Tampa port's expansion of Big Bend channel done a year early

A dredging ship with Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co., works to widen and deepen Port Tampa Bay’s Big Bend Channel in January. Dredging was finished last week, a year ahead of schedule. (Photo via Port Tampa Bay)
A dredging ship with Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co., works to widen and deepen Port Tampa Bay’s Big Bend Channel in January. Dredging was finished last week, a year ahead of schedule. (Photo via Port Tampa Bay)
Published April 15, 2019

TAMPA — It's the project that took nearly 20 years to get started, but only six months to finish.

A $63 million dredging project to expand the Big Bend Channel at Port Tampa Bay has been completed a year ahead of schedule, the port announced Monday.

The wider, deeper channel will allow for bigger ships to call at the port's 270-acre Port Redwing terminals, which are expected to become a new hub of manufacturing, warehousing and ship-to-shore cargo distribution. The Big Bend Channel connects to the main channel in Tampa's harbor, creating a link for the movement of goods between the Interstate 4 corridor and markets as far away as China.

The expansion will, Port Tampa Bay president and CEO Paul Anderson said in a statement, reshape "our economic landscape" and "impact generations to come."

"This is one of the largest projects we have worked on at Port Tampa Bay," Anderson said.

'CHALLENGING AND SIGNIFICANT': Contract awarded for Port Tampa Bay's long-awaited project to deepen and expand Big Bend channel

Congress authorized the project in 1999, and it's been in various stages of review since. The latest efforts to launch the project began in 2016. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers agreed to a plan to start work in 2017 and hired Great Lakes Dredge & Docks last year for what began in October and was expected to be an 18-month project. Instead, Great Lakes completed the dredging last week, port officials said. The work included:

• Deepening various parts of the channel and turning basin from 34 to 43 feet.

• Widening the entrance channel from 200 to 250 feet for a length of 1.9 miles.

• Expanded the existing turning basin to 1,200 feet.

Great Lakes ran ahead of schedule because it had a good working relationship with the port, the state and the Corps of Engineers, because it got an early start and because it was "able to use two of the most powerful cutter suction dredges in the U.S., the Carolina and Alaska," Great Lakes vice president Bill Hanson said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times. At 263 feet long, the Carolina is the third-largest vessel in Great Lakes' fleet of 10 hydraulic dredges.

The agreement to pay for the dredging came from five different sources, both public and private: the port itself, the Corps of Engineers, the Florida Department of Transportation, and two of the port's largest tenants: Tampa Electric and the global fertilizer company Mosaic, both of which have private terminals served by the channel. Mosaic, with two warehouses on the channel, has said the port is a critical link in its supply chain.

Port Tampa Bay is Florida's largest seaport by tonnage (37 million tons annually) and by land area (5,000 acres). It also touts itself as the state's most diverse seaport, handling liquid and dry bulk raw materials, container cargo, 1 million cruise ship passengers a year and nearly 40 percent of the fuel moving through Florida, including petroleum for MacDill Air Force Base and the international airports in Tampa and Orlando.

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Material dredged from the channel was used to create 100 acres of new nesting and roosting areas at one of two 500-acre spoil islands owned by the port. Port officials said the work, done with the consultation of Audubon Florida, was completed with the beginning of the annual migratory bird nesting season, which started April 1.

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Contact Richard Danielson at or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times