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Port of Corpus Christi in D.C. for dredging project

Port of Corpus Christi commissioners met with U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry during a recent trip to Washington, D.C. Port CEO Sean Strawbridge testified before a House subcommittee while there. Courtesy photo

A recent trip to Washington, D.C., by Port of Corpus Christi officials focused on meetings to dig up federal money to dig out the Corpus Christi Ship Channel. Easy access to the port by bigger ships will solidify the port’s position as the Energy Port of the United States. The Corpus Christi Ship Channel Improvement Project is expected to cost about $350 million.

Port CEO Sean Strawbridge testified March 6 before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform’s Subcommittee on the Interior, Energy and Environment. The meeting, titled “Examining the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,” proposed ways for the USACE to improve delivery of crucial infrastructure projects, including the Corpus Christi Ship Channel Improvement Project.

“Federal ship channels are the main arteries for moving American products to international markets,” Strawbridge testified. “And the Corpus Christi Ship Channel Improvement Project is at the heart of exporting American energy and achieving global energy dominance.”

In the weeks before the meeting, President Trump included $16 million for the channel dredging project in his proposed 2019 budget. It was the first time a president included funds for Corpus Christi in a national budget. The line item means nothing, however, unless included in the Appropriations Bill and approved by Congress. It also falls short of the requested $60 million.

“The Corpus Christi Ship Channel Improvement Project is a prime example of an important Army Corps of Engineers project that has been delayed over and over again,” said Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Corpus Christi). “This project was first proposed nearly 30 years ago, but construction hasn’t started yet. Not only has the project been delayed, but the cost has doubled since it was first authorized from $188 million to more than $327 million.”

Further delay in funding the project will only cost the port in revenue. Dredging the channel could bring in $36 billion a year in exports.

The vessels that haul oil and gas have gotten bigger. The Panama Canal was recently widened to make way for bigger ships, which can transport fuel more economically than smaller ships. With the new, taller Harbor Bridge now under construction to allow for taller ships, the channel must be dredged to permit fully loaded vessels to leave the port.

PORT OF CORPUS CHRISTI’S MAJOR ENERGY ROLE

Thanks to a shale oil boom, the United States now produces more oil than its home-based refineries can process. The rest must be shipped to overseas markets, meaning a great deal of it will be pushed through pipelines across the Lone Star State from West Texas to the Port of Corpus Christi.

As Corpus Christi becomes a major corridor for U.S. energy exports, the infrastructure to handle it must be in place, a message port officials took to Washington. Pipelines are being built at breakneck speed, but funds for the dredging project are creeping in slowly at best.

The port has pledged $32 million of its own money to get the necessary engineering study done before the dredging can begin. The port has also pledged an additional $102 million toward the entire project. The hope is the federal government will provide the remaining $225 million.

Currently, the channel is approved for 47 feet. Hurricane Harvey deposited several feet of sediment in the channel, necessitating additional dredging just to keep the port open to its usual traffic. The channel improvement project will take the channel down to 54 feet, 56 feet at the entrance. The 36-mile channel would also be widened to 530 feet from 400 feet.

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