The Port of Beaumont lies on the shores of the Neches River in Southeast Texas, 42 miles (67.59 km) from the Gulf of Mexico. Accessible by the Sabine-Neches Waterway and the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, the Port of Beaumont operates as a deep-water port. Located 85 miles (137 km) east-northeast of Houston, the Port of Beaumont is easily accessible from Interstate 10, Highways 69 and 96 and US 90.
The Sabine-Neches Waterway is a petrochemical and industrial complex that contains Port of Beaumont, Port of Port Arthur, and Port of Orange. The Port of Beaumont Channel is one of the busiest channels in the United States and currently ranks as number five. The Port of Beaumont Waterway (19 miles long from the Port Arthur City limits up) handled 101.1 million tons of cargo in 2019. The Sabine-Neches Waterway is a minimum of 400 ft wide and maintained at a depth of 40 ft with an air draft of 136 ft, deepening to 48 ft is currently underway. The Intracoastal Waterway and Mississippi River connect Beaumont with a vast inland waterway system serving such cities as Minneapolis, Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City, Louisville, Omaha, and Memphis.
The Port of Beaumont (Port of Beaumont Navigation District) is a political subdivision of the State of Texas. Modern port facilities offer eight state-of-the art inland terminals and welcome steamship lines from all over the world. The Port of Beaumont is recognized as a breakbulk port specializing in project cargo, military, and forest products with heavy lift capabilities. The Port of Beaumont public docks and wharves handled 7,065,853 ton of cargo in 2020, up 7.61% over 2019.
The Port of Beaumont is home to the US Army Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command's 842nd Transportation Battalion and is recognized as the most significant strategic military port in the nation. The Department of Defense houses three Ready Reserve Fleet cargo vessels at Port of Beaumont; the Cape Texas, Cape Taylor, and Cape Trinity.
The Port of Beaumont is an economic engine in Southeast Texas generating jobs, and economic growth. In 2020, 159 general cargo ships, 435 general cargo barges and 11 lay berth ships conducted business with Port of Beaumont. Truck traffic at Port of Beaumont totaled 104,945, with a total of railcars counted at 19,052. Port of Beaumont is served by three Class I Railroads (Union Pacific, BNSF, and KCS) and offers 24/7 rail switching by a private contractor. Security is provided 24/7 by a full-time Port of Beaumont Police department and the contractor services of Patriot Security.
The port is recognized in the transportation industry as a premier Gulf Coast Port. Primary cargoes handled by the Port include forest products, steel, aggregate, military cargo, crude oil, wind energy components, project cargo and USDA PL-480 bagged goods. Vessels from over 35 countries visited the Port of Beaumont in 2020 including Mexico, Brazil, Thailand, Egypt, Kuwait, Italy, Netherlands, Vietnam, and India.
In the late 1800s, Beaumont was a center for cattlemen and farmers, rice, timber, and cotton were the biggest economic producers. The Neches River and the proximity to the Gulf of Mexico set the stage for Beaumont, a historic riverboat port, to become a deep-draft terminal. The river and the city capitalized on the lumber boom of the late 19th century and soon schooners, steamers, and shallow draft boats navigated oxbow bends, uncharted snags, and hazardous sandbars to ship lumber across the country, and to help rebuild railroads after the Civil War. Cypress shingles, cotton, animal hides and farm products were also shipped on paddleboats and steamers.
By 1875 the federal government began investing in port facilities. Beaumont’s forefathers saw the importance of investing in a series of canals leading ships from the Gulf of Mexico to the Neches River as an alternative to crossing the shallow Sabine Lake. Extensive construction to improve the waterway happened as a result to private investment and the River and Harbor Acts of 1875, 1882, and 1896.
Beaumont Rice Mill, the first commercial rice mill in Texas, was founded in 1892 and continues to export rice from the Port of Beaumont today.
In 1899, the mouth of the channel was deepened, and jetties were built to prevent silting. During that time, a group of local investors completed a million-dollar investment to build a deep-water canal to connect the Kansas City Southern railroad to the Gulf of Mexico near Port Arthur.
In 1901, Spindletop brought in the first major oil field, ushering in the Petroleum Age and changing the economic forecast of a sleepy little timber town into an industrial mecca. The growth of the oil industry led to the development of the Beaumont-Port Arthur-Orange metropolitan area as a major site for ship building, oil refining, processing, and shipping.
In 1908, inspired by local Beaumont businessmen, an additional canal was dug in the Neches River connecting Beaumont to the Port Arthur ship channel. The canals later became known as the Sabine-Neches Waterway.
Beaumont City Council created a Wharf & Dock Commission in 1913. Under the direction of city visionaries and port advocates, the group purchased land surrounding the port and local businessmen developed dock facilities on the waterfront. Port of Beaumont was owned and operated by the City until 1949.
In 1915 the Port welcomed a new neighbor on the river. Magnolia Refinery opened their facility and rapidly employed over 900 men. Operating today as ExxonMobil they continue to fuel the local economy as a major contributor of bulk petroleum cargo on the waterway and one of the largest employers in the area.
In 1916, the channel was deepened to 25 ft and a turning basin was scooped out in the bend of the river giving the port recognition as a deep-water port. The improvements were completed in time for the country’s entry into World War I. Wartime demands for vessels from new local government shipyards, for petroleum, lumber and rice brought an unexpected boom to the port.
In 1916, the City of Beaumont celebrated as the Port of Beaumont received its first large ocean-going vessel “The Nicaragua”.
In 1920, the City of Beaumont purchased the island known as “Goat Island” for $25,000. City Council was forced to defend the purchase of the non-incoming producing land in anticipation of future port development.
In 1922, Congress appropriated funds to deepen the port channel to 30 ft and widen it to 125 ft increasing Beaumont's importance as a shipping center. In 1925, a second oil find at Spindletop improved the local economy and gave more business to the port. Even during the depression, the port gained acreage and experienced growth. Over the years, grants, bonds, and port revenues have successfully been invested in the future of the port.
In 1937, the waterway was deepened to 34 feet and widened to 350 ft. Once again, the Port of Beaumont acquired additional land and experienced growth.
During World War II, Beaumont played a vital role in the country’s defense. As in World War I, the port, the refinery, and shipyards worked day and night to provide needed items for the war.
In 1941, the current railroad bridge over the Neches River was completed. Rail service into the port continues to be offered by all three Class I railroads. In 1947, another project on the waterway to deepen it to 36 ft was funded. It had become clear to local interests that the City of Beaumont could no longer manage the municipal docks. The group petitioned for a new political subdivision to be created.
A result of their efforts, the 51st Texas Legislature created the Port of Beaumont in 1949 as a political body and governmental entity of the State of Texas. The Port of Beaumont Navigation District covers an area of about 150 square miles, including the City of Beaumont. It is governed by six elected Port commissioners.
The Port of Beaumont continued to grow in the 1950s and early 60s as voters approved 4 million dollars in port improvements. North side improvements, new warehouses and heavy lift equipment resulted in additional business at the port. In 1964, the Grain Elevator was dedicated. Next in 1970, taxpayers voted to approve a bond to build Harbor Island Marine Terminal.
The last project to deepen the waterway was in 1962. The channel was dredged to the current 40 ft deep and 400 ft wide and we are looking forward to the upcoming deepening project. As history repeats itself, we expect to see huge economic impact and growth in Southeast Texas as a result of the channel improvements.
More than $20 million in port capital improvements were completed in early 1995, including the addition of a new administration building, expansion of existing sheds, improved wharves and updates to rail and switching facilities.
In 2014, after fourteen years of hard work and dedication by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Sabine-Neches Waterway Navigation District, local politicians and waterway advocates celebrated as President Barack Obama signed the WRRDA bill, which authorized construction of the proposed waterway channel improvement project. The project will deepen the waterway from 40-48 ft. Deepening the waterway will allow public and private facilities in Southeast Texas to welcome larger ships, which equates to revenue and jobs. Construction is underway and should be completed by 2027.
Studies commissioned by the Sabine Neches Navigation District, (SNND), show during the life of the proposed improvement project, 78,000 permanent jobs will be created in Jefferson County. Once the deepening project is complete, this asset is expected to produce more than 200,000 jobs in Jefferson County, and about 465,000 jobs nationwide. Texas will see increased business activity due to the deepening project. New jobs and generated revenues are expected to fund local services, businesses, schools, hospitals, and improve infrastructure. In addition, deepening the waterway produces a more efficient maritime infrastructure and strengthens our position as America’s Energy Gateway.
In 2020, Port of Beaumont Board of Commissioners approved a $249.7 million capital improvement program, comprised of 21 infrastructure improvement projects that will stimulate economic development in Southeast Texas and improve port facilities. Three significant projects, totaling more than $100 million, will commence in Q2 2021: Port of Beaumont Profile 2021
These three projects will be funded by a combination of general obligation bonds (2017 bond referendum), an $18 million BUILD Grant and Port revenues. Together, the projects will add capacity and streamline operations at the Port, while also increasing the number of direct, indirect, induced, and related user jobs supported by the Port of Beaumont. Upon completion of these projects, interchange capacity will double, and general cargo handling capacity will increase by more than 25%.
An economic impact study, completed in 2019 by Martin and Associates, revealed that the Port of Beaumont is more than a hub for commerce and trade; it is an engine for regional economic development, responsible for thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in economic activity. The study, which includes the impact of public and private docks and wharves, showed that the Port of Beaumont supports more than 67, 000 jobs and generates approximately $24.5 billion in economic activity annually.