Posted September 12, 2018
Like other fishermen here, Jack Ficklen dodges shallow spots as he steers his boat across the deeply-silted port.
The waters have become so shallow they actually claimed the life of a fisherman when he drowned after his boat hit bottom and flipped a few months ago, Ficklen said.
“ It’s way overdue,” Ficklen, director of the Port Mansfield Volunteer Fire Department, said yesterday. “There have been a couple of real bad accidents.”
After more than four years, Port Director Ron Mills has led a drive to pump millions of dollars to fund the most extensive dredging project since the port opened 56 years ago.
“ It’s pretty amazing,” Mills said.
Officials have declined to release the amount of funding earmarked for the dredging project.
But Mills said it was about 10 times the $2.4 million the Port of Harlingen landed to dredge its channel.
“ It’s a very significant amount,” Mills said.
He worked with U.S. Reps. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, and Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to help land the funding.
“ It’s been perseverance,” Mills said.
Starting in early fall, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans the 18-month project to dredge the port from the harbor, across the channel and beyond the jetties.
“ It’s a huge change,” Mills said. “It’s nice to see light at the end of the tunnel.”
Ficklen remembers the thriving port.
About 40 years ago, he worked on some of the big boats docked here.
“ I used to work for millionaires with big boats but they all left,” he said. “We’re hoping they’ll come back.”
The dredging project will help anglers better navigate their boats in this bayside village that boasts some of the best fishing on the Texas coast.
“ It’s severely needed,” Ficklen said of the dredging project. “There’s a whole bunch of real shallow spots. At the mouth of the harbor it’s 2½ feet deep.”
The Corps has not dredged the port since 2011.
“ They’ve done little spurts but nothing this significant,” Mills said of so-called “spot dredging.”
As part of the project, the Corps plans to dredge the channel to depths of about 14 feet, making it deep enough for commercial ships.
So, Mills is counting on opening the port to commercial traffic.
“ This will be the first time we’ll look at dredging the channel to Port Mansfield in its entirety since its construction in 1963,” Joe Hrametz, the Corps’ chief of operations in Galveston, stated. “The overall outcome is to restore safe and efficient navigation of the channel to Port Mansfield.”
Now, Mills is applying to the United States Maritime Administration for an $8 million to $10 million grant to help rebuild about 1500-feet of bulkhead to be able to anchor commercial boats along the port’s northern seawall.
“ We want to make it a viable port,” Mills said.
Silting has risen the bay’s high salinity levels, disrupting the area’s eco-system, Ficklen said.
“ It’s got to be flushed — this is going to do it,” he said. “The dredging is going to make all the difference in the world.”
After the port opened in 1962, off-shore supply boats catered to the oil industry, which had left the area by the mid 1980s.
Before the area’s shrimp fleets dwindled off, the Coast Guard moved out its operations in 1994.
Source: Valley Star