Texas bridge connecting Galveston and Pelican Island reopened after barge collision

HOUSTON (AP) — A bridge near Galveston, Texas, that was damaged last week when a barge carrying fuel broke free from a tugboat has reopened to vehicle and pedestrian traffic after safety inspections deemed it safe, officials said.

The barge crashed into a pillar supporting the Pelican Island Causeway span on May 15. The impact caused the bridge to partially collapse and cut off the only road connecting Galveston to Pelican Island.

After a review of the bridge by the Galveston County Navigation District No. 1 and underwater inspectors with the Texas Department of Transportation, the structure was reopened late Saturday night. Officials have set weight limits for vehicles using the bridge.

Early estimates had indicated that up to 2,000 gallons (7,571 liters) of oil spilled into surrounding waters following the collision.

On Sunday, the U.S. Coast Guard updated that figure, saying approximately 20,000 gallons (75,708 liters) of oil were spilled.

After the oil spill, authorities deployed a boom, or barrier, to contain the spill, forcing the temporary closure of about 6.5 miles (10.5 kilometers) of the waterway.

Clean up efforts have ended around Pelican Island. But crews were still removing oil and washing shoreside rocks along Swan Lake, a coastal recess located several miles west of Pelican Island along the Texas Coast.

During the clean-up efforts, crews recovered three dead, oiled birds from around Swan Lake: two brown pelicans and a laughing gull.

Nine other birds that were alive but covered in oil were spotted around Swan Lake, but officials said they were not able to recover them.

“To further protect wildlife, acoustic cannons were placed to provide an audible distraction to shore birds,” the Coast Guard said.

After the barge collision, Texas A&M University at Galveston, which has a campus on Pelican Island, had closed its facility. Fewer than 200 people related to the school were on the island at the time.

The university said the campus resumed normal operations on Monday.

The Coast Guard said the tugboat had lost control of the 321-foot barge “due to a break in the coupling” that had connected the two vessels.

The affected area is miles from the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, which sees frequent barge traffic, and the Houston Ship Channel, a large shipping channel for ocean-going vessels.

The accident came weeks after a cargo ship crashed into a support column of the Francis Key Bridge in Baltimore on March 26, killing six construction workers.


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