After years of negotiations and legal wrangling, the city council of Port Aransas and the Port of Corpus Christi Authority (PCCA) have struck a deal that clears the way for development on Harbor Island to support the largest crude oil-carrying ships in the world.

In a closed session during its regular meeting Aug. 20, council members discussed with lawyers ongoing legal conflicts involving the terminal and a desalination plant and a possible settlement agreement. Following the executive session, council members voted 7-0 to approve the agreement that allows for a crude oil export terminal to be built on Harbor Island in an area that lies within the Port Aransas city limits. 

The agreement between the two entities, signed Aug. 28 by Port A’s city manager and mayor and representatives of the port, also resolves all lawsuits brought by both parties. Community members opposed the terminal proposed for the island where a ferry takes visitors to and from Port Aransas, citing environmental risks that could threaten tourism.

The port has estimated that the new Harbor Island export terminal would bring in an additional $2 billion to $4 billion in revenue to the port during the next 50 years as Texas exports more crude oil.

“We are thrilled to finally have reached an agreement with the City of Port Aransas on how to best move forward with the development of Harbor Island,” stated Sean Strawbridge, CEO of the Port Authority, in an article posted on the PCCA website. “We value our relationships with local municipalities, and this agreement paves the way for more economic prosperity and public safety for the good citizens of Port Aransas.”

The article also included a statement from Port Aransas Mayor Charles Bujan that read, “This costly fight has recently spilled over into the courts. But, finally, by entering into an interlocal agreement the Port and the City now have a workable framework in place to address development on Harbor Island.”

That framework includes City oversight of inspection and permitting at the terminal, and $1 million in funding over five years from the Port Authority to pay for training and fire protection equipment for Port Aransas.  

Opponents of the development say the pristine habitat for wildlife in Redfish Bay and Lighthouse Lakes surrounding Harbor Island, and the vital tourism industry it supports, are at risk if one of the carriers spills or leaks oil into the bay. Members of the Port Aransas Conservancy have been at the forefront of fighting the development. 

“The [Port Authority] held the Port A city marina hostage and cost the community taxpayers a huge amount of money that is still needed to rebuild its own city services after Hurricane Harvey,” said Tammy King, vice president of the Conservancy, in a statement following release of the agreement. 

“Strapped with large legal fees, they had no choice but to agree to these conditions.The agreement should not be a sign that the Harbor Island industrialization is wanted or should be In this ecologically sensitive area.”

King said the group would continue to fight projects that harm natural resources and the local economy.

The agreement between Port A and the PCCA also permits the construction of a desalination plant on Harbor Island that would convert salty ocean water into water suitable for industrial use, with the waste product discharged through diffusers into a network of channels. 

Already underway is a years-long federally funded effort to deepen and widen the Corpus Christi shipping channel to allow ships to move in and out and better support the growing oil export industry in the U.S. 

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Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.