Ship channel lifeline of SW La.

The American Press

Calcasieu Ship Channel

Special to American Press

It’s hard to say what Lake Charles would be without the Calcasieu Ship Channel. But it certainly wouldn’t be among the nation’s fastest-growing metro areas if not for the existence of the 68-mile waterway providing a straight shot to the Gulf of Mexico and a home for dozens of industrial facilities.

Now, the channel faces a major problem, and forming a new Calcasieu-Cameron Navigation District to oversee it may be the only solution.

Unlike the Mississippi, whose current pushes along sediment until it reaches the Gulf, the ship channel needs to be manually dredged every year so that it stays deep enough and wide enough for vessels passing through.

The federal government pays for the actual dredging through the Army Corps of Engineers, but the Port of Lake Charles is responsible for buying places to dump the mud and — the real concern — helping to maintain them.

As anyone digging a hole knows, eventually the dirt you’ve removed will start to fill back in if steps aren’t taken to secure it.

Similarly, the dredged material placed on disposal sites along the channel has started to fill back into the waterway, resulting in 14 levee failures last year in the span of three months. Mud is also making its way back in through decanting pipes meant to feed only sitting surface water.

There aren’t many options for finding new disposal sites at this point so experts say the old ones will have to do. That would take costly changes like adding border walls, something the proposed tax district could accomplish.

The people of Southeast Texas have for decades used a similar tax to fund maintenance of the Sabine River channel, which faces similar dredging issues, with measured success.

Sponsored by Sen. Dan “Blade” Morrish, R-Jennings, authorization of the district is making its way through the Legislature and will later go before voters in the two parishes for final approval.

If approved as written, owners of a $109,000 home, the median price in Calcasieu Parish, would pay around $13 a year, Morrish said. Owners of a $200,000 home would pay around $62 a year, and a $300,000 home $112.50.

New taxes are never easy to pass. But for something as necessary as the channel, it’s worth it.