New York-New Jersey Harbor Deepening Project Combines Infrastructure Improvements and Air Quality Benefits
This page provides an overview of the New York/New Jersey Harbor Deepening Project. The project is an example of how a team of federal, state, and local stakeholders in New York and New Jersey worked together to cost-effectively and expediently offset emissions over the life of a harbor deepening project. The resulting marine vessel engine upgrades ensured the project complied with the Clean Air Act and provided lasting clean air benefits.
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The expansion of the Panama Canal, completed in 2016, provided an impetus for ports on the East and Gulf Coasts to embark on major projects to cope with larger vessels by deepening navigation channels and harbors. Dredging millions of cubic yards of sediment is neither easy nor cheap, and carries with it the potential to disrupt the environment. The New York/New Jersey Harbor Deepening Project demonstrated how to simultaneously protect air quality and modernize critical infrastructure.
For more details, go to:
- Combining Infrastructure Improvements and Air Quality Benefits: A Case Study of the New York/New Jersey Harbor Deepening Project (pdf) (4 pp, 244 KB, September 2021, EPA-420-F-21-055).
- Press Release: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency - Region 2
The 12-year $2.1 billion New York/New Jersey Harbor Deepening Project began construction in 2004, and included the completion of 21 dredging contracts, removing more than 40 million cubic yards of sediment to provide a 50-foot depth for ships accessing the Port of New York and New Jersey. As the lead federal agency sponsoring the project, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps) was required to offset air emissions generated by the project to meet General Conformity obligations. The Federal General Conformity provision under the Clean Air Act requires federal agencies to ensure that their activities do not interfere with state efforts to attain the National Ambient Air Quality Standards in areas that don’t meet those standards. Several different types of offset projects – equipment electrification, engine repowering and vehicle replacements for example – were known to be effective emission reduction options, however the cost and technical feasibility in the marine sector were not well understood. The timing and magnitude of emissions and offsets was also a major consideration as dredging operations emissions were not spread evenly across the multi-year project.
Early on, the Army Corps and Port Authority of New York and New Jersey recognized the need for close coordination with federal and state partners. A full five years before construction began, the agencies formed a Regional Air Team (RAT), to ensure open communication and develop a coordinated plan. Agencies involved in the RAT include the Army Corps of Engineers New York District, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, New York City Department of Transportation, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – Region 2.
Two major milestones prior to breaking ground were the conditional Statement of Conformity and the Harbor Air Management Plan. A Statement of Conformity is a determination by the federal sponsor that the project meets its General Conformity obligations. The Harbor Air Management Plan laid out the offset strategy. The RAT evaluated a total of 19 categories of offsets and prioritized them based on timing, cost effectiveness and risk. In 2004 the plan was finalized, with a commitment to review the plan annually and adjust as needed. The mix of offsets envisioned in 2004 included aftertreatment controls on a Staten Island Ferry, upgrading engines on eight diesel tugboats, and using purchased offset credits during the first two years of the project.
To ensure that enough offsets were in place for each year of the project, the RAT established a tracking and reporting process. After the first years of construction, the RAT quickly realized that the initial plan for offsets needed significant adjustment. The RAT’s analysis pointed to the strategy of repowering even more marine engines as the most cost-effective option for reducing nitrogen oxides (NOx). As a result of the analysis, emissions offsets included:
- Retrofitting or replacing engines on the entire Staten Island Ferry fleet;
- Upgrading and replacing marine engines; and
- Purchasing offset credits twice from the states' offset registries.
All told, the project partners funded engine repowers or aftertreatment controls on three dozen tugs and ferries operating in the harbor.
- The project sponsors were able to ensure compliance with General Conformity requirements – no easy feat for large, complex projects such as harbor deepenings.
- The innovations in the Harbor Deepening Project went well beyond compliance. The air quality benefits arising from the project were significant and lasting. All told, the project partners not only offset the 5,000 tons of nitrogen oxide (NOx) project emissions but eliminated more than 2,000 tons over and above that figure. Furthermore, the repowered marine engines will continue to provide a benefit for the lifetime of the vessels, well beyond the end of the Deepening Project.
- The added benefit to the environment allows the project partners to showcase improvements in air quality to concerned communities that were impacted by construction activity.
- Agencies are in a stronger position for future projects.
- The RAT put together a protocol that detailed how the offsets would be counted, tracked and distributed among project partners. The protocol provided a mechanism to meet the requirements of an Early Emission Reduction Credit program under EPA’s General Conformity regulations.
- Building in flexibility is critical as changes to project schedules and vessel activity can have a significant impact on the timing and quantity of offsets needed.
- The key to project success was a high level of coordination between federal, state and local agencies, and the non-federal partner (Port Authority of New York and New Jersey).
- The technical work done by the RAT helped develop a better understanding of marine vessel sector emissions and identify the most cost effective NOx emissions reduction strategies.
The RAT remains active. The group is continuing to track the offsets from the Harbor Deepening and their application to meet General Conformity requirements on other projects. The process put into place has successfully been applied to more than 10 projects subsequently.
The Army Corps of Engineers is in the process of setting up a marine engine replacement program, using the lessons learned from the Harbor Deepening Project, to meet General Conformity obligations for additional upcoming projects.