Port Decides to Move Forward on Dredging Project

By DAVID GREENBERG
Staff Reporter

After a record-setting year for container traffic, the Port of Los Angeles is going ahead with a controversial $153 million plan to dredge its main channel in the hopes of attracting oversized container ships that have begun to flood the market.

The two-year project will increase the low-tide depth of the mile-long channel to 53 feet, from the current 45 feet, which is too shallow for the industry's largest ships.

Most ships that call on the port carry 3,000 to 4,000 TEUs (20-foot equivalent) containers, causing the ships' draft to submerge 38 to 43 feet below the water's surface. Periodically, the port handles a 5,500 TEU ship with a 45-foot draft, which must wait until high tide before it can dock.

Many of the large ship companies, such as Evergreen American Corp. and Maersk Sealand, now have 6,600 TEU ships with 48-foot drafts. Without a deeper channel, those ships would need to dock elsewhere.

The Port of Long Beach has a 76-foot-deep channel, which was increased from 60 feet beginning in 1990.

China Ocean Shipping Co.'s largest ships already call on Long Beach. The company is slated to bring a 7,500 TEU ship on line in January 2003.

"(Dredging) is a trend nationwide," said Stacey Jones, chief L.A. harbor engineer. Without it, ships must come 60 to 75 percent full. "There's a potential to lose business there," Jones said.

Container traffic at the L.A. Port increased 6.2 percent last year to a record 5.2 million TEUs, up from 4.9 million TEUs in 2000.

The dredging project faced opposition from nearby residents who claim larger ships will contribute more pollution to the area. Construction cannot begin without a permit granted by the Army Corps of Engineers, which is currently reviewing plans to determine if another environmental study is needed on the area.

Before determining whether to grant a permit, the Army Corps of Engineers will consider input from more than 100 San Pedro residents who wrote letters and e-mails or attended a Jan. 15 public hearing at San Pedro High School.

Port officials claim that in the long-term larger ships will belch a smaller ratio of pollutants-per-container into the air because there will be fewer ships needed to carry the same amount of cargo. Furthermore, officials said, the newer, larger ships would have more environmentally-friendly engines.

Congress committed $42 million to the dredging project costs in December 2000. The port approved the remaining $111 million from its capital expenditures fund.

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