BROWNSVILLE, Texas – Two key players at Brownsville Navigation District are featured in this podcast about the history of ship channel improvement projects at the Port of Brownsville.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is about to start deepening the Brazos Island Harbor ship channel from 42 feet to 52 feet.

“I believe sincerely and in my heart that this will be the most significant of all the deepening projects,” said Eduardo A. Campirano, port director for Brownsville Navigation District. This has much more significance, especially for the future sustainability of the port. So, this is a big deal.”

Campirano was interviewed by Ron Whitlock of Ron Whitlock Reports

Phase One of the current dredging project is being handled and financed by NextDecade. The company plans to build a liquefied natural gas export terminal at the port. Phase Two is being handled by the Corps of Engineers, with the federal government and the port financing the project. 

“This is the first public-private partnership that the Corps has had for deepening the channel. They have had one other but it was not for deepening the channel so it is new to them,” said Brownsville Navigation District board member John Wood.

Wood was interviewed by Rio Grande Guardian International News Service editor Steve Taylor.

Brownsville Ship Channel Improvement Projects Timeline

After years of effort, planning and success, the Port of Brownsville is ready to begin one of the most important infrastructure projects to date, the Brazos Island Harbor (BIH) Channel Improvement Project. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Congress has authorized the deepening of the port’s channel from 42 to 52 feet. The project may cost upwards of $300 million and construction, divided into two phases, is expected to commence at the end of 2022. Deepening the port’s channel means bigger ships, more cargo, and more jobs for the Rio Grande Valley. 


In December, the Public Works Administration announced a loan and grant totaling $2,472,000 to the Brownsville Navigation District. Thirty percent of the funds would be a grant, and 70 percent would be a loan. The funds were to be used for dredging a channel 100 feet wide, 25 feet deep and about 15 miles long. The turning basin was to be 1,000 x 1,300 feet with terminal facilities consisting of docs, sheds, and railroad connections.


On Dec. 21, the dredge Orleans began cutting the Brownsville Ship Channel. In January 1935, the construction of jetties was nearing completion.


The dredging of the channel and the turning basin required 14 months and was completed in February 1936. A second dredge, the Texas, followed the Orleans. The Orleans dredged to a depth of 13 feet after which the Texas brought the channel to a depth of 25 feet 

The Port of Brownsville opens May 16. Within a year after the port opened work began on deepening the channel from 25 feet to 28 feet. The federal government appropriate $583,000 for deepening the pass and ship channels to Port Isabel and Brownsville.


The Brazos Santiago Pass was to be deepened to 34 feet and the ship channel was to be deepened to 30 feet. Along with this work, to be paid by the Federal Government, two passing basins were to be dredged in the ship channel.


The U.S. Congress authorizes the funds for deepening the ship channel and the turning basin to 32 feet, permitting access by larger ships.


The depth of the ship channel was 36 feet. The port, needing to be in a position to accommodate large ships then in use, sought a 40 foot depth to be followed by 45 feet of water. Plans also called for widening the channel, which was 200 feet wide at its most narrow point. Port Director Al Cisneros worked on this project throughout much of the 1970s and 1980s but it was not unti; 1995 that 42 feet of water became a reality.


Brownsville Navigation District commissioners approved a financial arrangement that committed the BND to pay $15 million of the cost to deepen the shape channel to 42 feet. The project would cost $35 million, of which the federal government would pay $20 million.


Planning to deepen the ship channel from 42 feet began in 2007 with a project feasibility study.


The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) completed the feasibility study recommending deepening the channel to 52 feet.


In December, the U.S. Congress authorized the channel deepening project, making the Brazos Island Harbor (BIH) eligible to receive federal funding.


In April, NextDecade, owner of the proposed Rio Grande LNG natural gas liquefication plant at the port, announced a landmark agreement with the port, agreeing to pay 100 percent of Phase One of the deepening project from the western boundary of its lease site along the ship channel to the channel’s offshore origin (more than nine miles) – or more than half of the deepening project.

In June, the Port of Brownsville receives a key permit form the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to advance the Brazos Island Harbor Channel Improvement Project to its construction phase.

In June, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced the selection of the BIH Channel Improvement Project as one of four nationwide to be among the USACE’s P3 Pilot Program.


In March, the federal government announced the allocation of $68 million to the project. The funds, to be utilized for Phase Two of the project, 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 ship channels in the Gulf of Mexico.


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