The North Carolina State Ports Authority has awarded a contract to CH2M Hill Cos. to scope and design a new $1-billion container port along the west bank of the Cape Fear River in Brunswick County, about 9.5 miles from the Atlantic Ocean. Wilmington-based NCSPA hopes the new complex, combined with Wilmington’s existing container port, will make North Carolina a major East Coast contender for burgeoning Asian shipping traffic.

Under the May 16 contract, Denver-based CH2M Hill will develop public-private partnerships, handle community outreach, address environmental concerns and design a port to fill 612 acres of land purchased in April, says J.D. Solomon, CH2M Hill’s vice president and Carolinas area manager.

Preliminary studies call for a port capable of handling at least 1.4 million containers annually on the greenfield site in 2015. Wilmington’s container port handles about 133,000 annual containers. “This is a start-from-scratch [project] with no limitations on size or capacity,” says Bill Bennett, NCSPA managing director of engineering and development.

Dredging channels to 50-ft depths at the new site will cost about $400 million. “We figured out it would probably cost as much to dredge to the Port of Wilmington as it would be to just build the new facility,” says Bennett. The Wilmington port is 26 miles from the ocean and has channels that are 42 ft deep.

Ports in New York/New Jersey, Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida are all undergoing major expansions or upgrades, but have difficulty in reconciling capacity limitations with expected demand growth. “Established U.S. and internation-al ports are struggling to keep up with the land and maritime requirements of the industry,” says Thomas Eagar NCPA chief operating officer.