From his office window in the New York Container Terminal, Jim Devine can see the rigs blasting rock at the bottom of the Arthur Kill, deepening the channel leading to the terminal’s berths to 50 feet from 41 feet. The stretch of channel is one of the last four segments in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ decade-long $1.6 billion project to deepen all 38 miles of channel in New York harbor to that draft.
Deepening the Arthur Kill and raising the air draft of the Bayonne Bridge are two of the huge federal projects that will enable NYCT to handle the massive ships capable of carrying more than 8,000 20-foot equivalent container units that will start calling at the Port of New York and New Jersey after the Panama Canal’s new larger locks open in 2015.
The projects are two of seven huge federal projects at five East Coast ports the Obama administration this month fast-tracked for expedited reviews by various U.S. agencies. In addition to the two projects in New York harbor, the list of projects up for federal review and permits includes two in Jacksonville — the deepening of the St. John’s River to 50 feet and an intermodal rail terminal (Story, page 38) — and projects to deepen Charleston, Miami and Savannah harbors.
The Obama administration committed to completing all federal reviews for the Bayonne Bridge elevation by next April and for the Arthur Kill deepening by May.
“I’m pleased they are getting fast-tracked, said Devine, president and CEO of Global Terminals, the division of the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan that holds the leases on Global Terminal in Jersey City and NYCT on Staten Island. But he’s still concerned about the timing. “I hope they can hold to that very aggressive schedule,” Devine said.
The Army Corps plans to complete the 50-foot channels to the four New Jersey container terminals in Port Newark, Port Elizabeth and Port Jersey by the end of this year and to the New York Container Terminal on Staten Island by the end of 2013. Of the 18 original dredging contracts, these are the last four still being worked, including one for the deepening of the Ambrose Channel at the entrance to the harbor on the ocean side of the Verrazano Narrows, one for the last channel down to NYCT and two contracts that combine areas of the Arthur Kill and Newark Bay.
Each of the contracts requires federal review of how and where the dredged material is disposed. “We sample and test the (dredged) material in each contract area and then apply for the specific regulatory permit under the programmatic permit for that area,” said Joe Seebode, deputy district engineer for the New York District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “Under that review, we identify where that material is going to go and how it will be processed if it needs to be processed and how it will be dredged.”
With some 50 million cubic yards of dredged material being removed in the channel-deepening project, the corps has worked with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to use all of the material. “We have built fishing reefs with the rock, we have stabilized shorelines, we are building in Jamaica Bay with sand removed from Ambrose Channel, we have used it as grade material under parking lots, and we are taking some to Pennsylvania for a pilot project to close acid-leeching coal mines,” Seebode said. “Those projects have required documentation and approvals from, in some cases, as high as the assistant secretary of the Army, and we have processes in place to make sure they are expedited through the entire process.”
These are the kind of federal reviews at the five East Coast ports that the Obama administration committed to fast-tracking in an effort to promote the kind of economic growth ports can stimulate. The fast-track announcement came on the same day the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said it would expedite the schedule for raising the center section of the Bayonne Bridge by six months to the fall of 2015, in time for the opening of the new Panama Canal locks. Originally scheduled to open in 2014, the locks project encountered construction problems in the past year. That, and extensive testing when construction is done, will delay the opening to 2015.
The $1 billion Bayonne Bridge project, which the port agency is funding, will raise the central section of the span’s roadway by 61 feet to 212 feet. Before the project can begin, however, the U.S. Coast Guard and other agencies must complete a study of the project’s impact on the environment and on the bridge’s historic structure.
The Army Corps has a different role in bridge reviews. It will review plans to rebuild the roadways leading to the raised center section of the bridge, while the Coast Guard will review the changes to the historic structure, the fourth-longest steel arch bridge in the world, and the longest in the world at the time of its completion in 1931.