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Harbor Island Desal Plant Decision Due in February

A desalination plant proposed by the Port of Corpus Christi would be built on port-owned property on Harbor Island east of the ferry docking station on Texas 316 in the Humble Basin, directly across from Roberts Point Park in Port Aransas. Courtesy map

A decision based on results of a November hearing on whether to issue a permit to build a desalination plant on Harbor Island in Port Aransas is expected in February. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality will make the decision based on recommendations from a two-judge panel that conducted the hearings from Nov. 4-10.

Speaking out against a desalination plant that would discharge an average of up to 95.6 million gallons of water treatment wastes in the Corpus Christi Channel near the Texas 361 ferry crossing were representatives from Audubon Texas, the Port Aransas Conservancy, and individual property owners in the area. Altogether, about two dozen people spoke against the plant at the hearing.

Opponents and proponents of the plant are working on written closing arguments, which must be filed by Nov. 30. They will then have one week to respond to the other side's arguments. Judges will take an additional month to consider written arguments and testimony from the hearing before presenting their recommendations on the case to TCEQ.

Some changes were made to the plant’s proposed setup a few weeks before the hearings began. The Port of Corpus Christi, which is seeking the permit for someone else to build in the future, agreed to move the seawater intake offshore. Releasing discharge into the ship channel will remain the same.

Proponents argued that the discharge will be harmful to sea creatures essential to maintaining food sources and habitat for a wide range of wildlife.

The port argued that the discharge would be diffused and would not harm the environment.

A major environmental voice in the area disagreed with that assessment: Greg Stunz, professor of marine biology and endowed chair for Fisheries and Ocean Health with Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. He is also a regular on the Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week” shows.

“If I had to choose the absolute worst location on the Texas coast, I would choose Harbor Island in the Aransas Pass inlet,” Stunz said at the hearing. He also clarified that he was not speaking on behalf of the university.

The port’s request seeks to speed up the process for an as-yet-undetermined third party to build a plant. The city of Corpus Christi is considering the possibility, an issue that has landed in the middle of the ongoing race for mayor. A runoff election between incumbent Joe McComb and challenger Paulette Guajardo will be held in Corpus Christi on Dec. 15. McComb supports building a desalination plant; Guajardo has expressed concern for its cost to consumers.

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