Sand dune restoration underway at McFaddin as county receives grant extension

Bill Worsham and Stephanie Gonzales of LJA Engineering, Inc.

The rebuilding of storm-battered sand dunes and the revitalization of essential marshes is currently underway at McFaddin Beach, and project leaders recently received a necessary grant extension so they can hold onto federal funds earmarked for the coastal restoration project.

The Salt Bayou Watershed Restoration Plan is a four-prong plan proposed to repair the storm-damaged coast of Southeast Texas at the Gulf of Mexico. So far, the project is progressing well, having completed two of the four steps in the process while the third is underway, according to project consultant Tim Richardson.

“Rebuilding the dunes will protect the largest marsh in Texas to help keep plants healthy and knock down storm surge,” said Richardson. “The berm itself is built, and that’s a nice accomplishment. Now what has started is the beach sand nourishment in which there is an off-shore sand source that is dredged and put onto the beach with the goal of restoring the beach conditions to 100 years ago.”

The berm is a ridge of land that will “take care of small storm surges,” said Richardson. He said Ducks Unlimited built an early version of the berm prior to the completion of the permanent berm now in place, and they have been working with Jefferson County and Judge Jeff Branick to secure funds for the beach restoration through North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) grants. He said the project has been funded through multiple grants and state and federal sources, and project leaders are planning to seek further funding for its completion.

“If the plants die, the sand erodes and the Gulf expands… which means open waves would be hitting all those barges that are going past there now,” Richardson asserted. “That is dangerous and very expensive to fix, but the marsh is doing that job right now. It is much cheaper to repair the marsh.”

He explained the county had to request a time extension on the performance period of the project for the federal grant monies from the Coastal Impact Assistance Program (CIAP). Originally, all CIAP grant-funded projects were to be completed by Dec. 31, 2016 according to an April 21 letter from the U.S. Department of the Interior, but, due to unique circumstances “beyond the control of Jefferson County,” the county was granted an extension until Aug. 31.

“The dredge was working in Galveston,” said Richardson. “There are very few people that can contract and do this work. So, we had to wait for that dredge to be freed up. They’re out there now.”

Richardson said Highway 87, which ran parallel to McFaddin Beach, was washed away during past hurricanes, although portions of it remain underwater or buried in the sand. He said the revitalized beach would be “much larger,” with no road running alongside it, and great for recreation once complete.

Richardson said he believes the county will receive the future funding it needs based on a the vital resources Southeast Texas provides, including a military port, diverse wilflife, a migratory flyway utilized by a variety of birds, including endangered species, strategic petroleum reserves and more.

“You have the best mix of environmental and economic co-benefits of any place in the Gulf of Mexico, I think,” asserted Richardson. “If you stack up these co-benefits, a dollar spent in Jefferson County brings you more, multiple benefits than a dollar spent anywhere else in the Gulf.”