Special to the Civic Association by Tim Pallesen.
How will Palm Beach’s quality of life be impacted by a $100 million dredging project that opens the Port of Palm Beach to larger ships?
The Palm Beach Civic Association has joined the Town of Palm Beach to hire engineering consultant Coastal Systems International to study that question.
The Army Corps of Engineers says its plan to deepen and widen the channel would allow for ships 21 percent longer in size to enter the port from the ocean.
The project would provide access for large tanker ships carrying liquid petroleum, the Army Corps says in a feasibility study just released. The dredging is critical to the Port of Palm Beach’s efforts to expand because of a wider Panama Canal.
Many major ports along the Atlantic Coast are digging deeper and wider channels to accommodate super tankers from Asia that will be able to pass through the Panama Canal starting next year.
The Port of Palm Beach has formed partnerships to transfer its increased volume of cargo by railroad to massive distribution centers near South Bay and in St. Lucie County known as inland ports.
But port expansion won’t happen unless the Army Corps gets approval and money to dredge the channel so larger ships can pass northern Palm Beach to reach port docks. The Town Council and Civic Association have long fought to preserve the area for passive recreation.
The dredging would deepen the entrance channel to the Palm Beach Inlet from 35 to 41 feet and widen it from 400 feet to 450 feet.
The inner channel that passes the north end of Palm Beach and the turning basin adjacent to the port would both be deepened from 33 to 39 feet. The inner channel would be widened from 300 to 450 feet, while the turning basin would be extended 150 feet south into warm waters where manatees gather at the FPL plant every winter.
The largest ship that can enter the port now is 583 feet long and 94 feet wide with a 35.6-foot draft. The Army Corps says larger ships that are 705 feet long and 106 feet wide with a 41.3-foot draft could enter with the bigger channel.
The Army Corps described large ships carrying liquid petroleum, molasses and cement as “most constrained” by an inadequate channel now. Those carriers could benefit most by the dredging project.
The feasibility study projects a $160 million savings in transportation costs for shippers to justify the $100 million project.
The project would require 75 percent federal funding. Port Director Manuel Almira has asked U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel to sponsor legislation.
The Army Corps held a public hearing on its feasibility study and environmental impact statement on May 9.
The Town Council on May 5 gave Coastal Systems International two weeks to evaluate those reports. The Civic Association contributed $5,000 to the $29,000 cost of that study.
The Army Corps has set a June 3 deadline for public comment about its dredging project.