2007-12-20 / Front Page

Ship channel widening five years off

BY PHIL REYNOLDS SOUTH JETTY REPORTER

Future ship channel COURTESY ILLUSTRATION PORT OF CORPUS CHRISTI AUTHORITY Port of Corpus Christi Authority plans call for the entire length of the Corpus Christi Ship Channel to be widened and deepened in the next few years, including the section through Port Aransas. However, the schedule doesn't call for work to be done in Port Aransas until 2010, and city officials say it shouldn't affect the local shoreline. Future ship channel COURTESY ILLUSTRATION PORT OF CORPUS CHRISTI AUTHORITY Port of Corpus Christi Authority plans call for the entire length of the Corpus Christi Ship Channel to be widened and deepened in the next few years, including the section through Port Aransas. However, the schedule doesn't call for work to be done in Port Aransas until 2010, and city officials say it shouldn't affect the local shoreline. Port Aransas is part of the Port of Corpus Christi Authority's (PCCA) plan eventually to widen and deepen the Corpus Christi Ship Channel, even though a dredge that's working in the ship channel near the ferry landing now isn't part of that long-range plan.

If everything goes as planned - Congress approves funds, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is on schedule and the "creek don't rise" - expect to see work starting between Roberts Point and Piper Channel in about five years. The next step will be to begin deepening and widening the channel west of Piper Channel; that's scheduled for the following year, 2013.

In contrast, the dredge working near the Port Aransas ferry crossing is removing a shoal of sediment in the ship channel. The dredge contractor is under contract with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for maintenance dredging and should complete this work within the next few weeks, said Port of Corpus Christi Authority Marketing Director John Valls.

The much larger ship channel project, which has been in the planning stages for nearly two decades, got a big boost last month when Congress overrode President Bush's veto of the Water Resource Development Act.

The bill funds hundreds of Army Corps of Engineers projects, such as dams, sewage plants and beach restoration, that are important to local communities and their representatives.

It also includes money for the hurricane-hit Gulf Coast and for Florida Everglades restoration efforts.

Congress gave its OK to the original study of the ship channel proposal back in 1990. Since then, PCCA and the Corps of Engineers have spent $7.9 million on checking the feasibility of the project and doing the engineering and design for it. Of the $7.9 million, $3.2 million has come from the PCCA, which is not a governmental agency.

PCCA expects to spend $125-$150 million before the project is completed, with $175-$200 million coming from the federal government through the Corps of Engineers.

With the Congressional override seeming to assure funding for the future, the first phase of the ship channel project would be to start construction on an extension of La Quinta Channel near Ingleside. That channel is designed to serve new industry intended for the Ingleside- Portland-Gregory area. The extension is due to start in 2009.

Next, the PCCA intends to build what are called "barge shelves," shallower channels alongside the deeper ship channel that are aimed at separating barge traffic from oceangoing ship traffic.

The ships require a channel in the neighborhood of 50 feet deep; the barges, which use the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, only need 12-15 feet of draft.

The idea is that if the barges using the ship channel to cross Corpus Christi Bay and to reach the Port of Corpus Christi can have a channel of their own, there's much less danger of a barge and ship colliding.

The barge shelves would be among the first built in the United States.

Improvements at Pelican Island and Ingleside on the Bay, aimed at protecting wildlife and reducing shoreline erosion, would be next on the list, with a projected date of 2011.

After that, PCCA wants to start on the ship channel itself, beginning with deepening the entrance between the north and south jetties and extending the channel farther into the Gulf of Mexico. From there, work will move gradually toward Corpus Christi.

Neither the Port of Corpus Christi nor the city of Port Aransas expects channel work to affect the shoreline here.

"Engineers and planners for the recent shoreline improvement and protection projects adjacent to the south (Port Aransas) side of the ship channel, that is, the concrete bulkhead and rock revetment beginning from the County Pier through and including the new steel and rock jetties at the Piper Channel entrance, were aware of and took into consideration during design, the future planned improvements of the Channel Improvement Project," Valls said.

"We'd been losing 17 feet a year of the shoreline through erosion (from passing ships' wakes)," said Port Aransas Planning and Projects Manager David Parsons. "There's hundreds of feet of flats between the bulkhead and the channel."

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