Texas senators urge funds for channel project

Marilyn Tennissen Apr. 11, 2007, 5:00am

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas)

Texas senators want to make sure that the local waterway is included in upcoming legislation.

U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison, (R-Texas) wrote a letter this week to the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee to include resources for deepening and widening the Sabine-Neches Waterway in a pending water resources bill.

The Republican senators from Texas were joined by U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) in their request to the committee.

Lawmakers, local industry and the navigation district have been pushing to have the waterway deepened and widened. The senators pointed out that the channel is vital to supplying the local petrochemical industry as well as the Port of Beaumont, the country's largest military port.

An estimated 73 million tons of crude oil, 28 million tons of petroleum products and about 8.5 million tons of chemical cargo annually move through terminals along the waterway.

With the construction of new liquefied natural gas facilities and major expansions planned for area refineries, the need for a deeper and wider channel is becoming even more important, the senators wrote.

At its current depth of 40 feet, many ships have to offload cargo in order to travel up the channel. The offloading adds expense and time to the delivery of the needed crude.

"As these facilities expand and as the vessels that utilize them become larger, the current depth is insufficient to economically serve the country's demand for energy."

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently completed a draft feasibility study for a deepening and widening project , which said it is possible to deepen the channel to 48 feet and widen to 700 feet in some areas.

The senators recommended that the Water Resources Development Act bill include language that federal government to fund its $675 million share of the estimated $900 million project.

"The needs are timely and acute," the letter states.

The water bill was passed out of committee on March 29.

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