Posted on September 15, 2023
“It All Starts with Dredging” | Lasse Petterson, President and CEO of Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Company | August 24, 2023
“What we should do is to build very high dunes and very wide beaches after storms. That costs more and maybe the funding is not there.”
Lasse Petterson, President and CEO of Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Company outlines the economic impact of its Florida port deepening and beach restoration projects and why the company is diversifying to offshore wind projects, before an August 24, 2023 meeting of The Economic Club of Florida.
The Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Company is the largest provider of dredging services in the country and the only U.S. company with significant international dredging operations. It’s also responsible for many of the major beach restoration and dredging projects in Florida. Some of the biggest construction projects in the Sunshine State wouldn’t have happened without dredging.
“It all starts with dredging because we find that every major deepening project has an economic impact that occurs of a magnitude greater than estimated,” said Lasse Petterson, the company’s President and CEO. He said port and shipping channel deepening typically average a 7-to-1 or 8-to-1 benefit to cost ratio in federal spending, but are actually much higher when you take into account supply chain benefits “because the ports and the shippers always find more innovative and inventive ways of utilizing that deeper channel and port.” Deepening the ports allows larger vessels access, bringing in more goods.
Likewise he said for beach renourishment projects, noting “there’s nothing more important to Florida than its beaches.” Although the benefit to cost ratio for beach projects is lower at 4-to-1, “the feds are not allowed to include recreational or tourism benefits in their calculations. We have heard presentations that estimated it in the range of 20-to-1.
Among the company’s significant Florida projects have been a large deepening of Port Miami, another one at the Jacksonville port, and a third at the Tampa port that was finished ahead of time and under budget. There are ongoing beach restoration projects in Boca Raton and Panama City. “And we are doing the maintenance work in the Tampa Harbor while we are rebuilding the beach on Egmont Key with the material that is dug out of the harbor channel,” Petterson said.
The company was one of the first to utilize advanced methods for beach renourishment in South Florida to replace the old method of rebuilding eroded beaches with chunks of old concrete and other debris. Along the way, the company has become increasingly eco-conscious with marine wildlife. They have special precautions in place to protect wayward sea turtles during dredging operations and have partnered with the Florida Aquarium to help grow coral.
The company employs more than 1,000 dedicated engineering, operations, and support personnel. It has a rich 129-year history of developing and executing successful dredging and marine construction projects, operating the largest and most diverse dredging fleet in the U.S. comprised of over 200 specialized vessels. It is listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange with annual revenue that ranges between $650 million to $750 million. Its operations, in part, are funded by hundreds of millions of dollars of federal and state taxpayer money.
Petterson said that it’s part of that reliance on government money that has prompted the company to recently diversify its business. With 40% of the dredging market and $1 billion of backlogged projects in the pipeline, Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Company is branching out into offshore wind projects. “The Biden administration set a target for 30 gigawatts of offshore generation capacity by 2030 which is very ambitious,” Petterson said. His company has commissioned the building of a $250 million dollar rock installation vessel to be ready by 2025. “It will take rock from a quarry in New York and take it offshore and place it with precision around the monopile that is then supporting the tower and the generator that’s placed on top.”
Petterson said one thing that worries him is consistent funding for beach restoration and coastline protection projects. He said that often when Congress appropriates the money, it doesn’t take into account potential longer-term benefits. “So when storms go through, what we should do is to build very high dunes and very wide beaches afterwards. That costs more and maybe the funding is not there. But I think that is a very important thing to look into going forward,” Petterson said. He added that funding mechanisms in Congress are slowing the Army Corps of Engineers approval process for large projects. “So we are looking at better ways of funding the projects to completion once they are being approved.”
(You can also view the entire Club meeting on YouTube.)
Links and Resources Mentioned in this Episode
The Economic Club of Florida podcast, provides an extended platform for discussion to educate, engage, and empower citizens on important economic, political, and social issues. Based in Tallahassee, Florida, the Club has featured distinguished speakers on engaging topics of national importance since 1977. To learn more, including how to become a member, visit www.Economic-Club.com or call 850-224-0711 or email email@example.com.