• Port of Corpus Christi marks 100 years, milestones during 2022 State of the Port

  • The Port of Corpus Christi, since its inception in 1922 and the aftermath of a devastating hurricane that decimated the area, has been an integral part of South Texas and the Coastal Bend’s identity as a key economic engine.

    Over 100 years, the port has grown from humble beginnings to become the nation’s No. 1 gateway for outgoing, U.S.-born crude, the No. 2 gateway for liquefied natural gas exports and the largest port in the country in terms of total revenue tonnage.

    Chairman Charles W. Zahn Jr., during the port’s annual State of the Port ceremony that coincided with the port’s centennial year, said the port is postured toward the future.

    “The state of your port 100 years from its birth is truly outstanding,” Zahn said during the Wednesday event at the Congressman Solomon P. Ortiz International Center. Elected officials, business owners and leaders, port customers and community stakeholders attended the sold-out event.

    The ceremony included remarks from Sean Strawbridge, the port’s CEO; Kelly Miller, CEO and president of Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi; and Al Arreola Jr., CEO and president of the United Corpus Christi Chamber of Commerce, which sponsored the event.

    Strawbridge, who last month was elected to serve a two-year role as chairman of the American Association of Port Authorities’ board of directors, thanked the port's staff and the seven-member commission that guides the port.

    Prerecorded video messages by U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn and U.S. Rep. Michael Cloud, R-Victoria, were played for attendees. The trio celebrated the port’s centennial year and stressed the importance of the port for the state of Texas and the United States (Cruz and Cornyn toured the port earlier this year).

    Zahn, who is the longest-serving member of the port commission, gave an oral history of how the port has changed over the last century and emerged as a key seaport on the world stage.

    In 2021, a record-breaking 167 million tons of cargo moved through the port. Zahn said the port is poised to break that record this year, projecting that more than 185 million tons of cargo will have moved through the port by year’s end. “Those numbers are truly amazing,” he said.

    Last week, the port announced it had set another tonnage record in the third quarter of 2022. Driven in large part by record exports of crude oil, the new quarterly tonnage record of 48.3 million tons surpassed the previous tonnage record set in the second quarter of 2022 of 46.4 million tons — a 4% increase in overall tonnage. 

    Zahn also provided an overview of the port’s community engagement efforts and other initiatives, including its mobile Port of Corpus Christi PORT-Able Learning Lab and the Port of Corpus Christi Center for Wildlife Rescue at the Texas State Aquarium.

    Remarking on ongoing projects, Zahn said the port’s navigable ship channel was dredged to a depth of just 15 feet when the port opened. Now, a dredging project, which is expected to cost more than $681 million in total once it is completed, has been underway since May 2019 and is expected to be finished sometime in 2024. 

    The channel will be widened and dredged to a depth of 54 feet to accommodate larger vessels capable of carrying a greater amount and wider variety of goods. Notably, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in March earmarked the final installment of funding needed, $157 million, to finish the project.

    The port is eyeing another dredging proposal for a 14-mile stretch of the ship channel from Port Aransas' Harbor Island to the Gulf of Mexico. The proposal, which is still being evaluated by the Corps of Engineers, would see this stretch of channel dredged from 54 to 56 feet to more than 70 feet and, in some parts, 80 feet to better accommodate larger vessels.

    Zahn also recalled the port’s involvement in the Harbor Bridge Replacement Project, which included helping reach an agreement between local, state and federal agencies to offer a relocation option to residents near the new bridge’s proposed path. 

    The new Harbor Bridge, which broke ground in 2016 and was expected to be finished in 2020, will usher in a wave of economic growth with a higher vessel clearance and the newly deepened ship channel. However, as a result of multiple stoppages and design disputes, the nearly $1 billion Texas Department of Transportation project is now eyeing a 2025 completion date.

    Some major milestones for the port this year were not mentioned during the ceremony.

    In April, the port celebrated its final closeout in the acquisition and voluntary relocation program for the Northside neighborhoods of Hillcrest and Washington-Coles — the program devised to lessen the impacts of the new Harbor Bridge.

    In September, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality issued one of two permits the port needs to establish a seawater desalination facility, a major win in the port’s years-long contested case hearing with the nonprofit Port Aransas Conservancy, an organization pushing back on the port’s plans.

    Both the port and the city of Corpus Christi are engaged in multimillion-dollar efforts to get environmental permits for four different locations for desalination — all of which would pull from and discharge in Corpus Christi Bay and would be the first of their size and scope in Texas.

    Zahn said the port has a bright future.

    “We look forward to the next 100 years and the voyages ahead,” he said.