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Dig deeper: $20 in tax will realize big benefits

By Ken Stickney

ken.stickney@panews.com

Port Arthur residents will see, on average, a property tax hike of about $20 a year after the Port of Port Arthur Navigation District votes at 9 a.m. Sept. 19 in a meeting at the port’s administration office at 221 Houston Ave. Bet that the vote will be yes.

The increase should not be a surprise, as voters themselves authorized the port district — in essence, the district includes the whole city — to issue bonds in the amount of $89,950,00 in that vote. That money was to finance projects to expand the port’s property and grow its facilities, including wharves, docks, warehouses, terminal facilities and more.

Port Director Larry Kelly said the additional tax revenue will go toward Berth 5, south of Berth 4 along the waterway, an additional 600 feet of dock space to “better serve existing clients” and to allow bigger vessels to access the port. Those are ships that the Sabine Neches Waterway will accommodate after it is dredged to 48 feet deep from its present 40. Those are also ships that will access the improved Panama Canal.

“These will be bigger, deeper vessels,” Kelley said.

The additional funds will also fund port improvements, such as new rail facilities.

The port projects will generate new jobs, he said: Short term, they will include some 150 to 200 construction jobs; long term, they will include an underdetermined number of longshoreman jobs.

The permanent jobs will be generated through an increase in port traffic. The additional vessels at the port will mean more fuel purchased, more shopping in Port Arthur and duties and tariffs for the federal government.

The additional federal dollars, he said, would go toward deepening and improving the waterway.

Completion of Berth 5 may take about 18-20 months, he said, and work will follow on Berth 6, farther south. That additional berth will add another thousand feet of dock space. That project is under design and will require approval by the Army Corps of Engineers.

Kelley said the port’s future is bright, as is the future of most Texas ports. The Sabine Neches Waterway is especially vibrant.

“One in 4 or 5 dollars in Texas is tied to our maritime community,” he said of Texas ports.

He said Hurricane and Tropical Storm Harvey revealed the resiliency of the waterway, which quickly reopened in part after the storm and soon after in full.