HARLINGEN — The new commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers district for Texas recently visited the Port of Harlingen, a demonstration of support for smaller ports which in the past have felt neglected by Corps’ priorities.

Southwestern Division Commander Brig. Gen. Christopher G. Beck and Galveston District Commander Col. Timothy R. Vail with other Corps officials visited the local port on Dec. 1.

Beck assumed command of the Southwestern Division, based in Dallas, in June and the port visit is part of an outreach initiative to improve communication and project management between the Corps and port directors.

“We have to step back and see how we move forward together,” Beck said. “(The Corps) has a great capability to bring resources and we want to see just how we can magnify the impact we can have.”

“Our goal is to move toward a strategic approach rather than a project-by-project basis,” he added. “This is a great opportunity for us to leverage the tools we have to make (the ports) successful.”

Corps funding for needed but expensive dredging, at least at the smaller ports like Harlingen, had been difficult to obtain for at least a decade. But that is changing, and last month the Corps and port finished dredging the Arroyo Colorado and the port’s turning basin to depths of 14 and 16 feet.

The channel depth of the arroyo has to be maintained at an authorized depth of 12 feet to safely allow barge traffic — the barges draw 9 feet — in and out of the port.

“We really appreciate the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers coming to see and hear from us first-hand,” said Alan Johnson, chairman of the port board. “The Port of Harlingen’s business is really expanding and the USACE plays a vital part in how we grow to accommodate business. Especially their help in maintaining our channel.”

“They completed dredging here last month and it has already made a significant difference for our customers,” he added.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Port of Harlingen partnered up in November to improve navigability of the Arroyo Colorado by dredging it and the turning basin, as seen in this Nov. 5 photo. (Maricela Rodriguez | Valley Morning Star)

The Corps also began a $19 million dredging project this year at the Port of Port Mansfield, where siltation of the channel there became so bad that some larger sportfishing boats couldn’t navigate the sand bars to enter or leave harbor.

Ocean-going barges bring in gas and diesel, sand, cement and fertilizer to the Port of Harlingen and haul out cotton, grain and sugar.

“Our proximity to the maquiladoras and Harlingen Industrial Park puts us in a prime location to increase our capacity and commodities,” Port Director Walker Smith said. “The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is crucial in assistance and programs that will improve our infrastructure to take advantage of more business opportunities.”