Tata discusses 50-foot channel depth, infrastructure work

State Transportation Secretary Tony Tata discusses the governor’s 25-year vision for transportation investment Friday at the Morehead City Train Depot. (Mark Hibbs photo)

MOREHEAD CITY — The coastal component of Gov. Pat McCrory’s recently announced 25-year vision for infrastructure investment includes deepening and stabilizing the state port’s harbor and Beaufort Inlet at a 50-foot depth, five feet deeper than the current authorized depth.

Transportation Secretary Tony Tata delivered that message Friday during a town-hall-style meeting at the train depot at 1001 Arendell St. Gov. Pat McCrory’s ambitious package of transportation “solutions needed to make the state more globally competitive” considers the challenges unique to four recognized regions: western, central, eastern and coastal areas of North Carolina. 

Mr. Tata explained the governor’s vision for “catalyzing the economy” calls for reducing dependency on inconsistent federal funding, borrowing under “historically low interest rates and public-private partnerships with profit-sharing for  investors.

“There are corporations around the world that do this. They do ports, they do this very well and that’s our thought – to put a package together with local communities and Carteret County and (improve) the Highway 70 corridor,” Mr. Tata said. “Because it’s really connectivity between the Morehead port and railroad and 70, on up to (Interstate) 95. Everybody’s got a vested interest in this port here and so we want to make sure we do this right.”

The talk comes as ships calling at Morehead City face new draft restrictions due to recent, rapid shoaling that has reduced channel depth to 36 feet at high water, down from 38 feet a few weeks ago. 

Stabilizing inlets will “transform” the state’s two seaports,” according to the plan.

About 40 attended the session, including members of the State Board of Transportation, Carteret County’s legislative delegation Sen. Norm, Sanderson, R-Pamlico, and Rep. Pat McElraft, R-Carteret. Mr. Tata said that means making North Carolina ports more competitive to create jobs and improve the economy.

“We’ve got to get into the game. We’re at risk,” he said of the ports’ competitive status.

Mr. Tata said the N.C. Port of Morehead City is better positioned for the future than Wilmington’s port. He spoke of the State Ports Authority’s recent marketing outreach to China and plans for making Morehead City a deepwater port that maintains the “social integrity” of the surrounding communities. 

“That balance, we all know is a tough thing to achieve, but that’s the goal and as we look at the two ports, Morehead is really better postured for the future than the Wilmington port.”

The Wilmington port and its 26-mile entrance up the Cape Fear River would need more than $1 billion in investment, compared to an estimated $15 million needed to take Morehead City to a 50-foot depth to accommodate next-generation ships.

“That to me is sort of a no-brainer,” Mr. Tata said, adding that other investments would be required, such as overhead cranes and facility construction at Radio Island, possibly for offshore energy exploration.

“This area is perfectly postured for some of that industry to get out there,” he said. “There are a lot of exciting opportunities and possibilities with the Morehead City port and Radio Island.

Mr. Tata, whose schedule this week also had him in Morehead City the previous morning before an Asheville stop later in the day, was here Thursday for a meeting of the N.C. Ports Authority board of directors at the Maritime Building just outside the port gate.

During that meeting, officials discussed the marketing trip to visit a dozen companies in Southeast Asia and their enthusiasm for the governor’s investment plan. Discussion included the new post-Panamex vessels that are already calling at East Coast ports and how failing to prepare would hurt North Carolina competitively. Post-Panamex vessels are those ships that do not fit the Panama Canal because of their large size.

Also during that meeting, a report on channel-dredging needs focused on the shoaling in Beaufort Inlet. The area of concern is a “finger” of shoaling extending into the Cutoff Channel from Shackelford Banks. In addition to the draft restriction, the 600-foot-wide channel is effectively narrowed to less than 300 feet – a big change from late August and early September.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which maintains the channel, has about $5 million in maintenance funds, compared to about $6 million in the prior year. Officials said the decrease was reflective of the situation nationwide, but the problem is “acute” at the port here.

The authority is also considering a request to realign the channel to make better use of natural deep water and use more stable conditions.

Rep. McElraft, during Mr. Tata’s visit Friday, expressed concern that dredging at the port not jeopardize the county’s other economic engine, area beaches.

“I couldn’t help but key in on the deepening of the port, which is very important to us, but I want you all to remember that $15 million has another economic impact also. That’s the erosion of our beaches,” she said. “Because we’ve seen the deeper the port gets, the more erosion we have on the beaches.”

She said assurances are needed that beaches will continue to be nourished and erosion mitigated and those expenses should be factored into the cost.

“Because that’s going to be a higher price, truly, because of our beaches,” Rep. McElraft said. “Tourism is huge for us." 

Contact Mark Hibbs at 252-726-7081, ext. 229; email mark@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @markhibbs.

(14) comments

Capt Grumpy

Oh yeah! This kind of explains the new bridge!!!!!!

!5 million a year to battle natural forces and maintain a 50 ft channel!

Can you visualize container cranes????????

morehood city res

this all sounds great right? jobs, jobs, jobs, but look at it more realistically. what are the products that will be moving through the port? more unecessary cheaply manufactured stuff from china? so we can increase the imbalance between GDP and imports. why aren't we focused on exporting products from USA, the wood chips and wood pellets shouldn't be the only thing leaving the port. also think about this mccrory plan, even if hwy 70 is improved to i 95 where are these awesome chinese products going from there? rocky mount and roanoke rapids? the port at norfolk handles crud that is imported for anyone from emporia to alexandria and the port at charleston covers everyone in sc. come on people think!

David Collins

Wonder how they I'll go about stabilizing the inlet. Perhaps a giant rock jetty or two?

Heard this stuff before and not much has changed. There are always winners and losers with change.

Osprey

This will always be a "JV" port providing very few "shovel ready" jobs!!!!

clammerhead

I foretold of this years ago, and my opinion is still the same.

This is not a good idea. Besides the erosion damage, there is also the change in salinity, and sediment issues for the wetlands. Dredging the Beaufort Inlet deeper, and wider, is killing our rivers, sounds, and estuaries.

The messed up part is that not only does the argument for the dredging highlight the real problems it causes, the people making the argument, have seen the data saying the same thing.

Stop the madness before it is too late...

Clammerhead

dc

Locals have always been told or intuitively knew that our port is the most assessment in terms of proximity to the ocean. Developing its potential has been and will continue to be controversial. The local politics have been able to keep the growth down but that's not likely going forward. Some have complained that there's no industry thus no jobs and the young folks have to leave home for good paying jobs. We can't have our cake and eat too. This "global" everything is getting a little old, but we can't escape it. Students now have to be "prepared to be global citizens" according to the brains in education. So, folks get ready for a "global port" and all the good and bad that comes with it.

dc

Osprey is absolutely right. There just isn't any room. Compared to Portsmouth Marine Terminal we're not even midget league. Can't see how it's worth the effort considering the down side. What happened to that grand plan with Southport a few years ago?

Scruffydog900

The first thing an upgraded port would need is a better transportation link to I-95, which is moving at a snail's pace. That link would also need to NOT go through the middle of downtown Morehead, so the route out through the county would have to be completed.

I think the port will remain the same for the forseeable future.

puzzled

Must be election time.

Capt Grumpy

It sure looks like something is going to happen at Radio Island. They aren't building that ridiculous bridge so the fish trucks can leave the trawler docks on Radio Island.
This whole thing needs to be revealed before we wake up one day and the entirety of Radio Island and the Causeway Marsh are bulkheaded and back filled with dredge spoil taken out of the 50 ft channel project.
Thank you Rep McElcraft for pointing out the obvious!

CaptMurphyniece

Finally our diamond in the rough port is being given a chance to shine for our state. An economic opportunity to be a main hub of trade and tourism is what our port gives our state as a whole. We are a dream come true for the ocean side of shipping. Sending and receiving goods across the ocean in their largest ships saves money because they can ship more and use little more fuel, have the same crew size to send and receive goods across the ocean. Shipping companies can have only one state to deal with for all their needs. Feeder ships will keep Wilmington thriving and our inland waterway north to south benefits many businesses. My uncle Captain Doug Murphy and I spoke many times about the benefits to our state. Think of the larger port cities: Jacksonville, Savannah, Charleston, Newport, and Baltimore just to name a few. They all have a beautiful vista and thriving tourism. The taxes taken in from the shippers give these area the money to develop their beauty.

Capt Grumpy

"The taxes taken in from the shippers give these area the money to develop their beauty. "????????

Could someone tell us what these taxes amount to now at the Port?

" Think of the larger port cities: Jacksonville, Savannah, Charleston, Newport, and Baltimore just to name a few."

Explain how we are going to compete with these established ports,even with our big new bridge and millions of dollars yearly to maintain the inlet at 51 ft.

DeadBolt

We're going to sell alot of wood pellets. [wink]

CaptMurphyniece

The facts speak for themselves. Our port would save the shipping companies money. A good bottom line is what any company seeks. I challenge you to investigate the potential tariff per container our state could profit. The two states bordering us i.e. Virginia and South Carolina, dwarf the tonnage shipped and received by North Carolina when we have the most advantageous port potential on the East Coast.

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