Pelican Island bridge is unstable after barge slammed into pillar, causing oil spill, officials say

Friday, May 17, 2024
Pelican Island bridge is unstable after barge hit pillar: Officials
Pelican Island is essentially cut off from Galveston for a second day as crews work to repair the damage to the bridge and clean up the oil that spilled.

GALVESTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Pelican Island is cut off for a second day after a barge crashed into the causeway on Wednesday -- the only way to drive on and off the island.

The Pelican Island Causeway bridge has reopened at times to let some cars exit the island and head to Galveston, though no one was allowed to enter. Officials say it's unlikely they'll be able to get back on the island anytime soon.

Now, crews are working to repair the damage and clean up the oil that spilled.

Officials said a barge broke loose from a tug boat just before 10 a.m. Wednesday and crashed into the Pelican Island Causeway.

The impact broke off part of the bridge and caused vacuum gas oil to spill into the water.

The barge reportedly has a capacity of 30,000 gallons. In a Thursday update, officials said the leak was contained, and the spill into the water was between 1,000 and 2,000 gallons.

During a press conference, the U.S. Coast Guard said it was confident that less oil went into the water than they initially estimated, but they still need to survey the vessel.

So far, the team has recovered 605 gallons of oil and water mixture from the environment and 5,640 gallons of oil product from the top of the barge that did not go into the water.

Given the amount of the spill, one of the concerns was whether there were reports of wildlife being impacted, but officials said no. However, the Texas General Land Office is encouraging anyone who sees an impact with wildlife to call them to retrieve the animal at 832-514-9663. Dolphins have been spotted in the area, but so far, it doesn't seem like any of them were impacted.

In addition, it was reported that weather did not play a factor in this incident. But the exact cause of the crash is still under investigation.

Pelican Island is cut off for a second day after a barge crashed into the causeway on Wednesday -- the only way to drive on and off from Galveston.

Officials told ABC13 that two crew members on the ship were either thrown or jumped off, but they were rescued quickly. Emergency management leaders confirmed with ABC13 that there were less than 200 people on the island when the incident happened.

Pelican Island is just north of Galveston and is home to Texas A&M Galveston, Seawolf Park, and the Galveston Naval Museum.

Galveston County Judge Mark Henry said they've been trying to get the bridge replaced for about 10 years.

"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," Henry said. "People are going to have no real way to get there and back, and with Texas A&M Galveston being there, that's going to dramatically impact A&M Galveston's ability to deliver education."

The campus is closed through Sunday.

About 6.5 miles of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway between markers 350.5 and 357 is closed down because of the oil spill.

As for the bridge itself, there were long lines to get off the island on Wednesday. At one point, crews were only letting one car cross at a time.

There are concerns that once the barge is moved from under the bridge, it will become even more unstable.

The Pelican Island Causeway was constructed in 1960 and was actually set to be replaced in 2025. The bridge is more than 3,200 feet long and about 164 feet wide.

In the meantime, people who live and work on the island tell ABC13 they're needing to find creative ways to get to and from until local authorities are able to present socials to everyone impacted.

For Pelican Island resident and worker Raul Soto, the closure of the Pelican Island Causeway is forcing him to walk his groceries across the bridge to bring food to his family.

"To make sure we have enough until they can until they fix this situation," Soto said Thursday morning to ABC13.

As the interview was happening, Soto was able to secure a ride with a man on a golf cart, but what next time looks like is unclear as the only way to get to the island is by foot or boat at this point.

"I'm just going back home, trying to make it home," Soto said.

A situation with no set timeline as a multiagency effort unfolds below the bridge to pull the concrete from the collision off of the barge.

At sea level, commercial fisherman Scott Hickman took Eyewitness News on his boat to get a closer look at how this impacts people on Pelican Island and beyond.

"All of these businesses are Pelican Island. They're going to have to boat people back and forth," Hickman said.

From Pelican Island to the icehouse, Hickman says the thousands of gallons of oil spilled into the waterway concern fishermen and people who make their livelihoods here.

"You jeopardize the ability to enjoy fresh-caught seafood, and that's why we need to mitigate accidents like that and spills when they happen quick to clean them up," Hickman said.

As another day passes, this situation is no water under the bridge. Local officials confirm the clock is ticking as concerning weather rolls into the area on Thursday evening while they are simultaneously in the process of trying to remove the pieces of the bridge off the barge.

ORIGINAL REPORT: Pelican Island bridge reopens for evacuation-only after barge slams into span, causing oil spill

A barge hit the Pelican Island Causeway Wednesday morning, causing a piece of the bridge to fall, according to the Galveston County Sheriff's Office.