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Port Arthur port breaks ground on next step toward the future

The Port of Port Arthur is preparing for the future with an expansion to handle more incoming cargo from increasingly larger ships that call on its docks.

Crews have been installing scores of pilings that will hold the 600 feet of additional dock space once the $37 million expansion project is complete. But Tuesday’s groundbreaking ceremony at the Port Arthur International Seafarer’s Center wasn’t just about announcing new infrastructure.

John Comeaux, president of the port’s board of commissioners, said the expansion was a part of its responsibility to its customers and the community in order to keep up with increasing traffic and cargo made possible by the widening of the Panama Canal and the upcoming dredging of the Sabine Neches Waterway.

“We’re building for the future, and this is one step forward,” Comeaux said.

The port has already seen growth in business that has required it to create more laydown space for the wood pulp, aluminum, lumber and other cargo that come through the port every day, CEO Larry Kelley said.

“As the region continues to grow, we see increased tonnage, traffic and vessel size,” Kelley said.

The port’s longshore labor hours were up 30 percent in 2018 over the previous year, and Kelley said the higher numbers appear sustainable.

Analysts have been tracking the effects of the Panama Canal’s expansion, including the reduction of certain rail traffic. As ships are able to make shorter trips to ports on the East Coast and in the Gulf, distribution companies have swelled trucking business by choosing to make shorter hauls on the highway instead of by rail.

The expansion project will likely help the port accommodate increased cargo from both ships and rail when it is completed in the next 16 to 18 months, but it doesn’t plan to stop at 600 feet.

Kelley said the port has already been selected for a grant program with the U.S. Department of Transportation that will provide it with $20 million of a $55 million project to add another 300 feet of multi-use dock space.

The port’s last major project was in 2000 when it completed berths Nos. 3, 4 and 5 for $60 million. That project yielded an additional 3,400 linear feet of dock.

Port Arthur voters in 2016 approved a $89.95 million bond proposal for the current work.

“We went to our local church groups, charities, fraternities and sororities for

their support … . Everyone felt the same,” Comeaux said. “We have the money to do what we need to because they felt it was worth it.”

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