NORFOLK, Va. - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Cottrell Contracting are set to begin dredging the Norfolk Harbor Inner Channel and channel to Newport News December 28.Norfolk District will manage the operations and maintenance project as part of an effort to remove shoaling, allowing safe and unrestricted navigation for the largest commercial and military vessels transiting into and out of the Port of Virginia. Officials expect it to take five months to complete the work.The $10.4 million contract, awarded in August to the Chesapeake-based company, permits the dredging of 1.1 million cubic yards of sediment from the federal channel. Cottrell will pump it by pipeline to Craney Island Dredged Material Management Area in Portsmouth.Steve Powell, Norfolk District project manager, said Cottrell is dredging to a depth of 52 feet below mean lower low water, a formula based on the lowest tide's average height measured over a 19-year period."This dredging depth ensures that as the channel shoals in between maintenance cycles, the shoals will still be below 50 feet, the depth required to keep commerce flowing in the Port of Virginia," he said. "It will be performed in a manner that ensures the continued safe and unrestricted navigation in the harbor."The Port of Virginia's six cargo terminals constitute a driving economic force for the state, said Joe Harris, a Virginia Port Authority spokesman, citing a College of William & Mary study of the port's value during fiscal year 2018.It's responsible for more than 397,000 full-time jobs across Virginia and $23 billion in labor income. In addition, there are an estimated 530,000 jobs in the maritime industry, including shipbuilding and repair, coal and private terminals.Harris said the port also generates $92 billion in output sales, $39 billion in Virginia gross product, and $2.1 billion in state and local taxes."Deep, safe and well-maintained navigation channels are vital to the long-term economic health of Virginia's economy," he added. "We understand that our customers and the cargo owners want to move their big ships and cargo across ports that are growing, modern, efficient and safe. The investments the port is making in its terminals, combined with the deepening and widening of Norfolk Harbor and its commercial channels, will drive business to this port and have a positive effect on job growth and economic investment in Virginia for decades to come."Powell says "safe and unrestricted navigation" is the objective of all Norfolk District dredging operations in federal channels."It's the engine that drives the economy for the Port of Virginia," he said. "The commerce that flows through the port ensures a healthy economy for the commonwealth of Virginia and nation as a whole. In addition, unrestricted navigation is critical to meeting the needs of the military, so it's critical to our national defense."Maintenance dredging is required every 12 to 15 months in Norfolk Harbor Channel and every three to four years in the channel to Newport News, he added. Without it, the high rate of shoaling would severely restrict vessel movement within the port."Severe shoals could require ships to transit only during high tides, which would cause costly delays for the ship and employees who work at the many port facilities in Hampton Roads," he said. "Also, if a ship ever ran aground, commercial and military vessel transits would be impacted until the vessel is freed from the shoal and the shoal is removed by a dredge."Norfolk District provides innovative engineering solutions - in collaboration with partners - to deliver water resources, military, interagency, environmental and disaster-response programs that make communities, the commonwealth of Virginia and nation a better place to work and live.Questions about this dredging project can be referred to the USACE Norfolk District Public Affairs Office at 757-201-7606.