San Bernard River Mouth Update
By Roy Edwards
A regularly scheduled meeting of the Brazoria County Shoreline Restoration Task force was held Tuesday, September 29, 2015.
Donald “Dude” Payne, Brazoria County Commissioner, Pct. 1 and David Linder, Commissioner, Pct. 4 gave an update on the re-opening of the mouth of the San Bernard River.
Under their leadership, the Brazoria Co. Commissioner’s Court contracted Dannenbaum Engineering Corporation to find a permanent solution to the closure of the mouth of the San Bernard River. Dannenbaum’s engineer, Chris Sallese, retired Colonel of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Galveston Texas, is the lead on this project.
The Texas portion of the British Petroleum Gulf oil spill settlement (R.E.S.T.O.R.E. Act) was the proposed source of funding for this project. Original estimates of the Texas settlement were as high as $2.2 billion. In actuality, the Texas portion will be $308 million. The funds will be awarded over a 15 year period. Sixteen Texas coastal counties are eligible to share the total dollars.
Dannenbaum originally modeled 7 options to open the mouth. Four projects were presented to the Brazoria Co. Commissioner’s Court. They are:
1. A solid, traditional rock jetty extending from the east river bank into the Gulf. Estimated cost - $86 million
2. A composite jetty of lesser height with a concrete topping extending from the east river bank into the Gulf. Estimated cost - $60 million
3. A sheet pile jetty similar to the sidewalls of Rollover Pass extending from the east river bank into the Gulf. Estimated cost - $28 million
Note: All three of these solutions would require maintenance dredging every 2 years to remove 350,000 cubic yards of material from behind the jetty or the dredging could be deferred to 8 – 12 years to remove 2.1 million cubic yards of material. This maintenance dredging would be a reoccurring cost to the county.
4. Dredge open the river mouth as in the 2009 dredge opening, this time extending further into the Gulf. Estimated cost - $6 million.
Note: This option would require maintenance. Worst case scenario with low flow in the San Bernard and heavy sand load from the Brazos would require maintenance dredging in as little as 3 years. Best case scenario, re-dredge in 8 – 10 years. Estimated maintenance dredging - $2-3 million per dredging cycle.
Based on anticipated funding, option 4 has been selected to actively pursue.
The cost of maintenance dredging would be the responsibility of Brazoria County. Commissioner’s Court is currently seeking financial partnerships with parties that would benefit from the re-opening of the river including state agencies such as Texas Parks and Wildlife, the Texas General Land Office and the Texas Department of Transportation.
When the river was open, its flow did not exit through the west flood gate of the Brazos, reducing marine passage problems in that area. The rate of allusions (allusions are defined as contact between a moving marine vessel and a fixed object such as the west flood gate structure) in 2008 was in excess of 650 reported incidences. After the 2009 dredging, allusions dropped to less than 40. The Gulf Intracoastal Canal Association, governing body for commercial Intracoastal traffic, stated that the west gate passage is the most difficult, dangerous, and expensive passage to navigate from Mexico to Florida. The purpose of the re-opening dredging in 2009 per the U.S.A.C.E. was to provide a relief channel to ease the navigation problems at the west gate.
Coastal projects seeking BP oil spill funds (R.E.S.T.O.R.E. Act) will be evaluated by T.C.E.Q. in 2016 and projects deemed worthy will them be awarded in 2017. Projects will then be awarded in 2017. Commissioner Payne stated that the San Bernard River mouth dredging project will be “shovel ready” before funding is allocated. He is confident that this project will compete well with the other projects statewide.
Coastal projects involving heavy equipment on the beach between the surf line and the dunes must be completed or stopped by March 15 of each year and cannot resume until turtle nesting season is over.
Commissioners Payne and Linder and Dannenbaum have been working with Congressman Randy Weber to investigate possible federal funding for the San Bernard River project. Federal funding can only be used on those sections of a waterway that have been designated “federal navigable waterways”. The San Bernard River between the Gulf Intracoastal Canal and the Gulf of Mexico has never been designated as such. Commissioner Payne stated that the process to achieve this status is very long and extremely complicated. “Federal navigable waterway” status is not an option in the foreseeable future.
The U.S.A.C.E. was approached with the prospect of taking over the San Bernard River mouth project. U.S.A.C.E. does not have authority to work in this section of the river, so the request was denied.
Commissioner Payne and Dannenbaum are working with U.S.A.C.E. to get a new study funded under Section 7001 of WRRDA 2014. This study would look at the sustainability of the GIWW in the region and recommend potential sources of material (San Bernard River) to help stabilize the ongoing bank erosion.
All this boils down to bad news / good news. Bad news: there is no funding option on the table large enough to put any type of jetty system at the mouth of the San Bernard River. Good news: It is possible that the San Bernard River could be dredged by R.E.S.T.O.R.E. Act funding as early as March 2018.
Thanks go out to Commissioners Donald “Dude” Payne and David Linder for their leadership on this project, to Brazoria Co. Commissioner’s Court for their continued support of this project, and to Dannenbaum Engineering Corporation for exploring all options. Most of all, thanks go out to everyone who has ever expressed concern for the plight of the San Bernard River and has contacted our elected officials on its behalf.