Surfside residents are concerned about how construction of a deepwater export terminal could affect their lives and what they can do to stop it.
Construction of the proposed Sea Port Oil Terminal, or SPOT, project includes a very large crude carrier terminal with five 36-inch pipelines running about 168 miles from Harris County, through Brazoria County then to the deepwater port off the coast at Surfside Beach. The pipes will pass through the Brazos River, 149 wetlands and then the Surfside neighborhood and beach, according to U.S. Coast Guard and Maritime Administration documents.
During a village council meeting March 10 and an informational meeting March 11, residents were encouraged to opposed the project by submitting comments to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Maritime Administration. Council members unanimously agreed to formally oppose the project through letters to the governor and U.S. Coast Guard calling for it to be rerouted.
“I just think that it’s unnecessary that they are cutting through the outside of Surfside, when they could just go around the edge,” Surfside Mayor Larry Davidson said. “But I wanted to get permission from council to write a letter to the governor specifically not to change the project, but just reroute, but certainly I want to oppose the current route.”
Council members are also concerned about eminent domain.
Only one resident in the affected area had been contacted, though multiple people own property in the area where this could be built, Councilman Gregg Bisso said.
“That is their piece of commercial property that they want to run this pipeline through, plus they want to put a valve approximately 100 to 150 feet off of Blue Water Highway in our cart path on the beach side,” Bisso said.
Parties building crude oil intrastate pipelines in Texas can fill out a form to the Texas Railroad Commission and somewhat easily get the power of eminent domain, Earthworks Energy Campaigner Ethan Buckner said at the city council meeting.
“Eminent domain law is not friendly to landowners in Texas right now,” Buckner said.
Eliminating the project remains a possibility, Buckner and Earthworks Organizer Lori Glover said.
Earthworks is a nonprofit organization that works to gather the aid needed to protect communities from environmental threat. Concerned Surfside community members began working with Earthworks last year to garner more information on how to stop the project.
“Now is the best opportunity that you’re going to have to make sure that your community is protected,” Buckner said. “The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Coast Guard and Maritime Administration are having open comment periods.”
The Endangered Species Act is the strongest environmental law in the country so, with strong community support alongside backing data, the project has a strong potential to halt, Earthworks members told residents.
“The Coast Guard acknowledges that there would be adverse and direct impacts for groundwater, surface water, wetlands, oceanography, coastal and marine environments, vegetation, wildlife, freshwater fisheries, and plankton in the area,” Buckner said. “So they’re acknowledging that the impacts are significant.”
Enterprise’s pipelines are long-lasting don’t disturb the environment, according to its website. Enbridge’s pipelines are uniquely low-risk, according to its website. Neither company responded to requests for comment.
Local resident Gene Schwall supports industrial construction, unless the construction has a negative impact on his community.
“I’m not against the industry in any way, but I know that we need to mobilize to halt the lay of this project,” Schwall said. “I just really think that this project will not benefit our community as it will wreck a beautiful landscape.”