Port of Tacoma

Study to look at deepening waterways to allow visits from megaships at Port of Tacoma

Bigger ships call for deeper channels.

That’s a factor behind the Northwest Seaport Alliance and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers agreeing to share the $3 million cost of studying navigation changes to boost the business potential for Blair and Sitcum waterways at the Port of Tacoma.

Among changes being considered are deepening the port’s federal channels to accommodate the biggest ships in the industry.

“With the signing of these documents, we begin this project to deepen the South Harbor as part of our effort to develop what will be one of the deepest gateways in the nation,” alliance CEO John Wolfe said in a news release.

The alliance’s obligation for the study is $1.5 million over three years, with the corps paying the other $1.5 million.

The industry’s move to megaships started to gain momentum a few years ago. The ships have a cargo capacity of 20,000-plus TEUs (20-foot equivalent unit; one TEU equals a 20-foot shipping container), allowing reduced staffing per container and fewer ports of call.

One reason for combining the market potential of the Tacoma and Seattle ports through the alliance was to acknowledge the industry change and attract these types of ships.

The agreement was signed Aug. 14 at a managing members meeting.

“Deepening the Blair and Sitcum waterways may result in cost and time savings, potentially lowering project operations and maintenance costs, as well as potentially allowing for the removal of draft restrictions for certain vessels,” Col. Mark Geraldi, the corps’ Seattle District commander, said in the release:

“This general investigation feasibility study will determine whether there is a federal interest in participating in modifying the existing waterways,” he said.

A similar study for the alliance’s North Harbor in Seattle recommended deepening to 57 feet, “paving the way to make it the deepest port in the nation,” according to the release.

Tacoma is now at about 51 feet.

Debbie Cockrell: 253-597-8364, @Debbie_Cockrell