three times the refining capacity now available in the area. Do the people of South Texas want to triple the coast’s refining capacity and double its population? Harbor Island’s opponents think not. “The secondary impact is going to be as bad or worse as the primary impact,” says Rick Tinnin, who heads a Port places in the sand dunes down the beach. Dissonant though this place is, I’ve stayed even there and it’s pretty nice if you get on the side facing the Gulf across the dunes. Weeks at a time I’ve spent at these places, rising with the sunball cresting on the waves, watching from there among the dunes the morning sky spread out across the Gulf, writing, running on the beach, swimming in the surf, playing tennis, fishing, and sleeping a sleep delicious beyond dreaming. Dirty work at the crossroads I don’t suppose the citizens of Port Aransas will appreciate my saying I love their town because it’s so authentically grungy. I beg them to understand me. I mean that it’s natural, unpretentious, coastal that the workings of wind, sand, sun and storms are let to leave their signs on the works of man. Port A is beautiful because nature is beautiful. The ocean, the beach, the sky are beautiful, the world is beautiful, and Port Aransas is true to these things. The places of business and living seem properly subordinate to their places in nature. Walk the jetty or the pier, beachcomb, picnic, swim, surf, fish, flee the mosquitoes rising in clouds when the sun goes down and the wind comes off the land, and somehow you will sense no one has incorporated anything around Port Aransas or put a brand name on it. Here people prevail because nature prevails. My friends and I long have suspected dirty work at the crossroads that is, where the road across the land meets the intracoastal canal and the ferry. Oil, the superport! Townspeople too \(judging something was afoot, but was being kept from them. Therefore, I was grateful that Aransas-based antiport group called Citizens for Estuarine Planning. “Freeport and Texas City are already so gummed up and polluted, I don’t see why we would want to destroy Harbor Island too. We don’t even have the refining capacity here. Other than the fact that people in Corpus Christi think they can make money out of it, there’s no reason to put it here.” It’s on the economic viability of the port that the project’s opponents sometimes get their signals crossed. Some say the worst thing about the project would be all the development that would surely follow. Others say the world energy picture and the capital I happened to be in Rockport March 17 and, picking up the San Antonio Express, read therein a letter to the editor from Don Rhudy, saying in part: “I want to address many friends of Port Aransas .. . “Big money private interests, through Navigation District No. 1, once again have applied for a permit to construct a deepwater superport at Harbor Island in Port Aransas. . . . The permit application number is 9653. Save Port A! “Although most plans for the port have been carefully concealed from the public, the Port Aransas public in particular, certain plans were made public or available to the public when application was made. . . . “The plan would benefit a few wealthy businessmen and politicians in South Texas to the detriment of all of the people of Texas. It would ruin the wetland and nursery environment here, constant dredging would kill the fishing as it is now known, the shrimp and commercial fishery would be damaged, if not ruined, a way would be paved for industrial development all along the causeway, and the spoil would be deposited in such a back over the entire town following a hurricane, and wash it away.” My friend Doc Gentry is a denizen of Port Aransas. A professor of philosophy, he owns and has operated a sports fishing boat, finding his customers in the quest for kingfish to be better people, all in all, than his fellow professors. When Hurricane Celia was coming, he resolved not to leave the island, and, with one friend, did not. As the water was sweeping over the highest part of the town, hip-high he and his friend made their way to the Coast Guard station, where safely they stayed until the storm ended. Well, Doc, let’s get going. Everybody, get going! Stop progress! Down with industrial development! Damn the corporations! Save Port Aransas! R.D. situation have changed so much since the project was born that investment money won’t follow and South Texas will plunder its Coastal environment for the privilege of having a big hole to observe. The Southwest report says money, and money alone, will decide the fate of Harbor Island. Steve Frishman, head of the Coastal Bend Conservation Association, agrees. “The battle won’t be won or lost on the basis of environmental questions,” he says. “You don’t win battles like that. It’s a case where the environmental losses, one way or another, are going to have to be converted into economic losses.” Thus far the debate over Harbor Island has been like something out of John Barth; nothing so lyrical as a floating opera, but full of chimeras nonetheless. Port officials have changed their plans several times since 1971 and are none too free in releasing information on what they’re up to at the moment. “After all this time, we’re still back in the same trap we started in,” Frishman said. “We still don’t know what the port is planning to do.” Fly or die But the port is in a trap too, and it could be the decisive one. That trap is time. With perhaps a thirty-year supply of oil left in the world and the Persian Gulf States rushing to get into the refining business themselves, the port knows a Port officials have changed their plans seven times since 1971 and are none too free in releasing information on what they’re up to at the moment. decision on Harbor Island can’t be put off much longer. But no early decision is in sight. Public hearings probably won’t be held before next spring. It will take several months for the Corps to act after that, and litigation will almost certainly ensue if the Corps agrees to take part in the project. In addition, none of the financial or engineering details have been worked out. No one on either side is ready to give Harbor Island up for dead. Whether the project flies or dies, the decision on its fate figures to set off one. of the more rancorous debates South Texas will face in this decade. Peter Applebome is a reporter for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. April 22, 1977 5
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