Pelican Island spill: Gulf Coast Waterway closed after barge hits Galveston Bridge, causing oil spill

GALVESTON COUNTY, Texas (KTRK) — A barge struck the Pelican Island Causeway Wednesday morning, damaging part of the bridge and causing an oil spill into the bay, according to the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office.

As officials responded to the incident, the Gulf Coast Waterway was closed for about 6.5 miles from markers 350.5 to 357, County Judge Mark Henry said, adding that the oil spill was heading in that direction, so the U.S. Coast Guard decided to proceed. closure.

The closure is a major setback for operations, as significant maritime commercial traffic uses the waterway off the Texas coast.

According to the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office, a boat struck the Pelican Island Causeway Wednesday morning, causing a piece of the bridge to fall.

It also has implications for people on Pelican Island. Located just north of Galveston, the bridge is the only way to and from Pelican Island.

Galveston County Emergency Management canceled evacuations from Pelican Island around 6 p.m. because the bridge was “unstable” and “handrails and concrete were visible shifting.”

Officials allowed drivers to cross the bridge one at a time, spaced about 20 feet apart, before halting the evacuation.

At 8 p.m., emergency management reopened the bridge to people leaving Pelican Island only, not allowing anyone to enter.

The departure lane was congested by 9pm and there was no hard stop to evacuate.

Because everyone on Pelican Island can leave, residents like Andrea Dunlap, who has lived there for two years, worry about how soon they’ll be allowed back in.

“I’m sure if they’re going to close the bridge, they’re going to find another way to get us back and forth,” he said.

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Harborside Drive is open to east-west traffic. However, drivers cannot travel north from 51st and Harbor toward Pelican Island. Galveston police officers are diverting traffic in the area.

Henry said that around 10 a.m., the undercarriage broke apart and crashed into the bridge’s rail. Rail section not in use.

Two crew members on board were ejected or jumped, but were quickly rescued, officials told ABC13. Emergency management leaders confirmed with ABC13 that fewer than 200 people were on the island when the incident occurred.

Operated by the Martin Operating Partnership, the 30,000 gallon capacity rig is leaking vacuum gas oil.

Eyewitness News reached out to the agency, but has not yet heard back.

Officials said the ship was carrying basic petroleum products, and the Coast Guard is investigating complaints of pollution.

A view from SkyEye showed a 300-foot glint in the water in the bay.

Officials said crews are on the scene assessing damage to the bridge, including four TxDOT inspectors.

Despite the initial outage, Henry said the island switched to a secondary power line.

Texas A&M University Galveston is on Pelican Island and shared an alert about the bridge closure Wednesday:

“Sea Agie Alert: The Pelican Island Bridge is currently closed to all traffic due to a barge strike. Power has been restored and additional updates will be provided as the situation changes. Next scheduled update will be at 1200.”

TAMU is one of the main buildings on the island. The inauguration ceremony of the university was held last week.

Emergency management leaders told ABC13 that as of 4 p.m., about half of the students at Texas AThe &M campus was evacuated from the island.

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Pelican Island has many attractions, including Seawolf Park and the Galveston Naval Museum, as well as several port-related businesses.

Notably, the Battleship Texas Pelican Island is in dry dock undergoing major renovations. It re-entered the water in March and is expected to reopen in 2025 or 2026.

What to know about Pelican Island Causeway

The footbridge is 3,239 feet long and 164.1 feet long.

A A proposal to replace the bridge was presentedConstruction will begin in the summer of 2025.

It stretches from SH 275 to Seawolf Parkway.

The Seawolf Parkway Bridge connects Pelican Island to Galveston Island within the City of Galveston.

An overview of the project states, “Deterioration of the Seawolf Parkway Bridge has progressed to the point where any additional deterioration would result in sudden bridge closure. As the bridge provides the only access to Pelican Island, closing the bridge would cut off access for all users, including evacuation and emergency services.”

The bridge was built in 1960 and is at the end of its operational life.

TxDOT plans to start construction next summer, but that’s about it It is not clear if the table is affected Because of the incident on Wednesday.

Officials are concerned that the collision will render the bridge unusable. It is expected to remain closed until deemed safe to use.

What spilled into the bay?

Officials say the liquid is vacuum gas oil, a heavy oil byproduct of vacuum distillation of crude oil.

Honeywell, which was not involved in the incident, describes VGO as “a key raw material for liquid catalytic crackers used to make transportation fuels and many by-products.”

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Oil is flammable when heated to high temperatures. Due to its makeup and strong odor, it should not be discharged into ditches, drains or waterways.

Breathing even small amounts into the lungs can cause mild to severe lung injury. VGO may irritate eyes and skin.

Ingesting or inhaling hot vapors or mists can cause headache, drowsiness, dizziness, slurred speech and blurred vision, and may cause skin cancer.

“It’s devastating. The fish, the birds and everything, it’s not going to be good,” Dunlap said.

While officials work on plans to clean up both the oil and broken pieces of the bridge, people like Dunlap worry about the long-term effects of this whole situation.

The US Coast Guard said it is investigating why it happened in the first place and will determine the extent of the spill.

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