The Facts: Option March 6, 2014
Grant funds the way to go for lasting San Bernard River fix
Today’s editorial was written by Yvonne Mintz, managing editor for The Facts.
No fix to the San Bernard River closure can be guaranteed to last forever, but but one being considered certainly would keep it open a lot longer than the dredging that temporarily the river mouth. That $2.4 million U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project dredged the silted-shut San Bernard open in 2009, only to have it close again by December 2013.Brazoria County commissioners hope a plan being considered now will have more staying power, and they are seeking out grant money available to coastal states to make it happen. If awarded the Restore Act funds, local officials hope to dredge the mouth of the San Bernard River open and build two jetties on either side, in deep enough water so it won’t close again.
Commissioners last week hired an engineering firm to help prepare their application for a Restore Act grant. Those grants are being paid from fines assessed as a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and our county seems a prime candidate to receive a share of the money. For one thing, our proximity to the spill works in our favor when grants are being considered. For another, this project clearly is needed and worthwhile.
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. The flow pattern causes silting around that floodgate, which can lead to problems for barge traffic passing through the area.
The project is clearly valuable, but because of its cost, it’s likely it won’t get done if we don’t win the grant.
The San Bernard project, together with an unrelated request for funding to renovate and extend the Quintana pier, would cost about $30 million. The work being considered at Quintana would extend that pier by 200 feet and put a “T” at the end of it.
Congress passed the Restore Act in 2012 to administer the penalties paid by responsible parties in the Deepwater Horizon incident, described as the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry. The total amount of available funding still is being negotiated, and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has not yet finalized the application process, but there’s a potential for about $500 million to $1.2 billion in Restore Act funds to be available to Texas. With only 16 coastal counties in Texas, the chances our projects will be accepted are pretty good. Commissioners are right to act to assure our county receives a portion of those funds, and the San Bernard River project is the clear choice as most pressing. The momentum to open the San Bernard again is building, thanks in part to an active group, Friends of the River San Bernard, who are making noise trying to make it happen. Members of the group applauded Commissioners Court hiring the engineering firm to begin work needed for the grant application. They also ought to be applauded, though, for providing the grassroots support and elbow grease that so often is needed to make these projects reality.