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Erosion threatens channel

March 26, 2009 at 10 p.m.
Updated March 25, 2009 at 10:26 p.m.

Charles Hausmann, port director for Calhoun Port Authority

PORT LAVACA - Erosion of the Matagorda Ship Channel jetty system could harm some petrochemical plant operations if not repaired.

The entrance of the channel connecting the Gulf of Mexico to Matagorda Bay already experiences strong currents. Granite stones continue to slide into the water and the western wall's bottleneck embankment is deteriorating.

"We're afraid this thing is going to go at any time," said Charles Hausmann, port director for Calhoun Port Authority.

If it does, commercial traffic heading to area plants would stop for safety reasons and coastal communities that rely on Matagorda Island and Matagorda Peninsula as barriers against tropical storm surge may experience more severe storm surges.

Hausmann announced plans to build a temporary fix for the eroding jetty system this year at the Texas General Land Office Oil Spill division meeting held in conjunction with the Coast Guard at the Bauer Community Center in Port Lavaca on Thursday.

While a study with the Army Corps of Engineers is ongoing, Hausmann worries that another major storm or hurricane could cause a breach, making the ship channel unusable for commercial traffic.

Ships reaching the bottleneck and its strong current may gain speed and hit the side wall and spill whatever cargo or chemicals they are carrying, he added.

The port received $2.5 million to restore dunes as a temporary fix, but more needs to be done for a system that moves billions of dollars in commerce per year. If the channel shuts down, $258 million would be directly lost per month, hurting state, national and world markets.

Jay Cuellar, who lives in Point Comfort and serves on the city council, worries how such a breach would affect flooding and would like to ensure flood maps would be accurate.

The safety coordinator at Seadrift Coke fears not only economic loss, but that coastal residents could lose their homes.

"It affects the whole community," he said.


Texas General Land Office and U.S. Coast Guard area committee meeting highlights:

Greg Pollock, deputy commissioner of the Land Office's Oil Spill Prevention and Response Program, announced oil spill frequency and quantities have come down in the past two years, partly because of the economy. Almost zero gallons was spilled from vessels in 2008, compared to 1,400 gallons in 2004.

"We're very proud of the oil handling and transportation industry," Pollock said. "We all understand the value of protecting our environment. We need to save that environment for future generations."

The shrimping fleet at the Port of Palacios reports under 200 boats, a 50 percent decrease from the past 20 years.

About 725 abandoned boats now litter the Texas coast and the Land Office is asking the state legislature for a new process to put a placard on the boat then pull the boat out after 20 days.



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