For several years, a plan has been in the works to improve the Port of Long Beach via dredging. But what is the purpose of the plan, what exactly does it entail, and when will it come to fruition?
Here, we’ll discuss the purpose of the project and how it might benefit port operations in the long term.
The overall goal of the dredging project, which will involve dredging and disposing of up to 7.4 million cubic yards of sediment, is to strategically widen and deepen certain channels to improve efficiency and safety at the Port of Long Beach.
In October 2021, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) published the Port of Long Beach Deep Draft Navigation Feasibility Study, a multi-year federal study that analyzed the dredging plans, including potential costs, risks, and benefits. According to that report, completing the dredging project will cost around $156 million, but the benefits could total almost $21 million annually.
In July 2022, the USACE issued a Record of Decision concluding the federal environmental review process for the project. The Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners is expected to certify the Record of Decision, and with that hurdle cleared, the project will be eligible to receive federal funding.
If everything goes to plan, construction will begin in 2024 and take about 39 months to complete.
The dredging project is expected to benefit the port by improving the ease and safety of vessel navigation, as well as enabling better economic performance. Here’s a closer look at the potential benefits:
Improved vessel navigation
Some channels and maneuvering areas in the Port of Long Beach are currently too narrow and/or too shallow to accommodate very large container vessels, which are becoming increasingly common.
In many cases, these large vessels can’t enter the port at full capacity, because they would be too heavy and potentially hit the bottom of the channel. Instead, they have to either come in “light loaded” (carrying less than a full load of freight), or unload onto smaller vessels that are able to maneuver the rest of the way to the docks. Either way, efficiency suffers.
Deepening and widening particular channels will allow larger, fully loaded vessels to dock, improving operational efficiency.
It’s difficult to safely maneuver vessels in the current channels, particularly when environmental conditions (wind, waves, strong currents, tide fluctuations, etc.) are unfavorable. Course correction is challenging in such a confined space, and small errors can quickly turn into a dangerous situation.
Widening and deepening channels and maneuvering areas will make it easier for ships to come into port safely by ensuring greater clearance between ships and the sides of the waterway, as well as greater under keel clearance.
With wider, deeper channels, ships — even very large, fully loaded ones — will be able to enter and exit the port faster. In addition to potentially easing port congestion, this improved operational efficiency will translate to lower costs across the board.
The plan also suggests depositing dredged material in nearshore sites for reuse, which could open up opportunities for new leasable terminal space.
Especially considering modern challenges like port congestion and the growing use of mega container ships, relying on the Port of Long Beach’s existing narrow, shallow port channels would not be sustainable.
This project is necessary — any short-term disruption that may result will almost certainly be outweighed by the long-term benefits, which include ease and safety of navigation as well as improved operational efficiency. Dredging the port to widen and deepen its channels will ensure it operates efficiently for years to come.
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