Port of Houston Tackles Shoaling from Hurricane Harvey

The USACE survey vessel Tanner II sets out to conduct a sonar bottom scan of the Houston Ship Channel after Hurricane Harvey (USACE Galveston)

By The Maritime Executive 2017-09-27 21:44:48

The Port of Houston – a key hub for oil and gas shipping and the nation’s largest port for foreign waterborne tonnage – reports that silt carried by Hurricane Harvey’s floodwaters has created shoaling of up to 10 feet in mission-critical areas.

The damage includes “dramatic shoaling” at the entrances of the port’s three major terminals, including the Barbours Cut and Bayport facilities, which handle about 70 percent of the Gulf Coast’s containerized cargo. In a release issued Thursday, Port Commission Chairman Janiece Longoria said that the port is “in desperate need of additional relief to properly dredge the channel so that it can accommodate normal commerce.“

“While the Channel is open and commerce is flowing with some restrictions, the Houston Ship Channel needs significant dredging to address these storm damages,” Longoria said. “The floodwater coming through our system deposited tons and tons of silt into the Houston Ship Channel and throughout Galveston Bay.” 

To address the current situation, the port has allocated an additional payment of up to $2 million to the Corps of Engineers for terminal-related dredging expenses. It also awarded contracts to fortify communication capabilities for telephones, data center and inter-terminal connectivity.

Chairman Longoria and Executive Director Roger Guenther stressed that maintaining the Houston Ship Channel’s depth is critical to commerce. A study conducted by the Texas Transportation Institute determined that a loss of one foot of depth in the channel costs the U.S. economy as much as $281 million dollars per year.

To prepare for future storms, Longoria called for improvements to the waterway to make it more resilient and reduce the impact of silt-laden floodwater. “We believe that rather than just returning the channel to its pre-storm depth and width, we must enhance its efficiency and we must build in resiliency,” she said.