POINT COMFORT – The Calhoun County Port Authority is one step closer to getting federal approval to widen and deepen the Matagorda Ship Channel.
During the port’s monthly meeting on Wednesday Calhoun Port Director Charles Hausmann announced that the Army Corps of Engineers Chief’s Report for the Matagorda Ship Channel Improvement Project was recently signed.
“It is a big milestone,” Hausmann said. “We’ve been waiting for this for quite some time and we finally got that signed, so we’re really excited.”
A Chief’s Report is developed when a water resource project requires congressional authorization, like the Matagorda Ship Channel Improvement Project, which includes deepening the waterway by 9 feet, widen the bay channel by 100 feet and the offshore channel by 300 feet.
The report has to be included on a Water Resource Development Act and approved by Congress in order for the project to be federally authorized, which the port hopes to see happen in 2020.
The final Corps’ Feasibility Report and Environmental Impact Statement for the project includes a change from a previous draft, which said that land the port owns in the Alamo Beach area would be used as a dredge material placement area if contaminated dredge materials were found.
“The primary concern with regard to sediment quality in the project area is mercury,” according to the Corps’ study.
Alcoa, a now idled aluminum refinery, discharged inorganic mercury-laden wastewater into Lavaca Bay from 1965 to 1981. The Environmental Protection Agency declared the area as a superfund site decades later, in 1994.
Used in industrial processes, inorganic mercury can become organic mercury, or methylmercury, when combined with carbon.
Martin Tsz-Ki Tsui, an assistant professor in the biology department at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, previous told the Advocate that most of the methylmercury in the bay is likely sequestered under layers of sand, so dredging the bay could release the poisonous metal.
In June, Hausmann said Alcoa has agreed to accept contaminated dredging material should any be found.
While the port will still be responsible for the investigation, removal and disposal of any contaminates discovered during required testing, Alcoa will accept those materials in accordance with a 2002 settlement with the port, according to the study.
The multi-million dollar endeavor is not yet funded, but Hausmann said he is looking into paying for the project through a public-private partnership to speed up construction.
“We will know in time, but the first goal is to get that (Chief’s Report) into the Water Resource Development Act bill in 2020,” he said.
The port’s longtime lobbyist in Washington, D.C., Rick Maldonado, has already started discussions with congressional representatives after hand-delivering copies of the signed report to U.S. Rep. Michael Cloud and Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, Hausmann said.
Board members approved a $20,000 increase to Maldonado’s annual salary during Wednesday’s meeting. He will be paid $100,000 by the port each year for legislative services, according to the five-year contract.