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Port of Brownsville continues efforts to deepen ship channel

Rio Grande Guardian, September 19, 2017

By: Jacqueline Arias

A major component in the Port of Brownville’s efforts to expand and become globally competitive with a prominent deep-water seaport begins with deepening the shipping channel from 42 feet to 52 feet, which would bring bigger cargo ships and more business.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) approved the proposal in November 2014 after evaluating the project for many years, but required congressional authorization to be eligible for federal funding.

The U.S. Congress passed the Water Resources Development Act in 2016, which authorized the Brazos Island Harbor Channel Improvement Project to deepen the shipping channel at the Port of Brownsville.

Advocates for the congressional authorization of the project included U.S. Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, and U.S. Representative Filemon Vela.

In the directory, the $250 million expansion project of the 17-mile long ship channel would be one of the deepest channels in the Gulf of Mexico. The infrastructure project has the potential to make the deep-water port become a global transshipment gateway.

“The Port of Brownsville’s proximity to Mexico, and Latin America’s second largest economy, uniquely positions the port to serve as the transshipment gateway delivering goods and materials to nearby multinational manufacturing centers on both sides of the border.”

The directory explains with the recent expansion of the Panama Canal and their deeper ship channel, the Port of Brownsville is following their lead.

“Since 1914, most of the world’s largest seaports had designed their channel depths to match that of the then new Panama Canal – 40 feet – so that Panamax ships (the maximum sized ships that could transit the Panama Canal) could safely call on their ports. That all changed in 2016 when the expanded Panama Canal opened.”

For this reason, the Port of Brownsville will deepen the shipping channel to help established industries expand and develop the port to become globally competitive.

“Oil rig and ship building are integral and critical legacy industries at the port, employing thousands of workers, and they need deeper water to grow. For future sustainability, it is necessary to deepen the port’s shipping channel to remain competitive.”

The positive economic impact the Port of Brownsville has in the region was one of the primary reasons to deepen the shipping channel. In the directory, the port highlights the economic activity it generates in Texas, approximately $3 billion in cargo activity and more in state and local tax revenues.

“According to Martin Associates’ report, The Economic Impacts of the Port of Brownsville, 2015, cargo activity at the port’s marine terminals and rig repair operations support $3 billion in total Texas economic activity, resulting in more than 44,000 jobs. Of those, 3,181 direct jobs are generated at the port by marine cargo and vessel activity and ship and rig repair. The report concludes that $42.6 million of state and local tax revenue is generated by those activities, and another $121.7 million in state and local taxes are generated due to economic activity of related users of the cargo moving through the port’s marine terminals. These impacts distinguish the port as the regions leading economic driver.”

Although the Port of Brownsville received congressional authorization for the infrastructure project, Congress would still need to approve a budget to fund the expansion. But port staff and members of the Brownsville Navigation District are working on securing public and private funding to accelerate the project and begin construction in 2020.

“The story doesn’t end there. Congress must now budget funds for the project, which typically takes years, even decades, to achieve.

“The port isn’t waiting. It’s finding ways today to accelerate the process by assembling a coalition of public and private partners to create funding options for the project, while proceeding on a parallel path to receive all necessary permits and approvals to begin construction by 2020. The idea is to preserve and grow the viability of the port’s critically important existing tenants and industries, while taking advantage of existing opportunities to attract new industries.”