The Port of Long Beach (POLB) announced Dec. 28 that its Channel Deepening Project is one of five navigation projects nationwide to receive federal authorization under the 2022 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) that President Joe Biden signed into law on Dec. 23.
According to POLB, the Channel Deepening Project, which will deepen the Long Beach Approach Channel from 76 to 80 feet, met the goals of the Army Corps of Engineers’ (Corps) “rigorous planning process to make the cut for construction authorization under the new water resources law.” The WRDA, which is a biennial legislation authorizing federal flood control, navigation and ecosystem improvements, was packaged with the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year (FY) 2023.
“We are grateful to members of the House and Senate and the Army Corps of Engineers who championed this bill, the many lawmakers from both parties who voted for it and President Biden,” said Board of Harbor Commissioners President Sharon L. Weissman. “Their overwhelming support recognizes how vital international trade through the Port of Long Beach is to the U.S. economy.”
The Port’s Channel Deepening Project, POLB says, has been in the works for more than eight years and is an essential component of the Port’s Master Plan. In addition to deepening the Long Beach Approach Channel, key elements of the project include easing turning bends in the Main Channel to deepen a wider area to 76 feet, deepening parts of the West Basin from 50 to 55 feet, constructing an approach channel and turning basin to Pier J South with a depth of 55 feet, improving the breakwaters at the entrance to Pier J, and depositing dredged material in nearshore sites for reuse or in federally approved ocean disposal sites.
According to POLB, the project’s operational benefits include more room for the largest tankers and container vessels to transit the harbor and fewer delays related to tidal flows. Deeper, wider channels also reduce the need for large vessels to transfer liquid bulk cargo or containers to smaller vessels before entering the harbor, the Port said. The process, known as lightering, “ensures large vessels have the underkeel clearance they need to move through the harbor as it is currently configured.”
Environmental benefits, POLB adds, include lower fuel consumption because ships will be able to maneuver more efficiently through the harbor. Burning less fuel reduces vessel pollution–emissions of particulate matter, nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides.
The Port is sharing the cost of the $200 million project with the Corps, whose responsibilities include building and maintaining the nation’s waterways. Setting the stage for congressional authorization, the Corps issued a record of decision in July 2022 endorsing the project based on multiyear environmental and cost-benefit studies of project. The Corps concluded deepening and widening channels in the harbor “would lead to improved vessel navigation, safety, and national economic benefits valued at more than $15 million annually.” In September, the Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners certified the project’s companion environmental impact report.
The progress, POLB says, “built on momentum from the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law,” which reflected the project’s support from the Biden-Harris Administration by designating nearly $8 million for early planning, engineering and design work.
“Federal authorization of the Channel Deepening Project allows the Port and the Corps to proceed with engineering agreements, detailed planning and budgets, bidding and awarding construction contracts and procuring funding,” POLB said. In the coming year, the Port and the Corps are expected to execute a design agreement and initiate the design work. Construction is projected to start in 2027 and take approximately three years.
“This project will widen and deepen the harbor serving one of the world’s top 10 busiest container port complexes,” said Port Executive Director Mario Cordero. “Increasing the safety and efficiency of vessels transiting our waterways supports our mission to remain competitive while reducing pollution from port-related operations.”
According to the Port, California Senators Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla played key roles in shepherding WRDA through the legislative process, as did Representative Alan Lowenthal, who serves on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Cordero appeared before the House committee in February to discuss the global importance of the project and urge Congress to advance it.
Lowenthal is retiring after five consecutive terms representing the 47th District, which includes Long Beach, Lakewood, Signal Hill and neighboring Orange County communities. A former Long Beach city councilman who served in both houses of the California Legislature before winning his congressional seat, Lowenthal has advocated for the region’s economic interests and environmental protection throughout his three decades in government.