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Port Mansfield plans $2.5 million dredging project

October 12, 2018

PORT MANSFIELD — It’s a big job with a fat price tag.

But Port Director Ron Mills believes it will pay off.

Yesterday, Mills presented the Willacy County Navigation District with an estimate of $2.4 million to $2.9 million to rebuild a 500-foot stretch of the port’s northern seawall.

After the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers conducts the port’s biggest dredging job since it opened about 55 years ago, Mills plans to draw commercial ships here for the first time in decades.

Along the seawall, he said, the port plans to dock the barges.

“ It’s essential to expand our commercial capacity,” Mills said yesterday, referring to the project. “Now there’s no place for any commercial vessel to push up against the wall. We have a lot of harbor space but the seawall is not updated and modern.”

Mills said he will apply to the United States Maritime Administration for grant money.

If he cannot land a grant, the port, with an annual budget of $1.7 million, plans to borrow the money, Mills said.

Mills is planning to transform this tiny fishing village into a commercial harbor, diversifying Willacy County’s agricultural economy and offering jobs to residents in one of Texas’ poorest counties.

After the port opened about 55 years ago, commercial barges docked here along with the off-shore supply boats catering to the oil industry.

After the oil market plunged in the 1980s, the port lost most of its commercial traffic.

Before the area’s shrimp fleets dwindled off, the Coast Guard moved out its operations in 1994.

After the port lost its commercial draw, the Corps stopped its routine dredging jobs of this tiny village boasting some of the best fishing on the Texas coast.

In 2011, the Corps dredged the port for the last time.

Now, the silt has clogged much of the port, leaving the harbor’s mouth less than three feet deep.

Like Mills, many of the local anglers are bracing to help transform the port.

Soon, the Corps will launch a dredging job estimated to cost about $24 million.

First, the Corps plans to dredge a 1-mile stretch from the harbor to the Intracoastal Waterway between next month and January.

“ That’s to get a little water between the harbor and the Intracoastal Waterway, to clear out the harbor so boats can get out safely,” Mills said. “Now boats are turning up mud. There’s only 3 feet of water.”

Then, by the end of 2019, the Corps plans to dredge from the harbor to the sea buoy 12.9-miles in the Gulf.

fdelvalle@valleystar.com

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