The United States Army Corps of Engineers has included $274 million to deepen and widen the port of Mobile in its 2020 Work Plan, which means after years of environmental and economic studies, construction on the project is officially on schedule to begin later this year.
U.S. Sen Richard Shelby, who has long advocated for expanding Mobile’s federal shipping channel, announced Monday the Corps had included the sizable allocation for the project among other federal projects it plans to fund in 2020.
The $274 million allocation accounts for the federal government’s full share of the project’s estimated cost and will cover the construction of the deepening and widening of the navigation channel shipping vessels follow as they enter and exit the Port of Mobile.
As Lagniappe has reported, the Corps plans to deepen the 36-mile channel by five feet to a total depth of 50 feet, with even deeper depths in some locations. Following construction, the total depths of the Bar, Bay, and River Channels will be 56, 54, and 54 feet respectively.
The Corps will also expand three miles of the existing channel by 50 feet on either side — increasing the width from 400 feet to 500 feet.
The Alabama State Port Authority [ASPA] and federal officials have been discussing some kind of expansion for years to better accommodate larger, Post-Panamax vessels that can’t safely navigate the channel at capacity.
Now, with funding secure, construction is expected to begin in Fall 2020.
“Today marks a historic moment and a victory for Mobile and the entire state of Alabama,” Shelby said. “The completion of this transformative project is expected to stem immeasurable economic growth and will position Alabama and the Gulf Coast region for success for generations to come.”
Last fall, the Corps’ Mobile District wrapped up a four-year, $7.8 million study of the most economically and environmentally feasible ways to expand the channel, which is how the planned dimensions were determined.
Despite those efforts, some environmental groups and homeowners concerned with the impact that dredging has on the erosion of Dauphin Island have expressed concerns that the Corps’ study didn’t seem to identify any significant negative impact. Mobile BayKeeper took those criticisms a step further, calling the study “incomplete” and “inadequate.”
As it stands now, the federal government’s $274 million will cover 60 percent of the project — one the Corps projects will cost more than $400 million altogether. The state of Alabama will cover the rest of the cost using up to $150 million in new bonds that will be paid off with revenues generated by the 18-cent gas tax increase the legislature passed in 2019.
Jimmy Lyons, ASPA’s director and chief executive officer, has previously said the expansion will make Mobile’s port one of the first in the Gulf of Mexico to hit these depths, making it more competitive nationally.
“Sen. Shelby clearly understands the economic value of seaports. His leadership in delivering an innovative and efficient program to deepen and widen Alabama’s only seaport is a game changer,” Lyons said in response to the Corps’ inclusion of the project in its 2020 work plan. “This innovative program generates efficiencies in the Corps civil works program, affirms our project’s value to the state and the nation, and delivers the federal funding to complete our project much faster than anticipated.”
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