PORT MANATEE -- To save money, Port Manatee and the Army Corps of Engineers will share the same dredging service this fall when they start clearing sediment away from ship berths and out of a 3-mile federal shipping channel.
The cooperative effort on a dredging operation is not the first between the two parties. But it is a change since a 2009 maintenance dredge, when the port hired a contractor working for the Corps while it was already at the port doing federally funded dredging. The "piggyback" arrangement will save the port from independently contracting with a dredger. The port plans to spend $500,000 or less on the work.
The Manatee County Port Authority Board of Commissioners unanimously voted Thursday to cement the arrangement. Between October and January, a dredging crew will clear the federal access channel that brings ships into the port, as well as a 900-foot turning basin and seabed around eight berths. About 171,000 cubic yards of waterlogged sediment and sand are expected to be removed.
George Isiminger, the port's senior director of planning, said how much the port will actually save won't be known until the project is bid. However, he said that if the port hired a dredger independent of a Corps dredge operation, the extra expense would be significant. Savings over the 2009 arrangement will be min
imal, since the contractor was already on site.
"You either save very little or a lot depending on timing," he said.
Carlos Buqueras, the port's executive director, said the combined scope of work is critical to shippers who use the port.
"This goes towards keeping us within that margin to be able to attract business that requires a draft of that magnitude, around 40 feet," he said.
The port has maintained 40-foot draft depths throughout its facilities for decades. It has plans to increase that depth to 45 feet in coming years to accommodate larger, heavier cargo vessels expected to start passing through a rebuilt Panama Canal next year.
The Obama administration recommended in its 2015 budget request that Port Manatee receive $100,000 to study deepening the federal channel and harbor area.
This year's maintenance dredging will only remove sea floor material where needed in the channel and harbor. The Corps will advertise for bids for the project. Maintenance dredges are done about every five years.
Milan Mora, the Corps engineer heading the dredge project, could not be reached to confirm how much the Corps will spend on the dredge work.
Material dredged off the sea floor will be pumped into the port's 93-acre on-land dredge storage facility. It is expected to be the last batch of material that will go into the facility, which will be nearly full when the project is complete. Future dredge spoils will have to go elsewhere, unless the port is able to sell a significant amount of the millions of cubic yards of material it already has.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.