Provided by Congressman Rob Wittman’s Office
The entire Virginia Delegation, led by Congressman Rob Wittman (VA-1) and Congressman A. Donald McEachin (VA-4), joined together to send a letter to the Secretary of the Navy, Richard Spencer, regarding the Navy’s role in the widening of the Thimble Shoals Channel in Hampton Roads that supports operations of both the Port of Virginia and Naval Station Norfolk.
Naval Station Norfolk is the world’s largest naval base, supporting 75 ships and 134 aircraft alongside 14 piers and 11 aircraft hangars and the Port of Virginia is the fifth largest commercial port in the nation and among the fastest growing on the U.S. East Coast. House Report 114-537, which accompanied the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017, encouraged the Navy to work with the Port of Virginia on this important issue and requested the Navy keep Congress updated on the changes in commercial traffic volume and patterns at the Port of Virginia, as well as the potential impact on the Navy’s operations.
“Growth in trade and the expanded Panama Canal means that these larger ships are calling U.S. ports more frequently. Those ships are up to 1,200 feet in length and 160 feet in breadth, which is 235 feet longer and 54 feet wider than the previous class of Panamax vessels – and larger than the newest class of aircraft carriers. Accommodating these ships requires deeper and wider channels, to include Thimble Shoal Channel that support Naval Station Norfolk and the Port of Virginia,” the Delegation wrote.
Under current conditions, the transit of an ULCV results in U.S. Coast Guard restrictions of one-way traffic through the channel. On Nov. 8, 2017, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers published a draft report recommending that the Thimble Shoal Channel be widened from 1,000 to 1,200 feet to create meeting areas for vessel traffic on either side of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel; additional modeling continues to investigate widening the channel up to 1,400 feet.
“The focus to make the Norfolk Harbor and its channels wider, deeper and safer has multiple benefits to the many users of this growing commercial and strategic maritime asset,” said John F. Reinhart, CEO and executive director of the Virginia Port Authority. “Success in this effort would create the U.S. East Coast’s deepest harbor and allow for the safe, unimpeded, two-way flow of Navy ships, ultra-large container vessels and other commercial maritime traffic. This project holds significant value for both naval readiness and our national economy. We are grateful for the effort and consideration given to this project by Congressman Wittman, Congressman McEachin and the entire Virginia Congressional Delegation.”
The Delegation requested that the Navy play a part in the process of widening of the Thimble Shoal Channel. Under current proposals under consideration by the Army Corps of Engineers, widening of the channel may not be complete until 2027. The Delegation believes that continued port congestion could impact commerce as well as Navy operations and readiness; while coordination and business rules can lessen the impact, the only long-term and sustainable solution is to widen the channel.
Additional Virginia Delegation members signing the letter include U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine, and U.S. Reps. Scott Taylor (VA-2), Bobby Scott (VA-3), Tom Garrett, Jr. (VA-5), Bob Goodlatte (VA-6), Dave Brat (VA-7), Don Beyer (VA-8), H. Morgan Griffith (VA-9), Barbara Comstock (VA-10), and Gerald E. Connolly (VA-11).
Congressman Rob Wittman represents the 1st District of Virginia. He serves on the House Natural Resources Committee and the House Armed Services Committee, where he is the Chairman of the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee.