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Port of Corpus Christi Sues Port Aransas Over Moratorium

Located within the city limits of both Port Aransas and Aransas Pass, Harbor Island is zoned for industry. It has deep water, a highway, and channel frontage access. The property is the center of a dispute between the Port of Corpus Christi and the Port Aransas City Council.

The Port of Corpus Christi is fighting back against Port Aransas City Council’s moratorium on issuing permits for development on Harbor Island. A lawsuit filed by the port on September 3 asks Nueces County Court at Law No. 3 to declare certain city acts void, claiming the moratorium violates a Texas law prohibiting local governments from “interfering with oil and gas operations.”

“The ordinance is unlawful – both facially and as applied – because it violates Texas Natural Resources Code 81.523 and is, therefore, preempted,” reads a portion of the lawsuit.

Port Aransas City Council approved a 60-day moratorium on granting any development permits or approval for development on the island, which is within the city limits. Over the next two months, the city will be studying whether any zoning ordinance or other controls should be approved to regulate heavy industrial development.

The port has faced a recent backlash over plans to build two oil and gas terminals on the island to load and unload Very Large Crude Carriers. The port has filed for permits to build a desalination plant on Harbor Island as well. A dredging project is currently underway in the Corpus Christi Channel to prepare for the terminals.

Hurricane Harvey was cited by the city as a reason for the emergency action, which took effect immediately. As the city rebuilds its fire department, it cannot provide protection for any new development on the island, the city stated in its ordinance.

“As a result, a public emergency exists which adversely affects the life, health, property and public peace of those properties located on Harbor Island,” reads the city ordinance. “To ensure that these life safety concerns are protected, a temporary moratorium on further heavy industrial development on Harbor Island is warranted until adequate fire protection services and emergency response are available.”

That action violates terms of a lease between the city and the port that was entered into in April 2018, granting the city use of the Dennis Dreyer Municipal Harbor, according to the port. A letter from the port informed Port Aransas City Hall on September 4 that the lease has been terminated. Port Aransas wrote back immediately disputing those claims and asking for a meeting to work out differences.

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