In drive to deeper, wider and safer harbor, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Port of Virginia sign historic feasibility cost-sharing agreement
The Virginia Port Authority
NORFOLK, Va. – At the Port of Virginia, the future is arriving quicker than what was forecast.
Nearly a decade ago, leaders from the Norfolk District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Port of Virginia heralded the completion of the 50-foot channel project. At the time, Virginia had the only U.S. East Coast port with that depth and many in the industry thought the port was set for the future.
On June 15, the Corps and port leaders came together again to sign a feasibility cost-share agreement, or FCSA, which commits each side to sharing the cost of evaluating the benefits of two dredging projects critical to the future of all the stakeholders and terminals along the Elizabeth River: the deepening of the Norfolk Harbor to a depth beyond 50 feet and the river’s Southern Branch to 45 feet.
Colonel Paul B. Olsen, Norfolk District commander, and John Reinhart, CEO and executive director of the Virginia Port Authority, signed the historic agreement.
The FCSA describes the project and the responsibilities of the federal government and the VPA in the cost-sharing and execution of work.
“The shipping industry is rapidly changing and a significant area of change is vessel size: the ships keep getting larger and ports need land-side infrastructure and deep water to accommodate them,” Reinhart said. “Presently, the largest vessels in the Atlantic trade call The Port of Virginia and fully-laden with cargo, they require every inch of our present channel-depth to safely operate. As the ships get bigger, they will be limited to where they can call on the East Coast; our goal is to provide deep, wide channels and safe passage to the vessels calling Virginia. This is part of the port’s larger plan to ensure a sustainable business model.”
Reinhart said this ceremony is significant because it capitalizes on work that began in 1986, when the Port of Virginia was given authorization in the federal Water Resources Development Act to deepen its harbor; Virginia is the only U.S. East Coast port that has this kind of congressional authorization.
Olsen said the future is now.
“Virginia must be prepared for the post-Panamax era, and the one thing I have learned is that 50 feet is not enough,” Olsen said. “If the Port of Virginia is not deep enough for the next generation of ships . . . they’ll not want to go to Virginia anymore, they will want to go to another port – and possibly another port in another nation. That is why this work is so important.”