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Tuesday, April 24, 2001

Wider, deeper ship channel

Corps proposal includes extension of La Quinta

By Laura Elder
Caller-Times


Click to enlarge
After nearly two years of research, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has released its recommended plan for a $190 million project that would widen, deepen and extend the Corpus Christi Ship Channel.
   The Corps of Engineers will make its recommendations public Wednesday at a forum where its representatives, along with Port of Corpus Christi officials, will answer questions and give presentations about the project.
   The product of a two-year feasibility study by the corps, the meeting also is meant to inform the public about plans to reduce the project's environmental impact, and about its proposed uses for dredge materials generated by the work, port officials said.
   After screening 17 initial ship channel improvement alternatives, and performing a more refined analysis of six more, the corps has recommended a plan that includes:
  

  • Widening the 400-foot-wide Corpus Christi Ship Channel to 530 feet from Port Aransas to the Harbor Bridge.
      
  • Adding barge shelves on both sides of the ship channel across Corpus Christi Bay.
      
  • Deepening the ship channel from 45 feet to 52 feet.
      
  • Extending La Quinta Channel about 7,200 feet.

    Click to enlarge

       Extending La Quinta Channel would serve the port's planned massive container terminal for San Patricio County, which would be located on a 1,084-acre piece of agricultural land between the Sherwin Alumina site and the NorthShore Country Club golf course. Bordered to the south of Gregory by U.S. Highway 181 and the Union Pacific rail spur, the land is owned by the port.
       Along with Sherwin Alumina, other companies served by the channel spur include DuPont and OxyChem.
       The corps, a department of the U.S. Army responsible for flood protection and providing safe navigation channels, did not recommend deepening the La Quinta Channel, which is 45 feet deep.
       The port wants to deepen the Corpus Christi Ship Channel to make it more accessible to heavier, deeper-draft ships.
       Widening the ship channel would allow for more room for barges and ship traffic to pass, port officials said.
       Port and corps officials also will update the public about the uses of the resulting dredge materials. Dredging is the process of removing sediment from harbor or river bottoms to allow for deeper-draft vessels.
       Some of the proposed uses of the project's dredge material include shoreline and seagrass protection, habitat development, and beach nourishment, said David L. Krams, senior project engineer for the port.
    Public hearing
    Who: The Port of Corpus Christi and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
    What: Ship channel improvements
    When: 6 p.m. Wednesday
    Where: Solomon P. Ortiz International Center, 402 Harbor Drive

       In the past, some people have raised concerns that dredging to deeper levels will unearth contaminants buried decades or centuries ago.
       But port officials say that corps officials found no significant contaminants when it studied water and sediment from the project area. Dredge materials from the Inner Harbor, which has historical problems with contamination, will be confined in existing placement sites, port officials said.
       The corps also is evaluating the project's economic impact, Krams said.
       A deeper ship channel would save shippers money in unloading their supertankers and make the port more competitive, officials have said. As it is, ships are unloaded 30 miles from the port by small ship that can unload the oil in several trips. Each trip costs $100,000 to $150,000.
       Looking for public response, port officials have in past months attempted to generate awareness about the meetings and the project through a mass mailing, Krams said.
       The process to deepen the ship channel has been a long one. In 1990, the U.S. Congress authorized the corps to begin investigating the possibility of deepening the ship channel.
       After Wednesday's meeting, the corps will schedule another public meeting, Krams said.
      
      
    Contact Laura Elder at 886-3678 or elderl@caller.com

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