Skip to content

'Bigger ships, faster delivery': NH Port Authority gets $1.6M for the basin. Why it matters

A shipment of 40,000 metric tons of road salt arrived late last week to the bustling New Hampshire State Port Authority ahead of the weekend blizzard.

With federal funding allocated from the $1.2 trillion, bipartisan infrastructure bill signed into law by President Joe Biden last fall, Portsmouth’s shipping waterways will be expanded and dredged to accommodate similarly hefty shipments. 

Both of New Hampshire’s U.S. senators, Democrats Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, touted the $1.6 million in federal funding for the Piscataqua River beside the frigid harbor on Monday morning. The funds will be spent on the expansion of the Portsmouth Harbor shipping channel turning basin and the dredging of harbor waters, they said. 

“This is just a great, great asset that’s going to take us forward in the shipping industry,” said Geno Marconi, the longtime Port Authority director. 

What will the Piscataqua River Turning Basin project include

The ongoing Piscataqua River Turning Basin project, conducted by the Army Corps of Engineers, will ultimately widen the uppermost turning basin of the river from 800 feet to 1,200 feet for freight shipments coming into Portsmouth. The $1.6 million in project funding from the infrastructure law is an add-on to the $18.2 million in project funding the Army Corps of Engineers incorporated into its fiscal year 2021 budget.

“It’s just really impressive that we got to this place and the additional funding for the dredging work continues to be really, really important work to the overall project of just making this a larger, more facile port, which really can benefit all of New England,” Hassan said.

The turning basin to be expanded is located near Mast Cove. For context on the need for an expansion of the turning basin, Marconi cited one ship that frequents Portsmouth Harbor is the 765-foot long CSL Tacoma.

“The other thing that I think is important to note is, as the country and the world are dealing with supply chain issues, to be able to have bigger ships, bigger loads, faster delivery, all is a piece of really trying to address some of those issues,” said Hassan. 

Last year, Shaheen said the Senate’s Committee on Appropriations Energy and Water Development subcommittee, which she sits on, funded seven construction sites in the United States. Just two of them were for navigation purposes, and one of them was the Piscataqua River Turning Basin project.

'Win-win-win project':Portsmouth's Golden Egg restaurant to be torn down for new condos

“That this project got funded, I think, is a testament to the work that Geno has done and… particularly all of the pilots that come in and out of this river,” said Shaheen, adding that efforts to fund the project began in 2016.

What is happening to the dredged material

To date, the Army Corps of Engineers has dredged about 275,000 cubic yards of waters in the turning basin area, according to Col. John Atilano, commander of the Corps’ New England Division. 

“We’re confident we’re going to have this thing wrapped up by the spring,” he said of the project.

Marconi said some of the clean dredged material will be placed at Salisbury Beach and Plum Island in Massachusetts. 

The basin area designated for large ship movement, carrying dry bulk cargo like road salt and gypsum and liquid bulk like home heating oil, kerosene and propane, is marked by prominent yellow buoys in the river. 

Marconi said passenger vessels are not prohibited from being within that area of the water and that the buoys are there for ship operators to have a visual on their navigation course.

“It shouldn’t have a negative impact on the general boating population,” Marconi said about the basin expansion project.

The Army Corps of Engineers says Portsmouth Harbor handles about 3.5 million tons of shipping material each year that is distributed throughout the state, southern Maine and eastern Vermont.