Officials in Maryland don't know how feasible it is to turn dredged muck from the bottom of Baltimore's shipping channels into a commercially viable construction material — but they are looking to find out.
The Maryland Department of Transportation and the Maryland Port Administration recently requested information from a variety of private companies on best practices in turning the sludgy dredged material at its Cox Creek Dredged Material Containment Facility into concrete aggregate.
It did so under the state's public-private partnership law, suggesting a private company would play a key role in any such program in the future.
The goal would be to recover storage capacity at the 102-acre facility, which is south of the Francis Scott Key Bridge and is designed to accept about 500,000 cubic yards of dredged material per year. At that rate, it and another storage facility in Masonville with a similar annual capacity will fill within two decades.
Meanwhile, the state has averaged 1.3 million cubic yards of dredged material taken out of the harbor annually between 1992 and 2011, and maintaining its shipping channels — among the deepest on the East Coast — is an endless battle.
"Dredging is the lifeline of the port of Baltimore," said James J. White, executive director of the MPA, in a statement. "Without properly maintained shipping channels, the huge ships of today and supersized ones of tomorrow could not safely travel to and from the port."
Reuse of the material is considered a cutting-edge alternative to storage in containment facilities, especially in a state that has strict limits on where dredged material can be relocated.
The Dec. 20 request for information follows a "demonstration project" in January 2012 in which the port administration was successful in converting dredged material into lightweight construction aggregate.
The state's "presumption" is that its private partner would sell the aggregate material produced, and would "be responsible for all or a portion of the initial funding and financing" of the project, according to the information request.