Posted on June 8, 2023
Efforts to widen and deepen the Matagorda Ship Channel hit a wall in December when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers withdrew its design plans, saying they needed to redo their environmental assessment for the project.
Then this month, the corps announced it was prepared to draft a new environmental study. The corps will host a public meeting Wednesday night at the Bauer Exhibit Hall, 305 Henry Barber Way in Port Lavaca.
With the expansion project back on its feet, Calhoun Port Authority Director Charles Hausmann visited members of the Victoria Partnership Tuesday morning to discuss how widening and deepening the ship channel would benefit the Port of Calhoun and the regional economy.
“Over the first 10 years after the channel gets widened, 1,000 jobs will be created over that 10-year period,” Hausmann said.
The port is talking to leaders of green energy projects, who can altogether invest $3 billion to $5 billion in the Crossroads if the ship channel is widened and deepened, Hausmann said. The port director said he could not say who the companies are, due to a nondisclosure agreement.
“Right now, that’s really where the thrust is,” Hausmann said. “All the people that we’re talking to say the growth market is going to be in that green energy field.”
Under the design the corps submitted prior to its withdrawal, the entrance to the channel would have been expanded by 13,000 feet, and both the entrance and bay-side channels would be deepened by 9 feet. The bottom width of the entrance channel would be widened by 250 feet and the bottom width of the bay channel would be widened by 100 feet.
Capt. David Adrian, a presiding officer with the Matagorda Bay Pilots organization, told the audience the current entrance channel is the most dangerous in the country for ships when currents are taken into account. Overall, only the Columbia River Bar in the Pacific Northwest presents more dangerous conditions, he said.
During his presentation, Hausmann said the corps backed out of the project in December because it mathematically underestimated the amount it would need to dredge in order to widen and deepen the channel.
“Instead of 21-million cubic yards to dredge, it was 38-million yards to dredge,” Hausmann said. “Big mistake.”
A study published in September 2021 by researchers from the Harte Institute at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi found that the corps’ 2019 environmental study miscalculated the total acreage of oyster reefs and seagrass beds it would need to replace by dredging the ship channel.
Environmentalists used the study as evidence in a 2022 lawsuit against the corps. The plaintiffs claimed the corps needed to redo its environmental assessment, known as a supplemental environmental impact study, or SEIS.
The environmental coalition suing the corps also had concerns about mercury from the Alcoa Superfund site in Lavaca Bay being resuspended during the dredging process.
Hausmann said Tuesday that mercury samples taken at the dredge site have all been below the safety benchmark set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
A sample greater than or equal to 0.5 milligrams per kilogram must be sent to a confined placement area, Hausmann said.