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Long Beach Channel Deepening Project Receives Federal Authorization

Port of Long Beach Channel Project
Channel project calls for depending and improving navigation for the Port of Long Beach

Published Dec 29, 2022 3:21 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Port of Long Beach received Federal authorization for its long-planned Channel Deepening Project designed to improve the movement of large vessels into and out of the port by reducing the need for lightering. The port says the project which should be completed by 2030 has both operational and environmental benefits and was one of only five navigational projects nationwide that received Army Corp of Engineers endorsements for construction authorization under the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2022.

The port’s Channel Deepening Project has been in planning for more than eight years and is an essential component of the port’s Master Plan. The WRDA was included with the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2023 signed into law by President Biden on December 23. The bill included authorization for the Army Corp of Engineers to proceed with the Port of Long Beach project with the Corp and the Port of Long Beach sharing the $200 million cost.

“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.”

Key elements include deepening the Long Beach Approach Channel from 76 to 80 feet, 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.

The project’s operational benefits include more room for the largest tankers and containerships to transit the harbor and should reduce delays related to tidal flows. Deeper, wider channels also reduce the need for lightering where large vessels transfer liquid bulk cargo or containers to smaller vessels before entering the harbor. The process is currently required to ensure large vessels have the underkeel clearance they need to move through the harbor. Port officials said the environmental benefits from the project will include lower fuel consumption because ships will be able to maneuver more efficiently through the harbor. 

The Army Corps of Engineers issued its decision in July 2022 endorsing the project based on multiyear environmental and cost-benefit studies of the 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. 

Federal authorization of the Channel Deepening Project allows the Port of Long Beach and the Army Corps of Engineers to proceed with engineering agreements, detailed planning and budgets, bidding and awarding construction contracts, and procuring funding. 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.