The Port of Brownsville’s plan to deepen its ship channel by 10 feet to accommodate larger vessels received congressional authorization earlier this month, with President Barack Obama’s signing of the Water Resources and Development Act of 2016.
The authorization also makes the dredging project, with an estimated cost of $200 million, eligible for federal funding. The “Brazos Island Channel Improvement Project” was among 28 infrastructure projects nationwide included in the WRDA and submitted to Congress by the U.S. Army Corps for approval.
USACE Chief of Engineers and Commanding General Thomas Bostick endorsed the project two years ago in his annual “Chief’s Report,” making the case that dredging the channel to 52 feet from its current depth of 42 feet would create significant economic advantages for commercial navigation in South Texas.
The endorsement, the last step of a years-long feasibility study, came too late for the project to be included for authorization in the Water Resources and Reform Development Act of 2014, which delayed the project’s eligibility for federal funding.
Eduardo Campirano, port director and CEO, said getting congressional authorization at least means clearing “another hurdle in the process.” On top of $200 million for dredging, the port will need another $50 million or so to upgrade docks for the deeper channel, he said.
Campirano said Annova LNG and Rio Grande LNG, two of three liquefied natural gas companies seeking permission from the federal government to build LNG export terminals at the port, have budgeted $3.3 million to pay for engineering and design for the deepening project. Assuming any of those facilities are actually built, special vessels for transporting LNG will use the ship channel on a regular basis.
“Although the project is not designed for the LNGs — they’re not included in the feasibility study for the project — the additional draft would obviously help them,” Campirano said.
As for where the $200 million in construction funds will come from, the port will explore federal funding, private funding, or possibly a combination of the two, he said.
“On the actual construction side we’re obviously going to look at every opportunity,” Campirano said. “Nobody said it was going to be easy.”
Deepening the channel is essential if the port is to remain competitive, he said.
“It’s for the sustainability of what we do,” Campirano said. “The vessels are getting larger. Cargo vessels — whether they’re the dry bulk cargo or the liquid cargo — both are getting bigger.”
A deeper channel is also critical for Keppel AmFELS to be able to service larger, semi-submersible offshore drilling rigs, he said.
“Right now, these large rigs with thrusters, we don’t have the draft to be able to accommodate them,” Campirano said.
The deepening project could commence within five years, depending on how much success the port has rounding up funding, he said.
“It’s all about what we do now,” he said. “There’s about five projects in Texas that are all on the books,” he said. “Everybody’s going to 50 feet-plus. If (vessels) don’t come here they’re going to go elsewhere, so it’s important we look at those opportunities.