As Storm Eases, Texas Ports Enter Recovery Phase

Flooding along the Houston Ship Channel, Aug. 28 (image courtesy EarthCam / Twitter)

By The Maritime Executive 2017-09-01 17:26:54

Ports along Texas' coastline have begun to reopen after a week of closures related to Tropical Storm Harvey. The storm swept ashore Friday as a hurricane, with winds exceeding 100 knots and a storm surge of up to 12 feet. Rescue and recovery efforts continue in Houston, Port Arthur and other affected communities, and flooding will persist for some time despite the storm system's departure. 

Last week, the Captain of the Port for sector Houston/Galveston declared port condition Zulu as the storm arrived, closing channels to most vessel movements in Houston, Galveston, Texas City and Freeport. On Wednesday, the COTP changed the port condition to Recovery and began to allow limited movements as the USCG and other federal agencies survey the waters for hazards. The ports of Texas City, Galveston and Freeport still have a draft restriction of 33 feet until surveys have finished. The Port of Houston has a draft restriction of 37 feet. 

“While urban search and rescue remains our top priority, we understand the importance of reopening ports and waterways, which are vital to the flow of goods and services throughout our nation,” said Capt. Kevin D. Oditt, captain of the port for Houston/Galveston and incident commander for the Hurricane Harvey response. “We have commenced efforts to assess the condition of the ports and waterways to reopen the ports of Houston, Texas City, Galveston, and Freeport when it is safe to do so.”

The Houston Ship Channel remains closed from Morgan's Point inbound to the turning basin – a segment that includes most of Houston's petroleum refineries and terminals. The Coast Guard says that the upper channel is still affected by severe currents and other hazards: Buffalo Bayou, which feeds into it, is still receiving more floodwater from the overfilled Addicks and Barker reservoirs. The Army Corps of Engineers is releasing up to 16,000 cubic feet of water per second from two dams to prevent them from overtopping. 

On Thursday evening, the Port of Corpus Christi announced that its entrance channel at Port Aransas has been assessed for changes in depth and determined safe for marine traffic (with restrictions). Vessels drawing less than 43 feet may now transit during daylight hours, with traffic organized into convoys running one way at a time. Two pilots will be required on each vessel. The port will prioritize the twenty vessels that are already queued and awaiting a berth. 

The Corpus Christi area is home to seven refineries, all of which closed in advance of the storm, and the channel blockage was a serious impediment to the area's refining business. The facilities rely on imports of heavy crude and they export refined products to Latin America and other markets. 

Valero's refineries in Corpus Christi and Three Rivers have begun to restart. In a statement, the Port of Corpus Christi said that electrical power is back up for the area’s refiners. They will be able to restart their operations now that access has been restored for tankers.