TAMPA — For decades, officials at Port Tampa Bay have planned, worked and lobbied to draw up plans and line up the money for a major expansion of the Big Bend channel.
On Thursday, the Army Corps of Engineers announced the completion of a long-awaited key step: A $47.9 million contract to has been awarded to Great Lakes Dredge & Docks Co. to deepen and expand the channel.
Work is expected to begin next month and take 11 months to complete.
It is, port CEO Paul Anderson has said, "the largest project we have worked on at the port" and a legacy project that will create benefits at the port for generations to come.
"Big news," Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn tweeted, adding that the expanded channel will allow larger vessels to unload containers at the port. "Closest deep water port to Panama Canal with unlimited opportunities for growth."
The port has about 270 acres of property in southern Hillsborough County in an area known as Port Redwing. In the future, this area is envisioned to become a major hub for warehousing and distribution.
Port officials says expanding and deepening the Big Bend Channel, which connects to the main channel in Tampa's harbor, will allow for larger vessels to dock along the channel and ease the movement of goods through the port to the Interstate 4 corridor.
"In my 30 years at the port, I've handled over a billion and a half dollars' worth of projects, but this, by far, may be one of the most challenging and significant," port vice president of planning and development Ram Kancharla told the agency's board earlier this month.
"About a year and a half from now we'll be celebrating the opening of a deeper and wider channel," he said.
The project will:
• Deepen various parts of the channel from 34 to 43 feet.
• Widen the entrance channel from 200 to 250 feet for a length of 1.9 miles.
• Expand the existing turning basin to 1,200 feet.
• Produce 4 million cubic yards of dredged material that will be placed on a designated upland disposal area.
The corps emphasized the port's importance as Florida's largest seaport by tonnage (37 million tons annually) and by land area (5,000 acres) in its announcement of the dredging contract.
Port Tampa Bay also is Florida's most diverse seaport, handling liquid and dry bulk raw materials, container cargo, an expected 1 million-plus cruise passengers this year and nearly 40 percent of the fuel moving through Florida, including for MacDill Air Force Base and Tampa and Orlando international airports.
Anderson has noted that it's virtually impossible to public entities and private companies to get together to dredge a federal channel, but that's what's happened here. The agreement to pay for the dredging includes the port, 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.
Mosaic has two warehouses on the Big Bend channel and sees the port as a "critical" and "indispensable" link in its supply chain. So a Mosaic vice president in charge of the company's operations at the port said it's been worth the "extraordinary efforts" it's taken to get the channel project planned, permitted and funded.
"The deepening of the channel will provide Mosaic with greater operational efficiency," Mosaic's Jeff Christoffersen told the port board this month. "It also improves the safety of navigation in the channel as well."
Contact >Richard Danielson