\\ *k ” `W,rkZ04 By Peter Applebome Corpus Christi U.S. Rep. John Young, the eleventerm congressman from Corpus Christi, was sitting in his Capitol Hill office on Washington’s Birthday fuming over a story in the previous day’s Corpus Christi Caller when he picked up the phone to find the reporter who wrote the offending piece on the line. After a moment of gruff small talk, Young suddenly exploded. “Let me ask you something,” he barked. “Are you trying to kill the Harbor Island project? Don’t you know that the livelihood of every man, woman and child in Corpus Christi is dependent on that project going through.” Young’s reaction to one of the few local news stories critical of his pet project was strong, but so is the reaction of most people to the plans of the port of Corpus Christi to build the nation’s first onshore supertanker facility just north of the city at Harbor Island off Port Aransas. To its backers, Harbor Island promises to become the Spindletop of South Texas. To its opponents, it is a nightmare, a Faustian bargain that would trade off certain environmental loss for uncertain economic gain. First advanced in 1971, the project is at least a year away from winning federal approval. The results of a detailed feasi bility study suggest that the project would stand little chance of being completed before 1990. The lines on both sides of the issue are tightly drawn, and no one is wavering from a view of Harbor Island as either utopia or oblivion. The project’s proportions account for much of the strong feeling. For one thing, the necessary dredging would involve an operation of such unprece dented size that no heavy equipment now on the market could handle the job. The first phase of what is intended to be a three-stage project calls for a 10.5mile-long, 80-foot deep channel to be cut from Harbor Island to the Gulf of Mexico. The channel would accommodate tankers of the 275,000-deadweight-ton class. No vessels of that size have ever docked to unload oil in an American harbor, and tankers currently operating in Texas waters do not exceed 80,000deadweight-tons. Further, the north jetty at Port Aransas would be moved 1,000 feet to the north to make room for a turning basin and three docks. The 98.2 million cubic yards of dredged sediment, if dumped on a football field, would form a column 11 miles high. But rather than on that fanciful football field, the mud would tbe dumped directly in the Gulf, piled on -nearby St. Joseph’s Island, and deposited in the grassflats around Harbor Is land and Redfish Bay, two of the most productive marine nursery areas along the Texas coast. And that’s only phase one. According to an environmental assessment report prepared for the U.S. Corps of Engineers by the Southwest Research Institute, the Harbor Island project would, over a fifty-year period, involve the dredging of 345 million cubic yards of sediment. April 22, 1977 3 To its backers, Harbor Island promises to becOme the Spindletop of South Texas. To its opponents, it is a nightmare, a Faustian bargain that would trade off certain environmental loss for uncertain economic gain.