Railroad Commissioner Does Port of Corpus Christi a Huge Favor

By Editorial Board, Corpus Christi Caller-Times
Aug. 16, 2017

Ryan Sitton is a member of the Texas Railroad Commission. But from the way he is pushing the long-delayed Corpus Christi Ship Channel widening-deepening project, he easily could be mistaken for one of the state’s two U.S. senators or the region’s congressman.

We can’t thank Sitton enough, and we encourage others in positions of influence to follow his example, including but by no means limited to Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz and U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi. Anyone who can add weight to the effort should do so, by writing to the Army Corps of Engineers like Sitton has done, traveling to Washington, D.C., to bend the ears and twist the arms of elected officials and bureaucrats, approving official resolutions in support of the project, and writing well-researched, authoritative guest columns like — again — Railroad Commissioner Sitton has done.

Sitton wrote for the Caller-Times and to the Corps of Engineers from the perspective of a highly informed petroleum engineer and founder and operator of a successful oil and gas company. He pointed out with facts and conviction, not hyperbole, that the ship channel project is urgently important — not only to the Port of Corpus Christi and not only to Texas, but to the nation.

We report, regularly, that the port is the region’s chief economic engine. Sitton was more detailed in his correspondence with the Corps of Engineers, pointing out that more than $100 million in goods moves through the port each day. That’s staggering.

Also, he noted, it’s the nation’s top port for crude oil exports — in its current condition. Increasing its capacity is necessary to realize its full economic potential, and as a matter of national security.

The plan to deepen the channel from 45 to 52 feet and to widen it to allow safe, comfortable two-way traffic has been proposed since the previous century. Congress  has authorized it three times but the Corps and the Office of Management and Budget have sent the funding elsewhere each time. Sitton noted that deepening projects in Boston, Charleston, Tampa and Jacksonville moved forward, in most cases despite having lower cost-benefit ratios and being more costly.

How does that happen? The answer can only be that those ports had stronger advocacy in Washington — the kind of advocacy that Sitton is providing our port now, the kind of clout our port needs from anyone else with the position and resources to provide it, especially Farenthold, Cornyn and Cruz. As we’ve said before, repeatedly, delivering this project should be Farenthold’s primary reason for being our congressman. With the two senators’ help, and now Sitton’s, it should be a slam dunk. All are Republicans who should be on the same page on this project.

Sitton observed that if this decision had been left up to private industry, it would have been done by now because the return on investment is too high to leave that much money on the table. Yet, our port officials, in exasperation, have talked seriously about trying to self-fund the project. That would be disgraceful and unfair to the taxpayers of this region.

A project of such overwhelming benefit not only locally but to the nation should be funded federally, from start to finish, not started with local funding in hopes of reimbursement — especially when lesser projects elsewhere have been funded, and especially with a president who made infrastructure one of his campaign platforms.

OK, so this project clearly wins the common sense battle. Now it needs to win the decibel war. Sitton, by virtue of his powerful position on the state’s energy regulatory agency, his education and his industry experience, is a Pavarotti-like voice. We just need a bigger, louder choir to back him up.