President signs Sabine-Neches waterway bill

President signs Sabine-Neches waterway bill

President Barack Obama signed H.R. 3080, the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA), on Tuesday, June 10, which will allocate $748 million in federal funds to the Sabine-Neches Waterway Channel Improvement Project.

The Water Resources Reform and Development Act authorizes $12 billion overall for 34 projects ranging from our Sabine-Neches Waterway Channel Improvement Project to flood protection for residents of North Dakota.

May 22, the bill passed the Senate by a vote of 91-7. The U.S. House of Representatives passed the bipartisan measure in a vote of 412 to 4 two days prior to the Senate’s passing.

President Obama explained that WRRDA will “put Americans to work modernizing our water infrastructure and restoring some of our most vital ecosystems.”

“As more of the world’s cargo is transported on these massive ships, we’ve got to make sure that we’ve got bridges high enough and ports that are big enough to hold them and accommodate them so that our businesses can keep selling goods made in America to the rest of the world,” President Obama said. “This bill gives a green light to 34 water infrastructure projects across the country. So this bill will help towns and cities improve their commerce, but it’s also going to help them prepare for the effects of climate change — storms, floods, droughts, rising sea levels — creating more adaptability, more resilience in these communities.”

Locally, the Sabine-Neches Waterway Channel Improvement will deepen the waterway from 40 feet to 48 feet to accommodate larger ships. The Sabine-Neches Waterway has national importance and is often referred to as “America’s Energy Gateway” because the roughly 80-mile waterway services oil and gas production in Southeast Texas and Southwest Louisiana.

Clayton Henderson, assistant general manager at Sabine-Neches Navigation District, said that he and general manager Randall Reese are extremely excited about the president signing the bill.

“This culminates 15 years worth of effort on the whole area’s part to get this pushed through,” Henderson said. “It’s a significant upgrade to our nation’s critical infrastructure. It’s like a highway. You have to improve highways, and we think water infrastructure needs to be improved in the same way. It truly is positioning about long-term success. It formally lets us begin the finance and construction phase and lets us close out the feasibility phase. We’ve already informally started, but formally as soon as … October 2015, we can begin doing the financing portion … and getting into the preliminary engineering and design for construction with the (U.S. Army) Corps of Engineers. We can’t wait to get started.”

The Beaumont Business Journal interviewed Reese in May regarding the significance of the project.

“Currently we have ships coming into the waterway that draft 45-48 feet and are not being loaded to full capacity; once the river is deepened, the ships will be able to take on full loads, making the waterway more economically viable for industry and shipping,” Reese said.

The project will allow the area to better serve critical industry already on the waterway as well as tens of billions of dollars in planned projects that chose this area due to its unique link to the country’s pipeline system, available land, trained local workforce and business-friendly community.

The local workforce will be greatly impacted by the project, seeing as it will bring thousands of permanent jobs to the area. According to the Perryman Group study commissioned by SNND, “during the life of the project, 78,000 permanent additional jobs will be created in Jefferson County,” said Reese.

The Sabine-Neches Waterway currently generates billions of dollars in revenues and thousands of jobs in Jefferson County, the state of Texas and the United States. Once the deepening project is complete, this American asset will support more than 200,000 jobs in Jefferson County alone and about 465,000 jobs nationwide.

Southeast Texas will see increased business activity due to the deepening project.

“The waterway impacts nearly every business and individual in Jefferson County,” said Reese. “It creates jobs and generates revenues that fund local services, schools, hospitals and infrastructure. We are extremely grateful to our Jefferson County officials and our state and federal officials for their tireless efforts in making this project a reality.”

The Sabine-Neches Waterway is the nation’s fourth largest waterway, transporting more than 100 million tons of cargo each year. It is the nation’s No. 1 crude oil import channel and home to the No. 1 commercial military outload port. Refineries along the ship channel produce 60 percent of nation’s commercial jet fuel and the majority of U.S. military jet fuel. Additionally, 55 percent of the nation’s strategic oil reserves are supported by the waterway.

“This has been an incredible journey. It’s taken us 15 years of hard work and determination to get to this point. So many of our local, state and federal leaders and past SNND leaders and staff deserve a huge thanks” said Paul Beard, chairman of the SNND. “It’s been a pleasure to help lead this once-in-a-lifetime project to this point. Now it’s time to get out there and start digging!”