Deepen and Widen Norfolk Harbor, Says Army Corps of Engineers

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has just released a report recommending that the federal and local government widen and deepen Norfolk Harbor, also known as the Port of Hampton Roads. It's a project that's expected to cost $321 million.

The report follows a "feasibility study," focusing on whether it makes sense to dredge the ocean entrance channel an inner harbor channels, and move the dredged materials to predetermined disposal sites.

Right now, the study finds, there are navigation concerns in the harbor. For one thing, it finds the channel width doesn't allow the Department of Defense to safely meet with commercial vessels. And, the report shows, the cargo transportation industry is using bigger, deeper-draft container ships. Those ships can't navigate as efficiently through the existing channels, which were constructed to 50 to 52 feet deep and 1,000 feet wide. To reach pot terminals, the larger ships sometimes have to lighten their load, wait for favorable tide conditions, or wait for other ships to pass through the channel.

The Army Corps of Engineers' recommended improvements

The Army Corps of Engineers' recommended improvements

The recommended plan is to deepen the Atlantic Ocean Channel to 59 feet, the Thimble Shoal Chanel to 56 feet, and the Norfolk Harbor Channel and Entrance to 55 feet. The plan would also widen the Thimble Shoal Channel to 1,200 feet both east and west.

Possible places to deposit the dredged material mentioned in the report include the  Dam Neck Ocean Disposal Site, the Norfolk Ocean Disposal Site, and the Craney Island Dredged Material Management Area.

But will it be worth the cost? The Army Corps of Engineers says yes, based on the economic benefits of having deeper, wider passages for container ships. The report estimates the projected traffic would bring a net benefit of $90.8 million per year, making the entire project "economically justified."

You can read the full report by clicking here, and the public is invited to comment until December 10.

-Meg Walburn Viviano

Megan Viviano