The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District recently partnered with the Maryland Port Administration (MPA) on the Baltimore Harbor and Channels 50-Foot Project Validation Study. This study effort evaluated the feasibility of improvements to the existing deep-draft channels in Maryland and Virginia waters of the Chesapeake Bay and Patapsco River that lead in and out of the Port of Baltimore. Improvements investigated included widening different channel sections other measures for continued safe and efficient waterborne commerce.
The economic modeling, environmental, and engineering components of the study were essentially complete in 2018, however the release of the draft report for public review was halted given the need to resolve resource agency environmental concerns with the recommended placement site for dredged material from widened Virginia channels. Given this issue was not quickly resolved and the three-year validation study period had elapsed, the District was directed to terminate the existing Feasibility Cost Sharing Agreement (FCSA). Once the issue of material placement is resolved, the plan is to pursue completion of the validation study with MPA in order to support widening of the channels as authorized.
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The Baltimore Harbor and Channels 50-Foot project was authorized by Section 101 of the River and Harbor Act of 1970 (Pub. L. 91-611), as amended by Section 909 of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 1986. The project was recommended for phased construction in 1985 via a supplement to a 1981 General Design Memorandum (GDM). The 1985 Supplement recommended a phased implementation to “hasten commencement” of the project, with the second phase being implemented “at a future date to be determined.”
Phase I of project implementation provided a 50-foot deep main shipping channel from the Virginia Capes to Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor. In addition, the project includes the Curtis Bay Channel, the East Channel, and the West Channel, which are dredged to depths of 50 feet, 49 feet, and 40 feet, respectively, with all three channels authorized to a width of 600 feet. Due to financial and dredged material placement capacity constraints at the time of construction, several channel components of the 50-foot project were not constructed to the authorized widths during Phase I. Two of the three 1000-foot wide Virginia channels were constructed to a width of 800 feet, the 800-foot wide Maryland channels were constructed to 700 feet, and the 600-foot wide Curtis Bay Channel was constructed to a width of 400 feet.
Implementation of Phase II could involve the widening of some, none, or all of those channels to their originally authorized widths or it could involve implementation of other measures.