(GALVESTON, Texas) -- As pictures and video beamed out around the world of water rescues and massive flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey in southeastern Texas, another invisible effect was occurring to Texas’ energy coast.
Below the surface of the raging waters, silt and debris were stirring, altering bayou and federal navigation channels, causing shoals, impeding waterways and preventing fully loaded ships from entering or leaving many of the state’s ports, including the Port of Beaumont.
“The Port of Beaumont is effectively shut-down for normal business until we get this shoaling corrected. We are still able to handle some emergency military cargo,” said Chris Fisher, Port of Beaumont’s port director.
Every day the fourth largest port in America -- in terms of tonnage handled -- is shuttered and millions of dollars are lost in economic value to the region and the nation. According to estimates from Sabine-Neches Navigation District officials, the Port of Beaumont, a major exporter of the nation’s petroleum products, has lost more than $1 billion in revenue over a 14-day period since Hurricane Harvey hit the area.
Beaumont is just one port tied to one of 28 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Galveston District’s federal navigation projects in Texas, most of which either had restricted navigation or were completely closed due to impassable waters after Hurricane Harvey.
The Houston Ship Channel also has limited capacity now thanks to the record-breaking storm.
“Houston has a 42-foot draft restriction on what is normally a 46-foot project. Additionally, it has objects that appear to be marine items like pipes and other debris floating in the waterway which need to be removed,” said Steve Howard, Galveston District
The story is the same along other waterways, but the numbers have improved in the days and weeks after Harvey’s initial impacts in part due to the Galveston District navigation staff working around-the-clock surveying channels, modifying existing dredging contracts and implementing emergency contracts to get all 28 projects back to authorized depths and fully functional.
“We’ve never seen this amount of active survey vessels or dredges working in the Texas navigation channels at one time,” said Col. Lars Zetterstrom, commander of the Galveston District.
Since Aug. 28, the district has managed to get all but three projects back online either fully or passable with some draft restrictions.
The channels are expected to be back to their pre-Harvey conditions within the next few months. Given the amount of work, that is no easy task, but according to at least one local port official it is desperately needed and greatly appreciated.
“We’re certainly glad the Corps has such an expeditious plan to deal with this situation,” Fisher said.