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Harbor Island Desal Plant Now Contested Case

According to a permit filed in June 2018 with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the site of 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 request to build a desalination plant on Harbor Island officially became a “contested case,” which probably means additional public hearings will be required as part of the process. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality on November 6 referred the Port of Corpus Christi’s application for a discharge permit for the proposed plant to the State Office of Administrative Hearings.

The application asks for permission to allow up to 95.6 million gallons of waste discharge per day from the facility into Corpus Christi Bay. A group of Port Aransas residents concerned about the environmental impact of the discharge on wildlife in the bay sought further review from TCEQ.

Port Aransas Mayor Charles Bujan told reporters the call for a public hearing was exactly what opponents wanted: a chance to make their case against the discharge in a forum similar to a civil trial.

Nine issues TCEQ listed in the referral to the administrative hearings office include:

• whether the proposed discharge will adversely impact the marine environment and aquatic life and wildlife, including birds and endangered or threatened species spawning eggs or larval migration;

• whether the proposed discharge will adversely impact the health of the requestors and their families, including if fish or other seafood will be safe for human consumption;

• whether the proposed discharge will adversely impact recreational activities, commercial fishing, or fisheries in the Corpus Christi Bay and the ship channel;

• whether application and representations contained therein are complete and accurate;

• whether the applicant substantially complied with applicable public notice requirements;

• whether the modeling complies with applicable regulations to ensure the draft permit is protective of water quality;

• whether the applicant’s degradation review was accurate;

• whether the draft permit is consistent with the coastal management program goals, practices, and policies;

• and whether the draft permit includes all appropriate and necessary requirements.

The desalination plant is not the only proposed industrial development on Harbor Island under scrutiny. Protests also have been lodged against building two marine oil and gas export terminals and dredging the Corpus Christi Channel, which is already underway.

One group protesting development on Harbor Island is the Port Aransas Conservancy, which believes the Corpus Christi Ship Channel will be negatively affected by both intake and discharge from the plant.

“Port Aransas is a fishing town; it’s driven by tourism,” said James King, owner of King Land & Water and co-founder of the Port Aransas Conservancy, in a video on the conservancy’s website. “If the fisheries are impacted, then you are going to reduce the amount of tourism that is the underpinning of the entire economy of Port Aransas. The economy of Port Aransas definitely is going to be affected negatively with this located in our backyard.”

The port does not intend to build a desalination plant on Harbor Island, according to port CEO Sean Strawbridge. The request for a permit is to speed up the process for a possible third-party developer, such as the city of Corpus Christi.

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