On the Waterfront
Canals need more depth
January 31, 2013
After a visit to Holland last fall,
I began thinking about why there aren’t as many canals here and why we pay so
little attention to the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, which extends from Cape
Cod to southern Florida.
This brings the topic around to
dredging. Former congresswoman Helen Delich Bentley, who was the chairman of
the Federal Maritime Commission from 1969 to 1975, told me last week that
only 30 percent of channels nationwide are dredged to their
authorized depth. So it's not just the AIWW that needs help.
Take the Chesapeake and Delaware
Canal, a 14-mile shortcut between the two bays. (A Dutch mapmaker conceived the
C&D Canal in the 17th century.) Vessels that operate between Baltimore and
Philadelphia can cut 256 nautical miles off the transit by using the canal.
Last month, the Corps had to come up with $8.6 million in order to restore the
approach to the canal back to its operating depth. This emergency dredging was
not included in the $17 million annual budget.
Tugs and barges make up the majority
of the traffic through the canal. According to the Corps, about 350 tugs and
barges use the canal monthly.
A shallower draft is needed to ply
the canal. As the Port of Baltimore courts larger containers ships with its new
berth with a 50' draft, will the canal remain relevant? Or will it be relegated
to shallow-draft barges and other traffic?
“Would Baltimore be the No. 1 auto
port on the East Coast without the C&D? Probably not,” said Lawrence
Johnson of the Maryland Port Administration.
The time saved by using the C&D
shortcut is a selling point for ocean carriers that are visiting multiple
ports. In order to stay competitive, Johnson says the depth must be maintained.
“We will be lucky to maintain the
C&D at its authorized depth and width,” Bentley said.