August 31, 2022 — What’s good for navigation at the Port of Long Beach is good for the region and the nation. That’s the conclusion of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers following its extensive environmental review and feasibility study of proposed improvements to the Port’s waterways.

On July 6, Assistant Secretary of the Army Michael L. Connor issued a Record of Decision on the Port’s Deep Draft Navigation Feasibility Study and Channel Deepening Project to improve navigation, commerce and safety by deepening channels, basins and berths and widening key passages. The ROD concludes the Army Corps’ work on the Final Integrated Feasibility Report with Environmental Impact Statement/Environmental Impact Report and greenlights federal participation.

“I find the plan recommended by the Chief of Engineers to be technically feasible, economically justified, in accordance with environmental statutes, and in the public interest,” Connor wrote.

The decision paves the way for a series of actions needed to make the project a reality. The project strengthens the safe and efficient operation of the Long Beach gateway, which handles more than $200 billion of cargo annually and supports more than 2.6 million U.S. jobs.

“This decision recognizes the national significance of our Port and allows us to move forward with a project that will yield enormous economic benefits for the country, the state and the greater Long Beach area,” said Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners President Sharon L. Weissman. “At the same time, it will improve the safety of Port operations and help lessen environmental impacts.”


The ROD confirms the Channel Deepening Project has passed the scrutiny of multiple federal environmental laws – the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and the Coast Zone Management Act – and cleared the federal government’s cost-effectiveness hurdle to show it is a worthy investment. The Port and the federal government will share the cost, estimated at nearly $170 million. The Army Corps’ study shows the value of jobs and economic activity the project is expected to generate over 50 years is more than triple the original investment.

“Improving our navigational waterways makes the Port of Long Beach a cleaner, more efficient international trade gateway that benefits all the communities who depend on our success,” said Port Executive Director Mario Cordero.

Key features of the Channel Deepening Project are:

  • Deepening the Long Beach Approach Channel from 76 feet to 80 feet along the passage through the breakwater at Queen’s Gate.
  • Easing turning bends in the Main Channel to deepen a wider area to 76 feet.
  • Deepening portions of the West Basin from 50 to 55 feet.
  • Constructing an approach channel and turning basin to Pier J South with a depth of 55 feet.
  • Deepening the Pier J Basin and the Pier J South Slip to 55 feet.
  • Improving the breakwaters at the entrance to the Pier J Basin to allow for the deepening the basin and slip.
  • Depositing dredged material in either nearshore sites for reuse or federally approved ocean disposal sites.
  • Constructing a new electric substation to power dredging equipment used within Queen’s Gate.

The proposed project would build on previous dredging completed in 2014 that deepened most of the Main Channel to 76 feet. Planning for the new project began one year later with the help of funding left over from its predecessor. “Our collaboration with the Army Corps on this next round of channel improvements dates back to 2015,” said Sean Gamette, the Port’s Managing Director of Engineering Services. “Anticipating and preparing for the future is the hallmark of a world-class port.”


Some of the largest ships in the world fleet call at the Port, but tidal flows, weather, and vessel size limit when they can transit the harbor given its current configuration. The proposed dredging project will give ships more room to maneuver efficiently and safely. Deeper, wider waterways will also reduce the need for lightering – the process tankers use to transfer their liquid bulk cargo to smaller vessels – so the bigger tankers have the underkeel clearance they need to enter the Port. Likewise, the largest container ships will be able to carry more cargo, which reduces the overall number of ship calls, instead of stacking fewer containers to clear existing channel twists and turns.

The Port was already focused on making these improvements when the pandemic-induced cargo surge hit. Record-breaking cargo volumes, which continue to this day, have amplified the need for the Channel Deepening Project, said Tom Jacobsen, President of Jacobsen Pilot Service.

“Kudos to the Port of Long Beach. They are always thinking ahead, building, improving and looking forward,” said Jacobsen, whose family-owned company has provided pilot service to the Port since 1924. “Increasing the depth below the ship’s keel and making the channels wider is a huge improvement for navigational safety. I’m so proud of what the Port has done. Look at the new bridge and terminal space. All of this takes years of planning and forethought.”

The project also has environmental benefits. More efficient maneuvering means ships burn less fuel as they transit the harbor, as do the port pilot vessels and tugs that escort them. Greater efficiency lowers ground-level pollution – diesel particulate matter, nitrogen oxide and sulfur oxide emissions – from ships, one of the largest sources of these pollutants associated with port operations.

The Port’s strict environmental policies also apply to the construction process. Important control measures include operating the dredging equipment on shore-side electricity. The Port already has one electrical substation for this purpose and plans to build a second to ensure the machinery can operate at all project locations.

The work is expected to yield more than 7 million cubic yards of dredged sediment. The project seeks to maximize beneficial reuse of the material by replenishing an undersea borrow site off the coast and, where feasible, using it for future Port redevelopment projects. If repurposed for Port construction such as building leasable terminal space, the material would save the Port tens of millions of dollars.


The ROD is the key that unlocks the next steps, beginning with Port’s consideration of the project and certification of the EIR. The Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners is scheduled to hold a public hearing to consider certification of the document at its Sept. 12 meeting. In a separate action, the Board would also need to approve a harbor development permit to advance the project.

Subject to these approvals, the Port and the Army Corps would proceed with design and engineering agreements, detailed planning and budgets, the bidding process and construction contracts, and funding. When the actual work of deepening and widening begins, it is expected to take about three years.

The Army Corps is already slated to contribute $8 million to the project’s preconstruction, engineering and design work. Announced in early 2022, the funding became available thanks to the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed by Congress and signed into law by President Biden in November 2021.

“Strong federal support represents a huge vote of confidence in the Port of Long Beach and work we’ve been doing together to ensure this economic engine continues to power Southern California and the nation into the future,” Gamette said.