Strengthening the Port of Corpus Christi
I worked with U.S. Congressman Henry Cuellar (TX-28) to include language in the Appropriations Bill to assist the Port of Corpus Christi to compete for funding that will strengthen the port as a key player in the U.S. economy, particularly in the energy sector. With the opening of the Panama Canal improvements slated for this summer and new industry coming to the port, widening and deepening is more important than ever. The appropriations bill should come before the house this summer.
The language included specifically addresses the issue of “new starts” in projects approved by the Army Corps of Engineers. At issue is whether recent plans to begin widening and deepening the channel to allow ships carrying crude oil in and out of the port constitute a “new start” under the Army Corps’ terms. Classifying it as a new start would require the project, which has existed since 2007, to re-enter a competitive process with other similar projects for funding. In 2007, the port received congressional authorization to begin upgrades that would allow it to better compete in the national and global economies. Currently, the Army Corps of Engineers argues that because the widening and deepening of the channel are “separable” parts of the port upgrades, they can be considered “new starts” – however, the congressman’s language makes it clear that they are not new starts.
Congress has appropriated up to around $61 million to the upgrade, with $14 million currently available for the remainder of the project.
With the repeal of the decades-old ban on repealing U.S. crude oil, the port in Corpus Christi has needed to begin widening and deepening its drafts to let through ships carrying crude oil product with larger drafts. In fact, the first ship to carry U.S. crude oil in 40 years left the Port of Corpus Christi early this year.
The term "new start" as it applies to the Port of Corpus Christi is being misinterpreted by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The Port’s improvement project started long ago and as part of that project, we have the La Quinta Channel. Congressman Henry Cuellar has worked with me to include language similar to what I’m working on in the Transportation Committee in the Energy and Water Appropriations Bill to clear this up. The change improves the Port of Corpus Christi’s ability to compete for funding to continue construction of its vital widening and deepening project. It could also makes the Port eligible for additional funding mechanisms, in which the Port could continue work using its own funds and any existing federal funds in the Channel Improvement Project account.