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Sabine Neches channel project gets money to dig

November 27, 2018

A project to deepen and improve the Sabine Neches Waterway Channel has an anticipated start date for construction, more than two decades after planning began.

The project has now been awarded $18 million in federal funding for fiscal 2019 to begin the process of deepening the waterway to 48 feet from its current depth of 40 feet.

“Let’s dig it!” Sabine Neches Navigation District Board chairman Paul Beard said Monday. He says everywhere he goes Southeast Texas residents ask him when the dredging will begin.

The allocation of these funds so quickly is notable because of the amount of discretionary funding — nearly $5 billion — the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gets each year for its civil works program compared with the cost of this one project, said Byron Williams, chief of the corps’ Project Management Branch, Galveston District.

“The project alone is a $1.2 billion project,” he said. “So that puts into perspective how important it is that this money was allocated for construction.”

In addition to the deepening, the project will increase the 64-mile waterway to 77 miles.

“That means more economic benefits because we have larger, longer and deeper ships bringing in more commodities,” he said. “We also have the Port of Beaumont, which is the largest strategic military port in the country holding 55 percent of the nation’s oil reserves.”

Ships are being loaded with 50 percent less product than they could be because of the waterway’s depth, said Matthew Kaufman, the Navigation District’s assistant manager.

In 2017 the waterway accounted for more than $20 billion in exports, and that annual figure is expected to swell to more than $73 billion by 2026.

The Corps of Engineers began planning for the dredging project some 21 years ago, but its study was delayed by major hurricanes and bureaucracy, Beard said.

The project finally received federal authorization in 2014 under the Water Resources Reform and Development Act. Earlier this year, funds were allocated to complete the planning, engineering and design phase. That work continues.

The recent allotment of money came several months before officials had anticipated. Given the time required to receive bids and approve a contractor, Williams anticipates construction in late 2019.

The waterway is the nation’s largest exporter of crude oil, liquefied natural gas and petroleum coke, according to a Sabine Neches Navigation District news release. It’s also home to the nation’s third largest refining complex with proposed expansions that would make it the largest.

“The Sabine-Neches Waterway is one of the most critical energy and military transit assets in our country,” Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick said in a news release announcing the funding. “While most Americans may not yet have heard of us, we deliver for them every day.”

kaitlin.bain@beaumontenterprise.com

twitter.com/KaitlinBain

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