HARLINGEN — The deeper the muck, the tougher the transit.
Barges coming up the Arroyo Colorado are going to have an easier voyage thanks to $2.4 million set aside for dredging at the Port of Harlingen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The dredge, which looks like a giant crane set atop a squat barge, is now working an area between the Rio Hondo bridge and the port.
Ironically, the announcement of the dredging funds becoming available last year came one week before torrential, record-breaking rainfall in the Harlingen area that totaled almost 17 inches, and which also caused flooding in much of the Valley.
Most of that rainfall flowed into the Arroyo Colorado, and as it always does, carried tons of silt downstream. Some of that settled in the Port of Harlingen turning basin and clogged the arroyo in the shipping channel.
Port Director Walker Smith says the funding was especially critical following those heavy rains.
“We’ve run into some issues as of late with being able to bring our barges up to our docks and the mooring here, so it’s definitely a godsend,” Smith said. “This is just taking care of the main channel, the federal channel. But it’s definitely helping to be able to navigate the channel from the turning basin all the way to the mouth.”
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.
While the federal channel, also called the Harlingen Channel, is the responsibility of the Corps of Engineers, funding the dredging of the turning basin usually is the responsibility of the port.
“They’ll be finished with the Harlingen Channel probably sometime at the end of July or August, the last I heard,” Smith said.
“They’ll do the turning basin, which still doesn’t necessarily include our docking slips, I’m trying to get that done right now,” he added. “But they’re supposed to be up inside the turning basin in June, so they’ll do that then.”
The port dredging funds announced last year were part of a $509 million package in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey which included flood mitigation and critical work for Brays and Buffalo bayous near Houston, as well as dredging and widening the entrance to the Corpus Christi Ship Channel.
The funding also included money for extensive studies of the Texas coastline to help make the state more resilient to future tropical weather events like Harvey.
The Port of Harlingen, one of 18 in the Texas Ports Association, lies 25 miles upstream from the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway.
Port by the numbers
130 — Developed acres
450 — Acres to develop
650 — Feet of dry cargo wharf
100 — Feet of dry bulk wharf
4 — Liquid bulk docks
2 — Dry bulk docks
50,000 — Square footage dry bulk handling facility
Turning basin — A rounded area carved out along the arroyo where barges and their towboats can maneuver in a circle to head back downstream after unloading cargo
Silt — Soil runoff from the land
Mouth — Where the Arroyo Colorado empties into the Intracoastal Waterway
Intracoastal Waterway — A 3,000-mile inland water route along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts which runs from Boston to Brownsville. Some sections of the waterway consist of natural inlets, saltwater rivers, bays and sounds, while others are artificial canals. The navigable route avoids many of the hazards of travel on the open sea.