Oil Spill in Galveston After Bridge Collision

Pelican Island
Pelican Island | Image by Visit Galveston/webpage

Pelican Island, an area just north of Galveston, remains isolated for a second consecutive day following a barge collision that happened Wednesday morning.

The sole route to and from the island, the Pelican Island Causeway bridge, sustained significant damage when a barge crashed into one of its pillars, prompting an oil spill, according to a Galveston press release.

The collision occurred shortly before 10 a.m. after a barge untethered from its tugboat collided with the causeway. The force from the impact not only damaged the bridge structurally but also released vacuum gas oil into the surrounding waters, sparking environmental concerns and a comprehensive cleanup effort, according to an ABC 13 report.

Authorities also confirmed that two crew members aboard the vessel were either ejected or voluntarily leaped off during the incident, but swift rescue operations ensued. Emergency management officials further confirmed that fewer than 200 people were on the island at the time, per ABC13.

As of Thursday morning, the United States Coast Guard had been mobilized to assess the scale of the spill and orchestrate measures for containment and cleanup. Additional repair crews are on-site to address the damage inflicted upon the bridge, and containment teams are striving to manage the oil spill.

In the aftermath of the collision, the Pelican Island Causeway bridge has intermittently reopened to allow vehicles to depart from the island for Galveston. However, according to ABC 13, access remains restricted, with authorities advising against attempting to return to Pelican Island until the bridge’s stability can be assured.

Engineers from the Texas Department of Transportation are also en route to establish a safe way to manage transportation on and off the island, according to the city.

The closure of the causeway threatens to disrupt educational operations at Texas A&M University at Galveston as accessibility concerns loom in the wake of the incident. However, school officials are working with authorities to evaluate the impact of scheduling on campus.

According to Galveston’s release posted on Wednesday, the university will announce updates via the campus emergency alert system, university email channels, and social media platforms, yet the campus will remain closed until Monday.

The Pelican Island Causeway, constructed in 1960 and slated for replacement in 2025, has long been a subject of concern due to its aging infrastructure, according to a recent statement from Galveston County Judge Mark Henry.

Henry, who has previously voiced concern over the bridge, further acknowledged its poor condition before the collision on Wednesday, telling ABC 13, “My concern is that they are going to deem the bridge unusable, which would not be a surprise. It was in bad shape before this accident, and that’s going to cause some significant disruptions to Pelican Island.”

TxDOT had plans to replace the aging bridge at a cost of $194 million to taxpayers, citing its deteriorating condition. Over the past decade, the agency has allocated more than $12 million of taxpayer money for maintenance and repairs on the bridge, according to a report from The Washington Post.

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