A number of errors in NPR’s “The Race To Dig Deeper Ports For Bigger Cargo Ships”

I think there are a number of objections that one could raise to NPR’s The Race To Dig Deeper Ports For Bigger Cargo Ships, which ran this afternoon on All Things Considered. But it’s still worth a listen, I think.

Click here to listen to the story. (For some reason, I can’t just embed it as can be done with so many other NPR stories.)

From that piece:

Miami is not the only city where port dredging plans are controversial. In Georgia, a plan to dredge Savannah’s port has riled up environmentalists and politicians. Environmental groups are concerned about some of the same sediment issues raised in Miami.

Regulators in South Carolina, just across the Savannah River, at first moved to block the dredging. But then South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley intervened. In part because of her help, Georgia was able to negotiate a deal with South Carolina regulators that allows the dredging to go forward.

Some in the state felt that Haley was unfairly helping the competition. South Carolina is working to expand Charleston and its other ports to accommodate the new post-Panamax ships. At a news conference, Haley said there will be enough business for ports in both states.

“Those Panamax ships are coming through Charleston, and it is going to be so vibrant and so strong, that the overflow is going to go to Jasper, [S.C.], and Jasper is going to be a great port,” Haley says. “Without question, the ports are the best thing we’ve got going. It’s an opportunity waiting to happen.”

That’s a message you can hear in New Orleans, Baltimore, and other ports along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts. So far, only one port — Norfolk — is deep enough to accommodate the new superlarge ships. By 2014, a handful of other cities hopes to be ready. But there’s a lot of work to be done before then.

A few issues:

  • Gov. Haley apparently meant post-Panamax ships. Panamax ships are already coming through the Panama Canal.
  • The environmental issues in Georgia have little to do with “sediment issues”.
  • South Carolina currently has no “other ports” than Charleston. The Jasper port may or may not get built.
  • The idea that ports will only grow with harbor dredging has no founding in the economic analysis that the Corps of Engineers did for the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project. Savannah is expected to max out its cargo capacity in 2032 whether the river is dredged or not.
  • Given the science, bureaucracy, funding, and legal issues, I don’t think ANY of the “other cities” hope to have dredging finished by 2014. Savannah is well ahead of most of its rivals, but 2014? It seems more remote all the time.

It would also have been good for the piece to raise the question of how many ports need to be dredged and whether dredging all of them makes any economic or logistical sense.

The piece still provides an interesting overview of the broader national issue, but the details matter, and I hope NPR — and other media outlets — will pay more attention to them in the future.