The Port of Corpus Christi has moved forward in its multi-year effort to build a large-scale marine watermaker on Harbor Island in Port Aransas, which will be the first in Texas of its size and scope.
On Tuesday, the Port Authority’s steering committee voted 5-2 to pay $62,025 in permit fees to the Texas Environmental Quality Commission, effectively beginning the process of obtaining a seawater abstraction permit for the proposed 50 million gallons per day. means.
The receive permission is one of two permissions required to create such an object. In September, after a years-long legal battle with the Port Aransas Conservation Area, TCEQ granted the port permission to discharge on its Harbor Island proposal.
The vote is the latest development in a costly local effort to build offshore desalination plants that has been the subject of controversy among elected officials, government and industry leaders, and environmentalists.
Port Commissioners Wes Hoskins of San Patricio County and Diane Gonzalez, who was appointed to the seven-member commission earlier this month by the Court of Nueces County Commissioners, opposed the vote on Tuesday.
Gonzalez proposed to delay the vote during the preliminary discussion. She cited a recent lawsuit filed by the Port Aransas Conservancy seeking a rehearing for TCEQ’s port discharge permit and possible oversight by the US Environmental Protection Agency.
The Port Aransas Conservancy’s request was filed last week and has yet to be resolved. Last year, in letters to TCEQ, the EPA said it may not accept any permits related to desalination because the port’s application did not pass a full federal review – the result of the TCEQ’s application not being properly processed, EPA writes.
However, the Port Authority voted on Tuesday to direct staff to pay fees associated with an application for an admission permit. This vote has passed.
Seawater desalination involves the separation of dissolved salts and other minerals from ocean water to produce water for use by the public and industry. Although desalination is generally more expensive than conventional water supply, it is viewed as a source of water that can withstand significant drought.
The city of Corpus Christi and the port are seeking the necessary environmental permits for two different plants each, and have made progress in their main locations in recent months. After the port received an offloading permit in September, TCEQ issued a receiving permit to the city the following month for its site on the north side of Corpus Christi, called the Inner Harbor site.
Port and city leaders are broadly supportive of desalination, but disagree on which site is best and which organization should operate it. The city, which already provides water to more than 500,000 customers as the region’s main water provider, says it should operate any desalination plants. Port leaders have said either the city or an outside company should do this, which the city opposes.
Cooperation between the city and the port on desalination has soured. At one point, the port authorities stated that any permits they received would be issued to the city, but a written agreement to this effect was never concluded. Relations broke down last spring when the city urged the port to withdraw a $495 million loan application from Harbor Island’s offer (the port eventually agreed).
Environmentalists have focused on the potential impact of the Harbor Island plans, fearing that the discharge of saline sewage, called brine, into the bay system could damage the area’s habitat, which is known to foster both native and migratory marine and birdlife. inhabitants.
City leaders said it would be too costly to build a port on Harbor Island, instead following their plans for the Inner Harbor. The Texas Water Development Board estimated that the Harbor Island facility would cost $802 million and the city’s Inner Harbor site $236 million. Both are estimated to enter service sometime in the 2030s.
The lack of a written agreement between the two organizations raises the question of who owns the port’s permit for Harbor Island’s wastewater. (The Port Commission released several statements saying the port itself would not operate the proposed facilities.)
Last month, following a federal civil rights complaint about the city plan, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development launched an investigation to determine whether the plan discriminated against residents of Hillcrest, a predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhood on the north side.
More on the HUD investigation:City responds to civil rights complaint about Inner Harbor desalination plans
More about Hillcrest:The resettlement program in the Hillcrest area of Corpus Christi has ended. And what about those who remain?
More about moving to Hillcrest:Years after the relocation program that saved the Harbor Bridge, former Hillcrest residents are reporting mixed results.