The U.S. Senate passed the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 on May 22, which authorizes the Sabine-Neches Waterway Channel Improvement Project.

In a 91-7 vote, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the bipartisan measure earlier that week in a vote of 412 to 4, according to a press release from the Sabine-Neches Water way District.

Gene Bouillion, port director for the Port of Orange, said though the Neches River predominately runs through Jefferson County, the act’s passage will absolutely benefit Orange County.

“Especially in handling larger vessels and wider, deeper vessels on the Neches River, connecting to Orange County,” Bouillion said.

The project will deepen the Sabine-Neches Waterway from 40 feet to 48 feet to accommodate larger ships. It will also 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 the unique links to the country’s pipeline system, available land, trained local workforce and the business community.

“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 Sabine-Neches Navigation District, “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!”

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.

“The waterway impacts nearly every business and individual in Jefferson County,” said Randall Reese, General Manager of SNND.  “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 bill will now be sent to  President Barack Obama for his signature. Upon presidential signature, the bill will become public law, and the Sabine-Neches Waterway Channel Improvement Project will be federally authorized to move forward.

“We’re pleased Congress recognized the vital importance of the Sabine-Neches Waterway to the nation’s energy production and refining capacity, our export capability and our national security by making the WRRDA bill’s largest navigation investment in Jefferson County,” said Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick.

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 number one crude oil import channel and home to the number one 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.

Likewise, the House Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development completed its mark-up of the FY 2015 appropriations bill for the Department of Energy and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on June 10, according to a press release from the American Association of Port Authorities.

Key points:

The Army Corps of Engineers is funded at $5.5 billion, an increase of $25 million above the FY 2014 enacted level and $959.5 million above the President’s budget request.

The bill provides $2.3 billion for navigation projects and studies, including $1.1 billion in funding from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund.

Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund activities are funded at least $185 million above the budget request and above the FY 2014 appropriation.

AAPA stated they appreciate the efforts of Chairman Mike Simpson (R-ID), Ranking Member Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) and the subcommittee members in recognizing the importance of keeping the nation’s navigation channels open and freight moving through U.S. ports.  AAPA sent a letter on June 11 to the Appropriations Committee on FY 2015 funding.

The next step is full Appropriations Committee markup, and a date for this action has not been scheduled.

The Subcommittee’s press release can be read here.