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THE FACTS Article on Support for the Mouth
Posted on Feb 6th, 2016
Support from local entities is flowing in as Brazoria County officials push toward a permanent fix to keep the mouth of the San Bernard River open.
Precinct 1 Commissioner Dude Payne said he has received letters of support from Dow Chemical Co., BASF Corp., all local chambers of commerce, the town of Quintana and virtually every city in the Brazosport area. Each is on board with the county’s grant request to fund the San Bernard River project and an unrelated endeavor to renovate and extend the Quintana pier.
Three of Brazoria County’s state legislators — Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton; Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Southside Place; and Rep. Ed Thompson, R-Pearland — also have written letters expressing support, Payne said. The county is seeking money for the projects through Restore Act grants, which are being funded by fines assessed for environmental damage caused by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
“It’s definitely a priority,” Payne said.
Austin-based Grant Works Inc. has been hired by the county to write the grant applications, which are due April 15. The Restore Act Council will announce the recipients by September or October, Payne said. If the county is awarded the grants, work on the projects should kick off in the first quarter of next year.
“The pier may be a little quicker,” Payne said.
County officials are working with Dannebaum Engineering to reopen the river’s mouth. Christopher Sallese, former commanding officer of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Galveston District who now represents Dannebaum, told commissioners last month that redredging the mouth is the most viable option to keep the San Bernard River flowing directly into the Gulf.
A proposal to establish a jetty system would cost a minimum of $30 million. Dredging would cost about $10.3 million, although Payne said the county could save $1 million if the Corps had a dredge in the area.
“We’ll have to mobilize if they don’t, and that will cost $1 million,” Payne said. “If they get a dredge in the vicinity within six months, it would be smart for us to say, ‘We’ll just wait for them.’”
After silting closed the river mouth several years ago, lobbying by the Friends of the River San Bernard led to a $2.4 million U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project that dredged the San Bernard open in 2009. It eventually closed again in December 2013 following four years of extensive drought.
With the mouth of the river closed, the river mostly makes a left turn at the Intracoastal Waterway, exiting through the west floodgate of the Brazos River instead of following its natural path. The flow pattern causes silting around that floodgate, which can lead to problems for barge traffic passing through the area.
“Most of us lived on the river when the mouth was open, and the water would exit to the Gulf,” said Linda Wright, a member of the Friends of the River board of directors. “Fishing was better — the fishing industry was viable then.
“The water does still exit, but we feel very strongly that it would be much better from a natural standpoint if it opened up the way,it’s supposed to open up.”
Payne said if the mouth is re-opened, the project will dredge further out than the 2009 project. He said the county is seeking partnerships with entities including the Texas General Land Office, Texas Parks and Wildlife and the Texas Department of Transportation’s marine division to help with maintenance dredging.
“The county can’t do it on their own,” Payne said. “Last time we knew it would close off; we just hoped it would stay open eight to 10 years. We have our fingers crossed that we won’t have the worst drought we’ve ever had.”
Like Payne, Wright said she and her fellow Friends of the River members are crossing their fingers.
“When it closed, we said, ‘We’re going to start all over again,’ and we’ve carried the torch ever since,” Wright said. “We are absolutely thrilled with the commissioners’ decision to participate.