How is the study funded?
The Mobile Harbor General Reevaluation Report study is authorized under Section 201 of the Water Resources Development Act of 1986, Public Law 99-662 (WRDA). In accordance with the 1986 WRDA, the project is cost-shared between the federal government and the local sponsor (Alabama State Port Authority) with the federal portion being 75% of the cost of the study and the Alabama State Port Authority funding the other 25% of the cost.
How much will it cost and how long will it take?
The project is anticipated to take 48 months to complete (starting from November 2015) with an estimated study budget of $7.8 million.
Why does the study process take so long?
The Corps of Engineers process for the General Reevaluation Report is very thorough. The study includes a significant amount of information gathering, data collection, and modeling to help better understand the economic benefits derived from the project and the environmental impacts caused by channel modifications. The study process also includes public, technical, policy, legal and independent external peer reviews at various stages of the project.
What are the existing and proposed channel dimensions?
The General Reevaluation Report will study the feasibility of increasing the depth and width up to the authorized limits of the project. Per the 1986 WRDA and the 1981 Chief's Report for Mobile Harbor, Alabama, the project is authorized to increase the depth and width of the Mobile Bay Channel from the mouth of the bay to south of the Mobile River to 55 feet by 550 feet, a distance of about 27.0 miles (Currently 45 feet by 400 feet) and to increase the depth and width of the entrance channel over the bar to 57 feet by 700 feet, a distance of about 7.4 miles (Currently 47 feet by 600 feet).
When will the draft report be released for public comments?
The draft report is scheduled to be released for public comment in the summer of 2018.
What is the recommended plan (tentatively selected plan)? If we don't know yet then when will we know?
A recommended plan to modify the existing dimensions of the Mobile Harbor channel has not yet been developed. Currently, the Tentatively Selected Plan (TSP) is scheduled for public review in summer 2018.
When and how can the public participate?
Preparing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) assures public participation, which includes the identification and evaluation of project-specific issues. Public participation includes effective communication between all federal, state, local agencies, tribal governments; and other persons or organizations who may have an interest in the project. The Public Involvement Management Strategy (PIMS) for the study is available for download on the website http://www.sam.usace.army.mil/Missions/Program-and-Project-Management/Civil-Projects/Mobile-Harbor-GRR/. The PIMS highlights several channels of communication including publications, web pages, public meetings, public notices, and news releases that will be used to communicate with the general public and stakeholders as the study moves through the EIS process.
Will there be more traffic or ships using the harbor if the project moves forward?
Due to the impending increase in the number of Post Panamax vessels in the world fleet and the opening of the Panama Canal expansion, the transition of larger vessels to the U.S. Gulf Coast is anticipated to occur with or without the proposed channel deepening. However, previous navigation analyses have demonstrated that channel improvements alone will not have an impact on the forecasted demand of commodities handled at a particular port. The sponsor asserts that the proposed channel improvements at Mobile Harbor would allow for those commodities that are transported through the harbor to move more efficiently. If the project is approved and the modifications allow vessels calling on the harbor to transit more efficiently (carrying additional cargo per call), the total number of vessels required to meet the anticipated demand at Mobile Harbor during the period of analysis would most likely decrease compared to the current channel configuration.
Does the Gulf Coast really need all these ports and could a more centralized location (such as Houston or New Orleans) also serve those areas?
Many factors influence the growth of a particular harbor including land side development and infrastructure, location of distribution centers for imports, source location for exports, population and income growth and location, port logistics and fees, business climate and taxes, carrier preferences, labor stability, and business relationships. Mobile Harbor handled just over 64 million tons in 2014. This is a 10.3 percent increase from the tonnage handled in 2005. Houston and New Orleans have respectively grown 9.7 and 22 percent during that time period as well.
Could an existing adjacent port take care of the future increased port traffic without deepening this port?
As stated above, there are many reasons why a carrier chooses to call on a particular harbor. The proposed channel improvements are not anticipated to impact that decision. Channel improvements at Mobile Harbor would theoretically allow for more efficient movement of cargo through the port.
Does the study consider environmental impacts caused by the existing channel?
The study will characterize the environmental conditions associated with the existing channel conditions of the area. These conditions will serve as the baseline for comparison of all future potential conditions associated with a modified channel (i.e. wider and/or deeper).
Will changes to ship traffic impact submerged aquatic vegetation and marine life (turtles, dolphins, whales, manatees)?
Potential impacts to the bay’s natural resources and protected species resulting from changes in the bay’s hydrodynamics, including potential increase in ship wake, will be investigated. The resources evaluated will include wetlands, submerged aquatic vegetation, oysters, fish, and benthic macro-invertebrates and their potential effects on the marine mammals that utilize the bay. The difference in effects between the current level of traffic and future conditions associated with a modified channel will be evaluated and presented in the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement which will be provided for public review and comment in summer 2018.
Will deepening result in increased salinity impacts to the environmental resources of the study area?
Potentially, however the extent and magnitude of the effects will not be known until the amount of deepening that can be economically justified is determined, and the proper analyses are completed to quantify relative changes in the hydrodynamics (i.e. water levels, waves, and currents) and water quality (i.e. salinity, temperature, dissolved oxygen, nutrients, etc.). The results will be presented in the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, which will be available for public review and comment in summer 2018.
How will increased ship traffic and the associated ship wake impact adjacent shorelines?
Potential changes in ship traffic and the associated wake could have an impact on adjacent shorelines and habitats. The difference in effects between current traffic and future conditions associated with a modified channel will be evaluated and presented in the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for public review and comment in summer 2018.
Will deepening the harbor have an adverse impact on storm surge?
Deepening is not anticipated to have an adverse effect on storm surge, however, this will be fully evaluated through detailed modeling and analyses. The results will be presented in the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, which will be available for public review and comment in summer 2018.
Is beneficial use of dredged material being considered?
Expanding the Mobile Harbor navigation channel will potentially involve dredging and disposal of millions of cubic yards of sediment. Disposal considerations for this material will be a significant component of the study which will identify and examine realistic beneficial use opportunities associated with the proposed widening and deepening activities. Beneficial use considerations will include, but are not necessarily limited to:
- Shoreline protection measures such as living shorelines
- Oyster reef restoration
- Creation of islands
- Thin-layer placement in strategic areas to reduce hypoxia
- Thin-layer placement for marsh conservation and restoration
- Raising bottom elevation in strategic locations to promote productivity
- Strategic placement of berms for shoreline protection
What type of material will be dredged if the project moves forward?
The type of material depends on where the deepening and/or widening will take place. The soils north of the bay entrance are predominantly silts and clays. The soils south of the bay entrance are a mixture of silts, clays, and sands. A detailed analyses will be performed to quantify the types and amount of material to be dredged once the extent of deepening and widening that can be economically justified is determined.