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San José Island alone again, naturally

Posted at 12:19 AM, Feb 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-20 01:19:01-05

In 2017, Hurricane Harvey's arrival washed several barges onto San José Island. They sat there for the next 30 months, and until just recently, it looked like they'd be marooned there for good.

However, the process of finally removing them from the island finally got started earlier this month, and as of Wednesday, no barges are left on the island.

Their presence on the island just across from Port Aransas caused environmental concerns for some folks.

For others, they were kind of a tourist attraction.

"People wanted to go see the barges," said Captain Kelly's Deep Sea Headquarters Manager Jerry Montalbo. "Everybody had heard about the barges."

Captain Kelly's does deep-sea trips, but since Hurricane Harvey, there's been a common detour.

"People wanted to go," said Montalbo. "People wanted us to go down on our dolphin watch trip -- get down there far enough to see the barges, but you could see them."

But not anymore.

Two-and-a-half years after Hurricane Harvey washed them up on San José Island, an engineering firm towed them into the water using a series of huge inflatable bags.

Montalbo doesn't know why it took so long for the barges to be moved.

"(It's) a little bit laughable that it's taken them so long to be able to do this and get them off of here," he said.

Kirby Corporation, the Houston company that owns the barges, said there's a reason for that: The delay is due in part to the fact that the island is private property, and the barges are privately owned.

Local firm HDR Engineering was hired to move the barges from the island back into the water.

The island incurred some damage during the move, but Kirby Corporation said it is committed to restoring the dunes and vegetation that the barges and their removal inflicted.

That's good news to people such as Cara Denney, who lives in Port Aransas and is committed to protecting the environment.

"We're glad that they're gone and glad that they're being refurbished and repurposed . . . hopefully," she said. "That's my understanding of what's going to happen next."

The owner of the barges said they were empty, so if there was any oil or gas in them, it would only be trace amounts; and now that they're gone, Denney's concerns of a possible leak can be put to rest.

The tourist attraction, if you will, is no more, and the guys at Captain Kelly's said that's actually a good thing.

"(It's) better environmentally," Montalbo said. "And for the poor guys that own the barges I'm sure it's better. They can get back in business."