Officials of Dade County, Fla., said Thursday they had reached a tentative agreement with environmental groups opposed to deepening the Port of Miami's harbor and channel. Pending approval by the Board of County Commissioners, the agreement paves the way for work to proceed to enable the port to accommodate larger containerships transiting the widened and deepened Panama Canal, which is scheduled to open in late 2014.
In late November, Biscayne Bay Waterkeepers Inc., the Tropical Audubon Society, and Dan Kipnis, a charter boat captain, had appealed a decision by the state's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to permit the port to deepen the harbor and channel to 50 feet from 42 feet, and to widen it by as much as 300 feet in certain places. The groups said the project would befoul the waters of adjacent Biscayne Bay, impose tremendous financial burdens on taxpayers, and not deliver the economic benefits the port has promised.
The environmentalists' petition prevented the DEP from giving the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers final approval to begin the $150 million project, which has been slated to start sometime in 2012.
However, the groups withdrew their opposition after the county agreed to fund a county-managed environmental trust fund and to donate funds to the two environmental groups, the county said Thursday. The amount of funding was not disclosed.
The agreement will go before the Board of County Commissioners on May 1 for final approval, the county said in a statement.
VYING FOR TONNAGE
Miami, like other East Coast ports, wants to have its harbor and channel deepened in time to accommodate the big ships expected to transit the canal with Asian import cargoes bound for East Coast and Midwest distribution centers. Ports from New York to Florida will be vying for increased tonnage coming through the enlarged canal.
"The agreement provides additional funding for important environmental projects, while at the same time allowing for the timely completion of the dredge project, which is critical to our efforts to grow our container cargo traffic and creates thousands of new, well-paying jobs in our community," said Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez in a statement.
The $5.2 billion project will deepen the canal by as much as 10 feet, while new lock construction will allow it to receive ships built to carry a maximum of 12,600 twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU) containers, nearly tripling the current maximum.