Posted on December 14, 2015
The N.C. Coastal Resources Commission unanimously approved a variance Tuesday enabling the N.C. Ports Authority to go ahead with a $16 million dredging project to enlarge existing ships’ turning basin to accommodate larger container vessels, according to CRC Chair Frank Gorham.
According to the variance materials, the present 1,200-foot turning basin at the Port of Wilmington will be expanded to 1,400 feet so the port can service vessels in the New Panamax class that will be calling on the port in 2016.
New Panamax, which is larger than the Panamax vessels the port currently serves, refers to a class of vessels having a size up to 1,200 feet in length and 160 feet in width. The New Panamax designation is related to a present day, ongoing expansion of the Panama Canal’s lock system.
The project is estimated to take five months. New Panamax vessels are expected to begin transiting the Panama Canal in 2016, and it is the objective of N.C. Ports to be prepared for these vessels by May 2016.
The Panama Canal is used by the four largest container shipping customers of the Port of Wilmington. These customers said they will move their business to other east coast ports unless the Port of Wilmington is able to accommodate the New Panamax vessels.
The annual revenue of the Port of Wilmington is approximately $43.8 million. Container business makes up about 32% of the port’s revenue. The port has served ships carrying container cargo for over 30 years and has served vessels in the Panamax class, with lengths up to 965 feet, for over 10 years.
A proper turning basin should have a minimum diameter approximately 20 percent longer than the length of the ship using it. In order to meet this need, the liquid bulk terminal pier, loading platform and mooring dolphins will need to be relocated shoreward, and approximately 6.4 acres of soft bottom estuarine habitat will need to be dredged. The estimated volume of dredged sediments is expected to be about 100,000 cubic yards.
The proposed dredging site is in an area the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission has designated as a primary nursery area for shellfish. The Division of Coastal Management’s position is that the fisheries value of this site is already somewhat reduced due to the historic use of the area and other site characteristics.
The original application was submitted on Oct. 16 for a Coastal Area Management Act, however the DCM denied the application on Nov. 30 based on a rule that requires new dredging projects avoid areas designated as primary nursery areas.
Officials with the N.C. Ports Authority filed the variance Dec. 1, as well as a request to hear the variance in an expedited fashion.
The full variance materials can be found here.