CORPUS CHRISTI — The pass that historically divided San Jose Island from Matagorda Island north of Rockport remains blocked with silt and sand, but the cash for dredging the fabled Cedar Bayou is starting to flow nicely.
This week, Aransas County announced the receipt of $958,005 in oil and gas royalties from the Coastal Impact Assistance Program, a federal grant program for the conservation, protection and preservation of coastal areas. The program is administered, in part, through the Texas General Land Office.
Also announced this week is a $20,000 gift from the Aransas Bay Chapter of the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA). The money was raised by the chapter’s renowned Babes on the Bay fishing tournament, which this year attracted more than 1,300 women contestants.
Cedar Bayou’s flow has been intermittent for centuries and certainly more closed or closing than open during recent decades. Much of the more recent blame falls on man for the diminished flow between the Gulf of Mexico and the Aransas Bay complex.
The flow was substantially hindered twice by man in recent history. Once in 1978, when the mouth of the pass was intentionally blocked to prevent an oil spill from entering the bays. And again in 1995 when most folks believe a slug of dredge spoils deposited intentionally at the mouth of nearby Vinson Slough weakened the hydrological punch needed to keep Cedar Bayou flowing.
The hydraulics and dynamics of Cedar Bayou have not been the same since then. In addition to these factors, the Intracoastal Waterway, other gulf passes and reduced freshwater inflow from the damming of rivers have slowed the flow and contributed to silt settling in the pass.
A free flowing Cedar Bayou would be good news to birders, anglers, shrimpers, environmental groups, community leaders, politicians, business owners and objective observers who believe when water flows through Cedar Bayou good things happen for crabs, fishes, myriad marine life, whooping cranes and the Aransas/Mesquite bay system in general.
Most folks view this as an environmental restoration project with a strong economic element. This is the way I see it. A healthy estuary is the engine of a coastal economy that relies on nature tourism and fishing.
However, for years the project was stalled by bureaucratic and funding problems. Lots of cheerleaders, well wishers and good intentions, but not much action. When Aransas County Judge Burt Mills, along with the Commissioners Court, decided to get behind the project things began to happen.
Last summer ended a decade-long battle to permit the project when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gave Aransas County the go-ahead to dredge. The permit comes with a five-year deadline for action, but the deadline is easily extended.
Soon afterward in February, CCA-Texas matched a previous contribution from Aransas County with another $500,000 grant toward the project. Previous estimates put the project total at $6.5 million, but Mills said it could cost more. CCA had earlier donated $20,000 for engineering and design work, bringing the organization’s total to $540,000 as of this week. And now CCA has hired a professional fundraiser and a grant writer to pursue foundations that specialize in funding conservation projects.
The organization also is asking Ducks Unlimited and other conservation groups to either chip in or provide funding guidance. DU officials are scheduled to visit Cedar Bayou on Thursday.
The effort now has more than $1.5 million in the bank for dredging. Additional funding could come as a result of pending grant applications totaling $3 million, possibly more. Aransas County could provide additional contributions if county commissioners vote to do so as they have in the past.
Some of these potential funding opportunities could be revealed as early as next week, while word on others is expected by year’s end. Let’s dig it.
David Sikes’ Outdoors columns run on Thursday and Sunday. Contact David at 361-886-3616 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Help fund Cedar Bayou
To make tax-deductible donations to dredge Cedar Bayou, send checks to Aransas County Commissioners Court; 301 North Live Oak St.; Rockport, TX 78382. Please write “Cedar Bayou Project” in the memo line.
Find funding updates or pledge online donations online at www.Restorecedarbayou.org.