WHATS WRONG WITH BARGE MOORINGS IN THE CHANNEL?
The project directly adversely impacts a shoreline that many boaters and fishermen use on a regular basis. The nature of that area will be changed from wild to industrial forever. Recreational uses will be displaced. The structures and barges themselves pose a safety hazard in an area that on any summer weekend is a swirl of wade fishermen, anchored boats, jet skis, swimmers, parasailers and sailboats.
In addition, the project poses a number of environmental implications from concentrating the danger of spill in a sensitive area with strong tides, to increasing erosion, to threatening whooping crane, other fish and wildlife habitat.
Those familiar with the bay know that a swift incoming tide and prevailing wind will push any spill or runoff into the Lighthouse Lakes and Aransas Bay within minutes, without possibility of control. This is not simply an issue of aesthetics. It would be hard to identify, from any standpoint, a more poorly sited green-field industrial project on the Texas coast.
WHAT IS IN THESE BARGES?
According to the Danger signs on the barges almost all are currently carrying Benzine which they also warn is a cancer causing agent. In general, Liquid cargo barges are barges that transport petrochemicals, such as styrene, benzene and methanol; liquid fertilizer, including anhydrous ammonia; refined products, including gasoline, diesel fuel, and jet fuel; black oil products, such as asphalt, No. 6 fuel oil and coker fuel; and pressurized products, such as liquefied petroleum gases and butadiene, which are transported on the waterways from producers to end users.” Source: Wikipedia
WHY DO THEY SAY IT SHOULD BE THERE?
The project is being spun by its promoters as some sort of ‘solution’ to the problem of tows and barges parking along this shoreline over the last several years, waiting their turn at any number of facilities in the inner port or Harbor Island.
This is a red herring. Frequent observers note anywhere from 2 to at most 10 or 15 tows parked at any given time. This is in fact a problem and has done extensive damage to the shoreline–without any permit. Enforcing current regulation is the solution, not magnifying the problem by parking many times more barges.
ARE THERE ALTERNATIVE SOLUTIONS?
Provided that a need for a large mooring area exists, more suitable areas can be found adjacent to existing industrial zones, not overlapping recreational or sensitive areas. In fact, the Port of Corpus Christi has, as part of the Corpus Christi Ship Channel Improvement Project, identified areas along the Channel for construction of ‘barge shelves’ to fulfill a similar purpose in a waterway dominated by industrial activity.
HOW DID THEY EVEN GET A PERMIT?
This should not have even started. It’s hard to fathom that the General Land Office (GLO) or US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) would permit a project of this type in a place like Lydia Ann Channel at all, and certainly not without public hearings, extensive studies and well developed safeguards. Yet again a major project with potentially far-reaching effects slipped through bureaucratic loopholes, with a notice published in some obscure user-unfriendly website that nobody reads.
On the State level, the notion that a major recreational area can just be quietly leased away by the GLO for private gain and at risk to a public natural resource is very disturbing.
The General Land Office’s own rules forbid this.
Texas law governing the leasing of coastal public lands by the GLO provides that: (Source: Texas Natural Resources Code, Section 33.001).
“The natural resources of the surface estate in coastal public land shall be preserved. These resources include the natural aesthetic values of those areas and the value of the areas in their natural state for the protection and nurture of all types of marine life and wildlife.”
“Uses which the public at large may enjoy and in which the public at large may participate shall take priority over those uses which are limited to fewer individuals.”
“The public interest in navigation in the intracoastal water shall be protected.”
“Utilization and development of the surface estate in the coastal public land shall not be allowed unless the public interest as expressed by this chapter is not significantly impaired by it.”
The actions taken by GLO in this matter clearly violate each of these concepts.
The US Army Corps of Engineers violated its own rules too.
Letters of permission for projects affecting navigation may only be granted “when, in the opinion of the district engineer, the proposed work would be minor, would not have significant individual or cumulative impacts on environmental values, and should encounter no appreciable opposition”. (See 33 CFR 325.2(e)(1))
At the Federal level, USACE issued the project a ‘letter of permission’, which is an abbreviated permitting process supposedly used only for “minor” work. USACE is treating the project as a navigational issue, under the Rivers and Harbors Act, focusing only on the mooring structures themselves, ignoring completely what will be attached to them.
A barge these days ranges from 200 to 300 feet in length and 35 to 50 ft. in width, carrying an average of 30,000 barrels of product. One hundred barges of this size and capacity would hold 3 million barrels of product, and, stacked together, cover 35 acres. In reality, the project is a floating petroleum storage facility accommodating the current glut of light crude and liquids. A CWA permit and the attendant environmental studies and safeguards should be required of this project as it would be of any other industrial facility with potential for discharge into the bays. This is essentially an end-run around the law.
Even if one were to consider this a navigational issue, the use of a letter of permission is questionable. USACE is subjecting a mile-and-a-half long spread of large concrete structures built to accommodate 100 tank barges to the same scrutiny applied to a wooden dock on a private fishing cabin or a new channel marker.
Given the scope of this project, its environmental impact and the appreciable opposition already encountered, granting a letter of permission is not justified.
WHAT DOLLARS ARE BEHIND THIS?
It is purported that Lydia Ann Moorings, LLC will charge $200-$300 per barge, per night, at this mooring facility. Here’s some conservative estimates of their revenue. Assuming about 60% capacity: 60 barges x $250 per night x 200 days = $3,000,000 per year.
The GLO lease nets a TOTAL of $2,057,184 OVER TWENTY YEARS.
- Year 1: $20,000
- Years 2-5: $85,000
- Years 6-10: $97,750
- Years 11-15: $112,412.50
- Years 16-20: $129,274.37
So the owners get millions a year and the state’s Permanent School Fund gets a very small portion.
HOW CAN I HELP?
Please visit our Get Involved page for more information on donating to our legal fund or contacting your representative to help protect the channel.