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THE FACTS Article Port Agrees to Split Maintenance Dredging Costs
Posted on Mar 10th, 2018
FREEPORT — Brazoria County officials have gained a powerful industrial ally as they continue to push toward a permanent fix to keep the mouth of the San Bernard River open.
Port Freeport commissioners approved at a meeting Thursday a 25-year interlocal agreement to split the cost of future periodic maintenance dredging of the mouth of the San Bernard River, Port Executive Director and CEO Phyllis Saathoff said.
County commissioners are expected to vote on the agreement during their meeting Tuesday. County officials must submit a final application for Restore Act grant funds to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality by Friday, Precinct 1 Commissioner Dude Payne said.
“We’re filling out the grant application for the third time,” Payne said.
The proposed $10.7 million project will dredge further out than previous efforts to keep the mouth open, Payne said. The frequency and cost of locally funded maintenance dredges — necessary to ensure the mouth remains open — will depend on weather conditions and the river’s flow rates, but estimates have indicated as much as $2 million every three to seven years, the Precinct 1 commissioner said.
“If we’re not in a drought period, I would expect the flow rates to be higher and the sedimentation to be less,” Saathoff said. “The frequency may be much less than what we’re thinking it might be.”
The county also could cut costs by waiting until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has a dredge in the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, which the Corps does once about every 18 months, Payne said. Mobilizing the dredge can cost up to $1 million alone, he said.
“That would knock it in half,” Payne said.
Maintaining navigation from the Intracoastal Waterway to the Gulf of Mexico will mutually benefit the port and the county, Saathoff said.
“There are commercial and recreational activities associated with the San Bernard River,” she said. “You want to make sure you’re having safe and proper navigation in that area because you do have commercial movement. It’s a good partnership.”
The initial agreement will last 25 years, after which renewal is possible, Saathoff said.
“This is not a short-term commitment,” she said. “This is a long-term partnership to make sure the mouth of the San Bernard is maintained.”
State environmental officials announced in December the U.S. Department of Treasury had accepted the state’s multi-year implementation plan, which lays out how funds from the federal Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunity and Revised Economies Act will be distributed. Restore Act grants are being funded by fines assessed for environmental damage caused by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Three Brazoria County projects were included among the 26 in the plan. The Lower San Bernard River Eco System, Village of Surfside Groin and Quintana Beach Public Fishing Pier projects made it through the competitive process that included 220 applications, which requested a combined $1.1 billion in funding.
The 26 projects total $114.2 million, which exceeds the $85.6 million currently available to Texas through the “Bucket 1” program of the Restore Act, according to a news release. Still, Payne hopes funding for the San Bernard River project will become a priority once the U.S. Treasury Department dispenses the funds to the state environmental commission, which will then mete out the money.
“Thank goodness we’re a top project,” Payne said.
Reopening the river’s mouth has been in the works for several years through combined efforts of local, county and state officials as well as the Friends of the San Bernard nonprofit, officials have said. The grassroots group formed with the mission of preserving the river and keeping its mouth open.
In 2009, the Friends of the River San Bernard’s lobbying efforts led to a $2.4 million U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project that dredged the San Bernard mouth open. However, it eventually closed again in December 2013 following four years of extensive drought, Payne said.
With the mouth 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, Payne said.