GALVESTON — The Galveston Island Park Board will pay a private engineering firm to help determine how much damage was caused to Galveston’s natural resources as a result of the March 22 oil spill.
The board voted unanimously Tuesday to hire The Louis Berger Group to begin a natural resource damage assessment of the park board’s properties. The firm will initially be paid $50,000 out of the park board’s emergency reserve funds to begin the assessment.
The board’s executive director, Kelly de Schau, n said the cost of conducting the assessment could be paid back as part of the claims process.
The assessment is an attempt to translate the environmental damage done to public resources into an economic loss, said Raed El-Farhan, vice president of the Louis Berger Group.
“If the resource is injured and we cannot use that resource, that’s a loss for us,” said El-Farhan. “We’re not looking at replacement costs. We’re not looking at solely the revenue losses here. We’re looking at the values that we lost because of this incident.”
On March 22, a barge ship carrying crude oil was struck by a cargo ship in the Houston ship channel near the tip of the Texas City Dike. The collision spilled up to 168,000 gallons of oil into the ship channel and was carried into the Gulf of Mexico. It ultimately drifted as a far south as Matagorda Island.
The results of the assessment will likely be reported to a group of trustees — consisting of federal and state agencies — that is charged with reaching a settlement with the responsible parties.
Any reimbursement the park board receives would come as funding for specific projects, such as marsh restoration or the restocking of fisheries. Louis Berger would help the board develop and determine the projects.
The assessment and reimbursement process is expected to be protracted and contentious, park board Chairman Craig Brown said.
“We will use that information to see if it’s appropriate to work with organizations in the region to file a claim,” Brown said. “The attractions of these parks is due to their environmental components. Therefore, we need to see if there was any impact from the oil spill from the environmental standpoint that would affect these parks negatively.”