DEER PARK, Texas – The U.S. Coast Guard says it needs help finding barges and tugs that may need to be decontaminated from oil that leaked from the ITC Deer Park facility.
One La Porte business owner hopes that means the Houston Ship Channel will fully reopen, along with his restaurant.
The Monument Inn is a popular restaurant. It’s close to the San Jacinto Monument and the Houston Ship Channel. For the last eight days, owner Robert Laws said there’s been no traffic by boat or by car.
His business has been closed since the ITC fire first sparked.
“I think so far, we’ve probably lost in sales about $150,000 in sales,” he said by phone.
Laws and his restaurant have dealt with adversities before, including two hurricanes, events for which he had time to prepare. The ITC fires and chemical leak into the waterway caught his business by surprise.
“I have no income coming in so I have to pay my employees. So all my employees who aren’t getting paychecks, they’re wondering what’s going on,” Laws said.
The fires and chemical leak at the ITC Deer Park facility have caused part of Tucker Bayou and the Houston Ship Channel to shut down. The Coast Guards has recovered more than 30,000 barrels of oily water, allowing them to open the San Jacinto River to vessels during daylight Monday.
The Coast Guard is trying to identify contaminated tugs and barges within the Old River, Carpenters Bayou and closed portions of the Houston Ship Channel.
KPRC2 political analyst and former Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said as long as ships are sitting idle, the economy is taking a hit.
“If they can’t get out of the Houston Ship Channel, that has a ripple effect really on the global economy,” Emmett said. “There are also ships that can’t get in. So if your business relies on imports coming in on that part of the ship channel you just have to shut down.”
As for Laws, he can’t reopen the Monument Inn until the waterways do. He said he hopes he can work with ITC to recoup some of his losses.
"I’m not a big fan of lawsuits but if we can’t work out something, that might be an avenue to take,” Emmett said.
The Coast Guard does not have a timeline for when everything will reopen.
In the meantime, crews are adding booms to Tucker Bayou and are working 24/7 to remove the oil.