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Southeast Texas ports set sail

By Dade Phelan

As our 2015 Gulf hurricane season comes to a very welcomed conclusion, it will be the ports and waterways of Southeast Texas that soon experience their own “perfect storm”. Unlike the destructive tempests of past this is a much-welcomed event. There will be marine projects and opportunities launching at both the state and national and international level that will forever change our local economy and workforce.

During the past 84th Legislative Session, Texas included in its General Appropriations Act two distinct educational programs for our two of our local higher education institutions. Lamar State College – Orange received $1,000,000 for a new Maritime Program. The program will provide numerous maritime skills including ship repair and maintenance, engineering, naval architecture, team working skills, water safety and environmental knowledge. With fantastic entry level pay and upward industry mobility, Lamar State College – Orange and the Port of Orange will be uniquely positioned in maritime education and trade. Lamar University in Beaumont received $2,720,000 from the state to start a Port Management degree. This four-year program will be the first of its kind in North or South America. One most travel to Europe or the Middle East to find a similar education. This degree will focus on all aspects of port management, maintenance, construction as well as national and international commerce. Both programs will be available by next fall.

2016 will be a significant year for other port and waterway expansion projects locally and abroad. By late next year, the much-anticipated expansion of the Panama Canal will be completed. This project will double the capacity of the canal system and open the gates for increased traffic including the huge Post-Panamex ships that are beginning to dominate international trade. Also, in 2016, final approval should be given to the Sabine-Neches Waterway Channel Improvement Project a local undertaking that began over 16 years ago. This $1.1 billion project will deepen the waterway from 40 feet to 48 feet and add an additional 13.2 miles to the ship channel. It will take at over ten years to complete and add tens of thousands of new jobs to Southeast Texas. This venture will be the area’s most significant economic development project in decades.

The new educational opportunities and capital improvement projects surrounding our waterways have not gone unnoticed by our state’s leaders. In Austin there have been numerous requests by elected officials, including myself, to elevate the status of our waterways and ports in the legislative process. Beginning next session the Senate will establish a Committee on Ports that will reside within the Transportation Committee. Also, there is the possibility of a House and Senate Joint Committee on Ports during this interim to study funding and expansion needs for 2017. Two years ago the Texas Department of Transportation created their own Maritime Division. I fully support the expansion of this office within TXDOT and will work to increase its resources and stature. We can vastly improve the safety, congestion and durability of our roads by putting more cargo and freight on the water.

The entire maritime industry is entering an exciting era and Southeast Texas is poised and ready to reap its rewards.

It is honor and privilege to serve you all. If I may ever be of assistance please contact me at dade.phelan@house.state.tx.us or 512.463.0706.

God Bless you all and God Bless Texas,

Dade Phelan is Texas House Member Representative for District 21