Houston Ship Channel reopens

October 6, 2010 9:33:18 AM PDT
The Houston Ship Channel reopened Wednesday after an electric tower that had teetered over the waterway since a weekend barge accident was lowered to the ground, the Coast Guard said. The channel reopened to all traffic about 7 a.m. Wednesday, about 4 1/2 hours after part of it was opened to outbound tug and barge traffic only, Coast Guard Petty Officer Richard Brahm said.

The channel initially was to reopen late Tuesday, restoring access to one of the nation's busiest ports. The waterway is also the main point of access to the country's largest petroleum refineries.

Around 6 a.m. Sunday, a tug pushing three barges crashed into the tower. "Big John," one of the largest cranes in the country, was brought in Monday to help prop the tower up as CenterPoint Energy crews cut 14 power lines.

CenterPoint spokeswoman Leticia Lowe said the last power line was cut about 11 p.m. Tuesday and the tower was lowered to the ground about 1:30 a.m. Wednesday.

The channel leads to the Port of Houston, the country's leader in foreign waterborne tonnage and imports and second in U.S. export tonnage and total tonnage.

The U.S. Coast Guard estimated the channel closure was accounting for about $320 million a day in economic losses, including factors such as jobs associated with the waterway and ships waiting to pass being unable to deliver or receive goods.

Nearly 70 ships, including more than 30 tankers, were waiting when the channel was partially reopened about 2:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Brahm has likened the channel to a parking lot, explaining that if there are no open spots ships cannot be allowed in. He said Wednesday that authorities were starting to allow the vessels into the channel according to priority.

For example, if a refinery is running low on crude to process, the ship carrying that product would be allowed in first, Brahm said.

"You have to let boats out first and only then start bringing them in," he said Tuesday.


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