Port Houston, one of America’s largest seaports, partly resumed business Friday by opening container terminals and truck roads even as shipping traffic remains limited.
The port’s terminals were closed a week ago as Hurricane Harvey made landfall and were kept closed this week, hampering its role as a key logistics hub for the Southeastern U.S. and the largest petrochemical port in North America.
On Friday, its main container terminals — the Barbours Cut Terminal, Bayport Container Terminal and the Turning Basin Terminal – resumed operations at 7 a.m., receiving trucks ready to haul cargo from containers being unloaded.
The Houston port once called “the most irreplaceable port” in North America by Colliers International, handles about 13 million tons of cargo a year and 8,300 vessel stops. It handles more than two-thirds of containers moving through the Gulf Coast.
But the upper part of the Houston Ship Channel, the port’s waterways that connect the port to the Gulf of Mexico, is still closed to ship and tow traffic as inspection continues, the Coast Guard said Friday. And that cuts off petrochemical tanker ships’ routes to reach the refineries and the chemical docks that are located in the upper part of the channel.
Swift current in the channel continues to restrict vessel movements, Port Commission Chairman Janiece Longoria said Thursday in announcing the terminal reopening.
But “it is important to resume landside receipt and delivery of containers at our terminals in advance of the commencement of vessel operations,” she said.
While the channel is closed, chemical tankers are waiting offshore for it to fully reopen, choking off oil and gas supply in the region and contributing to the reported shortage and price hikes.
Container ships operate mostly on weekly schedules, and many of them have gone onto other ports.
“The container terminals are open and it’s a big first step,” said Joseph Bonney, senior editor at the Journal of Commerce. “But the rest of the supply chain is still recovering. Cargo transportation is a network and it’ll be a while before that network is back to full speed.”
Jim Blackburn, a professor of environmental law at Rice University in Houston, characterized the week-long supply chain disruption as a “blip but not a severe harm” for the economy. But the damage underscores the need for cities to reexamine the impact of storms of all sizes on their economic and environmental planning, he said.
“The bigger thing it tells you is that it doesn’t take a 25-feet surge to disrupt this system,” he said. “If we had a big surge event, the national economy would have suffered for years.”
“As bad as it was, it was not the worst case for Houston,” he said. “That ought to wake up a lot of people in the country. We can’t treat them like we used to treat them in the past.”
Meanwhile, the Coast Guard said it is “actively conducting port assessments” along the ports of Houston, Texas City, Freeport and Galveston in order to identify any damages to facilities, potential oil spills, chemical releases or obstructions to navigation.
The Coast Guard also said the following port facilities in the region are now open: Freeport, the Galveston Bay Entrance Channel, Outer Bar Channel, Inner Bar Channel, Bolivar Roads Anchorages, Bolivar Roads Channel and Galveston Harbor, the Texas City Channel, Texas City Turning Basin and Industrial Canal.