WRDA includes authorization to deepen Tacoma waterway

(SEATTLE) — President Biden signed the 2022 Water Resources and Development Act (WRDA) on Dec. 23, which lawmakers included in the $858 billion National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2023. This action includes authorizing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to proceed with a wider and deeper waterway in Tacoma, Wash.

The bill authorizes $140 million for the Tacoma Harbor Navigation Improvement Project. It also includes authorizing the Corps of Engineers to proceed with planning a downstream fish passage facility at Howard A. Hanson Dam in King County, Wash.

Containerships dock along the Blair Waterway at Tacoma Harbor. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers photo

The Port of Tacoma’s Blair Waterway is currently authorized to 51 feet. Deeper-drawing vessels already call at the waterway’s terminals but face tidal delays and other transportation inefficiencies. The proposed project will deepen the channel to 57 feet so larger vessels can use the waterway.

In the past decade, ships calling at Tacoma Harbor increased in size and draft at a dramatic pace. The larger vessels draft requirements are deeper than 51 feet when fully laden. The Corps of Engineers estimates there will be a $10 economic benefit for every dollar spent on the project, which will improve the port as a critical gateway for import and export of goods moving between Asia and the U.S. Midwest.

Corps officials expect to place about 2.8 million cubic yards of dredged material at a beneficial use site. Approximately 562,000 cubic yards of dredged material will be placed in the Dredged Material Management Program (DMMP) Commencement Bay open water disposal site and another 392,000 cubic yards at an upland facility. USACE is investigating location options to use the environmentally beneficial remaining materials.

By Rich Miller