By STEPHEN SINGER, AP Business Writer
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Traffic at Connecticut’s three deep-water ports has been declining due to the weak economy and harbor-clogging sediment that the maritime industry says is driving away the largest ships.
William Gash, executive director of the Connecticut Maritime Coalition Inc., a trade group, says Providence and other nearby ports are luring business from shippers who see New Haven, Bridgeport and New London as less hospitable to ships requiring significant depth to maneuver.
“The ports of New London and Bridgeport are woefully underused,” Gash said. “New London has been pretty idle. That is just terrible.”
The state generates $5 billion in trade annually at the Long Island Sound commercial ports where ships deliver products including steel, road salt and fuel.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has completed a preliminary environmental assessment at Bridgeport Harbor and sampled and tested sediment at New Haven Harbor and found it suitable for disposal. The next stage is to dredge sediment deposited by rivers and streams into harbors and channels but those projects are several years away.
The challenge is finding the money at a time when Congress is cutting spending. Dredging the New Haven harbor, the largest in New England, would cost between $5 million and $10 million but the project is at least a few years away because federal funding is not available, said Edward O’Donnell, chief of the chief of the navigation section of the Corps in Concord, Mass.
O’Donnell said he does not know how the New Haven project would compete for financing because priorities are set in Washington “and our budget continues on a downward trend.”
The funding would come entirely from Washington if the sediment is disposed of in Long Island Sound. If the Corps finds a suitable inland location, the cost of building a disposal facility would be shared with the state or local port authority.
Dredging is generally done every 10 years with the last two New Haven projects in 1994 and 2004, he said.
State transportation officials say a preliminary total needed to dredge 12 harbors and rivers in Connecticut is between $93 million and $108 million. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who made harbor improvement an issue in his campaign last year, has proposed $50 million in state bonds in the 2012 and 2013 budget years for port upgrades, including dredging.
Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., has urged Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee, to spend money collected by the Harbor Maintenance Tax and Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund for dredging. The fund has a balance of about $5.6 billion, he said.
Harbor dredging is an issue across the country. Great Lakes shipping companies say their industry would be hit hard by an Obama administration proposal to cut funding by one-third for dredging the region’s ports and waterways. In South Carolina, some state officials have expressed disappointment that the administration has set no money aside in its budget to study deepening the Charleston Harbor shipping channel.
At the New London port, traffic measured in shipping tons has fallen from about 1.4 million in 2006 to a little more than 1 million tons in 2009, according to the Army Corps of Engineers. In Bridgeport, it’s declined from 5.4 million tons to about 4.6 million tons in the same period. In New Haven, traffic has dropped from 10.9 million tons to 10.1 million.
Kelly Murphy, New Haven’s economic development administrator, said the city is looking to deepen the port from 35 feet to 42 feet. The greater depth would attract larger vessels as New Haven seeks shipping of dry goods to diversify port traffic that is dominated by fuel making a stop before delivery across New England.
New Haven is participating in a study of bringing barges from the Port of New York and New Jersey that Murphy said would reduce truck traffic on the region’s highways.
Bridgeport’s harbor was last dredged in 1964, said Capt. Chuck Beck, transportation maritime manager at the state Department of Transportation. The harbor in New London, with key assets such as the sub base and Coast Guard Academy, is a federal responsibility, he said.
David Pohorylo, president of New England Shipping Co. in Milford, said Connecticut’s ports do not have the depth to accommodate vessels as large as 600 to 800 feet.
“We really feel our deep water ports are an asset we don’t want to lose by neglect,” he said.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)