half the Anchorage Channel should be completed before the end of 2008, according to Costanzo. The South Elizabeth Channel and the portion of the Newark Bay Channel just beyond Bergen Point are under way. Work on the other section of the Anchorage Channel and part of the Ambrose Channel will begin in 2009.
Dredging work continues on sections of the Kill Van Kull.
Next in line, and soon going out to bid, will be the Elizabeth Channel, off the Newark Bay Channel. And work continues on sections of Kill Van Kull. “2009 should be a very busy year,” says Costanzo. He cautioned that there would be some blasting to complete the Kill Van Kull work. After that, there’ll be no more blasting on the Harbor Deepening Project.
It’s not enough to dredge channels. Once deepened, the discipline of maintenance begins. To ensure the uninterrupted flow of commerce, planned dredging of navigation channels, berthing piers and anchorage areas is must continue because fine-grained waterborne sediment settle and accumulate on the bottom of waterways, causing shoaling which interferes with safe navigation. The Port Authority works with the Army Corps of Engineers, which is ultimately responsible for the administration, construction and maintenance. The Port Authority’s responsibilities include providing half the funding, designating upland placement sites for dredged material, assuring the relocation of utilities that the Corps identifies as obstacles to deepening, reviewing federal contract bid documents and assuring that Port berths will be the same depth as the channels.
The project goal is completing the dredging and establishing a maintenance plan by 2014, the year the wider, deeper 50-mile long Panama Canal with new locks will become operative. Today’s locks accommodate ships with a maximum of 4,400 TEUs, which represents that cargo capacity of a standard 20-foot-long, 8-foot wide cargo container or about 1,360 cubic feet for the most common 8.5-foot high units. The new locks are expected to accommodate vessels with a maximum of 12,600 TEUs.
“This will allow double the amount of cargo without additional equipment investment by terminal operators,” said Matt Masters, the Port’s Manager of Waterways Planning and Development. And, using the expanded Canal with a 50-foot draft will reduce the CO2 footprint per TEU, according to a study by the Panama Canal Authority.
“We clearly are going to push as hard as we can to finish the 50 foot project, then move on to maintaining it,” says Masters. “It’s nice to know that we’ve gotten to a midway point where we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I think we’re at the midpoint in terms of years. In another four years, the majority of the work will be done. By 2011, 2012, we really should be getting there.”
Getting to this point has necessitated the disposal of silt, clay and rock that are the byproducts of dredging. Costanzo estimates that there are one to two million cubic yards of silt and clay, and about a million cubic yards of rock material. All undergoes prescribed federal and state regulatory testing prior to disposal. None is hazardous but some is contaminated in ways that it can no longer be dumped in the ocean.
“The biggest challenge, according to Costanzo, is the disposal of contaminated soft material. Another element of maintenance is disposing of the dredged material in the most environmentally sensitive manner. One solution is that clean clay and rock material ends up in an artificial reef—the largest on the East Coast—off New Jersey. Other material demands another solution. In the case of contaminated material, it is cleaned and transformed into material with the consistency of a very thick milkshake. It is poured over brownfields in New Jersey, which are then reclaimed and developed.
In Pennsylvania, officials are investigating the feasibility of pumping the decontaminated material into unused strip mines to stanch acidic runoff to streams and surrounding land, according to Costanzo. The end result could be parklands.
While at times the Harbor Deepening Project feels as if it will never be completed, just like endless upgrading of Bruckner Boulevard in the Bronx, it will be. “You’ve got to keep the ball rolling,” said Masters. “Nobody wants it to go any longer than it has to because it only gets more expensive.”