AutoPort in Charlestown Celebrates $350 Million Harbor Dredging Project

September 22, 2017
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By Seth Daniel

Since re-locating to the Mystic River waterfront 19 years ago, the AutoPort in Charlestown has grown exponentially for lessee Diversified Auto – which leases the property from MassPort for its operations.

But as they have grown their business, which relies upon shipments of cars in huge transport boats on the water, the Boston Harbor and its channels have not kept up with the increasingly larger designs of those ships that come in on a weekly basis.

It was becoming a problem until this month when the new $350 million Boston Harbor Dredging and Deepening project kicked off, with a contingent of hundreds of state, local and federal officials converging on Diversified in Charlestown last Friday afternoon to mark the occasion.

“This is the lifeblood of the Harbor,” said Dennis Kraez, president of Diversified. “Simply put, if the Harbor isn’t dredged, the ships can’t come in and all the new ships are getting designed bigger and bigger. Some of the ships are designed to carry 8,000 cars. It saves money. You have to keep up with the times. What’s happening now here is maintenance dredging of our channel and it’s needed. It’s been a long time.”

Diversified CEO David Sammons said it’s been about 20 years since any major dredging has occurred. He said they signed a new long-term 40-year lease in 2011, so they are in Charlestown for the duration.

“It’s in dire need of this work,” he said. “This is critical. Our relationship with MassPort is 37 years old and one steeped with trust and a sense of partnership.”

The AutoPort, Sammons said, is booming right now – mostly due to the delivery of Subaru vehicles. The Port gets one vessel of Subaru vehicles every week, and it sends out export cars three times a month. Additionally, they get six vessels a year with road salt that comes in for winter storage.

When they came over to Charlestown almost 20 years ago, they barely had 20 ships per year. Last year, they logged more than 100, Kraez said.

Sammons said Diversified moved to South Boston’s Black Falcon Terminal area in 1980 when Subaru decided to relocate operations from Baltimore to Boston. However, when the Big Dig came along, their property was taken by eminent domain and they had to decide whether to leave or stay.

They decided to stay and MassPort brought them to Charlestown, where they are happy to have their home – which not only receives Subaru vehicles, but also equips them with amenities like roof racks and sport packages on site.

Other local businesses supported by the Harbor project include Casella Waste and the FedEx Trade Network.

The $350 million state and federally funded multi-phase project also will support continued growth at South Boston’s Conley Container Terminal, which has achieved three consecutive record breaking years for volume.

“Deepening Boston Harbor and supporting infrastructure investments at Conley Container Terminal are crucial to Massachusetts and New England’s competitiveness in the global marketplace,” said Governor Baker. “We are proud to work with our state and federal partners toward these improvements, supporting billions in economic activity and over 1,600 businesses creating thousands of local jobs.”

Project plans include maintaining the inner harbor, and deepening the outer harbor, main shipping channel and reserved channel to allow for larger container ships already calling Conley Container Terminal following the expansion of the Panama Canal. States up and down the East Coast are investing in their ports to accommodate bigger ships. The dredging in the inner harbor preserves vessels’ capability to deliver home heating oil, automobiles, jet fuel, and salt to terminals along the Chelsea and Mystic Rivers.

The overall project to deepen Boston Harbor will cost approximately $350 million, including $130 million from Massport and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and $220 million in federal funding, including $18.2 million allocated in the USACE’s FY 2017 workplan and $58 million included in the President’s FY’18 budget. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has contracted with Great Lakes Dredge and Dock to perform the work.

The first phase of the project consists of maintenance dredging, including the construction of a Confined Aquatic Disposal (CAD) Cell just off the shore of the AutoPort in Charlestown, which will safely hold tons of sediment from the floor of the harbor. This work is expected to continue through the end of the year.

The second phase of the project, scheduled to begin in mid-2018, will deepen the Outer Harbor Channel, from 40 to 51 feet; the Main Shipping Channel, from 40 to 47 feet; and the Reserve Channel, where Conley Container Terminal is located, from 40 to 47 feet. Currently, Conley is able to handle 8,500 TEU ships – this project will allow it to handle up to 12,000 TEU vessels.