Giant ‘sandbags’ could help halt Pleasure Island erosion

Giant ‘sandbags’ could help halt Pleasure Island erosion

The sky isn’t falling in Port Arthur – depending upon whom you ask of course – but there is one certainty just south of the Martin Luther King Bridge that connects Port Arthur to Pleasure Island – the island’s coastline is eroding. Even more bothersome is that the erosion isn’t just claiming the island’s shoreline as a victim, but the island’s main drag that stretches across the island is close to becoming a one-way road – into the ship channel.

The man-made island, about 18.5 miles long, has been eroding along its northern side for years. And now with the road, Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, perilously close to the water, city officials are tending to an emergency order to put a temporary stopgap in place to prevent the erosion along a 300-foot section of the island before a larger-scale project is started to prevent further erosion.

In the meantime, Jefferson County has given the city of Port Arthur $1 million to fund the temporary measure. The city has not decided what company is going to get the job, but Port Arthur is reviewing proposals before moving forward on the project.

Currently there are barricades set, sandwiched between the shoreline and the road, which is roughly 6 to 8 feet from the water, making time all the more precious as Mother Nature continues to beat up the shoreline and erode it more and more.

Just last February, Jefferson County received $1.3 million to help with erosion along the island, and that was used in an area east of the Martin Luther King Bridge toward the golf course.

One company that has submitted a proposal for the stopgap work is Rim Rock Enterprise, a company that has spent years doing work around Texas coastlines and knows a thing or two about helping with coastal erosion.

Eddie Fisher works for Rim Rock and has more than 30 years of experience working around the state of Texas. Fisher was in Port Arthur on Monday, April 9, and along with Ross Blacketter, who oversees public works for the city of Port Arthur, took the quick trip to Pleasure Island to see the erosion for himself. Fisher, who spent 10 years working with the Texas General Land Office, said he knew of the erosion problems affecting the island more than a decade ago, so he wasn’t at all shocked by what he saw.

“It was identified as a high erosion area when I was there in 2001,” Fisher said of his time with the GLO’s erosion control program. “You can look back at aerial photographs at how quickly that area erodes. I imagine when it was first built, they used the hardest material along that side, but that’s long since eroded and it’s just kind of essentially fill material now, so the rate of erosion is much faster.”

Given the immediacy of the project and the importance when trying to save the coastline, Fisher said geotextile tubes – or enormously large sandbags – are going to be used to shore up the 300 feet of shoreline. According to Geosynthetics.com, the probable stopgap and subsequent project this summer using the geotextile tubes involves filling very large tubular textile containers with local sand or sludge to hold unstable banks in place. Shoreline stabilization frequently is accomplished with membranes covered by concrete or stone; geotubes eliminate the need to transport those materials. In addition, over time the water will gradually wash away the geotube contents, returning the shoreline to its original ecosystem. Fisher said they’re the most cost-effective and efficient ways to put a quick fix on the problem until the larger project commences.

Fisher said his company has done work in Galveston, Lake Jackson and Clute, to name a few, not to mention they do plenty of contract work with Dow Chemical, so emergency dredging projects and specialty dredging projects are nothing new to Fisher and his crew.

“These are the same things that were used at Bolivar,” Fisher said. “This is just temporary, though. They’re going to start work on a larger shore protection project later this summer, but with the erosion so close to the road, they wanted to know if there was anything that could be done in the interim before the other project. It’s an emergency fix.”

Fisher said Pleasure Island isn’t going to necessarily erode away thanks to the waves from the dozens of ships that pass through the ship channel daily overnight, but the project this summer will be key to preserving the life of Pleasure Island.

“Essentially, the same thing is going to have to happen that happened on the other side (of the ship channel); it’s going to have to be hard-armored. I believe it’s going to be rock.”

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