Navigation District moving forward with waterway deepening project

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Port Arthur News
September 26, 2014

By Chelsea Henderson, The News staff writer

The Sabine-Neches Navigation District finally has the green light from the federal government to dredge its 65-mile-long ship channel in order to deepen the waterway by eight feet.

Clayton Henderson, Navigation District assistant manager, said the district is nearing the kickoff of its waterway deepening project during a presentation at the Texas Department of Transportation’s Southeast Texas Transportation Summit last week at the MCM Eleganté Hotel and Conference Center.

Deepening the waterway will incorporate the district’s ship channel that runs both the Neches and Sabine rivers. Henderson said the ship channel is 65 miles long, 40 feet deep and 400-to-700 feet wide now.

“As big as the ships you see out in the waterway are, you’re only seeing about a third of that vessel — the other two thirds are under water. The larger ships only have about two feet of clearance between their keel and the channel floor,” Henderson said. “If you were to go scuba diving underneath one of these ships, you’d have to take off your oxygen tank to fit, so we’re already maximizing what we let through our channel and what comes in on these vessels.”

Henderson said the Navigation District wants to expand the channel — the new waterway will be 48 feet deep and 73 miles long.

“While we’re doing this to allow bigger ships to come in, we’ll also have to get in there and do some bend easing to alleviate the ships we have now,” Henderson said. “We’ve got some sharp turns in the channel, so the longer vessels are having to make all these tight corners. We want to ease these bends — widen those turns — so the ships can make them more efficiently.”

Henderson said dredging the channel should take between 12 and 15 years to complete, but the project’s benefits to Jefferson County will take effect “immediately.”

“The economics for building this waterway are staggering,” Henderson said. “We’ve deepened the waterway five times in the past, and we’ve seen economic benefits every time. This will provide 30,000 jobs during construction and close to 80,000 when it’s all said and done. And these jobs are not just in waterway professions but for corner store jobs and grocery store jobs as well. Rising tides float all boats.”

Henderson said the district still has another year of preliminary engineering and design, but once the PED stage is complete “the actual dredging, the digging, the deepening” could begin as early as October 2016.

Henderson said the dredged material will be used to recreate 2,700 acres of wetlands by adding the material to subsiding marshland in the area. The material will then be covered by grass “to bring the marsh back to its natural state.”