Company leases west side of Lydia Ann
The Aransas County Navigation District has decided to lease 100 acres of submerged land along the west side of Lydia Ann Channel to the same firm that has moored dozens of barges on the channel’s east side.
The new lease area stretches from a point just south of the Lydia Ann Lighthouse to the point where Lydia Ann Channel meets with the Aransas Pass – the waterway that leads from the town of Aransas Pass to the Gulf of Mexico.
The firm, a limited liability corporation called Lydia Ann Channel Moorings, has no plans “at this time” to put moorings and barges in the new lease area, said Bryan Gulley, one of the company owners.
“We would need to run out of room on (the other side of the channel), and it would be a long, long time before we ran out of room on the other side,” Gulley said.
Gulley said the firm wanted to lease the area along the west side of Lydia Ann Channel to keep barge operators from nosing their barges into the shallows there, sidestepping use of the moorings along San Jose Island in attempts to avoid paying a charge for docking.
“We just felt like it would be better for us to control it in house than a competitor,” he said.
Mayor Keith McMullin said he and City Manager Dave Parsons planned to meet with at least one Lydia Ann Moorings representative on Wednesday, July 15, to talk about the lease.
(The meeting was scheduled too late for results to get into this edition of the South Jetty. An update will appear in the newspaper’s July 23 edition. Any breaking news from the meeting will be reported on the South Jetty’s website, www.portasouthjetty.com, and on its Facebook page.)
McMullin said he requested the meeting because he believes many Port Aransans and visitors wouldn’t like it if barges were moored in the newly leased area. People are concerned about aesthetic and navigation issues, plus the potential for environmental spoilage, the mayor said.
Aransas County Navigation District Harbor Master Keith Barrett said none of the leased area lies inside the Port Aransas city limits, but Parsons said about half of it does. Parsons said city staff is researching whether the city’s zoning laws affect how the submerged land may be used.
A group called Friends of Lydia Ann Channel has opposed the firm’s mooring of barges along San Jose Island. A spokesman for the group decried the leasing of the area on the other side of the channel, too.
“This is an appalling move by both the project owners and the Aransas County Navigation District,” said the spokesman, Aldo Dyer of Port Aransas.
Dyer said the lease invites the possibility of barges being moored there and spills pouring into environmentally sensitive areas, plus the displacement of the public from areas normally used for recreation.
The new lease along the west side of Lydia Ann Channel doesn’t convey the firm the right to build mooring structures there, according Barrett.
To build mooring structures and dock barges there, the firm would have to make a request to the Navigation District, and it would have to be considered by the district’s board of directors, Barrett said.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in January granted the Corpus Christi- based Lydia Ann Channel Moorings firm a “letter of permission” to build up to 82 mooring struc- tures 100 feet apart in waters no less than 12 feet deep in a part of Lydia Ann Channel off San Jose Island.
The firm started building the moorings shortly after that. Gulley estimated that it has held up to about 60 barges at a time since then, though the numbers fluctuate from day to day.
The barges dock there while waiting their turn to be pushed by tugboats into the Port of Corpus Christi, which has become extremely busy in recent years, largely due to Eagle Ford Shale drilling.
Gulley has said as many as 100 barges could be docked along San Jose Island by the end of the year.
The navigation district’s Board of Commissioners vote to lease the submerged acreage on the west side of Lydia Ann Channel came on Monday, July 6.
The lease period is five years, with an additional fiveyear option, Barrett said. It’s being leased to the firm for $3,000 per month, he said.
If the firm obtains proceeds from the lease, half of any amount over $3,000 per month will go to the Navigation District, Barrett said.
Barrett said the lease is attractive to the navigation district because it is expected to keep barges from damaging the shoreline along the west side of Lydia Ann Channel. Rogue barges have been seen doing that in recent months, he said.
Damage to the shoreline could mean harm to sea grass beds and digging up the sandy bottom with tug propellers, he said.
A few old boats also have been abandoned along the shoreline too, he said.
“The plan is, in some ways, more of a conservation effort than anything,” Barrett said.
With the lease, managers of the moorings off San Jose Island will have the authority to watch the west side of Lydia Ann Channel and prevent barges from locating there, Barrett said.
Crews are on the job off San Jose Island 24 hours a day, every day, Gulley said.
Mothballed oilrigs were stored within the same area on the west side of the channel during the oil bust of the 1980s, Barrett said. It’s not inconceivable that a similar thing could happen again, he said.
The Lydia Ann Channel Moorings firm already has all the permission it needs from the navigation district if the firm wants to park old rigs there while waiting to be taken elsewhere for dismantling, he said.
Asked whether his firm might allow old rigs to be stored there, he said, “We don’t have plans for that right now.”
The navigation district commissioners met in closed session to discuss the lease and a separate matter, Barrett said. He said it was “just the legalities of it” that made them decide to meet in closed session.
In open session, commissioners voted 4-0, with one abstention, to approve the lease.
Voting in favor were Tony Dominguez, Malcolm Dieckow, Mickey Casterline and Judith Vlasek. Tommy Moore abstained.
Four navigation district commissioners are elected from precincts spread throughout Aransas County. One serves at large. They serve four-year terms.