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NEWARK, NJ-As reported here last week, Maersk Sealand has broken ground for its massive expansion program to turn the Port of Newark and Elizabeth into the shipper’s Northeast container hub, capable of handling more than 700,000 cargo containers a year. One factor in Maersk’s decision to site the facility here was the Port Authority of NY/NJ’s commitment to deepen the main channels into the port to enable it to handle the largest waterborne vessels in the world.

That effort just got a big boost in the form of $105.5 million in Federal money for several NJ projects, more than half of it going to dredging such key waterways as Newark Bay and Kill Van Kull (the latter separates New Jersey from Staten Island). The money is part of a $23.8-billion Federal energy and water development appropriations bill passed by Congress.

Both waterways are key entry points to New Jersey port facilities from Bayonne northward. The dredging and deepening of both shipping lanes is expected to facilitate commercial shipping from several points in the Bayonne-to-Newark shoreline. Other projects covered by the proceeds include a deepening of both Port Jersey and New York Harbor, and port-wide maintenance dredging.

Rep. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) is being widely credited for his efforts to jumpstart the various port projects, including securing the Federal funding. According to the legislator, the money will help sustain 180,000 jobs and generate more than $20 billion in commerce per year.

To date, three contracts have been awarded for various dredging projects, and the US Army Corps of Engineers expects to award a total of nine contracts amounting to more than $730 million to bring the bi-state port’s waterways up to snuff. The Corps of Engineers says it’s the largest and most expensive dredging project it has ever done.

The Corps of Engineers and the Port Authority are sharing the cost of the far-ranging project, which is scheduled to be completed by 2004. The main channels will be deepened to a minimum of 45 feet from their current depth of approximately 40 feet.

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