John Roby, the Customer Service Director for the Port of Beaumont, says the Sabine-Neches Waterway leading to their docks is out of date.

"Think of it as being a two-lane road as compared to an interstate highway," said Roby.

The Sabine-Neches Navigation District (SNND) says the waterway is the 4th largest waterway in the U.S. and is the nation's number one passageway for crude oil imports, but it's not without it's problems.

"What's happening is a ship is showing up from the Middle East or somewhere from South America, and fully loaded, it's deeper than the channel can accept," said SNND Assistant General Manager Clayton Henderson.

Smaller ships have to meet larger ones and help unload cargo, causing traffic on the waterway and costing money. But that could all change, with Wednesday's passage of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) that authorizes funding for major navigation projects. Thanks to almost 15 years of planning by the SNND, the Sabine-Neches has top priority.

The billion-dollar dredging project planned for the waterway would make it 8 feet deeper, allowing larger ships carrying more cargo to navigate the waters.

Officials say the expansion will generate an extra $23 billion in annual gross product for Jefferson County, and create 78,000 permanent new jobs here.

"People who work in Jefferson County, their job is related to this waterway in some way, if they're not driving a boat on the water, they work at a refinery, or they work at a contracting company," said Henderson. "This is a great deal for the nation, and a great deal for Jefferson County."

About 2/3 of the project would be funded by the federal government and the rest by the SNND. Officials say it could get underway by the end of 2015 and is expected to take about 10 years to complete.

News Release issued Wednesday by the Greater Beaumont Chamber of Commerce

PORT ARTHUR, TX – The U.S. House of Representatives today overwhelmingly passed the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) (H.R. 3080), which lays out the way the United States improves and maintains vital ports and waterways. The bill authorizes construction of the proposed Sabine-Neches Waterway channel improvement project.

"This project benefits the United States in many ways. It would nearly triple the economic impact of the waterway to the United States, generate thousands of permanent jobs in Texas and across the country and strengthen America's energy security," said Paul Beard, chairman of the Sabine-Neches Navigation District. "Deepening the waterway would enhance critical U.S. energy and military infrastructure and support the recent boom in refining and petrochemical activity in our region."

The proposed project would deepen the Sabine-Neches Waterway from 40 feet to 48 feet to accommodate larger ships that will be traveling through the Panama Canal, allowing them to reach local ports and critical industry along the waterway.

The Sabine-Neches Waterway is the nation's fourth largest waterway, transporting more than 100 million tons of cargo each year. It is the nation's No. 1 crude oil import channel and home to the No. 1 commercial military outload port. Additionally, 55 percent of the nation's strategic oil reserves are supported by the waterway. Refineries along the ship channel produce 60 percent of nation's commercial jet fuel and the majority of U.S. military jet fuel.

The House WRRDA bill now moves to a conference with the Senate version of this legislation. Once Congress settles any differences between the House and Senate versions, they will vote to send their final bill to the president, where he is expected to sign it into public law. The Senate passed the bill in May of this year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers signed the Chief of Engineers Report for the project in July 2011, and the Assistant Secretary of the Army approved transmission of the project to Congress in November 2011.

The SNND, local sponsor of the waterway, has been working on environmental assessments and authorizations for the project for nearly 15 years.