Container loading. Flickr

NC - Wilmington port's effort to be competitive not worth the cost for some

WILMINGTON — The Port of Wilmington can handle the largest container ships that call on the East Coast, but only if those ships aren’t full.

That’s because the shipping channel in the Cape Fear River is not deep enough. The channel, which runs 26 miles from the docks to the ocean, is 42 feet deep at the lowest low tide.

It would need to be 47 feet deep to handle many of the fully-loaded ships that now call on East Coast ports, says Brian Clark, the executive director of the N.C. State Ports Authority.

So the state has asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to dredge the channel and widen and straighten it in spots, and that has lots of people concerned about how the dredging work and the bigger channel would affect the environment and property along the river.

Clark says the project would enable the Port of Wilmington to keep up with other East Coast ports, several of which are also deepening their channels to accommodate big fully-loaded ships from Asia.

“It’s a big piece for us to remain competitive,” Clark said.

The state has spent $265 million upgrading its ports, including new cranes and a bigger turning basin to accommodate larger ships at Wilmington. But as at most East Coast ports, those ships arrive and leave less than full, because the channels aren’t deep enough.

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