Port Corpus Christi will advance $32 million in hopes of starting next year on dredging the port’s ship channel to 52 feet deep and 530 feet wide to accommodate tankers and bulk carriers calling the energy-oriented south Texas port.
The port and the US Army Corps of Engineers have signed a project partnership agreement under which the Corps will provide $225 million of the project’s $327 million estimated cost. The port will pay an estimated $102 million, including $32 million to accelerate the start of work, which is expected to take at least three to four years, depending on federal funding.
The agreement between the port and the Corps comes as work continues to restore the port’s channel to its regular 45-foot depth and 400-foot width following Hurricane Harvey. Port facilities suffered only minor damage, but the port’s channel was closed for several days until it could be surveyed for obstructions.
Dredging is underway to clear the channel of sediment left by the storm. The US Coast Guard has eased restrictions on navigation but is still limiting ships to daylight transits with 43-foot maximum drafts, and pilots are coordinating transits to avoid passing or meeting other vessels. Port officials hope to soon restore the channel to its regular 45-foot depth.
Deepening and widening the channel has been a longtime goal for Corpus Christi, home to three major oil refineries and several petrochemical and bulk-products facilities. The port also has a sizeable presence in project and breakbulk cargo markets, including wind energy shipments.
The channel expansion was initially authorized by Congress under the Water Resources Development Act of 2007 and reauthorized in 2014 and 2016.
In addition to widening and deepening the ship channel, the project will provide shallower “shelves” at each side of the channel for barge traffic. Following standard practice, the main channel will be dredged two feet deeper than the official 52-foot depth.
Port officials say the project will solidify Corpus Christi’s position in oil and petrochemical shipments. The port ranks first among US ports in petroleum exports.
“The Corpus Christi Ship Channel Improvement Project is of critical importance for the Texas energy sector and for the nation’s move toward energy independence,” Charles W. Zahn, chairman of the Port Corpus Christi Commission, said in a statement.