Harvey cripples waterway for commerce


The Gulf Intracoastal Waterway at the Colorado River is impassable after Hurricane Harvey, leading some to worry that products from the Crossroads aren't making it to the global market efficiently.

Specifically, the waterway's west lock on the Colorado River near the community of Matagorda is closed to both commercial and recreational traffic.

There, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates a total of 800,000 cubic yards of sediment flowed down from the upper Colorado River.

The agency is dredging on both sides of the lock and hopes to add a third dredge soon, agency spokesman Mike DeRusha said.

He said the west side of the west lock is at a depth of 5 feet, and the east side of the west lock is at a depth of 3 feet. The depth was originally 12 feet through the area.

The Corps' goal is to dredge the west lock to a depth of 9 feet by Sept. 30, 10 feet by mid-October and 12 feet by the first week of November.

DeRusha said recreational boaters may still traverse the Colorado River to the Gulf of Mexico while the Corps dredges.

Dale Fowler, president of the Victoria Economic Development Corporation, reached out to U.S. Congressman Blake Farenthold and U.S. Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn to make them aware of this.

"Anything we can do to potentially facilitate successful commerce in the region, we want to do that," Fowler said Tuesday.

Fowler was concerned that waterways Crossroads industries use to take crude oil, chemicals, sand and gravel to the global market were shallower because of the Category 4 hurricane. He said this could cause barges to have to lighten their loads, making more trips and costing more money.

Ports in Victoria and Calhoun counties are passable, but, like Fowler suspected, they are shallower.

"It's not perfect, but we're moving product," said Robby Burdge, who serves on the board of the Port of Victoria.

Charles Hausmann, the executive port director of the Calhoun Port Authority, said before the hurricane, the depth there was 36 feet deep. Now, it's 31.

Both men expect the Corps to dredge there soon, too.

In a 2015 Corps report, Texas was the No. 2 state in the nation for waterborne commerce.

Its ports generated more than $5 billion in local and state tax revenue and more than $9 million in federal import tax revenue each year.

The Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, meanwhile, was ranked third in inland waterways, behind the Mississippi and Ohio rivers.

Also in 2015, 79 million tons of product moved on the waterway, which stretches from Mexico to Florida.

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Environment/Investigations Reporter

Jessica Priest has done a little bit of everything since moving to Victoria in 2012. She was a regular fixture in the Crossroads’ historic courthouses, but now slathers on the sunscreen to report on the environment.

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