Port chairman stresses need for a deeper, wider channel

October 1st, 2019

Port of Houston Commission Chairman Ric Campo updates the BAHEP crowd on the State of the Port at the Hilton.

By Kathryn Paradis

Neither rain nor wind nor anything else brought on by Tropical Storm Imelda could stop Ric Campo, chairman of the Port of Houston Authority, from his appointed task of speaking to members of the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership about the state of the port.

Considering the state of the weather Sept. 17, a good-sized audience gathered at the Hilton for the late afternoon reception.

What is the state of the port? It’s good. It’s really good. There are nearly 200 public and private terminals that make up the port. Houston is the nation’s No. 1 region for exports and home to the largest petrochemical manufacturing complex in the Americas.

Energy production and the export of crude oil, along with the increasing global demand for chemicals produced in the region, are major drivers of this success. This activity along the 52-mile ship channel has helped make the port the No. 1 U.S. port in foreign waterborne tonnage.

The economic impact of the greater port nationally includes 3.2 million jobs and $802 billion in economic value. In Texas, the port generates 1.35 million jobs and has an economic impact of $339 billion.

However, such growth can also create problems. Since 2015, there have been nine ship-ship or barge-ship collisions. He cautioned, “You ultimately have to get down to really simple concepts — no channel, no port, no port, no cargo, no cargo, no commerce, no commerce, no jobs. It really is about the channel.

“We have to make sure the channel is expanded and improved in order to meet this demand that is going on with increased cargo when it comes to both energy and containers. If we can’t move our energy products out through the channel, then the entire supply chain backs up. This creates serious issues for energy companies, for job growth, and for Texas. So, it’s really critical that we have a deeper and wider channel with two-way traffic.”

He concluded, “A wider channel is a safer channel. We have to make sure we protect lives as well as the environment. Jobs are important, but we can’t lose sight of the safety of everyone who lives around the channel. . .It will cost $1 billion . . .a lot of money, but when you think about the economic benefit, it’s really not. It’s about making sure that our kids and their kids have economic opportunity in the future and a better quality of life.”

Business Buzz

March 4th, 2019

Space test flights are delayed again
The first crewless test flights have been delayed again, NASA has announced. The space agency said the first uncrewed test flight by SpaceX’s Crew Dragon – previously planned for around Feb. 23 – is now scheduled for no earlier than March 2, with its second test flight with NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken now scheduled for July.
Meanwhile, Boeing’s uncrewed test flight of the CTS-100 Starliner in March is now scheduled for no sooner than April, and its crewed test flight with Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson and NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Mike Fincke scheduled for no sooner than August.

NASA awards $2.9B contract to Leidos
NASA has awarded Leidos of Reston, Va., a contract for information technology (IT) end-user services to support the agency’s headquarters, centers and other performance sites.
NASA End-user Services & Technologies (NEST) is a firm-fixed-price, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract that has a maximum value of $2.9 billion and includes a two-year, three-month base period followed by a two-year option, one-year option, and five one-year award term options that would extend the period of performance to May 31, 2029.
NASA personnel use IT to support the agency’s core business, scientific, research and computational activities. Leidos will provide, manage, secure and maintain these essential IT services for the agency.

Two firms donate $500,000 to SJC
As the building of the new San Jacinto College Center for Petrochemical, Energy and Technology nears completion, two companies have donated a total of $500,000 for an analyzer lab and for education and training.

Siemens has donated $250,000 to add an analyzer lab to the new center that is expected to open this fall while Dow Chemical has donated another $250,000 to ensure that training and the education curriculum in the center will align with the needs of petrochemical manufacturing employers.

Siemens, a global powerhouse focusing on electrification, automation and digitalization, has been among the college’s industry partners providing input and donations toward the project since the start of discussions about the San Jacinto College petrochemical training center.

San Jac broke ground for the $60 million center in September 2017. In addition to an associate degree and certificates, the college is pursuing the approval and development of a bachelor’s degree in applied technology.

Besides being an industry partner and member of the College’s Petrochemical Advisory Council, Dow Chemical Deer Park has hired 25 SJC graduates as operators in the past four years – or 23 percent of the site’s new hires. Dow also has established an apprenticeship program at the college.

Port has another outstanding year
In highlighting a host of achievements this past year, Port Houston Executive Director Roger Guenther announced several records were broken in 2018, including that total tonnage at the port set a record of 35.7 million tons – an increase of 9 percent from 2017.

“The strength of cargo activity helped drive operating revenue to $366 million for the year, shattering the previous record set in 2017 of $333 million.” Guenther said as he delivered his 2018 year-end report to the Port Commission of the Port of Houston Authority during its first monthly meeting of 2019.

Combined business through the port’s public facilities also generated a total cash flow of $162 million, surpassing the previous record of $151 million set in 2017.

Presenting AMOCO Federal Credit Union’s sponsorship check for the Keep Kids in School Golf Tournament is (right) Stacey Malbrough with Communities In Schools-Bay Area’s Hillary Gramm, resource development director, and Dr. Peter Wunschel, executive director.

Amoco FCU gives $5,000 to CIS-BA
Since 2006, Amoco Federal Credit Union has supported at-risk students through the annual Keep Kids in School Golf Tournament sponsorships totaling $109,000. The golf tournament benefits Communities in Schools-Bay Area, a dropout prevention program serving 26 campuses in Clear Creek and Dickinson ISDs.

This year’ shamble tournament will be Monday, April 15 at Bay Oaks Country Club in Clear Lake.

In addition to sponsoring the tournament, Amoco staffers serve the students in different ways. Amoco’s Stacey Malbrough, culture and communications manager, mentors a League City Elementary School student in the program and works on the Raise Your Glass to CIS wine tasting event committee. Josh Ryding, Friendswood branch manager, works on the Keep Kids in School Golf Tournament Committee.

For sponsorships or golf tournament information, contact Hillary Gramm at hillaryg@cis.org or 281-486-6698.

Open for Business

July 1st, 2016

The Panama Canal. (Photo micanaldepanama.com)

The Panama Canal. (Photo micanaldepanama.com)

Port of Houston officials looking forward to opening of renovated Panama Canal

By Rod Evans

For Port of Houston (POHA) officials, as well as executives at port facilities around North America and much of the world for that matter, Christmas arrived in June. That’s when the expansion of the Panama Canal was at long last completed.

At a cost of nearly $5.3 billion and almost two years behind schedule, the renovated canal opened on June 26 when the Chinese-owned, Marshall Islands-flagged Andronikos tanker became the first tanker to pass through the 102-year old canal. The centerpiece of the renovation project, launched in 2007 and initially scheduled to be completed in 2014, was the construction of a third set of locks that will enable the 50-mile waterway to accommodate New Panamax ships capable of holding over 14,000 20-foot long containers and are at least three times bigger than ships currently passing through the canal. The current Panamax size is roughly 4,500 to 5,000 TEUs.

While canal officials and the people of Panama are undoubtedly excited about the prospect of the enormous and oft-troubled project finally coming to an end, POHA officials are also highly anticipating the boon to business that the renovated canal promises to provide. The bigger ships passing through the renovated canal will soon be calling on the Houston Ship Channel, an eventuality that POHA officials have been working toward for several years.

The new canal locks—1,400 feet long, 140 feet wide and 60 feet deep—are considerably bigger in every way than the old locks (1,000-by-110-by 40 feet) and are necessary for the canal to keep up with world shipping trends toward utilizing the mammoth New Panamax tankers that, while they are much larger than the current tankers are, according to industry analysts, more fuel efficient.

But in order to accommodate the New Panamax vessels, the POHA embarked upon its own expedited renovation program, including dredging work at the Barbours Cut and Bayport Channels to deepen them from 40 to 45 feet so they can handle the new larger ships. The Barbours Cut project was completed earlier this year and POHA spokesman Lisa Ashley said the Bayport project is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year. Port Authority Executive Director Roger Guenther said the facility launched the project a little over four years ago and was creative in advancing the schedule to help ensure that the work would be done in time for the canal’s opening.

New cranes for Barbours Cut Container Terminal. (Photo POHA)

New cranes for Barbours Cut Container Terminal. (Photo POHA)

“Working through normal federal government channels, a project like that at Barbours Cut would cost over $100 million and going through the normal process of securing permitting, doing design work and obtaining funding you could realistically expect to do it in 15 years or more,” he said. “But our commission decided a few years ago that in order not to miss out on opportunities with ships possibly going elsewhere that we would go forward with funding the project ourselves.”

As a result, Guenther said the work, part of a five-year, $1 billion modernization plan that also includes land-side infrastructure and wharf improvements and the addition of four new Super Post Panamax cranes, the Barbours Cut project was completed in about four-year’s time.

The 30-story tall, 1,500-ton cranes, part of a $50 million contract approved by the POHA in 2013, were delivered to the Barbours Cut terminal last year following 70-day ocean journeys after being manufactured in South Korea and were needed in order to service the new larger vessels.

“The cranes are part of a master plan redevelopment that will help move Barbours Cut Terminal’s capacity from 1.25 million TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) to 2.5 million TEUs,” said Paulo Soares, the POHA’s managing director of operations. “As we continue to grow our volumes, the cranes are an important piece to container movements through our port.”

Soares adds that the new cranes will enable Barbours Cut to handle ships with as many as 14,000 containers, an increase from the current limit of about 8,000 containers and he predicts they will increase productivity by about 15 percent over the cranes they replaced. While the POHA is spending large sums of money to upgrade in order to accommodate the new larger tankers, officials expect to soon begin reaping the benefits of their labor and financial expenditure.

Shipping industry officials estimate that shipments through the canal may rise to 360 million tons by 2017, and that comes after a record of 340 million tons moved through the waterway last year. The POHA is far from alone in making port and infrastructure improvements, as facilities around the Caribbean and the east coast of the U.S. have been working at a fever pace to make room for the larger vessels and the abundance of cargo they’ll bring to their docks.

The POHA’s Ashley says there is no timetable regarding when the first New Panamax tanker will call on the local port, but adds “we’ve been working for years toward this. We’re ready.”

Meanwhile, former President Jimmy Carter, instrumental in the 1977 treaty that turned over local control of the canal to the Panamanian government, was among 70 heads of state—including President Barack Obama—in attendance when one of the world’s greatest engineering marvels enjoyed its grand re-birth.

Port of Houston reaches major milestone in massive project

November 1st, 2015

150-2013-portwithhoustonskylineBy Rod Evans

Port of Houston Authority officials are in celebration mode after reaching an historic milestone with the completion of dredging work at the Barbours Cut Container Terminal. The completion opens the facility to begin handling vessels with a 45-foot operating draft.

With the conclusion of the dredging project, the Houston Pilots Association (HPA) gave its authorization for the port to begin receiving vessels with the deeper operating draft. According to a study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the improvements at the terminal will result in more than $900 million in combined local, state and national economic benefits over the span of the next 50 years.

“The growth in containerized cargo through the Port Authority terminals and the increase in post-Panamax ships coming to the Port of Houston require more draft depth and faster, larger cranes for even more efficient handling of containerized cargo across our docks,” said Executive Director Roger Guenther. “This first milestone for our dredging project represents our commitment to invest in our facilities and accommodate growth.”

Last year, the Port Commission awarded a $68.9 million construction contract to Orion Construction L.P. for Bayport and Barbours Cut channel and terminal improvements. The work included modification of the existing Bayport and Barbours Cut channels and berths, and increasing capacity of a federal placement area for future dredged material. While the Barbours Cut channel is complete, dredging at the Bayport channel is scheduled to be completed in 2016. The Port Authority handles 67 percent of all containerized cargo in the U.S. Gulf, and Barbours Cut is its largest container terminal.

Port Commission Chairman Janiece Longoria said the dredging project was funded through its operating income. “This investment demonstrates our commitment to drive economic prosperity for the region and further ensures that the Port Authority is America’s distribution hub for the next generation,” Longoria said.

Both channels adjacent to the Barbours Cut and Bayport terminals are being dredged an additional five feet to match the capability of the Houston Ship Channel. The dredging project also widens or realigns the channels to better accommodate the larger ships that are expected to call with more increasing frequency in the near future. The USACE issued dredging permits last year for the Barbours Cut and Bayport Channels and approval of its assumption of maintenance agreement of the channels.

The dredging projects were initiated after the Port Authority completed a master plan for upgrades to the Barbours Cut Terminal in 2011, which included dredging the Barbours Cut channel and improving the capacity of the container yard.

The completion of the dredging project, along with the recent delivery of four Super Post-Panamax wharf cranes to accommodate the larger vessels calling at Barbours Cut, allows the facilities to handle some of the largest vessels in operation today. Officials say the new cranes are scheduled to be fully operational later this fall. After all of the improvements at Barbours Cut are completed, terminal capacity at that facility is expected to more than double from 1.2 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) per year to 2.8 million TEUs per year.

Savings ahead
In addition to approving assumption of maintenance (AOM) at the Bayport and Barbours Cut terminals, the Corps of Engineers announced the AOM of the Jacintoport Channel. The Corps of Engineers will now be responsible for the cost of channel maintenance dredging, which officials say will save the Port Authority about $1 million in dredging costs over the next decade. The AOM for Jacintoport, combined with the anticipated AOM for Barbours Cut and Bayport channels—once the work at Bayport is completed—will relieve the Port Authority of more than $50 million in potential dredging costs over the next 10 years.

A Banner Year

September 1st, 2015

bannerThe Port of Houston could be on the cusp of setting new records in tonnage

By Rod Evans

If the first eight months are any indication, the Port of Houston could be on its way to a record shattering year in 2015. According to the Port of Houston Authority (PHA), nearly 20 million tons of cargo has passed through Port of Houston docks so far, fueled by a huge increase in container units and steel imports.

Executive Director Roger Guenther explains that so far this year, the PHA’s Barbours Cut and Bayport container terminals have shown a 30 percent increase in loaded container units, while general cargo terminals reported a 26 percent growth in import steel tonnage.

“Business has reached its highest levels across several key business lines during recent years,” Guenther said, “and we must continue to strategically plan for the future opportunities.”

Steel imported into the port to support construction related to the oil and gas industry has seen enormous growth so far in 2015, with nearly 6.5 million tons crossing the docks, according to Stan Swigart, director of marketing and external communications for the PHA.

Swigart says the 30 percent increase in the container imports is attributed in large part to an ongoing rift between management and labor unions on the west coast that has caused a ripple effect across the industry and resulted in shipments being routed to the Port of Houston.

“The labor unions are in negotiations for a new contract, but they haven’t been able to come to an agreement, which held up some of the boxes (containers) that were going to the ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach,” Swigart said. “That caused congestion to clear those containers off the terminal, so a lot of those cargo owners booked cargo on alternative routings with other services instead of having the containers be stuck in Los Angeles and Long Beach. We hope to retain some of that and we think we will.”

Because the Port of Houston is widely known as one of the world leaders in handling containerized cargo, Swigart says the PHA focuses a considerable amount of its attention on marketing that business and trying to attract new carriers to utilize the PHA’s Barbours Cut and Bayport terminals. The port handled approximately 1.9 million TEU’s (20 foot equivalent) in container cargo last year—a record for the port—and he says officials are optimistic that the two million TEU threshold can be eclipsed this year.

“We focus a lot on container markets. That’s where the most opportunity lies and it provides the highest revenue per ton,” Swigart said.

With the Barbours Cut terminal, which was built in the 1970s, currently undergoing a massive modernization project and with the newer Bayport Terminal only about 50 to 60 percent built out, Swigart says once both terminals are running at full speed, port officials hope to increase container handling capacity to upwards of five million TEUs.

The port has also seen an increase in cargo related to the expansion of wind energy, with many components, including the massive blades, of windmills passing through the port on their way to wind farms in West Texas and beyond.

Meanwhile, Swigart says the recent mutually agreed upon decision between the Maersk Line, the world’s largest shipping company, and the PHA to terminate the shipper’s long held contract at Barbours Cut will prove to be a boon for the port and Maersk and its affiliated shipping services, SeaLand and Safmarine.

“This will give us back a lot of berthing space and lay down area for increasing our volumes for paying customers,” Swigart said. “They wanted to get out of the contract and we wanted to get our terminal back.”

The PHA previously had a landlord-tenant relationship with Maersk at Barbours Cut, but with the termination of the contract, the company is now free to call at that terminal or at the Bayport terminal as a common carrier.

Swigart said port officials are still assessing the impact of the recent announcement by Caribbean Princes and Norwegian Jade cruise lines to cease operations at the Bayport Cruise Terminal after the 2015-‘16 season.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen to the terminal yet, but we utilize it in the off-season as well as in-season for ships that need a place to tie up and re-store or do maintenance, and we charge them for that,” Swigart said. “The cruise lines will be calling through April 2016, but beyond that, we don’t know what the future holds.”

With the last quarter of 2015 upon us, Swigart says the port is bracing for changes in shipping caused by both seasonal and economy-driven factors. A drop in steel tonnage is anticipated he says due to the continued drop in oil prices and the attendant decline in exploration. However, a major increase in container cargo is expected as the holiday season nears.

xmasgifts“We always experience an increase in in-bound containers from Asia that is caused by supplying inventory for Christmas, and that starts real soon,” Swigart said.

According to Swigart, Asian trade is the fastest growing sector at the port, although that status is not yet reflected in the tonnage figures. He says the PHA plans to continue to heavily court the Asian trade, along with other marketing initiatives, in an effort to attract new carriers to call on the port.

“A lot of trade comes into Texas via Los Angeles and Long Beach (ports), but our target is to get those carriers to come directly into Houston instead of bringing (cargo) over land,” he said. “Over the next five years, we expect to see a jump in the export of containerized plastic resins, and that’s coming out of the refineries. The major markets for that will be Asia if the price remains low enough. The cheap natural gas and shale exploration is making it very inexpensive to produce.”

The New Arrivals

June 1st, 2015

6-1 Port cranesMassive Port cranes are scheduled to go into service this summer

By Rod Evans

After a 73-day ocean journey and an arduous off-loading process at the Barbours Cut Terminal, the four new Super Post-Panamax cranes that arrived at the port on May 5 will go into operation later this summer.

The electric cranes, manufactured by Konecranes and built in the tiny South Korean town of Mokpo, represent a huge upgrade over the existing cranes and will allow the Port of Houston to service the larger vessels that will begin calling on the port after the project to expand the locks at the Panama Canal, which began in 2007, is completed. That project is scheduled to be complete in the first quarter of 2016, according to Paulo Soares, the Port of Houston Authority’s managing director of operations.

“The cranes are not in service yet, as we have not completed the off-loading process,” Soares said. “It’s going to take until the latter part of July and into August before they are ready to go into operation. We have quite a few things to do with the cranes before they’re ready to go to work.”

The $50 million contract for the 30-story cranes was approved by the Port Authority in 2013 and is part of a larger $700 million renovation of the Barbours Cut and Bayport terminals. The new arrivals will greatly increase the cargo handling capability at the terminal.

“They have a much greater cargo handling capacity that is basically the same as the cranes now operating at the Bayport Terminal. They have a 65 long ton capacity and the ability to handle two, 20-foot containers at the same time. If a cargo hook is used, the capacity increases to 80 long tons. They can operate on a vessel that is 22 containers wide, while the old cranes can only operate on a vessel that is 13 containers wide,” Soares said.

By the way, one long ton is approximately equal to 2,240 pounds. At 1,505 tons, the new cranes are more than twice as heavy as the old ones (635 tons each), and at 289 feet tall and with a lift height of 204 feet, they are the largest cranes ever built by Konecranes. They will be able to lift and lower a loaded container in about twice the speed—approximately 295 feet per minute—as the current cranes.

“As part of a significant upgrade of our Barbours Cut Container Terminal, these new Super Post-Panamax cranes will accommodate the significantly larger vessels that will be calling on our container terminals after the expansion of the Panama Canal,” Port Commission Chairman Janiece Longoria said in a statement. “International trade, primarily containerized cargo, continues to expand rapidly at our facilities. More trade means more jobs and economic activity for our region and state in support of our mission.”

Soares said only one of the existing cranes at Barbours Cut will be demolished and it went into service in 1975. By way of comparison, it has a capacity of 37 long tons and a height above the deck of 80 feet, while the new cranes measure 144 feet above the dock.

Getting the cranes here from South Korea and off-loading them from the massive cargo ship that brought them were both engineering feats of the highest order. The trip began on Feb. 23 from Mokpo, located on the southern tip of the Korean peninsula.

“The cranes were transported fully erected by a Chinese company called ZPNC on a vessel called the Zhen Zhn Hua #13,” Soares said.

Soares said the process of getting the cranes off the vessel and onto the dock took about 10 to 12 hours for each crane. He says the ship had to position itself alongside the dock so crews could cut off all of the extensive sea fasteners, bracings and lashings that were required to keep the cranes in place during the ocean voyage. With the fasteners removed, the ship then had to be aligned with a set of temporary rails on the dock, then hydraulic cylinders were used to push the cranes off the vessel and eventually onto the permanent rails on the dock.

“It took about four hours just to get the first portion of the process—getting the cranes off-loaded and onto the temporary rails—completed before we could move on to putting them on the permanent rails,” Soares said.

Training on the new cranes for workers at Barbours Cut was included in the contract, Soares said, and the manufacturer will provide electrical and mechanical training. Additionally, representatives from Konecranes will be present when the cranes go into service.

“Before they go into service, they must pass what’s called endurance testing. Once they pass that, we take possession of the cranes,” Soares said.

The crane operators will test the cranes by using test weights before the Ok is given to put them into service. Once they are operational, they can be operated by just one person as the current cranes are.

Meanwhile, dredging continues on pace at both the Barbours Cut and Bayport container terminals. The work was needed in order to handle the larger vessels that will be passing through the Panama Canal’s wider locks. Officials say the dredging projects are scheduled to be completed this year as well.

Container Business Buzzing
Through the first quarter of 2015, loaded container units handled at the Barbours Cut and Bayport container terminals increased by 24 percent over 2014. According to Port Commissioner Roger Guenther, import steel continues to outpace projections and is up by more than 66 percent for the year.

Contract Awarded
Port commissioners recently awarded a professional services contract to TCB/GBA Joint Venture for professional engineering and planning services to support the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ feasibility study. The Corps is studying modifications that could improve the Houston Ship Channel system, including the Barbours Cut and Bayport terminals. The $3 million contract covers a minimum three-year study period and the Port of Houston is one of just three ports in the nation selected for the congressional study.

State of the Port is good and getting even better

June 1st, 2015

Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership President Bob Mitchell, right, visits with Port of Houston Executive Director Roger Guenther and Port Commission Chairman Janiece Longoria during BAHEP’s State of the Port meeting at Lakewood Yacht Club.

Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership President Bob Mitchell, right, visits with Port of Houston Executive Director Roger Guenther and Port Commission Chairman Janiece Longoria during BAHEP’s State of the Port meeting at Lakewood Yacht Club. Photo by Mary Alys Cherry

By Mary Alys Cherry

The state of the Port of Houston is good and getting better all the time.

In fact, there was much for Port Commission Chairman Janiece Longoria to brag about “America’s distribution center” as she addressed the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership meeting at Lakewood Yacht Club.

Simon Urbanic, Tom Holt, John Collins and James Waguespark, from left, were among the many attending the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership State of the Port meeting at Lakewood Yacht Club.

Simon Urbanic, Tom Holt, John Collins and James Waguespark, from left, were among the many attending the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership State of the Port meeting at Lakewood Yacht Club. Photo by Mary Alys Cherry

“I have good news to share with you today,” she said, going on to point out that the Port is the No. 1 port in the nation in foreign tonnage and No. 1 in petrochemical and steel cargo and experienced record growth in 2014. “More than 200 million tons of cargo moves through the Port each year,” she continued, calling it “the economic engine for our community.”

Early arrivals at BAHEP’s State of the Port meeting at Lakewood Yacht Club included Brad Notter of Regions Bank; Monica Millican, PrimeLending’s Bay Area branch manager; and Fay Picard, district director for State Rep. Greg Bonnen.

Early arrivals at BAHEP’s State of the Port meeting at Lakewood Yacht Club included Brad Notter of Regions Bank; Monica Millican, PrimeLending’s Bay Area branch manager; and Fay Picard, district director for State Rep. Greg Bonnen. Photo by Mary Alys Cherry

Besides 6.6 million tons of steel, the Port also moved 19.4 million tons of containers, 2.3 million tons of grain exports and 52 million in bulk exports, said Longoria, the first woman to hold the chairman’s post in the Port’s 100 year history.

To keep up with the growth as the Panama Canal expands, four new cranes arrived earlier this month and 9 more have been ordered, Barbours Cut Terminal is being updated and both Barbours Cut and Bayport channels are being deepened to 45 feet to match the depth of the Ship Channel to handle larger ships as the Houston region becomes the leading metropolitan export region in the U.S.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Barbours Cut and Bayport Channel dredging project proceeding on schedule

January 5th, 2015

An Orion captain, contracted by the Port Authority, oversees the dredging at Barbours Cut.

An Orion captain, contracted by the Port Authority, oversees the dredging at Barbours Cut.

By Rod Evans

While Southeast Texas residents have been preoccupied celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Houston Ship Channel this year, Port of Houston (POH) authorities have placed their focus squarely on the future, with two massive dredging projects moving toward completion.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers earlier this year permitted construction on the POH’s Bayport and Barbours Cut improvement project. Considered a single project, the work comes with a price tag between $130 and $150 million and, once completed, will widen and deepen the two critical waterways to allow for larger vessels to call on the ship channel and the POH. The work is being done in advance of the widening and expansion of the Panama Canal, scheduled for completion in the first quarter of 2016, that will allow the 100-year canal to handle larger vessels.

POH Project Manager David Casebeer says the project includes work on the federally-controlled portions of both areas, as well as on POH berths and has been moving along on schedule.

Dredging at the Barbours Cut channel.

Dredging at the Barbours Cut channel.

“We are substantially done with the dredging of the federal channel portion (at Barbours Cut), with a little bit of cleanup to be done,” Casebeer said. “The second dredge that will do the cleanup will arrive in January.”

Dredging on the Barbours Cut channel began this summer and Casebeer says the dredge that had been working  at Barbour’s Cut moved down to the Bayport Channel on Nov. 28 and is currently working in the open bay area of the channel near where the Bayport Channel and the Houston Ship Channel come together.

“The work includes using the clay from the expanded portion of the federal channel to raise levees at Placement 15, which is in the Atkinson Island complex east of the ship channel,” Casebeer says.

Located on the northern tip of Galveston Bay, adjacent to the Atkinson Island Wildlife Management Area, Barbours Cut is a 1.3-mile, 300-foot wide, 40-foot deep channel constructed in the 1970s. The project has increased the depth of the berthing area to 45 feet and has shifted the channel 75 feet to the north. To accomplish that task, dredging was done on the north side of the federal channel, in addition to deepening the berthing area by five feet.  The improvements will also allow for larger cranes to service vessels at the docks.

Situated near the southern end of Galveston Bay and right at the mouth of the Houston Ship Channel, the 3.5-mile long, 300-foot wide, 40-foot deep Bayport Channel was constructed between the mid-‘70s and mid-‘90s, and like the Barbours Cut Channel, advances in the size of ships utilizing the area have made widening and deepening the channel imperative to its future efficiency. It serves as the entrance to the Bayport Terminal, a high volume container terminal for the Port of Houston and one of the largest container terminals in the country.

“At Bayport, we are deepening the depth to 45 feet, but we are not shifting the channel as we are at Barbours Cut. The project will widen the channel from 300 feet to 400 feet (in the federal portion) and once we’re inside the land, it will be widened to 350 feet,” Casebeer said.

The work at both locations is being done by a cutter-suction dredge, which has blades on the front of an arm that can be lowered to reach the dredge material. The blades slice the material that is then removed via a vacuum intake, which then pumps the material to, in the case of the Barbour’s Cut project, bolster levees. Casebeer says the dredge is moving about 13,000 cubic yards of material every day.

Casebeer says the dredge is operated by a crew of about 40 to 50 people, with another 10 to 15 people working land side on the levee building portion of the work.

While dredging work takes place on a practically constant basis in one form or another along the 52-mile ship channel, these projects represent a critical stage in the life of the channel, one of the busiest waterways in the world. The widening of the Panama Canal, along with the addition of new locks, is having a ripple effect on the shipping industry. Once completed, the canal will be able to service larger Panamax-size ships, so ports around the world are working to ensure that they too can accommodate the larger vessels.

Approved by the citizens of Panama in 2006, the $5.25-billion project calls for two new locks—one each at the Pacific and Atlantic sides—to be constructed. According to the Panama Canal Authority (PCA), the canal has been operating at near peak capacity for years now, with ships sometimes having to wait as long as seven days to pass through the canal during its busiest season, identified as December through March. The PCA estimates that the volume of cargo transiting the canal will grow by about three percent per year after the project is complete.

“We are investing in the future of our port,” Houston Port Commission Chairman Janiece Longoria said in a release. “The projects demonstrate our commitment to facilitating commerce.”

Casebeer says crews are scheduled to complete the work at Barbours Cut in February 2015 and dredging work at both locations should be complete by September 2015, including all maintenance dredging at the federal portions. He says the projects have proceeded along as smoothly as officials could have imagined.
“Every project assumes a certain amount of delay time, but we have stayed on track for all of our milestones and have not encountered any significant delays that would have caused us to revisit those milestones and make adjustments,” Casebeer said.

Once completed, Casebeer says the ship channel will be ready to accommodate the larger ships immediately. He says, however, that the Houston Ship Channel Pilots Association is expected to institute a series of tests and evaluations prior to allowing standard shipping vessels to access the areas.

Port officials say by increasing the berthing area depth at both channels, as well as widening the Bayport Channel and shifting the orientation of the Barbours Cut channel, the larger, more efficient ships will be able to gain access to the waterways, meaning that fewer ships would be needed to deliver cargo through the Houston Ship Channel. Generally speaking, these ships would also be newer vessels that use more fuel efficient engines, which would lessen the environmental impact of these ships as they traverse the channel.