Will Packery Channel be a Windfall for Attorneys?
from
Corpus Christi Lawyer Magazine
Spring, 1997
Richard L. Watson, Ph.D.

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PICTURE CAPTION
Surf at Bob Hall Pier 11/16/96, representative of the surf from 11/12/96 through 11/20/96. The surf line 3/4 the way out the 1240 ft. pier is the third bar which the feasibility study incorrectly states breaks only every several years. The proposed jetties designed to be 1400 feet are only slightly longer than Bob Hall Pier and will have surf breaking in and beyond the entrance frequently.


Packery Channel Will Be A Dangerous Inlet.
Passage through even good inlets is the most dangerous part of most offshore boat trips. Even Aransas Pass, one of the safest inlets, can be hazardous at times and must be transited with skill. An inlet such as the proposed Packery Channel is at the bottom of the lowest class of inlet stability for both maintenance and navigation safety. There will be many days, likely as many as one in five, when it would be difficult for a highly skilled captain in an appropriate vessel to successfully enter the pass. I believe a critical examination of the "Packery Channel Feasibility Study: Inlet Functional Design and Sand Management, Report 1 of a Two-Part Series by N.C. Kraus and D.J. Heilman" demands the conclusion that Packery Channel as designed will be extremely hazardous for navigation and have excessively high maintenance costs.

Packery Channel will be too shallow and very dangerous.
It is my opinion that an error in division by the authors of the feasibility study totally invalidates the reportís conclusion that the inlet will function and be safe. The feasibility studyís test for stability required dividing 65,160,000 by 5,400,000. The authors calculated this value as 120. By my calculation, the correct answer is 12. This forces the conclusion that Packery Channel will be unstable and unsafe for navigation (there will be formation of a wide and high bar, and navigation becomes difficult to very difficult). In fact Per Bruun, who developed this stability test, has a special class for a test result of less than 20, which states "very shallow ocean bar, navigation very difficult." Aransas Pass has a stability value of 200. The authors of the feasibility study misplaced a decimal point. Their own numbers and chosen estimate for inlet stability indicate the inlet will be both unstable and very dangerous!

Feasibility study underestimates waves and surf.
Dr. Kraus states: "The outer-most bar is formed by waves accompanying the larger storms, those which may strike the coast only every several years." This sand bar is located about 800 feet offshore in 7 to 8 feet of water. It is located about 3/4 of the way out Bob Hall Pier. It is common knowledge by surfers, beach goers, pier fishermen and others with, any familiarity with the beach, that this bar breaks very frequently, and that the surf often breaks well beyond the piers, which are 1240 ft. long. If the surf was as small and as narrow as Dr. Krausí models indicate, there would be no surfers in Texas.

Daily observations by Johnny Roberts at Port Aransas from 10/28/96 to 12/17/96 show that this bar was breaking 38 out of 49 days. It was breaking beyond or well beyond the bar on 19 days. It was breaking far past the bar on five days and, and was reported to be breaking 1/2 mile to 3/4 mile out on two days. This is critical. The proposed jetties are 1400 ft. long, only 160 feet longer than Bob Hall Pier. The surf frequently breaks well beyond Bob Hall Pier (see accompanying photograph). Any surf breaking at or beyond the entrance to Packery Channel will rapidly build a bar in the entrance, which will allow even smaller waves to break in the entrance and further increase the danger. Dangerous surf will frequently break beyond and in the entrance of Packery Channel even at the project depth as designed, and before the expected shoaling takes place.

Navigation Safety.
Over 35 years ago when I was learning to run dangerous inlets on the New Jersey coast I read an article that has affected my decisions in a lifetime as a small vessel captain with over 100,000 miles of ocean experience and transits of over 100 different inlets in many states and countries. The article said to consider being questioned in a court of law after attempting to enter a dangerous inlet, sinking your boat and drowning your passengers. You are required to answer the following questions: Was it safe to remain offshore, even though it was cold, uncomfortable and you were hungry and wanted to get home? The answer is "yes". Why then, did you enter the inlet and put your passengers at risk? The answer is "because it was inconvenient to stay offshore".

Turner, Collie and Braden who did some of the preconstruction studies for the Fish Pass located 4 miles north of Packery Channel correctly stated that for 1400 ft jetties, the pass would be unsafe 31 percent of the time, and unsafe 17 percent of the time for 2200 ft jetties. These hazards are vastly greater for novice boat operators. Many days boats will leave early in the morning in calm waters and gentle winds. When they return in the late afternoon, the wind will have risen (6 hours of 25 knot winds will build 6 ft. seas) and they may find a breaking pass. It is difficult to see breaking waves from the Gulf side until it is too late. The choices are poor: Enter and risk rolling the boat over, or crashing into the jetties on a surfing wave; divert to Aransas Pass, if sufficient fuel is aboard and the operator has the skill to find the entrance after dark. A third choice is to anchor offshore and wait until the next day, hoping for better conditions. Very few will take this, the safest alternative. It is probable that many boats will be wrecked. Lives will likely be lost.

Whom Will Be Found At Fault?
Will it be the boatman who drowned his children? Will it be the designers of the inlet? Will it be Nueces County which built the pass? Will it be all of the above? Will it be considered significant that no navigation inlets have been built on the Texas coast with initial construction jetties of less than 2300 feet and depths of less than 16 ft.? Packery Channel is designed to be 1400 ft. long and 11 ft. deep. Will it be considered significant that the feasibility study itself predicts (after correction of a decimal point error) there will be formation of a wide and high bar and navigation becomes difficult to very difficult? Will it be considered significant that these hazards have been stated before construction and ignored? These questions will ultimately be decided by the courts.

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