Jacksonville Harbour to undergo deepening project

Dredging during Jacksonville Harbor project. Credit: USACE/Mark Bias

The Florida Department of Transportation has allocated USD35.3 million for a portion of the second phase of the dredging of the Jacksonville Harbour in Florida. The four-phase project will deepen the harbour to 14 m over the next four years.

Set for completion in 2023, the total project will comprise the dredging of an 18 km stretch, reaching from the harbour itself out to the triangular vehicle and heavy lift terminal on Blount Island, which is close to the mouth of St Johns River. The dredging operation will add another 2 m to the current average mean lower low water of 12 m.

This tranche of funding will go toward the second phase of the work, which will deepen a five-mile section of the St Johns River to 14 m. The USD35.3 million will only cover 4 km . Operations are expected to be completed in 2021, with further funding necessary to cover the other 4 km. This development follows the first phase of the project (Contract A), which is deepening the first three miles and is due for completion in the second quarter of 2020.

The move comes in the wake of similar measures by the Port of Jacksonville’s (JAXPORT’s) competitors, including the Port of Savannah, Georgia, which is also dredging its harbour to 14 m, as well as Charleston, in South Carolina, which is dredging to 15 m.

The most recent spate of dredging is due to the new extended Panama Canal locks, which enable vessels of up to 14,000 teu to pass through. This is one of the developments that has enabled the relatively sudden US shale oil and natural gas boom, making the United States one of the world’s largest exporters of oil and gas in a short time period.

Many US ports lag behind their European counterparts in terms of depth, requiring lightering operations to take place out to sea before vessels approach. For Jacksonville, the largest vessel ever served comes in at 13,000 teu, but extensive dredging will be necessary before the 14,000 teu vessels can be accommodated.

“The support we have from the state of Florida – combined with support at the federal and local levels and a public-private partnership – all ensures JAXPORT will continue to thrive as a global gateway into the Southeast US,” said JAXPORT CEO Eric Green.

Laden imports through Jacksonville in the first half of 2019, rose 0.5% to 171,330 teu, compared with the same period a year ago, according to PIERS, a data product within IHS Markit. Jacksonville’s laden imports grew at the slowest pace of any US East Coast port, only faring better than Port Everglades, which saw its volume retract.