Massive construction project begins at Port of Houston

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- The Port of Houston claims it provides more than a million jobs in the state of Texas in a competitive business. In an effort to stay ahead of the competition and to prepare for the future of global commerce, the port has started a multi-million dollar project along the ship channel.

The effort could dredge up even more jobs and tens of a millions of dollars for the local economy.

In the middle of one of the region's most powerful economic engines, a ship called a dredger is digging deep.

"It's what Houston needs. It's what we need to keep growing and it confirms our commitment that we are ready to handle these container ships in Houston," said Roger Guenther with the Port of Houston Authority.

It is an effort to make Barbours Cut container terminal bigger and better.

"We're doing a widening and we're also deepening the channel approximately about five feet," said Scotty Emmons with Orion Marine Construction.

Five feet may not seem like much, but it for much larger ships to carry goods to and from the port. Those ships -- twice as large as the ones currently using the port -- will soon cut through the Panama Canal when its massive expansion project is finished, meaning big bucks for any port able to accommodate them.

The actual dredging is happening 30 feet below the water. What's called a cutter head is actually loosening all of the dirt on the bottom of the ship channel and then vacuuming it out.

The project here and at neighboring Bayport container terminal took four years of work and will cost $85 million of the port's money -- cash they say they can't afford not to spend.

"It's a very competitive business, so if you're not prepared to accept the larger, newer ships eventually you're gonna work your way out of the rotation," said David Casebeer with the Port of Houston Authority.

The port estimates an annual return of more than $30 million to the local economy.

"By having this facility here, by having all the cargo that comes through here, it really brings a lot of jobs, it brings a lot of activity, and it brings a lot of commerce into our city," said Chris Dealmeida with Orion Marine Construction.

And with that commerce, they might as well be digging for gold.
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