BY JOE SHAHEELI/ Who would guess the stalling of the widening of the Panama Canal because of a contract dispute might turn out to be a boon of sorts to the Port of Philadelphia?
The decision was made to widen the Panama Canal to accommodate the larger cargo ships now plying the high seas in ever-increasing numbers. The bigger the ships, the more you can put into them, with a resultant lowering of cost and big-buck savings for shippers.
That decision set off an expansion in the world’s ports, which in turn began dredging the channels to their terminals. Over 200 giant ships — long as four football fields and more than 160 feet high — are now under construction or ordered. They can carry over 13,000 containers, each 20 feet in length.
That is why dredging the Delaware River channel to 45 feet is crucial to the Port of Philadelphia’s economic viability. Even more important is the necessity to get the dredging done before the delayed opening of the Panama Canal.
Due to its reliance on government funding, the dredging program has moved forward in fits and starts, delayed by the politicos of New Jersey and Delaware, who refused to agree how it was to be done.
Finally, New Jersey ran out of appeals and Delaware is celebrating the fact the river sand will be rehabilitating its tourist-attracting beaches. This slowed the program, which is now well on its way to completion, thanks to the Governor of Pennsylvania, its two United States Senators, and its cadre of Congressman led by Congressman Bob Brady (D-Phila.) and its support in the Pennsylvania General Assembly, led by State Reps. Bill Keller (D-S. Phila.) and John Taylor (R-Kensington) and State Sen. Mike Stack (D-Northeast).
The dredging of the Delaware will be completed in 2017, which is now the date for the reopening of the widened Panama Canal. This brings the Port of Philadelphia back on the front burner with the other ports in the eyes of shippers already mapping out their schedules from that year forward.
The Philadelphia Regional Port Authority, which oversees the shipping facilities along the Philadelphia boundary of the Delaware River, is pushing ahead with SouthPort, its new terminal addition, lying directly south of Packard Terminal and expanding into what was formerly naval property.
It will easily accommodate any size ship, regardless of height or width or depth, for the foreseeable future.
The Port will need more government funding, since the new ships will also demand super-size cranes, of which the Packer Terminal has two in place.
Panamanians voted to approve the expansion of the Canal in 2007. Revenue with the arrival of the super ships will increase revenue for that country from $1 billion to as much as $4 million.
Roy E. Denmark, Jr., VP and director of the ports and waterways division of Urban Engineers, reports the Corps of Engineers has opened bids for the next contract to deepen the River to 45 feet. He said the low bidder was Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co., with a bid of $14.1 million.
The area covered runs for three miles from southwest of the Philadelphia International Airport to Chester, Pa. It is estimated.4 million cubic yards of material will be removed and placed in the Corps’ Fort Mifflin Confined Disposal facility.