Dredgery

Channel Dredging and the Corps of Engineers

The channel in the Cape Fear River for the proposed North Carolina International Terminal would be the responsibility of the US Army Corps of Engineers, the agency responsible for improvements to and maintenance of inland waterways and harbors. Funding for such projects (which come under the heading of “‘water resources” projects), would have been a combination of Federal and state appropriations, using these formulae prevailing at the time:

Project Phase Non-Federal (state) share

Reconnaissance study……………………. 0%

Feasibility study………………………….. 50%

Preconstruction engineering …………….25%

Construction ………………………………20% if less than 20 feet deep

35%   if  45 feet  deep  or  less

60% if more than 45 feet deep

Maintenance ………………………………..0% if 45 feet deep or less

50% if more than 45 feet deep

 

Congress recently (2O14) adopted revised formulae:

Project Phase Non-Federal (state) share

Preliminary analysis……………………. 0%

Feasibility study………………………….. 50%

Preconstruction engineering …………….(same as construction)

Construction ………………………………20% if less than 20 feet deep

35% if 50 feet deep or less

60% if more than 50 feet deep

Maintenance ………………………………..0% if 50 feet deep or less

50% if more than 50 feet deep

 

The Planning Process

Planning for water resources projects involves two steps, spelled out in section 905 of the Water Resources Development Act of 1986 (33 USC 2282):

1. A “reconnaissance study,” preliminary in nature, to determine whether the project has enough merit to warrant a full feasibility study. Such studies are fully funded by the Federal government, cost about $100,000, and take a year or two (33 USC 2282(b)).

2. A feasibility study, a full study of the economic and environmental aspects of the project, to determine whether and how the project should be constructed. Such studies cost many millions of dollars and take the better part of a decade (33 USC 2282(a)). A study of channel improvements in the Savannah River, a project similar to that contemplated for the Cape Fear River, has been underway for more than ten years and has cost, so far, about $36 million.

Click here for a review of the Corps of Engineers planning process.

Click here for a one-page summary of the Corps Planning Process.

Planning for the North Carolina International Terminal

in 2009, the Wilmington District of the Corps of Engineers began a reconnaissance study for the dredging of the Cape Fear River that would be necessary for the proposed North Carolina International Terminal.

In February 2010 the District supplied a draft analysis, called a “section 905(b) analysis” to the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources. The draft included a recommendation to proceed with a full feasibility study for the project for the North Carolina International Terminal, at a cost estimated at $10 million. The draft was supplied to induce the State of North Carolina to provide a letter of intent to participate in the cost of that feasibility study–the State share was estimated to be $4.7 million. That draft otherwise has not been released, but was obtained from NCDENR by request under the North Carolina Public Records Law.

Click here for the full February draft section 905(b) analysis.

The Wilmington District’s analysis is, alas, a disappointing piece of work. Superficial, unsupported and unsupportable. It does include an estimate of the cost of the project–$1.2 billion. It does list the environmental effects–all negative.

Click here for a review of the Wilmington District analysis.

Click here for a report examining the project in greater detail, using the new principles and standards developed by the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Click here for a summary.

In April 2011 the District released the final section 905(b) analysis, revised to include consideration of improvements to the channel to Wilmington. The report recommended a feasibility study to examine three “improvements” to correct problems arising from the channel deepening project begun in 1998 and still underway. The feasibility study is estimated to cost $5.3 million.

The final report is no better than the earlier draft–poorly organized, with unsupported and unsupportable economic conclusions. Click here for the final Section 905(b) Analysis. The report recommends a feasibility study for a $41 million project to

1. widen the turning basin at Wilmington (which is already as wide as the river),

2. further dredge the channel turn at Battery Island (which several simulation studies have shown is too sharp to accommodate existing vessel traffic let alone larger ships), and

3. modify the ocean bar channel at Bald Head Island to address the navigation problems arising from shoaling by capture of sand from nearby beaches.

 

A full review is being prepared and will appear here.

The Captured Benefits Issue

The Wilmington District’s section 905(b) analysis showed a surplus of forecast benefits over costs, based on economies of scale accruing to Asian shipping lines from using the larger ships the deeper channel could accommodate. However, the District inflated the forecast by including container movements “captured” from ports in other states. Whether or not that would actually happen, such capture is not only analytically improper for a study with a National perspective, but also is illegal. Section 904 of the Water Resources Development Act of 1986 (33 USC 2281) prohibits inclusion of transferred benefits in such an analysis.

A retired military officer in the City of Southport complained to the Inspector General of the Corps of Engineers about the section 904 violation. In a series of responses and counter-responses, the Engineer Inspector General made clear that no remedy would be available from his office.

Click on the items below:

E-mails from April 19, 2010, through July 26, 2010.

Letter from the Engineer Inspector General dated August 17, 2010.

Letter to the Engineer Inspector General dated September 7, 2010.

Memorandum for the Engineer Inspector General dated September 7, 2010.

Letter from the Engineer Inspector General dated October 5, 2010.

On October 29, 2010, the officer took the matter to the Inspector General of the Department of Defense, a civilian with responsibility for such matters.

Click on the items below:

Letter to the Inspector General of the Department of Defense dated October 29, 2010.

Memorandum for the Inspector General of the Department of Defense dated October 29, 2010.

Press release dated November 4, 2010

Links to the exhibits to the memorandum can be found on this page and the preceding page, Megaport.

Despite this complaint, the final section 905(b) analysis includes the same illegal inclusion of captured benefits.

 

The Channel Turns

The existing channel in the Cape Fear River includes a series of turns near the river mouth (and between the terminal site and the sea) that do not conform to Corps of Engineers and international standards for turn radius and configuration due to the confining area available on the course of the natural channel between Battery Island and the mainland. CH2M Hill, Inc., consultants to the North Carolina State Ports Authority, determined that a channel with turns adequate for the vessels intended to call at the proposed container terminal could not be constructed along the alignment of the existing channel, and recommended a new channel alignment through undisturbed areas of the river to the east of Battery Island.

Click here for the CH2M Hill, Inc., Technical Memorandum on dredging.

 

The Section 905(b) analysis prepared by the Wilmington District of the Corps of Engineers recommends enlarging the channel along the existing alignment.

Click here for an analysis of the channel turn issue by reference to Corps of Engineers and international standards.

In the 1996 feasibility study for the project to deepen the channel in the Cape Fear River to its present depth of 42 feet, the Wilmington District of the Corps of Engineers noted that the turns planned for the Battery Island area would not conform to the standards of the Corps Engineering Manual. The District recommended going forward with the non-conforming turns and conducting a simulation study as part of the project design phase.

Such a ship simulation study was conducted in 2000. The study showed that the design vessel for the project, the largest vessel then able to navigate the Panama Canal, could not be piloted through the turns without leaving the marked channel under any condition of tide and current simulated. Nevertheless, the project went forward with the non-conforming turns, and those non-conforming turns must be navigated by river pilots today..

 

Click here for the report of the ship simulation study.

Click here for a report by the Wilmington District of the US Army Corps of Engineers, prepared in 2010 but not released, describing problems with the channel turn at Battery Island and shoaling of the ocean bar channel at Bald Head Island.