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By Rodger Rees
Galveston Wharves Port Director and CEO
Pelican Island is the single largest untapped source of revenue and jobs for the Galveston Wharves and our regional economy. Of the Port of Galveston’s total 840 acres, more than 300 acres with waterfront access are available for greenfield development on the largely undeveloped island north of Galveston Island.
Our 20-Year Strategic Master Plan identifies several industrial and maritime uses for port land on Pelican Island. Based on the research and recommendations included in our board-approved master plan, the port staff is exploring a wide range of potential uses. They include lay ship berthing, roll-on/roll-off cargo storage, a multi-use terminal, cargo trucking, and industrial development.
Pelican Island is a prime location for any maritime operation that needs fast access to open water, interstate highways and major waterways. It is 45 minutes from open seas, 10 minutes from Interstate 45 and less than a mile from the Houston Ship Channel and Intercoastal Waterway.
Putting Plans in Place
If we had a well-funded private partner or tenant, our self-sustaining port could jumpstart a major development. While we continue to entertain inquiries for land on Pelican Island, the staff is moving forward with its own plan.
As you know, the port staff has developed a thriving lay ship business in the last few years. Ships pay dockage when they come here for crew changes, maintenance, Coast Guard inspections and other services. In 2021, the lay ship business generated $6.3 million in dockage revenues for the port.
As our cruise and cargo businesses grow, we need more dock space. An obvious choice for a lay ship berth is our 100-acre Pelican Island tract. Located on the Galveston Ship Channel, it has more than 2,400 linear feet of waterfront.
Our Engineering Department is leading an initial schematic design phase for a berth and mooring dolphins. Once the design is completed, we can determine estimated construction costs and revenues generated from the improvements.
The department also is looking into the possibility of releasing 90 acres of port-owned land currently used as an upland dredge material placement area for the port’s annual channel maintenance dredging. The port is exploring the possibility of placing dredge material offshore. This land is accessible from the 100-acre tract and situated north of Gulf Copper Dry Dock and Ship Repair.
Combined, this almost 200 acres could be ideal for a cargo shipping and laydown operation, similar to our West Port Cargo Complex on Galveston Island.
Our 207-acre tract on the northeast side of Pelican Island has 3,000 linear feet of waterfront on Galveston Bay near the Houston Ship Channel and the Intercoastal Waterway. Companies have expressed interest in this site for an LNG manufacturing and marine fuel bunkering facility. As more ships are fueled by low-emission LNG, we see this as a growing opportunity.
Two centuries ago, Pelican Island was a small salt marsh. In the future this largely undeveloped island could be a major jobs and revenue generator for our region.