POLB Acquires Federal Help for Channel Deepening Project

On Dec. 23, President Joe Biden signed into law the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2022, the biennial legislation authorizing federal flood control, navigation and ecosystem improvements that include a Port of Long Beach channel deepening project.

The project is one of only five navigation projects nationwide that met the goals of the Army Corps of Engineers’ rigorous planning process to make the cut for construction authorization under the new water resources law.

The WRDA was packaged with the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2023.

The channel deepening project has been in the works for more than eight years and is an essential component of the port’s Master Plan.

Key elements include deepening the Long Beach Approach Channel from 76 to 80 feet, easing turning bends in the Main Channel to deepen a wider area to 76 feet, deepening parts of the West Basin from 50 to 55 feet, constructing an approach channel and turning basin to Pier J South with a depth of 55 feet, improving the breakwaters at the entrance to Pier J, and depositing dredged material in nearshore sites for reuse or in federally approved ocean disposal sites.

The project’s operational benefits include more room for the largest tankers and container vessels to transit the harbor and fewer delays related to tidal flows. Deeper, wider channels also reduce the need for large vessels to transfer liquid bulk cargo or containers to smaller vessels before entering the harbor.

The process, known as lightering, ensures large vessels have the underkeel clearance they need to move through the harbor as it is currently configured.

Environmental benefits include lower fuel consumption because ships will be able to maneuver more efficiently through the harbor. Burning less fuel reduces vessel pollution—emissions of particulate matter, nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides.

The port is sharing the cost of the $200 million project with the Corps, whose responsibilities include building and maintaining the nation’s waterways. The Corps issued a record of decision in July 2022 endorsing the project based on multiyear environmental and cost-benefit studies of project.

The Corps concluded deepening and widening channels in the harbor would lead to improved vessel navigation, safety, and national economic benefits valued at more than $15 million annually. In September, the Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners certified the project’s companion environmental impact report. 

Federal authorization of the channel deepening project allows the POLB and Army Corps to proceed with engineering agreements, detailed planning and budgets, bidding and awarding construction contracts and procuring funding.

The Port and the Corps are expected to execute a design agreement and initiate the design work in the coming months. Construction is projected to start in 2027 and take an estimated three years.