The Broward County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday unanimously voted to pay an additional $18 million to deepen Port Everglades an extra foot beyond the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' plan.
Congress has yet to authorize the $353 million deepening of the Florida port's navigation channel to 47 feet, as currently recommended by the Army Corps. But the Water Resources Reform and Development Act recently signed into law by President Obama includes a provision allowing projects with pending Chief's Reports to be pre-authorized so the local sponsor can pay for engineering and design, and be eligible for reimbursement or credit against project costs after Congress authorizes the project in a future water resources bill.
The Chief's Report is the final feasibility study and environmental impact statement. Now that Broward County has officially stated its contribution plan, the Army Corps will work to meets its internal deadline to prepare a final Chief's Report by the end of the year.
Port Everglades, which is governed by the county board, is funding $5.5 million of pre-construction work now at its own risk.
The harbor currently is 42 feet deep, and the entrance channel is 45 feet deep. The port must pay for dredging the berths to the proposed depth.
Port Everglades officials originally sought a 50-foot channel to accommodate next-generation container ships and large petroleum tankers, but an Army Corps cost-benefit analysis determined that the national economic gain for businesses and consumers, consistent with environmental protection, was optimized at a channel depth of 47 feet. The port authority's preferred option is to expand the dredging project to 48 feet, which would give the port an effective depth of 50 feet because an extra foot of over depth is required to be built into the project design, and another foot of margin is allowed under Army Corps rules.
The Army Corps has said it will approve Port Everglades' plan as long as it pays the difference in cost. A key consideration for the port in terms of the economic analysis is that there will be no increase in maintenance costs for the deeper channel. Local sponsors previously were required to pay 50 percent of the additional cost to maintain channel depths beyond 45 feet, but the new WRRDA law made channel maintenance a full federal responsibility up to 50 feet.
Army Corps officials say that incorporating the local preferred plan will only require an additional six weeks to complete.
Deepening is an imperative for Broward County because PortMiami, 35 miles to the south, is in the process of deepening its channel to 50 feet. Everglades is also competing with other East Coast ports to attract larger vessels.