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If you dredge it, officials say, the megayachts will come; Deepening of Intracoastal Waterway begins

May 04, 2016 | David Fleshler | Website

A project to deepen the Intracoastal Waterway through Fort Lauderdale began Wednesday, in an effort to accommodate the floating mansions called megayachts.

These sleek craft boast helipads, elevators, saunas, wine cellars, pools, gyms and luxurious staterooms. But beyond serving as deluxe transportation for the wealthy, they form an important part of the region's marine economy, with a single megayacht capable of accounting for tens of millions of dollars in repairs and maintenance work at local boatyards.

"We're extremely excited about the project getting underway," Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler said. "It's so important to our economy and so important to our marine industry. I think the project will inject millions of dollars into the economy. Every dollar spent on dredging will stimulate multiple dollars in economic output."

The work, being done by Cashman Dredging, will run the two miles from the 17th Street bridge to Sunrise Boulevard, deepening the channel from 10 to 15 feet. The dredging will actually take the depth down to 17 feet, with the expectation that silt and sediment will fill in the very bottom.

The project has been eagerly sought by the boating industry, which is both looking forward to reaping the profits from accommodating larger boats and concerned about competition from facilities as far away as Spain.

"This is about the marine industry remaining viable in Fort Lauderdale," said Mark Crosley, executive director of the Florida Inland Navigation District. "The fastest-growing segment are the larger vessels. They can go anywhere in the world, and they do. We could lose vast amounts of business to other areas — the Mediterranean, the Bahamas, folks are worrying about Cuba in the future."

Megayachts began to be built in larger numbers in the 1990s, and the since then, they've been getting bigger.

"When I first started, 100-footers were the bigger ones, now the 300-footers are the big ones," said Jennifer Cognet, marina manager at the Hyatt Regency Pier 66, who has worked there 10 years. "This will allow us to take bigger boats, with bigger drafts. That's the whole idea."

Although boaters will have to steer around the dredging barge, the work will not result in any closures on the Intracoastal. The job is expected to take about two years.

The $17 million project is being done by the Florida Inland Navigation District, the tax-supported entity that manages Florida's portion of the 3,000-mile Intracoastal Waterway.

The marine industry accounts for about 110,000 jobs and $8.8 billion in spending in Broward County, according to the Marine Industry Association of South Florida. Although it's not possible to say exactly what proportion of this stems from megayachts, it's clearly significant and growing, said Phil Purcell, executive director of the marine industry association.

In Dania Beach, for example, where a project to deepen the Dania Cut-Off Canal was recently completely, the retrofits of megayachts with lengths of 120 feet and 250 feet are worth a total of about $60 million, he said. Just the work on the 250-footer will account for at least 175 jobs over two years, he said. Marine jobs pay 28 percent more than the average wage in the region, he said.

"This community is a hub for refit, sales and service," he said. "It's a huge economic driver. Just a paint job on one of these boats could be a million and a half."