After Harvey, port receives $2.4 million for channel work

HARLINGEN — Fallout from Hurricane Harvey, which spread far beyond the flood-soaked coastal areas to the north, is finally being resolved at the Port of Harlingen.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has announced $2.4 million has been allocated to dredge the channel leading to the port as well as the port’s turning basin and hot spots in the Arroyo Colorado.

“The arroyo is a dynamic channel so it’s constantly changing,” Port Director Walker Smith said yesterday. “We stay on top of what needs to be happening and we actually had a dredge cycle scheduled before Hurricane Harvey came in, and when Hurricane Harvey came in, that changed everything at that point.”

The port funds announced yesterday are part of a $509 million package which includes multiple projects in Texas, including flood mitigation and critical work for Brays and Buffalo bayous, as well as the Corpus Christi ship channel. The funding will also include money for extensive studies of the Texas coastline to help make the state more resilient to future tropical weather events.

The Port of Harlingen, one of 18 in the Texas Ports Association, lies 25 miles upstream on the shallow Arroyo Colorado from the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway.

Ocean-going barges with nine-foot drafts bring in gas and diesel, sand, cement and fertilizer, and haul out cotton, grain and sugar.

The channel depth of the arroyo has to be maintained at an authorized depth of 12 feet to safely allow barge traffic in and out of the port. The maintenance depth of the turning basin is supposed to be a minimum of 14 feet or even advanced maintenance depth of 16 feet.

The last dredging at the Port of Harlingen occurred in 2015, Smith said.

“They’re going to be dredging the channel to operational depth and they’re going to do our turning basin here to advanced maintenance depth, which means they’re going to take it a little past what operation or maintenance depth is, and then they’ll do some hot-spot dredging here and there” to remove shoals that have built up in the arroyo so barges can float safely, Smith said.

The funding announced yesterday includes $14.8 million for Brays Bayou and $16.5 million for Buffalo Bayou, both key flood control projects near Houston that were overwhelmed by fallout from Hurricane Harvey.

Also, $22.9 million has been allocated for construction of an entrance channel for the Corpus Christi Ship Channel.

“With Hurricane Harvey’s devastation still fresh in our minds, and the next hurricane season upon us, the State of Texas is urgently focused on making our infrastructure more resilient to future storms,” Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement.

“This funding is essential to those efforts and to help minimize the loss of human lives and damage to infrastructure and property.”