As the Port of Savannah continues to celebrate the arrival of the COSCO Development, the largest vessel to make port on the east coast, the question remains whether U.S. Ports are ready to accept and handle the new generation of bigger ships. The effects of the Panama Canal expansion completed last summer are bringing more mega ships to the East Coast and Gulf Coast Ports. The OOCL France just set the new record for the largest vessel to pass through the Panama Canal, and this carrier recently christened the OOCL Hong Kong, now the biggest ship in its fleet with a capacity to carry over 21,000 TEUs.
These few examples illustrate how much work needs to be completed at U.S. Ports, especially those in the Atlantic region and Gulf Coast. Without help from carrying light loads or docking during high tide, the shallow waterways at these ports currently make it difficult for a large ship to navigate. As a result of the Panama Canal’s completed expansion, U.S. Ports now face the challenge of expediting the upgrading of facilities to address these new supersized vessels. To fund the deepening of their harbors, East Coast and Gulf Coast Ports sought over $4 Billion from federal and state resources. Some of this funding became available through the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) of 2014.
Congress authorized 15 projects to deepen and widen shipping channels at U.S. Ports at this time. However, the recent budget proposal for the 2018 fiscal year from the current administration only requests the funding to support dredging projects at the ports of Boston and Savannah in Georgia. Both ports would equally divide roughly $108 million, and the Port of Boston would also receive discretionary funds of $18 million from the Army Corps of Engineers. So, the Port of Boston stands to be the biggest winner should Congress accept and pass this part of President Trump’s budget proposal. The budget would take effect beginning in October and coincide with the Boston Port Officials’ plans to start the project this fall.
Receiving this funding is essential for Boston to remain relevant as a regular stop for Ocean Carriers. As the implementation of the new vessel alliances continues, many services to smaller ports like Boston will likely be evaluated. Without the prospect of a port improvement project, Boston could see less volume in the future. Officials at the Conley Terminal and the Port of Boston should be commended for their commitment and due diligence to ensure this project is funded and completed. The WRRDA authorized the Boston Harbor Deep Draft Navigational Improvements Project, and since then, administrators at the Port of Boston and Conley Terminal have been working with elected officials and industry partners to secure the appropriation of the federal funding for the project.
The recommendation for the port to receive $18.2 million in the Army Corps’ 2017 work plan, as well as $58 million in the President’s proposed 2018 budget, adds to other federal commitments to Conley Terminal and the Port of Boston. Earlier this year, the project received $42 million from the FASTLANE Grant and $12 million to maintain and dredge the inner harbor. In addition to these financial resources, the Port of Boston still has commitments from the Massachusetts State Legislature and Massport to fund the project. Because Congress authorizes the federal budget, distributions for harbor dredging projects became tougher to receive during President Obama’s administration. Hopefully, Congress will support and approve the current presidential recommendation on specific port improvement projects.