Port of Brownsville Begins Phase 2 of Brazos Island Harbor Channel Improvement Project
The first step in Phase 2 of the Brazos Island Harbor (“BIH”) Channel Improvement Project is underway as the Port of Brownsville’s dredged material placement area improvement project began in early February. The historic BIH Channel Improvement project will deepen the 17-mile-long Brownsville ship channel from 42 to 52 feet.
The Brownsville Navigation District (“BND”) Board of Commissioners at a regular board meeting held Feb. 1, unanimously voted to award a $13.6 million contract for the channel improvements to RLB Contracting, Inc., for Placement Areas 5B, 7 and 8. A placement area is a federally authorized disposal site for dredged material.
As part of the dredging process, materials collected are placed in approved disposal sites or for beneficial use purposes. Dredging for Phase 2 is estimated to remove 12 to 16 million cubic yards of material from the ship channel and distributed to the placement areas.
Deepening the channel will result in significant navigational safety improvements for commercial shipping in South Texas. The project will further increase the port’s capabilities, allowing existing industries in the Rio Grande Valley to continue expanding while also attracting new economic opportunities for the region.
“We are building on the continued success at the Port of Brownsville by advancing infrastructure to benefit existing and future businesses,” said Port Director and CEO Eduardo A. Campirano. “The dredged material placement area improvements are a vital step in the Brazos Island Harbor Channel Improvement Project to deepen the Brownsville ship channel to remain competitive in the growing global market.”
On July 6, the BND signed a joint agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (“USACE”) to begin the channel deepening.
The BIH Channel Improvement Project is funded through the USACE’s Public-Private Partnership (“P3”) with the Port of Brownsville and NextDecade, owner of the proposed Rio Grande LNG natural gas liquefaction plant at the port.
The BIH project is comprised of two phases:
Phase 1: In 2019, NextDecade announced a landmark agreement with the port to pay 100 percent of Phase 1 of the deepening project from the western boundary of its lease site along the ship channel to the entrance of the channel.
Phase 2: The Port of Brownsville and the USACE will execute the project from the turning basin area to Rio Grande LNG’s proposed site.
In 2007, the BND Commission authorized port staff to develop a channel deepening strategy to deepen the ship channel. The USACE completed the feasibility study in 2014 recommending deepening the channel to 52 feet.
In December 2016, the U.S. Congress authorized the channel deepening project, making the BIH eligible to receive federal funding.
The port received the permit from the USACE to advance the project to its construction phase in 2019.
The federal government announced in March 2022, the allocation of $68 million to the project. The funds, to be utilized for Phase 2, are provided under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (“IIJA”) Appropriations Law. The BIH project was identified as part of the IIJA to strengthen port and waterway supply chains and climate resilience. Once the project is complete the Brownsville Ship Channel will be one of the deepest in the Gulf of Mexico.