To remain competitive in the shipping industry, the Port of Tacoma and The Northwest Seaport Alliance (NWSA) have made major investments, including improving docks and purchasing larger cranes. The next phase of this effort is to deepen the Blair Waterway to accommodate larger container ships. The project will deepen the federal channel in the Blair Waterway by six feet, to -57 feet mean lower low water (MLLW).
The shipping industry is rapidly increasing the size of ships to realize savings through economies of scale. These ships can carry more containers, lowering the unit cost per container when factoring in the costs of assets, labor, and fuel. Smaller, less efficient ships are leaving the market and being scrapped. Almost all the new ships being built are larger than 10,000 twenty-foot equivalent units. The industry is also consolidating into fewer, larger shipping lines. Ports in North America are investing in infrastructure to handle these ships efficiently, and the evolution of ship size is likely to mean consolidation of the industry to fewer, larger terminals.
Because the Pacific Northwest is rich in export cargo like seafood, agricultural and forest products, which are very heavy, ships need to be able to arrive and depart our port at their fully laden draft. If ships are restricted in movement by depth, they must either depart without a full payload of cargo or wait on the tide for enough water. These measures create financial and operational impacts through less efficient ships and terminal operations. The economics of less efficient ships could mean our gateway loses future business to those ports with the water depth to handle them.
The Port of Tacoma and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are beginning design work on deepening the navigation channel. The Port and NWSA are also beginning to design deeper berth areas at the international container terminals in the Blair Waterway.
Dredging is expected to begin in 2025 and continue through 2029. The project is expected to begin in the north section of the waterway and move south.
East Commencement Habitat Opportunity (ECHO)
- Challenge: Lack of material
- Solution: Beneficially using clean dredge material from the Tacoma Harbor Deepening project to build the restoration site
- Result: Essential intertidal, shallow subtidal and riparian habitat currently lacking in Commencement Bay
Since the early 2000s, the Port has been looking to build a mitigation and restoration site in eastern Commencement Bay. This 20-plus acre site is one of the last best places in the bay for nearshore restoration.
The area currently provides little support for salmonid migration and other wildlife that depend on shallower nearshore habitat. The problem has always been a lack of material to build the site.
The Port is working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to study the feasibility of using clean dredge material from the Blair Waterway Deepening Program to create the East Commencement Habitat Opportunity (ECHO) site.
The Port expects ECHO would improve fish habitat and break up large waves, mitigating erosion on Marine View Drive.