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Port of Houston

Ready Reserve Force, or RRF, ships help to offset the shortage of militarily useful US -flagged ships. RRF ships are maintained in four-, five-, 10- or 20-day readiness status by the US Department of Transportation's Maritime Administration. When activated, these ships are under the operational control of Military Sealift Command. Ships with four- or five-day readiness status are berthed at ports throughout the United States allowing them to remain close to potential military load-out sites.

The ports of Houston and Galveston, Texas are located adjacent to Galveston Bay on the northwest coast of the Gulf of Mexico. The entrance to Galveston Bay, which passes between Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula, is located at approximately 2921'N 9445'W. Galveston Bay is a relatively shallow, large and irregularly shaped body of water that extends approximately 26 nmi from north to south and 17 nmi east to west at its widest point. Several smaller bays and inlets lie on the periphery of Galveston Bay.

The Port of Houston is the largest of the two ports. It is situated on Buffalo Bayou at the northwest end of a 52 nmi long ship channel that begins in the Gulf of Mexico south of Bolivar Peninsula and Galveston Island. The Houston Ship Channel crosses the western portion of Galveston Bay for approximately 22 nmi before entering the natural drainage paths of the San Jacinto River and Buffalo Bayou. Buffalo Bayou is one of the drainage basins for the city of Houston. The ship channel follows the winding path of the San Jacinto River as it proceeds northwestward from Galveston Bay, passing west of Atkinson Island and Baytown to the mouth of Buffalo Bayou, thence westward toward Houston. The Houston Ship Channel terminates at the turning basin, but Buffalo Bayou continues westward beyond the turning basin for a distance of about 4.8 nmi (Port of Houston Authority, 1996). Other Fort facilities owned and operated by Port of Houston Authority include Jacintoport and a container ship facility at Barbours Cut. Extensive petrochemical installations, including refineries and storage tanks, are located along the Houston Ship Channel from the turning basin to Atkinson Island, and at Texas City. In addition to the large industrial facilities, Galveston Bay has several smaller bays and harbors that are used for recreational boating. The Port of Galveston is located on the north side of the east end of Galveston Island. The port has facilities on both sides of Galveston Channel, which extends westward from the Houston Ship Channel, passing between Galveston and Pelican Islands.

From the Gulf of Mexico, deep-draft vessels enter Galveston Bay between Bolivar Peninsula and Galveston Island. The entrance extends from the Gulf of Mexico through a pass formed by jetties which extend east-southeastward from Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula to Bolivar Roads. Bolivar Roads is located between Bolivar Peninsula on the east and Galveston and Pelican Islands on the west. The 800 ft (244 m) wide Galveston Bay Entrance Channel begins approximately six nmi east-southeast of the easternmost point of Galveston Island. From its seaward entrance, the channel is, in turn, called the Outer Bar Channel, the Inner Bar Channel and Bolivar Roads Channel as it passes through Bolivar Roads. It becomes the Houston Ship Channel in Galveston Bay. The channel width narrows to 400 ft (122 m) as it passes between Pelican Island and Bolivar Peninsula. The channel narrows again, to an unspecified width, approximately 3.5 nmi east of the turning basin at the Port of Houston. The main channel has controlling depths of 42 to 45 ft (12.8 to 13.7 m) in the Entrance Channel, 42 to 44 ft (12.8 to 13.4 m) in the Outer Bar Channel, and 38 to 41.5 ft (12.6 to 12.7 m) in the Inner Bar Channel.

The Port of Houston includes several public and private wharves located on the north and south sides of the Houston Channel as well as on the turning basin and at Barbours Cut. According to a local harbor authority, the berths on the north side of the channel are working berths, and those on the south side are used primarily as lay berths. Some of the public wharves at the Port of Houston have been constructed for specific commercial purposes. Consequently, it is unlikely that they would be assigned to US Navy (USN) vessels.

Most of the public wharves appeared to be in relatively poor condition when viewed from the channel during a boat tour of the harbor conducted during a December 1996 port visit. Various sections of the wooden pier support structures were broken or, in some cases, missing. Some of the pier surfaces appeared to be sagging. In general, the piers appeared to be in poor repair. A representative from Port of Houston Authority stated that Pier 9 on the turning basin was rebuilt in the early 1980's, and is the strongest pier at the port. The same port representative stated that the piers on the north side of the channel are newer and in better condition than those on the south side. The public piers on the south side of the channel (berths 41 through 48 and 1 through 4) were built in the early 1900s, and have thin decks. Consequently, they are no longer used for on- or off-loading of cargo; they are now used only as lay berths.

The Port of Galveston Authority berths are located primarily along approximately 2 nmi of waterfront on the south side of the Galveston Ship Channel. Other facilities on the north side of the channel are leased to various commercial companies. According to documentation supplied by the Port of Galveston Authority, developed water frontage of the Port totals 33,558 linear feet. The Port has 10 open-dock ship berths, 20 berths with alongside warehouses, and nine finger piers. All deep draft facilities have water and shore power.

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