Captain’s Corner Same Song, Different Tune – Dredging is Key to the Port


In mid-April, a few of our Port Bureau board members and I joined the Economic Alliance - Houston Port Region on its annual policy pilgrimage to Washington, D.C. The Economic Alliance had a multifaceted agenda covering workforce education, air quality standards and chemicals management laws, and we joined in to focus on supporting water transportation infrastructure.

In past trips, we focused on the RAMP Act (Realize America’s Maritime Promise). The goal was to fully utilize Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund receipts rather than unnecessarily building up the trust fund. But since WRRDA 2014 laid out a plan to incrementally increase the percentage of Harbor Maintenance Tax-related appropriations until it reaches 100% of annual receipts by 2025, we felt it was time to revamp our battle cry.

PrintDredging will always be a challenge for the silty Houston Ship Channel. However, since the beginning of 2014, an additional layer of uncertainty has been added to the process. Companies are reporting that approvals to use placement areas under the 401(c) process, which took only a few months to complete in 2013, are now taking over a year to complete. This has costly ramifications, such as increased shipping costs due to light-loading vessels, increased dredging costs due to inability to perform timely maintenance dredging and decreased scheduling predictability. Additionally, terminals are unable to optimize their dredging schedules to match their shore-side operations, like performing dredging operations during a refinery maintenance turnaround project when the docks are less utilized.

And that is only on the maintenance side of the equation. Companies wanting to expand their terminals by adding new docks are finding it extremely challenging to use federal placement areas for the new work material. These sites are being reserved for federal channel and existing dock maintenance material only. I’ll use highways and roads, transportation throughways that most people are far more familiar with than ports and docks, as a metaphor. From the private company perspective, is it reasonable to build a manufacturing facility if you cannot be sure that trucks will be able to access it? From the federal perspective, is it reasonable to build a highway but disregard the exit and entrance ramps that lead to businesses and homes? Both systems rely upon the other for success.

Of course, these issues are, in part, a symptom of our local success. Industry growth is driving the need for better maintained docks and new docks to handle more and larger vessels. Based on an American Association of Port Authorities study, 82% of port-related infrastructure investment through 2020 is coming to the Gulf of Mexico. The Houston Business Journal reported $50 billion in investment is coming to Houston. One of our goals is to share this good news with our congressional delegation so that they in turn can boost the funding of the Army Corps of Engineers to enable them to support the private industry growth in our region.

With the help of Port Bureau’s Dredging Committee and industry partners the Port of Houston Authority, Economic Alliance and West Gulf Maritime Association, the staff developed a brochure to help spread this new message: private companies need reliable, predictable access to dredge material placement areas for economic stability and expansion. We delivered the message to the congressional offices visited, and we will continue to work with both Congress and the Army Corps of Engineers to find a solution. If you would like a copy of the brochure or if you would like to become involved in championing the Houston Ship Channel and its dredging needs, please call us at (713) 678-4300, and we’ll tell you more about the Dredging Committee. This is a challenge that needs the support of the entire community to overcome.


  • Date May 10, 2016
  • Tags May 2016