Federal and state agencies have started looking at natural resource damage in an effort to come up with a dollar estimate from a March barge and cargo ship collision in the Houston Ship Channel that dumped thousands of gallons of oil into Galveston Bay.
"You've got all kinds of different wildlife that could be impacted," Chip Wood, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist, told The Galveston County Daily News. "You've got marshes, you've got sand beach, you've got recreational issues, so it's quite an extensive evaluation."
The assessment could take years and will include developing of a plan to restore damaged areas, putting the plan in place and getting the party responsible for the damage to pay for it, Wood said.
No one was hurt in the March 22 accident that still is being examined by the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board, but nearly 170,000 gallons of heavy fuel oil spilled into the busy waterway between Texas City and Galveston and then into the Gulf of Mexico. Traces of the oil were found as far as 200 miles down the Texas coast.
Wood said his agency also is working with the National Park Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the Texas General Land Office and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
"We go out and look at both an environmental perspective, the impacts of the oil on biological communities and organisms, as well as the recreational use that was impaired as a result of the spill," said Don Pitts, with Texas Parks and Wildlife.
Assessments will include money lost by fishermen who were kept off the Texas City dike or visitors to Galveston's East Beach who couldn't use those places because they were shut for days after the spill.
"We will turn those lost uses into a dollar value based on research that tells us what the public values of a beach day and a fishing day," Pitts said.
The eventual payouts could lead to construction of amenities like new fishing piers, boat ramps or habitat restoration to help wildlife populations hurt by the spill.
Kirby Inland Marine is the "responsible party" since the oil in the barge pushed by its tugboat belonged to the Houston-based company when it collided with the cargo ship Summer Wind. Federal investigators are looking into who was at fault.
The tug and its two barges were leaving Texas City and heading for the Intracoastal Waterway. The Summer Wind was heading inbound through the Houston Ship Channel. The collision during foggy conditions occurred when the barges made a left turn to enter the Intracoastal Waterway and were crossing the ship channel.
Kirby has said in court filings the Summer Wind was speeding and being operated in a reckless manner, while Liberia-based Sea Galaxy, owners of the Summer Wind, has said the collision wasn't its fault.