Gulf of Mexico
Above image is used for illustration purposes only / Credit: Port Corpus Christi

Port of Corpus Christi seeks to keep Harbor Island lease agreement confidential

The Port of Corpus Christi is seeking an opinion from the Texas Attorney General's Office to withhold a copy of a lease for a proposed crude oil terminal on Harbor Island in Port Aransas.

The Caller-Times requested a copy of a proposed 50-year lease agreement between the Port of Corpus Christi and Lone Star Ports LLC on March 18. That request was made ahead of a March 19 meeting during which port commissioners were set to vote on approving the lease. Discussion on the matter was tabled after a legal challenge to the move was filed in a Nueces County court-at-law.

That legal challenge was later rejected, and port commissioners were allowed to move forward with approving the lease at a March 25 special meeting. They did so in an unanimous vote.

Two port commissioners, David Engel and Wes Hoskins, did not attend that meeting.In a letter to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, attorney Dane Bruun said the port was looking to withhold the lease and other documents requested for legal and competitive reasons. In addition to a request from the Caller-Times, Bruun said the port received similar requests from John Donovan, a member of the Port Aransas Conservancy, and Roger TenNapel, a representative with Flint Hills Resources.

"The items were intentionally omitted from the published agenda packet (although they were provided to the Port Commissioners) because the items are confidential and because the items would put PCCA at an unfair competitive disadvantage if published," Bruun wrote.

The Caller-Times sought a copy of the lease to provide the public with additional details on the project, including financial and other responsibilities of the parties involved. The proposed lease is expected to generate anywhere from $2 billion to $4 billion in new revenue for the port over the life of the lease, officials have said.

Port CEO Sean Strawbridge, in an e-mail to the Caller-Times on Tuesday, said the estimated total development capital expenditure for the project is about $1 billion, and includes work on storage, pipeline and interconnects, docks and dredging. He also reiterated that the terms of the lease are confidential.

"The port will be contributing a portion of the capital for the work we are conducting, namely the dock structures and the dredging to 54 (feet)," he wrote.

It has also been met with strong opposition from residents in Port Aransas who feel the Harbor Island project could devastate marine life and wildlife habitats that are central to the town's tourism economy. The terminal would require dredging the ship channel down to 75 feet to accommodate the full loading of Very Large Crude Carriers, capable of carrying 2 million barrels of crude oil.

in the meantime, port officials are planning to allow the terminal to make use of a planned 54-foot depth that is in the process of being done as part of its ongoing channel expansion project. That larger depth would come in a separate project at a later date still to be determined.

The Harbor Island project could have to undergo an 18-month environmental impact study before any type of permit is issued or construction started, a recommendation made by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Port officials are trying to have that EIS period reduced, though, to get the project started sooner.

Tim Acosta covers the Port of Corpus Christi, county and city government stories for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. Consider supporting local journalism with a digital subscription to the Caller-Times.

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