Dredging project to widen and deepen Big Bend Channel

Published on: January 9, 2019

Will also improve Port Redwing


Port Tampa Bay is widening and deepening the Big Bend Channel of Tampa Bay for economic development at Port Redwing. The turning basin is also being widened.
Nancy Gelabert photo

Port Tampa Bay is working on one of its long-term strategies for economic growth ­— the deepening and widening of the Big Bend Channel — to accommodate larger ships at Port Redwing.

The dredge project is a joint venture between the port, Tampa Electric Company (TECO), Mosaic Company, the Florida Department of Transportation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Already, the port has invested $30 million into Port Redwing, near Gibsonton on Tampa Bay, to transform it into a growing maritime economic engine.

The $60 million dredging project will widen the channel from 200 feet to 250 feet and increase its depth from 34 feet to 43 feet, said TECO spokeswoman Sylvia Vega.

“It’s a public private partnership, and the port is the quarterback. We are just a partner,” Vega said. This is a project that has been talked about since the 1990s, she said. It is not just economic, but a safety project as well.

In addition to getting ships to and from Port Redwing, the channel is also used by Mosaic, one of the world’s largest producers of fertilizer and by TECO, to get ships to its Big Bend Power Station off U.S. 41 and Big Bend Road.

The project is expected to be completed later this year.

A bipartisan group of legislatures from the Florida House of Representatives penned a letter in March stating that the dredging project could represent the addition of 8,000 jobs in the region.

The Army Corps previously agreed to fund $9 million of the project, and FDOT has kicked in $4.2 million.

Just recently, Ardent Mills, owner of the ConAgra flour mill in downtown Tampa, sold its property there and is negotiating with the port to move its operations to Port Redwing, according to the Tampa Bay Times, which wrote about the negotiations in November 2018.

The proposal is for Ardent Mills to lease 10 acres at Port Redwing for 40 years with rent at $12,500 per acre per year.

The port plans got a setback in 2016 when the Army Corps failed to sign off on plans for the dredging project, which would allow larger ships to haul freight such as scrap metal, salt, sulfur, coal or cement to Port Redwing.

County Commissioner Sandy Murman, at the time, had lauded the plan, which she believed would bring thousands of jobs to her fast-growing south county region.

It wasn’t until 2017 that the Army Corps agreed to the dredging project, Vega said.

Tampa Electric Company, meanwhile, is undergoing a modernization at its Big Bend Power Station. 

According to a press release from the power company, four main power generation units and one peaking unit are in operation at Big Bend with a combined output of more than 1,700 megawatts of electricity. The units can generate electric power from both coal and natural gas. 

It started the modernization in May 2018, which will result in its use of less coal to generate electricity, less water as a part of that generation process, less wastewater and a reduction of air emissions. The project involves repowering Unit 1 with a state-of-the-art, natural gas-fired combined-cycle unit on the existing site and retiring Big Bend Unit 2.