POINT COMFORT — The Calhoun Port Authority is “pushing hard” for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to release a jetties deficiency report they need in order to have a chance at U.S. Congress approving the Matagorda Ship Channel Improvement Project by the end of the year.
“We’re doing everything that we can to force the hand,” Port Director Charles Hausmann said during a regular port meeting Wednesday.
The widening and deepening project, which Max Midstream Texas recently agreed to pay for, is on draft versions of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate’s bills to amend the Water Resource Development Act.
In order for the project to be federally authorized, language from the jetties deficiency report needs to be included.
“If we don’t get that released pretty soon, then we are not going to have our language that we need in it and it will have to wait until the next WRDA and it would probably not be until 2022,” Hausmann said.
The project includes deepening the waterway by 9 feet, widen the bay channel by 100 feet and the offshore channel by 300 feet, which would allow for larger vessels to utilize the port.
The primary environmental concern with the project is the possibility of mercury-contaminated dredge materials getting dug up during the dredging process, according to the final Corps’ Feasibility Report and Environmental Impact Statement for the project.
While the port will be responsible for the investigation, removal and disposal of any contaminates discovered during required testing, Alcoa Corp. will accept those materials in accordance with a 2002 settlement with the port, the study said.
Hausmann said he is working with Congressmen Michael Cloud and Randy Weber, and U.S. Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn to get the Corps of Engineers to release the deficiency report as soon as possible.
After months of lower-than-usual vessel traffic, Hausmann said the port is seeing traffic starting to pick back up.
“We hope that trend will continue upon and it looks like it will, especially with Formosa coming back online with some of the other plants they’ve been doing turnarounds on,” he said.
Hasumann said the port is on track to have Max Midstream start moving ships in by November. The Texas-based energy company recently announced a large crude oil export pipeline project at the port that is underway.
The board also lowered a rate for Formosa Plastics Corp. in its Tariff Code. In 2016, the port raised the price per short ton from $0.32 to $0.38 for all of the corporation’s products that cross the port’s docks to cover Formosa’s share of the port’s pipe rack rehabilitation project.
The port lowered the price per short ton back down to $0.32 because Formosa constructed a third tier on the liquid pier pipe rack that it has agreed to allow Max Midstream to use and paid its share of the pip rack rehabilitation expenses.
Max Midstream has an easement with the port to use the rack, but an agreement between Max Midstream and Formosa still needs to be developed, Hasumann said.
In other action, the port renewed a $75,000 year-long contract with Stalwart Strategies, Inc., a lobbying and public affairs firm that arranges meetings for the port with officials and state agencies and tracks bills that may impact the port in the Texas Legislature.
In addition to Stalwart, the port has a five-year contract with Rick Maldonado, its longtime Washington, D.C., lobbyists. He is paid $100,000 per year.
“One of the things that is important about having someone in Austin at this time is (that) we only have 40,000 acres of bay bottom and we really need to tack any legislation that could potentially affect our ownership capabilities or ownership rights of that bay bottom, whether it is coming from the oyster folks or actual entities themselves,” Hausmann said.
At the Victoria Partnership meeting last week, Hausmann noted the port’s unique ownership of the bay bottom, which he said allows the port to widen and deepen the channel without having to obtain lease agreements.