Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Mobile Harbor Dredging Project gets nod, providing good news for the area's economy

It's official: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has final go ahead to deepen and widen critical navigational choke-points along the Mobile Ship Channel. The Corps announced it yesterday:

The Corps announced Monday that Maj. Gen. Diana Holland, Commander of the South Atlantic Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, had signed the Record of Decision for the Mobile Harbor General Reevaluation Report (GRR) with Integrated Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS).
The GRR/SEIS presents a project that is estimated to cost $387.8 million dollars; Judith Adams, the Alabama State Port Authority’s vice president for marketing, said that may not include several million dollars of incidental costs for things such as relocation of navigational aids. The plan calls for easing some bends, creating a wide section to serve as a passing zone, extending a turning basin and deepening the channel by 5 feet to a nominal depth of 50 feet. Altogether, that work will involve moving 24 million cubic yards of material.
The lion’s share of the project, roughly three-quarters, will be paid for with federal funds. A bond issue expended to be in the range of $150 million will pay for the state’s portion of the project, Adams, said. That bond issue, in turn, will be paid off with an earmarked portion of the state gas tax increase approved earlier this year.

The project has a whopping 3.1 Benefit-to-Cost Ratio, meaning that the approximately $400 million project is expected to produce about $1.2 billion in economic benefits in National Economic Development terms. In local, state and regional terms the beneficial impact is even greater. The IBCR Analytics' ROME Model predicts a 1.3 to 1.5 multiplier, meaning that the project is expected to produce about $1.7 billion over its 50-year project life.

The project is not without legitimate controversy. The al.com story linked above mentions the potentially harmful effects on marine life and a potential lost opportunity to aid in the renourishment of sand-starved Dauphin Island. The Sand Island Beneficial Use Area (SIBUA) dredge material disposal site is expected to help in this regard, but until Congress acts the Corps is both limited by both federal statute and its own regulations to use the least cost disposal method that reasonably considers other methods (See Engineering Regulation 1105-2-100).

The Harbor Project is a fine example of how to conduct a public infrastructure investment study. In approximately five years and for the tidy sum of about $8 million, The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Alabama State Port Authority took this project from concept to conclusion. Transparently. The Corps even agreed to extend the public comment period twice to allow the public to ask  questions, provide additional input and understand the project.

Compare this to the 22-year, $60 million effort that produced an over-sized, over-engineered and over-priced Mobile River Bridge and Bayway project that went down in flames last month. The Harbor Project will produce an estimated $1.7 billion in economic development. The bridge project had a net negative estimated impact and would have sucked all of that benefit away.

Officials refused my repeated and public requests for deadline extension and never addressed any of the public concerns over the feasibility of the project. No wonder it failed so spectacularly.

ALDOT and the Federal Highway Administration need to have a sit-down with USACE and ASPA and get a clue on how to get schtuff done.

The project has also gotten the attention of a few wild-eyed conspiracy theorists. These poor souls are surprising a few people and embarrassing a lot more by airing suspicions of a plan to effect a foreign takeover of the Port of Mobile. The nefarious plan was to have crooked politicos let mysterious foreign companies buy up all the the port facilities and detonate or otherwise destroy the George C. Wallace Tunnel on I-10 and the Bankhead Tunnel on US-90/98 through downtown Mobile. This would let the terrorists, the Russians, the Chinese (or all of them) deftly move in with their secret super ships and take over America, or something.

This of course, was all going to be paid for with the tolls on a new high rise bridge over the Mobile River and a new Bayway over the Delta and that's what the proposed toll was all about, you see. Why else would they need such a big bridge? Why else a new Bayway? You can't get those secret super ships in the port if the bridge and the Bayway are too short, right? Right! And the tunnels have to go because they're too shallow for the secret super ships. It all makes perfect sense to anyone with their foil hats aligned properly.

Finally, with all good conspiracy yarns come the belief that anyone offering contrary evidence must be in on the deal. Denying that there is a plan is itself evidence that there is a plan, you see.

As the old saying goes, "a lie will travel halfway around the world before the truth even gets her boots on."


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