Images provided for review to the state regarding the port's turn basin expansion. (NC Coastal Resources Commission)

NC Ports to appeal state’s decision nixing expansion

After denial in March, the port authority is hoping to change the state’s mind on construction of a wider turning basin.

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - The clock is ticking for the North Carolina Port of Wilmington (POW) if it is going to be able to accommodate the larger container vessels shipping companies plan to begin using this year.

To allow for larger ships to make call at Wilmington, NC Ports will need to once again widen its turning basin.

However, state agencies and environmental groups are concerned about the adverse effects the projects would have on endangered fish species that call the Cape Fear River home.

On April 17, NC Ports will be heard by the North Carolina Coastal Resources Commission (CRC), essentially appealing a decision from the North Carolina Division of Coastal Management, which denied the port authority’s request to excavate more than 19 acres of wetland.

Larger ships

Beginning later this year, two of POW’s major cargo customers plan to begin using 14,000 TEU ships — vessels named for their ability to carry 14,000 standard 20-foot x 8-foot containers.

When the POW widened its turning basin the last time, it was done because the Panama Canal was also being widened. At that time experts believed the canal couldn’t support a 14,000 TEU ship, so Wilmington’s port was widened to 1,400 feet, which can accommodate ships caring 8,500 to 12,000 TEU capacity.

That widening became “Phase 1” once it was determined that larger ships could fit through the Panama Canal, meaning the POW now needs to enter Phase 2 of its expansion in order to accommodate them.

Last spring, NC Ports conducted a simulation and determined that as the turning basin currently sits, even in the best conditions a 14,000 TEU would run aground.

The two companies planning to begin using the 14,000 TEU vessels this year — which combined make up 62 percent of the port’s container business — issued POW an ultimatum, saying their continued business relies on the port’s ability to accommodate the vessels by the beginning of 2020.

Additionally, other shipping companies, including Maersk and other major names, have said while they won’t begin using the ships this year, long-term continued business at POW will be predicated on the same.

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