Another $1 million awarded county for Cedar Bayou dredging

From the Rockport Pilot, August 31, 2013

An additional $1 million-plus has been awarded to Aransas County for the Cedar Bayou-Vinson Slough dredging project, from the Texas General Land Office.

Aransas County Judge C.H. “Burt” Mills was notified officially Thursday afternoon, Aug. 29.

The decades-long effort by fishermen and coastal experts to reopen a natural fish pass near Rockport is getting a $1 million boost from the Texas General Land Office.

Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson announced he will award $1,071,032 in funding derived from offshore drilling in federal waters toward the effort to reopen Cedar Bayou.

The effort is expected to cost more than $8.3 million. The $1 million-plus is from the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA) funding and should bring Cedar Bayou backers to within $1.3 million of the final goal. The General Land Office has contributed nearly $1.4 million to the cause, cumulatively.

Patterson said, “Reopening this natural fish pass will restore the connection between the bay system and Gulf. It will be good for the whooping cranes and good for fishermen.”

Mills said they expect to bid the project by mid-October and begin work by April of 2014.

History

Cedar Bayou and nearby Vinson Slough connect the Aransas and Mesquite bay systems to the Gulf of Mexico. That area was closed in 1979 to protect the bays from a massive oil spill caused by the Mexican state oil monopoly Pemex. Since then, coastal experts, activists and fishermen have worked to restore the natural connection.

From 2006 to 2008, Save Cedar Bayou, Inc. and the General Land Office collectively invested more than $400,000.00 to study Cedar Bayou and develop a new strategy to reopen and maintain the pass.

The Feasibility Study was performed by Coast & Harbor Engineering.

The engineers reviewed existing data and previous studies, resurveyed the pass and surrounding areas, studied the tides and sediment flows along the coast, and developed a better understanding of the pass’s dynamics.  Not surprisingly, the engineers discovered that to reopen and maintain the pass flow through the Cedar Bayou channel would have to be increased and hydraulic resistance reduced. Increasing the flow rate allows for higher water velocities at the Gulf mouth of the Bayou, which helps scour sediments from the channel mouth. Without regular scouring at the mouth, sediments build up and eventually lead to the closure of the Bayou.

The engineers recommended a return to the historic configuration by re-opening and reconnecting Cedar Bayou to Vinson Slough. They found that when connected to Cedar Bayou, Vinson Slough increases the total volume of flow through Cedar Bayou in addition to the flow gradient and the flow velocities at the mouth of Cedar Bayou.  It was a solid analysis and efforts to obtain the permits for the project were launched.

In 2008, Aransas County assumed leadership of the project, and moved successfully towards obtaining the US Army Corps of Engineers permit in 2011.

In August 2011, the US Army Corps of Engineers issued the Section 404 Dredge & Fill permit to reopen Cedar Bayou to Aransas County based on the design developed by Coast & Harbor Engineering.

In 2012, the commissioners court approved funding to complete final engineering and surveys for initial restoration of the pass.

Coast & Harbor Engineering has been tasked with proceeding with final engineering and surveys for the project. When those plans are complete, the project could start to move sand as early as April 2013.

A website dedicated to the project has been launched to provide up-to-date information about the project as well as an opportunity for individuals to make contributions online at www.restorecedarbayou.org.

The partnership to reopen Cedar Bayou, led by Aransas County, includes the Coastal Conservation Association, the University of Texas Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi’s Harte Research Institute and the Texas General Land Office.

The effort also has support from the Texas General Land Office, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries Program, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

TPWD gives funding boost to Cedar Bayou project

Department’s $250,000 commitment, coupled with $100,000 from CCA National habitat program, brings restoration project closer to reality

AUSTIN, TX – Ongoing funding efforts to restore Cedar Bayou have received a significant boost with a $250,000 commitment from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) and a $100,000 contribution from the Building Conservation Trust, CCA’s national habitat program. The funding will go to support the work being done by Aransas County, Coastal Conservation Association Texas and other partners to open the pass between Matagorda and San Jose Islands.

“The commitment of Aransas County and its partners to raising necessary funding to accomplish both the initial dredging and subsequent maintenance of Cedar Bayou is another example of the ways the region has invested in the well-being of our coastal resources for present and future generations of Texans,” stated Carter Smith, executive director of TPWD, in a letter to Aransas County Judge C. H. “Burt” Mills. “This development is an exciting one and we are proud to offer our support for your efforts to restore this important coastal feature.”

Cedar Bayou is a natural pass that separates San Jose Island from Matagorda Island. Dredging efforts date back to the 1930s, but the pass’s fate was sealed during the Ixtoc I oil spill in 1979 when the State of Texas closed the pass intentionally to prevent oil from entering sensitive estuarine areas. Since then, partial restoration efforts, siltation and misplacement of spoil materials have led to the pass and adjacent Vincent Slough being sealed. After a protracted application and approval process, Judge Mills signed the dredging permit for Cedar Bayou and Vincent Slough on August 3, 2011. Although the pass has been dredged numerous times through history, this will be the largest and most comprehensive effort to date.

“The ultimate goal with this project is to take the best science and engineering available and open the pass the right way, once and for all,” said Mark Ray, chairman of CCA Texas. “It is a significant undertaking with tremendous potential to benefit an entire region of the Texas coast, and it is gratifying to see private and public entities come together to get the job done. The commitment from TPWD is huge not just from a financial standpoint, but as a symbol of how important this project is to the entire state.”

The total cost of the restoration project is about $7 million, and a partnership announced in 2012 between Aransas County and CCA Texas to raise the necessary funds has already yielded impressive results. So far, Aransas County has pledged $985,000 in Coastal Impact Assistance Program funds toward the cost of opening the pass and allocated an additional $1.75 million that was saved by restructuring a general revenue bond.  On top of that, CCA Texas has pledged $520,000. The County and CCA Texas have also partnered to hire a professional fundraiser to secure additional funds and applications to several federal grant programs have already been made. Aransas County has also provided funding to complete final engineering and surveys for initial restoration of the pass and has also announced that it will annually allocate at least $50,000 to a Cedar Bayou Maintenance Fund, a critical component to keeping the pass open in the future.

“The pieces to this puzzle are really coming together,” said Robby Byers, executive director of CCA Texas. “With the $250,000 pledge from TPWD and the $100,000 from the Building Conservation Trust, more than half of the target amount has been raised and we are working diligently to secure the rest. It’s been a long time coming, but the opening Cedar Bayou is getting closer to reality.”

For the latest information about the project as well as an opportunity for individuals to make contributions online, visit www.restorecedarbayou.org.

 

Cedar Bayou gets a funding boost

From The Corpus Christi Caller-Times:

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 sikesd@caller.com.

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.

County okays engineering work, maintenance fund for restoration of fish pass

Published: Rockport Pilot

The Aransas County commissioners court approved funding to complete final engineering and surveys for initial restoration of the pass. They also announced it will annually allocate at least $50,000 to a Cedar Bayou Maintenance Fund, a critical component to keeping the pass open in the future. The action was taken at a special meeting Friday, May 25.

Work continues on the restoration of Cedar Bayou and the court’s recent action clears the way for “sand to fly at the earliest possible moment,” CCA officials said.

Robby Byers, executive director of CCA Texas, said, “The County is clearly committed to doing the project right and making sure that it succeeds over the long term.”

He added, “This has not been an easy road, but the pieces are really starting to fall into place. It is a major undertaking, but we have faith that the partnership between the County, CCA Texas and the recreational angling community will get it done.”

Aransas County has pledged $948,000 toward the cost of opening the pass, while CCA Texas pledged an additional $500,000. The County and CCA Texas have partnered to hire a professional fundraiser to secure the remaining $5.5 million. Applications to several federal grant programs have already been made. Additionally, a website dedicated to the project has been launched to provide up-to-date information about the project as well as an opportunity for individuals to make contributions online at www.restorecedarbayou.org.

“We have been very pleased with the pace of progress,” said Aransas County Judge C.H. “Burt” Mills. “There is a considerable amount of momentum building toward the successful conclusion of this project, and it is good to be able to say that after so many years of frustration with the permit application and approval process. The private/public partnership has worked beautifully so far and it has been the key to moving this project to reality so quickly.”

Coastal Harbor Engineering has been tasked with proceeding with final engineering and surveys for the project, which are expected to take four to five months to complete. When those plans are complete and full funding is in place, the project could start to move sand as early as April 2013.