Corps OKs port deepening; Dredging on $350M project may start in 2020
The Port of Brownsville is another step closer to deepening the Brownsville Ship Channel, a project already a dozen years in the making, with the issuance of a key permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on June 6.
The permit allows the Brazos Island Harbor Channel Improvement Project to move forward to the construction phase. Deepening the channel to 52 feet from its current depth of 42 feet is necessary for the port to be able to accommodate larger, heavier cargo vessels, which in turn is necessary for the port to stay competitive, according to officials.
“These crucial infrastructure projects solidify our presence in the global market and create better economic opportunities for our local workforce,” said Brownsville Navigation District Chairman John Reed.
He said the Rio Grande Valley is on the verge of a new economic era and that the deepening project is “essential for our continued progress and success.”
Planning for the project began in 2007 with a USACE feasibility study. The study was completed in 2014 with the recommendation that the channel be deepened to 52 feet. The project was authorized by Congress in late 2016, making it eligible to receive for federal funding, though no money was appropriated. The estimated cost is $350 million, which port officials expect to cover through a combination of private and public funds, including federal dollars.
Houston-based NextDecade Corporation, which is waiting for Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approval to build its proposed Rio Grande liquefied natural gas export terminal at the port, signed a deal with the port on April 24 agreeing to pay for deepening the channel from NextDecade’s lease on the channel to the Gulf — about nine miles, more than about half the length of the overall project.
Dredging for the project is expected to begin next year. Port officials expect other proposed port projects to sign on with the public-private partnership to help pay for the channel deepening.
At the April 24 signing ceremony, Reed said that once the project is complete Brownsville’s port will be among the deepest on the Gulf, enhancing its competitiveness by closely aligning with the design features of the expanded Panama Canal.