Port of Olympia Chooses Tacoma Contractor for Dredge Projects

By Rolf Boone, September 5, 2013, The Olympian

The Port of Olympia is a step closer to its first major dredge of the marine terminal in 30 years after the port commission voted last week to award the dredge bid to a Tacoma company.

The winning dredge project, which will focus on the shipping berths at the marine terminal and the Swantown Marina area where boats are hauled out for repairs, was awarded to Orion Marine Contractors Inc., which bid $3.87 million – well below a previous estimate of $4.9 million to $6.1 million, port engineering director Bill Helbig said.

Once the dredging permit is finalized with the Army Corp of Engineers, the work is set to take place in October through early February, removing 30,000 cubic yards of sediment near the marine terminal and another 2,000 cubic yards near the port’s boatworks.

Both efforts will deepen those areas to improve access to ships and boats.

Dredged sediment will be disposed of at a land-based disposal facility because legacy dioxin levels in some of the sediment near the marine terminal is higher than four parts per trillion, port environmental programs director Alex Smith said.

Below that figure, dredged sediment with dioxin can be disposed of in open water, she said.

Smith has also prepared a list of frequently asked questions about the dredge that eventually will be made available to the public.

Here is one of those questions:

Is the sediment that will be removed contaminated? If so, how will the port protect the public during the dredging?

In its answer, the port says that in order to minimize dioxin-containing sediment being stirred up during dredging, it will follow a state Department of Ecology-approved water quality monitoring plan. Once the dredging is complete and dredge slopes stabilized, it also plans to place clean sand on top of the area to cover any contamination that might have been exposed.

Meanwhile, the lower-than-expected bid for the project comes at a good time because the port’s recent bond issue raised less than the original financing goal, port finance director Jeff Smith said.

Investors have cooled to bonds in recent weeks, so the port restructured its offer, ultimately raising about $18 million, compared with its earlier goal of $23.1 million.

The bond issue was needed to fund four capital projects: a new stormwater maintenance facility, the dredge project, airport upgrades and an expansion of the marine terminal warehouse. The first three are funded, but the warehouse project has been put on hold, partly due to the drop in bond funding, as well as time needed for a completed master plan for the marine terminal, Smith said.

The final tally for the bond issue carries an interest rate of 3.7 percent, and because less money was raised the target date for paying it off is earlier: 2027, instead of 2029, he said.

Moody’s, a credit rating service, rated the bonds Aa3, one notch below Thurston County’s credit rating of Aa2. Both ratings, though, still mean they have a “very strong” capacity to meet its financial commitments, according to Moody’s.

Moody’s based the port’s bond rating on a combination of strengths and challenges facing the port. Its strengths are operating in a county with a large tax base, as well as a port trend of “sound financial operations with solid fiscal reserve policy.”

The challenges are also operating in a county that has experienced a four-year drop in property values, and the port has a substantial capital plan with an increased debt burden now and in the future.

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