Brazoria County Day in Austin and the San Bernard River
By Roy Edwards
In 1973, a group of Brazoria County citizens went to Austin to lobby their elected state officials about the needs and concerns of the citizens of Brazoria County. They took boiled Gulf shrimp with them for a casual party in order to have some informal “face time” with the people they lobbied. The Brazoria County trip became a tradition every other year when the Texas Legislature was in session.
Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick
Jan and I first went to Austin in 2007 and to date have made five trips to this event, bringing attention to the San Bernard River’s plight. This year, in addition to the scheduled reception, Legislative Breakfast and “the world’s largest shrimp cocktail”, we made three agency visits.
Our first visit, Monday March 2nd, was to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) as part of a delegation of eight lead by Brazoria County Judge Matt Sebesta. For our part of the presentation, we gave out some of Jan’s and Bert Smith’s photos of the closed mouth of the San Bernard in its present closed state, and a three year synopsis of our H-GAC and Texas Stream Team water quality testing. After giving a short history of why the river mouth closed, we spent most of our allotted time covering the environmental/ecological problems that the mouth closure has caused. These included the loss of multiple oyster beds from silt deposition; the shallowing of channels into the adjacent bays as well as the bays themselves due to silt deposition; the drop in sport fish catches (especially Speckled Trout, Flounder, and Croaker), the drop in water quality because water no longer moves directly to and from the Gulf; the inaccessibility of the beach at the mouth for recreation; and other problems caused by the closure of the river mouth.
Representative Ed Thompson (center)
On Tuesday, March 3, we were again part of a delegation led by County Judge Matt Sebesta – this time to Texas Parks and Wildlife. At this meeting, we used our San Bernard River time to stress the potential catastrophic results a barge spill would have on Texas Parks and Wildlife’s Justin Hurst State Wildlife Management area. Due to the currents generated by the San Bernard’s flow going into the Gulf through the Intracoastal Canal, through the west flood gate at the Brazos River and out into the Gulf, we stated USACE figures as follows: In 2008 (prior to the 2009 dredging of the San Bernard mouth) over 650 accidents between barges and the west flood gate were REPORTED to the Corps. The average COE maintained structure recorded less than 40 such accidents per year. The average value (in 2011) for cargo crossing the Brazos at this location was 94 million dollars PER DAY (4 million dollars per hour). The normal load for a liquid carrier barge is 142,000 gallons and 87% of the total cargo crossing the Brazos is liquid petrochemicals. Due to the recent reconstruction of the Brazos floodgates, the west gate is 74 feet wide at its narrowest point. The average barge is 55 feet wide – so there is not much room for error. IF, God forbid, there was a major accident with a petrochemical spill during an incoming tide with the prevailing south-southeast wind, those chemicals would be less than 2 miles from the entrance to the Jones Creek system (which bisects the wildlife area) - and less than four miles from the McNeal and Redfish bayous, then into the Justin Hurst Wildlife Management area system. Emergency containment equipment could not be dispatched and deployed in time to prevent massive damage to this wildlife management area. NOTE: after the dredging open of the San Bernard mouth in 2009, the accident rate at the west gate of the Brazos dropped to less than 40 per year and stayed low until the river closed for a second time in 2012.
Texas Parks and Wildlife is also one of the state agencies which will recommend discernments of R.E.S.T.O.R.E. Act projects to the Governor. We asked for Texas Parks and Wildlife’s support when these funds become available.
State Representaive Dennis Bonnen (Right)
Tuesday evening we went to Fiesta Gardens for the “World’s Largest Shrimp Cocktail”. The fresh Gulf jumbo shrimp were excellent, the beer was cold, and the conversations were great. If you missed the party, try to be there in 2017.
On Wednesday, March 4, again led by County Judge Matt Sebesta, we went to the Texas General Land Office. After a short history talk, handing out mouth photos and water quality charts, we discussed barge passage problems, environmental problems, spill possibilities, recreation opportunities, oyster loss, bay navigation issues, and the decline in recreational fishing. We stressed how the dredge sands were placed in the surf line during the 2009 opening and how those sands were transported by the long shore currents to Matagorda County, giving Sargent, Texas the best tourist season they had in 20 years because they had a beach. We suggested that the GLO use any or all of the 176,000 cubic yards of beach quality sand from the Brazos that crosses the mouth of the San Bernard yearly. TO me, that would make better sense than barging Colorado River sand from Bay City to Surfside for beach re-nourishment. Texas Parks and Wildlife is another agency that recommends project funds distribution from R.E.S.T.O.R.E. Act to the Governor – and we asked them for their support.
To sum up our trip – we meet some very influential agency representatives, got lots of nods of agreement, shook a bunch of hands and made positive presentations on behalf of Brazoria County’s efforts to find a permanent solution to the closure of the mouth of the San Bernard River.
If you can make the next Brazoria County Day in Austin, March 2017, please go and help promote the San Bernard project (if it’s still necessary) as well as the rest of Brazoria County.
Brazoria County Judge Matt Besta Flood Plain Administor Joe Ripple (center) County Comm. David Linder
For more information, please monitor www.sanbernardtx.com .
This series of pictures of the San Bernard River mouth and surrounding area were taken 3-14-15 by Albert Smith from approximately 5,000 feet. The San Bernard is enlarged by rains the previous week. A couple of things to note are : in the mouth picture, the water turning toward Sargent; in the ICW looking toward Sargent, the number of barges stacked up in the ICW; in the River’s End Community picture, the enlargement of the river (this area is called “the narrows” and is usually the narrowest part of the San Bernard going to the Gulf).