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Army Corps New York and New Jersey Harbor Anchorages Study takes crucial step

Chief’s Report signing initiates PED phase, recommends findings for congressional authorization

Published April 28, 2020
Updated: April 28, 2020
Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, chief of engineers and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers commanding general, signs a Chief’s Report for the New York and New Jersey Harbor Anchorages Study.

Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, chief of engineers and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers commanding general, signs a Chief’s Report for the New York and New Jersey Harbor Anchorages Study at headquarters in Washington, April 23, 2020. Holding up the study’s placemat is Maj. Gen. Scott Spellmon (background), USACE deputy commanding general for civil and emergency operations. The report’s signing allows for start of the preconstruction, engineering and design phase. (U.S. Army photo)

A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study aimed at improving navigation and generating transportation-cost savings for deep-draft ships using New York and New Jersey Harbor terminals reached a key milestone Thursday.

Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, chief of engineers and USACE commanding general, signed a Chief’s Report, recommending the New York and New Jersey Harbor Anchorages Study’s findings for authorization by Congress.

Norfolk District led the comprehensive study, but it was a joint Corps effort that included New York and Mobile districts.

“This is a tremendous achievement for USACE as we worked collaboratively with multiple districts,” said Col. Patrick Kinsman, Norfolk District commander. “More importantly, this collective team worked tirelessly to develop a solution for our partners at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. We’re looking to improve efficiencies and reduce risk to port operations by providing anchorage space for larger vessels that currently do not have it.

“I’m so impressed with this effort, especially over the last two months. Given USACE’s support to (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) fighting COVID, we’re still delivering in our important water resources program simultaneously.”

Thursday’s signing culminates a two-year, multiagency, expedited effort to complete the report.

“This is a result of successful execution as a region,” said Col. Thomas Asbery, New York District commander. “Norfolk District did a phenomenal job to lead the collaborative effort of multiple Corps districts, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and many other stakeholders that resulted in an approved Chief’s Report in 18 months. It’s an honor to be part of a great team.”

Larger vessels calling on the port now exceed maximum anchorage dimensions – 47 feet below mean lower low water and a length of 1,100 feet, according to the report. Those ships can’t use the anchorage at all and typically go straight to dock – unless there are weather issues.

The new anchorage would allow these larger vessels to anchor without going back to the ocean, officials said. As future ships increase in size, they will have a reliable anchorage once it’s built.

“It’s important the Corps continues to meet the nation’s needs in a timely manner,” said Dan Hughes, Norfolk District’s Planning Resources Section chief. “In New York and New Jersey Harbor, there is insufficient anchorage space to accommodate the largest ships coming into the port. This creates transportation inefficiencies and leads to higher transportation costs of goods coming into the U.S.

“The potential benefits are that the port will be able to continue to receive larger vessels.”

The New York and New Jersey Harbor Anchorages Study’s recommendations include: deepening Gravesend Anchorage to a required depth of 50 feet MLLW, widening it to 3,000 feet with associated approach-area modifications and a maximum designed swing area up to 3,600 feet, and dredging about 950,000 cubic yards of material.

The project’s estimated cost is $25.3 million, with USACE covering 65% and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, its nonfederal sponsor, picking up 35%.

“The signing of the Chief’s Report positions the project for construction authorization in the next Water Resources Development Act, which is in the works this year,” said Richard Klein, chief of Norfolk District’s Programs and Civil Works Branch. “Authorization is a very important step toward project construction.”

The Chief’s Report will undergo further review by the assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works and Office of Management and Budget before formal submittal to Congress.

The report’s signing also permits start of the preconstruction, engineering and design phase, which shifts to New York District responsibility. That covers project design and typically lasts up to three years.

The project could save ports more than $320,000 in annual transportation costs, the report stated. It’s also expected to create jobs, investment and economic development.

“The Port of New York and New Jersey is pleased to continue our partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to identify improvements to waterway facilities such as the Gravesend Anchorage needed to support the port’s current and long-term vision,” said Sam Ruda, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey director. “Last year, the agency laid out a 30-year master plan to ensure we continue to lead as one of North America’s pre-eminent ports of entry. Continuing to work with USACE on projects like this is a major part of that plan.

“We thank USACE and Lt. Gen. Semonite for their leadership and support, and we look forward to working together on the next stage of this important program.”

USACE planners assessed impacts and mitigation factors to environmental, cultural and historic resources in the area, Hughes said. The report accounted for changed conditions and assumptions since the original feasibility study was completed in 2000.