Two pieces of ship channel related news recently surfaced and are significant for Port Aransas.

• A $97.9 million construction contract has been awarded to complete the second phase of a fourphase project to deepen and widen the Corpus Christi Ship Channel.

• In a separate matter, the Galveston District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently published a notice of intent to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) related to a proposed project to dig the channel still deeper, to a depth that would accommodate fully laden very large crude carriers (VLCCs) that draft about 70 feet.

The proposal for the deeper dredging has been an issue for months. While the Port of Corpus Christi has championed the idea as being good for port industries and the economy at large, many Port Aransas residents and lovers of the city have said such a project would be bad for the environment and pose other hazards. Contract awarded

The corps awarded the contract on Wednesday, April 8, to Callan Marine Ltd., according to a news release issued by the Port of Corpus Christi Authority.

The Corpus Christi Ship Channel Improvement Project is increasing the channel depth from 47 feet deep to 54 feet. It widens the channel to 530 feet, with an additional 400 feet for barge shelves.

The widening took place along the channel bottom, which is roughly bowl-shaped. The widening didn’t extend to where the water surface meets jetties, sand or bulkheads.

Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co. finished the first phase of the project on time in March this year, said the port’s news release.

Phase One deepened and widened the channel from the Gulf of Mexico to Harbor Island.

Phase Two will make the channel deeper and wider from Harbor Island to a point 2.7 miles past the La Quinta Junction. That includes the Ingleside area, where three large crude export marine terminal operators – Buckeye Partners, Moda Midstream and Flint Hills Resources – will directly benefit, the port reported.

The news release quoted Col. Timothy Vail, Galveston district commander of the Corps of Engineers.

“This contract is vital for us to continue the deepening and widening of the existing Corpus Christi Ship Channel,” Vail said. “The work will improve energy product transportation throughout at the Port of Corpus Christi by allowing larger vessels more efficient access, which will boost the economic competitive advantage and energy security of the United States for decades to come.”

The Port of Corpus Christi has advocated for the advancement of the project for 30 years.

In February, President Donald Trump’s administration released its proposed fiscal year 2021 President’s Budget, which included more than $100 million in the corps’ Civil Works Division for Coastal Navigation Construction for the project.

To date, the Corpus Christi Ship Channel Improvement has received nearly $150 million in federal appropriations.

“And the Port of Corpus Christi has accelerated an additional $150 million of its own cost share portion capital to progress the project,” the release said.

The newest and largest dredger in the company’s fleet, the General MacArthur, is expected to head from Galveston to Corpus Christi within the next few weeks.

Estimated completion for Phase Two of the channel project is early 2022, with improvements to the Ingleside area by late 2021. EIS

The Environmental Impact Statement is planned for a project that would mean dredging the channel to 79 to 81 feet in depth, according to a public notice issued by the corps.

The Port of Corpus Christi has applied for a permit to undertake the project.

The notice said the project would include:

• Work done along a 13.8- mile area of the channel from the southeast side of Harbor Island into the Gulf of Mexico.

• A project area covering about 1,778 acres and creating about 46 million cubic yards of dredge spoil.

• Extending the channel 29,000 feet further into the Gulf of Mexico than it is now.

• Expanding the existing Inner Basin at Harbor Island as necessary to accommodate VLCC turning.• Potential placement of dredge spoil for “beneficial use” sites in and around Corpus Christi and Redfish bays.

• Possible placement of dredge spoil on San Jose Island for dune restoration.

• Potential placement of dredge spoil “feeder berms for beach restoration along San Jose and Mustang Islands.”

The corps notice indicated that an argument in favor of the project would be so crude oil can be more safely and efficiently exported.

Crude oil exported from the Port of Corpus Christi has increased from 280,000 barrels per day in 2017 to 1,650,000 barrels in January this year, the notice said. It added that exports are forecast to balloon to 4,500,000 barrels per day by 2030.

Current facilities require vessel lightering to fully load a VLCC, increasing costs and affecting safety, the notice said.

A citizens’ group, Port Aransas Conservancy (PAC), opposes the proposed dredging project.

“There is no need or excuse for the environmental damage that this project would entail,” the group said in a recent email blast.

The EIS will assess the potential social, economic and environmental impacts of the proposed project.

The corps will conduct a “public scoping process” to determine relevant issues that will influence the scope of the environmental analysis and EIS alternatives.

To make sure all issues are addressed, the corps will conduct at least one public scoping meeting in which organizations and members of the public may present comments on the range of actions, alternatives and potential impacts to be considered in the EIS.

The specific dates, times and locations of meetings will be announced in news releases, special public notices and on the corps’ project website: www.swg.usace.army. mil/Business-With-Us/Regulatory/ Special-Projects-Environmental Impact-Statements/

The scoping meeting(s) will begin with an informal open house, to be held in person or virtually, as decided by the corps.

Displays and other forms of information about the project will be available. Corps and port personnel will be there to talk about the project and EIS process.

The corps is inviting comments on the proposed scope and content of the EIS from all interested parties.

Written comments may be submitted prior, during or up to 14 days after the scoping meeting.

Written comments on the proposed EIS scope should be addressed to:

Jayson Hudson

USACE, Galveston District, Regulatory Division

PO Box 1229

Galveston, TX. 77553-1229

Emails also can be sent to Hudson. The email address is SWG201900067@usace. army.mil.

Emailed comments, including attachments, should be provided in .doc, .docx, .pdf or .txt formats.

General concerns that have been identified include effects on wetlands, water and sediment quality, aquatic species, air quality, socioeconomic, environment, recreation, hazardous waste, aesthetics, public health and safety, navigation, ferry operations, erosion and public benefit.

The purpose of the scoping process is to provide information to the public, narrow the scope of analysis to significant environmental issues and serve as a mechanism to solicit agency and public input on alternatives and issues of concern.

A draft EIS is expected to be available for public review and comment in spring 2021 or later, the public notice said. At that time, a 45-day public review period will be provided for people to review and comment on.