BOLIVAR PENINSULA — Ferry service between Galveston and the Bolivar Peninsula resumed Monday after having been suspended for almost two days because of an oil spill in Galveston Bay.
“We received clearance from the Coast Guard (Monday) morning,” said Texas Department of Transportation spokesperson Danny Perez.
The ferry normally runs 24 hours a day, but for now there will be in service only from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Perez said.
“We’ll continue to assess and increase the hours as we go,” he said.
About 3,200 cars per day typically use the ferry, Perez said.
The ferry service had been suspended since late Saturday when a barge carrying 924,000 gallons of heavy fuel oil collided with a 585-foot bulk cargo ship near the Texas City Dike. One of the barge’s storage tanks, which held up to 168,000 gallons of oil, ruptured in the collision.
The ferry began transporting passengers at about 5:30 p.m. Monday and stopped service at 7 p.m.
“We are dealing with dynamic conditions out there,” Perez said. “We will continue to monitor operations to ensure public safety.”
The transportation department also warned that oily conditions may still exist and travelers should exercise caution while boarding, disembarking and riding on the ferry.
There will be no restriction on who could ride the ferry, said David Popoff, Galveston County’s emergency management coordinator.
But ferries would not carry a full load of cars to keep the weight down and prevent the “splash” that occurs normally as the ferry makes its way through the channel, he said.
“That could mean longer lines, longer waits,” Popoff said. “So, really for now, unless you have to travel for medical reasons or get to work, we ask that travelers don’t use the ferry. Go ahead and drive around.”
Those going to the peninsula to check on second homes or to go the beach should take the overland route around Galveston Bay to keep traffic on the ferry at a minimum, Popoff said.
With no ferries to shuttle cars between the peninsula and Galveston, residents on Bolivar Peninsula were left with only one way, state Highway 87 to state Highway 124, in and out of their communities from Saturday to night to Monday evening.
Fifteen Ball High School students who live on Bolivar Peninsula and typically ride the ferry to go to school were unable to attend class Monday, said Johnston Farrow, a spokesperson for the Galveston school district.
Rather than taking a bus ride around Galveston Bay, the students were given excused absences Monday, he said. The school district was prepared to house those students at the Crenshaw Elementary and Middle School if ferry service continued to be shut down the rest of the week, Farrow said.
But with the resumption of ferry service during daylight hours, the district will let those 15 students have their breakfast at Crenshaw Elementary and Middle School on Tuesday morning before taking the ferry to Galveston, he said.
Peninsula Emergency Management Services Director Anthony Scople said there were no major events on the Bolivar Peninsula while the ferry service had been suspended. Had they needed it, the U.S. Coast Guard would have allowed a ferry to cross to Galveston for a medical emergency, Scople said. Emergency responders could have also sent people in need of treatment to Beaumont or by medical helicopter, he said.
“Luckily we are in a slow time right now in between the big rushes,” Scople said. “We are after spring break and before the big summer rush.”
The Daily News gets delivered
The suspension of the ferry service made travel difficult to the peninsula, but residents there were still able to get their daily news. Galveston County Daily News carriers Earl Roberts and Albert Vargas made the nearly two-hour drive around the bay Sunday and Monday to deliver the newspapers.
“We’ll always do our best to find an alternative route to have all routes delivered,” said Daily News Circulation Director Yvonne Mascorro.
“We would not consider not delivering the newspapers, until we’ve run out of all possibilities.”
‘Clean it up real fast’
The ferry’s closure was an inconvenience to some residents on the peninsula. Anne Willis, vice president of the Bolivar Chamber of Commerce, said she had to cancel two medical appointments in Galveston while the ferry service was shut down and worried about the medical needs of other residents on the peninsula.
Keith Zahar, owner of the Gulf Coast Market grocery store in Crystal Beach, said some of his vendors were unable to deliver goods.
But while the ferry service was available again at least during daylight hours, both Zahar and Willis expressed concern about the long-term effect the spill will have on the peninsula.
“When you start talking about oil on the beach, people don’t come,” Zahar said.
He said he could already see the effect on business at his store as few people were coming in and fewer cars were on the highway through town.
“I just hope that they are doing everything they can to clean it up real fast,” Willis said.
At a glance
WHAT: Galveston ferry service to Bolivar Peninsula
WHEN: Service resumed Monday evening. The ferry will run from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
• Passengers should avoid the bow of the vessel where water spray is highest
• Plan additional travel time because ferries will likely be traveling with reduced capacity and at slight slower speeds
• Be mindful that ground surfaces maybe slippery
Texas Department of Transportation