Corps of Engineers Rejects Request to Deepen Harbor

Blue outline is Cape Charles channel, maintained at 12-18 feet by the Army Corps of Engineers. Town requested the depth be 35 feet.

Blue outline is Cape Charles channel, maintained at 18 feet by the Army Corps of Engineers. The Town requested the depth be extended to 35 feet to benefit existing and potential businesses.

Cape Charles Wave

July 20, 2013

The Army Corps of Engineers has rejected a request by the Town of Cape Charles to deepen the Town’s outer harbor and channel.

The request was made in April 2012 by Town Manager Heather Arcos, who wrote: “During the past year businesses in the Harbor have lost significant contracts due to the lack of sufficient depth for moving goods from the Harbor.” Arcos did not specify which businesses were losing contracts.

In response, the Corps of Engineers performed a year-long feasibility study. On June 13, the Corps reported that only one business would benefit from deepening the channel: Bayshore Concrete.

To qualify for full Corps funding, at least two users must be identified. If Bayshore is the only user, it would be required to bear half the expense, which, including interest and maintenance of the channel, could exceed $245,000 annually.

According to the Corps report, Bayshore Concrete stated that it would be “financially unable to meet the single user obligation at this time.”

The Corps study identified three potential future commercial users of the Town Harbor: an aerospace defense contractor from Wallops Island, a small inland cruise ship company, and the Cape Charles Yacht Center, a boat maintenance and storage facility currently under construction. However, none of those potential users would require a deeper channel.


In February 2011, the Town obtained funding for an economic impact study on the benefits of dredging the harbor. Old Dominion University conducted the study and determined that the economic impact on the state could be as much as $1.9 billion if the dredging was done by Virginian firms, and $477 million if out-of-state firms were used.

The Corps did not use the study because it was based on benefit to the state of Virginia rather than on how to achieve the greatest national benefit.

The Corps also questioned the extent to which deepening the channel would actually benefit Bayshore Concrete. The study noted that Bayshore’s existing tug and barge drafts are a maximum of 12 feet – well less than the existing 18-foot channel depth. The draft is limited not by the channel at Cape Charles but by the port of origin in the Appomattox River.

If the channel were dredged to 35 feet, Bayshore could produce larger precast concrete products requiring larger barges. But the Corps study found that while concrete production would increase, transportation costs would also increase. The Corps study thus did not find that a deeper channel would be the panacea claimed by some.

The study also looked at Bay Coast Railroad’s carfloat barge operation, which ships railroad cars between Cape Charles and Virginia Beach. The Bay Coast barge has a draft of 12 feet, so further dredging is not required.

The Corps even went so far as to take into consideration the Tall Ships that call on Cape Charles, but concluded that:

“According to the OpSail coordinator in Cape Charles, deeper sailing vessels could have pulled into the harbor, but they preferred to call on Norfolk. They cited many reasons, including lack of pier berthing space, uneasiness with shoaling in the channel, and possibly overwhelming the town with their larger crews. None of these issues could be feasibly remedied with a 35-foot channel. Based on current conditions and discussions with the OpSail coordinator, it is not reasonable to assume that these deeper vessels are considering Cape Charles as a port of call.”

The Corps study reports that the last harbor dredging was in 1988. At that time, channel spoil was deposited on the Town public beach.

Yesterday (July 19), Mayor Dora Sullivan sent a letter to the Corps of Engineers stating: “We understand that Federal interest for navigation projects is based on the project having a public purpose; i.e. multiple beneficiaries. We acknowledge your findings of no Federal interest due to a single current and future beneficiary. The Town will notify the Norfolk District if a viable second beneficiary is identified.”



4 Responses to “Corps of Engineers Rejects Request to Deepen Harbor”

  1. Spencer Murray on July 20th, 2013 7:41 am

    So let me see if I get this: The channel won’t be there unless the business is already there, and the business won’t come unless the channel is there. Go figure. The fact is that the US Army Corps of Engineers only has money for year-long studies here. We build infrastructure in other countries, mostly ones that hate us. Good grief, Charlie Brown.

  2. Bobby Roberts on July 20th, 2013 12:29 pm

    Another example of the federal government pulling back from rural areas. No more grants for rural sewer lines, more hospital consolidation, decrease in rural low-income housing dollars, removal of channel markers—all signs that federal dollars are only going to be spent where the most people live. The days of subsidizing rural economies might be over. We don’t like it, we don’t agree with it—but we better get used to it.

  3. Mike Kuzma, Jr on July 22nd, 2013 10:49 am

    Thank them for their “input.” Wish them a nice week. Never let them into our area again, after we DO IT OURSELVES. De Tocqueville was most impressed by the American ability to do what needed to be done, without going hat in hand to the Government. Liberals took us back to that supplicant status. Reject it.

  4. Deborah Bender on July 22nd, 2013 7:21 pm

    “The request was made in April 2012 by Town Manager Heather Arcos, who wrote: ‘During the past year businesses in the Harbor have lost significant contracts due to the lack of sufficient depth for moving goods from the Harbor.’ Arcos did not specify which businesses were losing contracts.”

    Which businesses, Ms. Arcos? Tell us which businesses. Of course she didn’t specify which businesses — because there were none!