PORT ARANSAS, Texas – A team of students and staff from the National Spill Control School (NSCS) and the Lone Star UAS Center of Excellence & Innovation (LSUASC) at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi supported the Texas General Land Office (TGLO) during disaster recovery efforts following Hurricane Harvey.
Tony Wood, Director of the NSCS and Jerry Hendrix, Executive Director of LSUASC, deployed Island University personnel a few short hours after receiving the support request from TGLO. The team was sent to Port Aransas, which received the brunt of Harvey’s destructive force and is still without power a week after the storm. Their job was to assess marine and structural damages in the Port Aransas Harbor and Aransas Bay by surveying oil production structures, sunken vessels and floating debris left behind after Harvey.
“The destruction that occurred in Port Aransas is just gut-wrenching,” said Wood. “To see all of the boats – the life-blood of the community – stacked up on each other really makes us want to help. We want to get out there into the communities and do what we can to provide our support.”
All of this would not have been possible without the new 27-foot-long 14-foot-wide Multi-purpose Emergency Response Vessel, or MERV, which was loaned to the University from a two-time alumnus. Wayne Fellers, CEO of MERV Marine USA Inc., and Bob Putt, International Vice President of MERV Marine USA Inc. agreed to loan the vessel to the University because they believed “putting MERV into an academic surrounding was the best way to have the vessel's true capabilities realized and exercised.”
Fellers graduated with his bachelor’s in occupational training and development in 1994 and his master’s in occupational training and development in 1996. He worked with Chris Gunter, marine architect, to help make his idea of a vessel that is “dedicated to life, safety, humanitarian and environmental response” a reality.
“I am part of the first class that graduated from the University after it was renamed Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and I am very proud of that,” he shared. “The MERV is the only one of its kind and I know the University will put it to work.”
MERV allowed the team access to waters less than 1.5-feet deep and gave LSUASC a place to land their drones. Staff from LSUASC flew drones over Aransas Bay and Copano Bay to collect high definition video of oil structures as well as gather geo-located photos of sunken tanks and vessels. While no oil leaks were spotted in the areas, other than a slight oil sheen on the water in the Port Aransas Harbor, NSCS is happy to report that marina operations had already put oil booms in place to prevent leaks. In total, the group was able to locate more than 70 damaged boats.
“It’s a merging of surface and air capabilities! MERV gave us the ability to operate easily and effectively over water,” said Hendrix. “We were able to gather great videos and photos while broadening our research and disaster response efforts.”
The National Spill Control School was established in 1977 and provides consulting, training and research resources to the National Response Team. For more information on the National Spill Control School, their personnel and vessels, visit http://nscs.tamucc.edu/.