For a lot of who go to Port Aransas, a seashore trip begins with the ferry cease on Harbor Island, the place boats carry automobiles throughout the ship channel to the barrier island city of round four,000 individuals.
However quickly, about 200 acres of Harbor Island might nicely turn into the location of a serious oil export terminal, if a set of tasks proposed by the Port of Corpus Christi turns into a actuality. The Port and its enterprise companions are hoping to provide a number of the largest crude-carrying ships on the earth.
They plan to deepen and widen the channel to permit these ships to maneuver out and in and are additionally looking for a allow for a desalination plant on the island that might flip salty ocean water into water appropriate for industrial use.
Corpus Christi has been on the middle of the shift within the American transformation from power importer to power exporter, pushed largely by high-producing oil and fuel performs in Texas, notably the Permian Basin in West Texas.
Almost 5 years in the past, the primary U.S. oil tanker sure for export in 40 years departed from the Port of Corpus Christi. Since then, export has ramped as much as almost 700,000 barrels of crude per day, Port officers stated.
By 2021, Port officers are claiming a further three.2 million to three.four million barrels per yr can be headed to Corpus Christi, sure for export. The Port estimates that its new Harbor Island export terminal would usher in a further $2 billion to $four billion in income through the subsequent 50 years.
“It’s a super further increment of crude coming to the world that’s in search of a gateway to offshore locations,” stated Jeff Pollack, a group planner the Port employed final yr to direct its new planning division.
The Port has already acquired funding and permits for a few of its tasks, however key items nonetheless must be finalized, together with a 50-year lease on the property the place the oil terminal can be constructed.
The thought isn’t welcome amongst many residents of Port Aransas, primarily a fishing and seashore city. The terminal’s future location lies inside Port Aransas metropolis limits, close to the intersection of the channels that transfer water into Redfish Bay and the Lighthouse Lakes, a extremely productive habitats for fish, crabs, shrimp, and sea turtles.
At a February assembly after listening to hours of testimony from Pollack and Port Chair Charles Zahn, the Port Aransas Metropolis Council handed a decision calling for extra research and public remark time on the Port of Corpus Christi’s plans for the world.
“I simply can’t think about Harbor Island being one of the best place for that,” Metropolis Council member Beth Owens stated on the assembly. “I’m undoubtedly pro-oil and fuel, don’t get me improper, however for all of this to be coming into our space … this can be a group.”
On the assembly, Pollack made a collection of principally financial arguments for the Port’s plans for Harbor Island.
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“All the financial prosperity that we take pleasure in as a area is a perform of the Port of Corpus Christi,” Pollack stated. “We definitely have a incredible vacationer financial system, we’ve got all types of ancillary business associated to that … however the group as an entire is a perform of getting a port. Corpus Christi actually grew up across the Port.”
Opponents worry a catastrophic oil spill would imply the top of the prolific fishing and hen life that pulls vacationers to the island. Some additionally fear that digging into the dust on Harbor Island will expose contaminated soil and groundwater left over from earlier oil business exercise and permit it to make its method into the wetlands.
“We would like 100 % due diligence, compliance, analysis, and investigations on what’s being checked out for zero influence on our seashores, on our fishing business, and our ecology,” Port Aransas Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jeffrey Hentz stated. “We’re a tourism financial system, and we can’t have that impacted.”
Most of those that oppose the Port’s plans aren’t anti-oil and fuel. They are saying they only need the export terminal offshore, at a everlasting buoy, just like the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port. Multinational commodities firm Trafigura has even proposed such a undertaking 15 miles offshore from Corpus Christi, based on the Corpus Christi Caller-Occasions.
That approach, these oil tankers might load up outdoors of the barrier island, away from the spawning grounds for the marine life that deliver vacationers to Port Aransas.
Among the many mangroves
For 25 years, Port Aransas resident Cameron Pratt and her husband, Rick, lived subsequent to the Lydia Ann Lighthouse, the one man-made object on a spit of sand on the fringe of an enormous marsh.
These areas of shallow water, mangrove forests, and seagrass beds make up about 50 sq. miles of prime fishing grounds generally known as Redfish Bay and the Lighthouse Lakes. It’s a stark however lovely setting the place channels with fast-moving currents reduce via partitions of mangrove. The water isn’t greater than knee-deep and sometimes clear, permitting guests to see right down to the seagrass, mud, and oyster reefs on the underside.
Each from the Houston space, the Pratts turned caretakers of this Civil Conflict-era lighthouse, owned by H-E-B inheritor Charles Butt. Cameron Pratt labored as a biologist on the College of Texas Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas, whereas Rick Pratt labored full time on the lighthouse, making an attempt to carry again its tendency to crumble again into the sand.
“It was heaven,” Cameron Pratt stated in a February interview. “We needed to reside on a phenomenal, unspoiled a part of the Texas coast and this was it – undeveloped.”
For a number of fish species widespread with business fishermen and just-for-fun anglers, Redfish Bay and Lighthouse Lakes are essential habitats. Noticed sea trout, black drum, southern flounder, mullet, and redfish all get carried into the estuaries as eggs and larvae and spend their younger lives there earlier than heading to deeper water. Grownup blue crabs additionally abound within the estuaries.
A lot of the Texas coast has some proof of chemical plant, manufacturing website, oil refinery, or different heavy business. Probably the most excessive instance is Galveston Bay, which is lined with refineries, chemical crops, storage tanks, pipelines, and different industrial exercise.
Redfish Bay and the Lighthouse Lakes have by no means seen a lot heavy business. Again when the Pratts have been educating courses on the Armand Bayou Nature Middle in Galveston, they might take their college students round to totally different elements of the Galveston Bay complicated to see all of the totally different ecosystems that make up the coast.
Their final cease would all the time be Redfish Bay, “so [students] might see what it was alleged to seem like,” she stated.
Guests to the Lighthouse Lakes will see an abundance of fish not slightly below the water, however above the floor. Throughout the shallow expanse, the sound of fish leaping and plopping is the one sound aside from wind and distant boat motors. Birds like herons, sandpipers, pelicans, and egrets step their approach by way of the shallow water, scooping up fish. Dolphins breach within the deeper Aransas Channel subsequent to the bay.
Pratt stated all of the bay wants to remain wholesome and maintain producing prodigious quantities of fish is to be left alone.
“You don’t have the air pollution coming in,” Pratt stated. “You don’t have a bunch of oil improvement on this space, so the marshes and bays aren’t reduce up with a bunch of channels like up in Louisiana. It’s simply by the grace of God been capable of keep pristine.”
That’s all probably in danger if a type of carriers spills or leaks, say members of the Port Aransas Conservancy.
‘Every part wants clear water’
On the Metropolis Council assembly in February, Port Aransas Council member Joan Holt questioned Pollack concerning the impact on the native fisheries.
Holt, a retired marine scientist, is well-known locally for her work learning redfish, a sport fish species. Whereas on the College of Texas Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas, Holt and a colleague have been the primary scientists to determine how one can spawn and lift redfish in captivity. In 2016, Holt gained a lifetime achievement award from the YWCA for her work as a pioneering lady in her area.
“The habitats listed here are so essential for our financial system,” Holt advised Pollack. “We’re utterly a nature-tourism-based financial system. Fishing, birdwatching, beaching. The whole lot wants clear water, and we’d like a lot of wholesome fish to maintain every part going superb.”
The Port is critical about avoiding and containing spill, Pollack advised the gang. He stated the Port intends to have the terminal manned 24/7 with a spill response crew. He steered that the crew would have the ability would place booms across the oil earlier than it might unfold.
Against this, Pollack stated an oil spill in an “off-shore setting with winds and excessive seas” would have far more “dispersal than any equal in-shore the place you could have response actually proper there.”
Pollack additionally identified that constructing the terminal in-shore means it will be topic to extra stringent air high quality laws than if it was out within the Gulf.
Cathy Fulton, a core member of the conservancy who lives in Port Aransas, stated they’ve good purpose to be involved about an oil spill at that website.
“That may be a actual robust present there,” she stated. “Earlier than you might include it, it’s going to be shifting, and that’s the issue.”
Pollack touted the Port’s stringent environmental certifications and stated the objective is to “to guard the standard of life that we who work right here, stay right here, play right here take pleasure in as nicely.”
He added that “there isn’t any query, from an financial standpoint, that increasing the scope of operations of the Port in a accountable method has financial return for everybody on this group.”
Echoes of ‘Deeport’
For many who have lived within the space for many years, the Port’s current plans echo these it referred to as for within the 1970s, underneath an umbrella of tasks often known as “Deeport.” Again then, the Port needed to deepen the channel to 80 ft and add the infrastructure wanted to create two berths on Harbor Island for supertankers meant for importing oil, not exporting.
The struggle over Deeport led to the founding of Port Aransas’ hometown newspaper, the South Jetty, in addition to to higher safety and State scrutiny relating to the fish habitat in close by Redfish Bay and the Lighthouse Lakes. Lighthouse Lakes turned the Texas Parks and Wildlife Division’s first official paddling path within the 1990s.
However issues have modified because the 1970s. With manufacturing booming within the Permian Basin in West Texas, the U.S. has just lately grow to be a internet exporter as an alternative of an importer.
What lots of these against the venture query is why Harbor Island needs to be the export hub. Except for the Trifigura offshore terminal, proposals embrace one other export terminal in Freeport, about 130 miles north of Port Aransas.
Jim Blackburn, a Rice College environmental regulation professor and authority on coastal points, addressed Texas ports’ aggressive nature in a chapter in his “Ebook of Texas Bays” about Redfish Bay and Lighthouse Lakes.
“Texas ports have a historical past of preventing one another,” Blackburn wrote. “Competitors, not cooperation, has been the ethic of Texas port improvement. What one port has, the others need, and issues escalate.”
In line with Blackburn’s analysis, a wave of adverse public opinion and formal opposition from businesses just like the Nationwide Marine Fisheries Service and Texas Parks and Wildlife is what killed the Deeport proposal.
“This time, it’s going to take Texans to attempt to cease them,” Port Aransas Conservancy core member Tammy King stated in a telephone interview.
King and her husband, James, can stand on their rooftop balcony on the north fringe of Port Aransas and watch the ships shifting out and in of the bay. An app on Tammy King’s telephone tells her their names and sizes and what sort of cargo they carry.
Like lots of their neighbors, the Kings are nonetheless placing their property again because it was earlier than Hurricane Harvey hammered the world in August 2017. In February, contractors have been engaged on rebuilding their boathouse.
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King, the great-great-great-grandson of Capt. Richard King, who based the huge King Ranch, is a former director for The Nature Conservancy and was instrumental in creating the Davis Mountains Protect in West Texas. He and Tammy now run a conservation actual property firm.
“Each good factor in Texas that’s been saved was a radical concept and an enormous battle,” Tammy King stated.
Like others within the Port Aransas Conservancy, King has household ties to previous leaders of the Port of Corpus Christi. His great-grandfather helped begin the Port and served on its fee for 42 years. At a Tuesday Port assembly, King delivered a blistering tackle throughout public remark, urging Port commissioners to “deal with their neighbors as their neighbors.”
Dredging the channel
The primary a part of the Port’s proposal – dredging materials from the mattress of the channel to widen and deepen it – is already nicely on its approach.
In 2017, the Port entered an settlement with the U.S. Military Corps of Engineers to deepen and widen the channel. Since then, the undertaking’s value has ballooned from an estimated $327 million to shut to $482.four million, in line with the Corpus Christi Caller-Occasions.
The federal authorities already has funded these plans with $95 million, and the Trump administration is proposing one other $53 million in its 2020 finances.
The Port has been steadily dredging the channel deeper for almost a century. In 1927, its depth was roughly 29 ft. By 1934, the channel had been deepened to 36 ft, then, by 1989, its present depth of 47 ft.
In January, the Port awarded a $93 million contract to an Illinois dredging firm to finish the preliminary a part of the venture. In 2019, the federal finances consists of one other $13 million in funding, with $59 million set to return from the Corps and one other $35 million from the Port. This part of dredging would have the channel deepened from 47 ft to 54 ft.
The channel would must be even deeper — 75 ft — to accommodate a few of the largest oil tankers on the planet. One other $151 million in federal funding can be required in 2020 and 2021, in response to Port officers.
Very Giant Crude Carriers are the second-largest class of oil tankers. They’re almost 1,100 ft lengthy and 180 ft large at their widest level. At that measurement, they’re similar to Nimitz-class plane carriers, the second-largest sort within the U.S. Navy.
At present, VLCCs are capable of entry the Port of Corpus Christi, however they will’t refill utterly with the channel close to Port Aransas solely at 47 ft, Pollack stated.
As an alternative, they refill partially in Corpus Christi Bay, then journey outdoors the barrier island earlier than anchoring offshore within the Gulf. Smaller tankers then ship sufficient oil to utterly fill the vessel.
“We now have had half a dozen or so within the ship channel with completely no disruption during the last six weeks,” Pollack stated on the council assembly. “They’ve been completely unremarkable occasions.”
The operation the Port is planning would permit as much as three of those VLCCs at a time to completely load up on oil at Harbor Island. Every part would run 24/7, with the power to load a most of 80,000 barrels, or three.four million gallons, of oil per hour.
Final October, the Port introduced an settlement with Washington, D.C., funding agency The Carlyle Group to develop the terminal. The Port’s fee was set to vote on a 50-year lease with The Carlyle Group on Tuesday, however a State appeals courtroom decide blocked the vote due to a authorized dispute by a former Port Commissioner Kenneth Berry.
The Port continues to be going forward with its plans for a desalination plant on Harbor Island to provide recent water for industrial use. That might contain pulling 50 million gallons per day of seawater from the channel off Harbor Island and treating it by way of reverse osmosis. The waste product – extremely salty brine – would then be discharged again into the community of channels utilizing diffusers.
The Port has obtained a State allow for the discharge, however its consumption allow for Harbor Island continues to be “underneath improvement,” Pollack stated.
Air pollution left from earlier proprietor
After an oil pipeline leak at her household ranch led to a drawn-out authorized battle, Cathy Fulton turned considerably of an skilled in researching the oil and fuel business and its dealings with regulators.
The daughter of Corpus Christi development magnate Joe Fulton, Cathy Fulton lives in Port Aransas and runs two craft and residential items shops. After Harvey, it took her months to get the shops up and operating once more.
Just lately, she’s had extra time to review the historical past of previous air pollution on Harbor Island. For a lot of the 20th century, the island did have oil storage tanks, however these have been meant for import, not export.
Since 1996, the Port has owned the a part of Harbor Island it needs to transform into an oil terminal. Earlier than that, the land was owned by ExxonMobil and Petrofina, a previously Belgian firm that in 1999 merged with French power big Complete.
These days, it’s arduous to inform the land’s historical past simply by taking a look at it. Marsh grasses wave within the wind behind a tall chain-link fence.
However Fulton dug up proof of petroleum-related chemical compounds lurking slightly below the floor in shallow oil and groundwater.
Utilizing aerial pictures, Fulton counted round 35 oil storage tanks on Harbor Island for about 50 years, earlier than cleanup began within the 1990s.
As a part of her analysis, she discovered restrictive covenants positioned on the land by the Texas Railroad Fee that state that prime ranges of petroleum hydrocarbons stay within the soil and groundwater on a number of parcels of Harbor Island. That is even after State-mandated cleanup work that required Exxon and Fina to take away tons of of hundreds of cubic yards on the website.
The covenants state that the property can be utilized just for “business/industrial use.” No housing, hospitals, faculties, and even parks may be allowed there due to the air pollution.
Pollack acknowledged this historical past on the assembly, saying crude oil tanks at Harbor Island date again to 1933.
“All the substantive improvement in Port Aransas has taken place from the ’30s to the early 2000s,” Pollack stated. “To say that repeating that land use, probably in a diminutive scale … and with modern know-how, will kill high quality of life in Port Aransas, kill the expertise of Port Aransas? I depart it to you to determine whether or not that’s hyperbole or not.”
Fulton’s huge query is what occurs to all that contamination on Harbor Island as soon as development begins?
On the Metropolis Council assembly, Port Aransas Mayor Charles Bujan informed Pollack that he recollects the oil tanks on Harbor Island when it was within the palms of Exxon and Fina.
“They did a, excuse my expression, a piss-poor job of air pollution over there,” Bujan stated. “And now that land is polluted and doubtless can by no means be cleaned up. What sort of job are you guys going to do?”