The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will move forward with the design of a project to deepen the western end of the Galveston Ship Channel, a sign that a long-hoped for project is nearing reality.
The $813,000 commitment to complete preconstruction, engineering and design of the harbor channel extension was announced last week with the release of the corps’ 2019 work plan.
The work plan is a list of projects the corps plans to complete in the next fiscal year. Last week’s announcement included hundreds of million of dollars on port and flood mitigation projects in Texas, including a $71.8 million project to deepen and widen the Corpus Christi Ship Channel and $55 million for the construction at the Lewisville Dam in North Texas.
The announcement did not include funding for any construction projects in Galveston County, but the funding for the port deepening project could lead to major new work in the future.
Port officials had anticipated that the corps was preparing to move forward with funding design and engineering of the project, but weren’t certain it would receive funding this year, Port Director Rodger Rees said.
“We knew it was coming, but didn’t know when,” Rees said. “This sets up the completion of the deepening of the channel for the last 500 yards of the port.”
The port has wanted to deepen the west end of the port for years, seeing it as a way to help attract more business and benefit existing companies that work there.
The project proposes deepening 90 acres of the channel between Pier 38 and the Pelican Island Bridge to 45 feet, deep enough to accommodate container vessels.
The channel is only 41 feet deep in that section. Other parts of the channel are 46 feet deep.
The funding represents a restart to the deepening project. A study of the idea was halted in 2013 because the corps at the time said it would only benefit a single company. Since then, another business has moved into the west end of the port, strengthening the argument for the expansion.
One of the businesses that will be benefited by the deepened port is Texas International Terminals, which is owned by Sullivan Interests.
Sullivan Interests is co-owned by port Trustee Todd Sullivan.
A deeper port means cargo ships with more capacity can reach businesses at the west end of the channel, Sullivan said. If completed, the deepening will make the port more competitive with other ports, he said.
“It’s much more efficient for a shipper to carry cargo that has deeper drafts,” Sullivan said.
The construction cost of the dredging project is estimated to be $14.6 million. If, after the design is complete, Congress chooses to fund construction, local entities would have to pay about $3 million to help complete it — and still more to continue to maintain the project after it’s finished.
The planning project is not the only funds from the corps that will land locally next year. The corps also will spend $13 million to operate and maintain the Galveston Ship Channel.
The work plan also includes continued funding for the Coastal Texas Protection and Restoration Study, the federal study that recently proposed building a coastal barrier and seagate system along Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula.