MATAGORDA COUNTY, Texas (Aug. 21, 2014) – The 1,800-feet stretch of navigable waterway may not seem like a big deal, but for recreational boaters traveling along the Colorado River it means less wait time and improved safety.
Three years ago, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Galveston District partnered with federal and non-federal agencies to construct Bragg’s Cut, a small boat cut constructed between the Old Colorado River and the diversion channel, to allow small recreational vessels an alternative to using the Colorado River Locks.
“Constructing this cut not only creates a safe passage for small boats to travel, as they don’t have to navigate with commercial tows along the Colorado River Locks, it also alleviates traffic congestion and saves recreational boaters time,” said USACE Galveston District Lockmaster Simon DeSoto, Colorado River Locks.
Named after Mike Bragg, a retired employee with the USACE Galveston District, the cut was completed in the spring of 2012 and has reduced traffic through the East Colorado River Lock by an average of 80 percent annually (approximately 20,000 vessels).
According to Port of Bay City Chairman Mike Griffith, the Port of Bay City sponsored public meetings with resource agencies and the Corps to explore reopening Parker's Cut. After learning that Parker’s Cut would not pass the environmental guidelines, staff began exploring other options.
“Mike Bragg with the Galveston District and the USACE Engineer Research and Development Center allocated Corps resources to model and study acceptable alternatives,” said Griffith. “We all met again with the resource agencies and proposed Bragg's Cut. After we agreed to move forward with the Bragg’s Cut proposal, the port applied for and received a grant from the Texas General Land Office Coastal Impact Assistance Program’s funding source for $1.65 million and we matched it with $650,000 for a total completion cost $2.3 million.”
In 2013, the district adjusted lock operations at the Brazos River Floodgates and Colorado River Locks following a reduction in the Corps’ nationwide inland navigation budget. According to DeSoto, the locks continue to support 24-hour operations however, gate swings are limited from opening on demand to opening every hour on the hour for recreational vessels only (commercial vessels, emergency and law enforcement are not affected by these operational changes).
“These two Corps owned-and-operated gated structures provide safe navigation on the Texas portion of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway and allow nearly 10,000 vessels to carry billions of dollars worth of commercial goods each year,” said DeSoto. “The operational changes allow us to continue to provide a high level of service within our available budget during these fiscally constrained times."
According to DeSoto, the reduction of wear and tear on the Colorado River Locks prolongs the life of the equipment and makes available more operating dollars to address ongoing maintenance needs.
With the American Society of Civil Engineers grading the U.S. infrastructure a D plus in 2013 and the nation listed as number 14 for infrastructure, according to the 2012-13 Global Competitiveness Report released by the World Economic Forum, DeSoto says the district strives to collaborate with partner agencies such as the Port of Bay City to solve the district’s aging infrastructure challenges.
“We’re always looking for future opportunities to expand our partnerships and collaborate with both government and private organizations on projects that support non-federal investment in infrastructure, protect our shorelines and improve and maintain Texas channels,”DeSoto said.
In June of this year, President Barack Obama signed the Water Resources Reform and Development Act 2014 (the first one since 2007), authorizing the construction of 34 projects for flood risk management, ecosystem restoration and navigation and streamlining the Corps’ infrastructure authorization process, authorizing new projects, deauthorizing old projects and accelerating project delivery.
“This bill increases the flexibility for non-federal interests and the private sector to contribute funds to move studies and projects forward and to expedite the evaluation and processing of permits,” said DeSoto. “Working in partnership, we’ll be better positioned to continue to deliver navigation projects that achieve national and regional economic benefits and support navigation-related projects that maintain waterways and add value to the nation.”
To learn more about WRRDA visit http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2014/06/10/president-obama-signs-water-resources-reform-and-development-act-and-honors-borinque, learn about the Colorado River Locks at http://www.swg.usace.army.mil/BusinessWithUs/OperationsDivision/ColoradoRiverLocksSummary.aspx. View the 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure at http://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/a/#p/home. Find us on Facebook, www.facebook.com/GalvestonDistrict or follow us on Twitter, www.twitter.com/USACEgalveston.