Editor's note: The berth terminal and harbor widening projects are being funded separately. The $129 million Velasco Terminal expansion is being paid through bonds repaid by port revenue; work to deepen and widen the harbor channel is being funded in part by $130 million in voter-approved bonds repaid by tax revenue. The original version of this story might have left readers confused about the funding sources.

FREEPORT — Work to expand the Velasco Container Terminal is expected to begin next month after Port Freeport commissioners approved a construction contract for more than $129 million, the port announced.

The project will extend the berth 925 feet and dredge to 51 feet, the same depth as the Freeport Harbor Channel Improvement Project.

“Port Freeport has seen a significant increase in vessel traffic and commercial activity over the past several years,” Port Executive Director and CEO Phyllis Saathoff said. “Adding berth capacity to Port Freeport’s infrastructure is critical to supporting the business needs of the port’s current and future customers.”

The contract with McCarthy Building Companies is not to exceed $129,667,607, and the expanded berth should be fully operational by August 2022, according to a news release. It will be paid through revenue bonds and repaid by money generated by leasing and other operations, according to the port board.

“The port is ready to begin work with McCarthy Building Companies on the expansion of our container facilities,” Port Freeport Chairman Shane Pirtle said. “The Port Commission is committed to strategic infrastructure investments that are critical to the efficient landside movement of cargo for tenants and customers and support regional economic investment and jobs.”

The Velasco Container Terminal was operational in 2014, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers last year approved a permit for the next segment of the terminal to begin construction, according to a news release.

“At the envisioned full build-out, the container terminal will be equipped to handle approximately 1.5 million lifts per year,” Public Affairs Manager McCormick said in a news release.

Both the channel widening and berth expansion aim to create new customers and economic benefit for the port and the region, Saathoff said.

“While we’ve made a decision to expand our terminal, we also working on the Freeport Harbor Channel Project,” Saathoff said. “The two initiatives are moving forward together concurrently. Soon we will realize benefit of both projects. The Freeport Harbor Channel Project will take approximately five years to complete. But (these projects) translate into new business, new services and more economic activity for the region.”

The channel improvement project is being federally funded with a local match of $130 million, bond funding for which voters approved in 2018.

Courtney Blackann is a reporter for The Facts. Contact her at 979-237-0152.

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