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Maritime

N.C. Ports Plans Another Turning Basin Expansion In 2019

By Christina Haley O'Neal, posted Nov 16, 2018
A ship nears the Port of Wilmington for service. (File photo)
To serve larger container ships coming into the Port of Wilmington, N.C. Ports is seeking to move forward with the second phase of its turning basin expansion.

Phase two of the turning basin expansion is part of N.C. Ports' $200 million capital improvements plan, according to Bethany Welch, spokeswoman for N.C. Ports. The second phase of the expansion is needed to allow the largest vessels calling the East Coast to “safely and more efficiently turn around in Wilmington’s harbor," she said.

To accommodate the growth, the turning basin expansion plan is to increase the basin from the 1,400 feet that it is today to 1,500 feet, said Brian Clark, N.C. Ports' chief operating officer, at the recent Cold Chain Summit held last week at the Wilmington Convention Center.

That expansion would be able to handle to handle up to a 14,000 TEU (20-foot equivalent unit) vessel. Cost estimates for the basin expansion are still ongoing, Welch said.

“That’s almost the last step to allow us to handle these larger vessels that are already cascaded down the coast,” Clark said previously.

As part of the capital improvement plan, the first phase of the turning basin expansion was completed in August 2016, which included the removal of a bulk pier and dredging to expand the turning basin from 1,200 feet to 1,400 feet.

With ongoing berth improvements at the port (repairs and upgrades to its concrete docks), the first phase of the turning basin expansion and the addition of new cranes, the size of the ships arriving at the Port of Wilmington have been growing this year.

The largest to ever be serviced by the port, recently came through in late October.

The 10,000 TEU container ship ZIM Tianjin, which is part of the ZCP Service between Asia and Wilmington, came in at more than 1,100 feet long and 150 feet wide, according to the port. It was the second 10,000 TEU serviced by the Port of Wilmington in 2018.

“The additional expansion of Wilmington’s turning basin is one of many ongoing infrastructure improvements projects that will enable North Carolina Ports to tailor its growth to customers’ needs,” officials with N.C. Ports said in an email Friday. “These planned improvements at the Port of Wilmington will increase the speed and efficiency at which we are able to accommodate ultra-large container vessels.”

And the largest vessels are still yet to come.

The two neo-Panamax cranes that arrived at the Port of Wilmington in March, are able to handle ships up to 14,000 TEUs. And a third neo-Panamax crane is set to arrive in March and take about a month to become operational.

When that crane arrives, the Port of Wilmington will have a total of nine ship-to-shore cranes for its business; three neo-Panamax cranes, four post-Panamax cranes and two smaller Panamax cranes, Clark said.

In addition, N.C. Ports also aims to complete its berth improvements by next summer, which will allow the port to service two 14,000 TEU container ships at the same time, he said.

N.C. Ports officials hope to have the turning basin project completed by mid-2019, Clark said.

That's pending approval from the Army Corps of Engineers. And approval for the turning basin expansion could take several months, Army Corps officials said.

The port has submitted an application to the Army Corps of Engineers' Wilmington District seeking an authorization to modify the existing authorization order to conduct new dredging within the existing turning basin.

The project is open for public comment until Dec. 15, which will be utilized in the Corps of Engineers’ decision to issue, modify, condition or deny a permit for its proposal, according to a public notice.

The request comes from the port to “continue to service the European and Asian fleets as they continue to increase vessel size," stated the notice. Comments are used to assess impacts, including those on the environment, historic properties and water quality.

The current turning basin, located just north of the port berths, has been operating for 70 years and “construction of a new turning basin south of the berths would not be economically feasible and would adversely impact vessel operations for large vessels," stated the notice.

Correction: This story has been corrected to reflect that N.C. Ports' $200 million capital improvement plan includes investments at the Port of Wilmington and the Port of Morehead City.
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