A proposal to make a marsh with sludge dredged from the Bayport Ship Channel has received a growing number of critics, according to The Houston Chronicle:
The initial pushback came from a few recreational boating groups protesting the loss of a 411-acre chunk of their water playground near the Harris County shore. Since then environmental groups, local governments and commercial oystermen have joined their side as the public comment period on the plan closes Thursday.
The proposed marsh is part of a larger plan to deepen and widen the Bayport channel - a 4-mile waterway that connects the Houston Ship Channel to a container terminal in Shoreacres.
Plans call for the channel to be dug 5 feet deeper and up to 100 feet wider to more safely accommodate the much larger container ships that will soon increase in frequency with the widening of the Panama Canal, said Bill Hensel, Port of Houston Authority spokesman.
The estimated $80 million project to enlarge the channel would be completed in two years and create 4 million cubic yards of dredged material that would need to be deposited somewhere, records show. In addition, an extra 3.6 million cubic yards of maintenance dredgings would be collected over the next 10 years and also need a dumping spot.
The plan suggests using two possible depository sites: an existing one west of the Houston Ship Channel called “Atkinson” and the proposed new marsh to be built on the opposite side of the channel and closer to the Harris County shore.
The project’s opponents don’t object to improving the Bayport channel but are vehemently against establishing a new marsh and want to use the Atkinson site for all dredged materials.
Houston Yacht Club spokeswoman Nancy Edmonson describes the proposed new marsh as “8 feet of muck spread over 411 acres” that she likens to a “large swamp.”
‘Open bay dumping’
Plans call for a clay berm to encircle the marsh site to contain the muddy silt and sand dredgings dumped there, but that wall will stop 3 feet below the water surface and won’t be raised higher to form a protective levee until several years later.
“This will be just like the open bay dumping that we stopped 20 years ago, because the sludge migrated everywhere - smothering oyster reefs, floating into yards and coating Sylvan Beach,” Edmonson said.
The short walls cannot stop ships’ wakes and storms, she said, from washing dredging materials into the bay.
Scott Jones, spokesman for the Galveston Bay Foundation, an environmental group formed to protect the bay, agreed. “While normally we would support new marsh construction,” he said, “this proposed design allows for material to be washed away. Sedimentation could harm habitat and bay wildlife.”
The State of Texas is not opposed however:
Parks and Wildlife spokeswoman Cherie O’Brien said the project would be “kind of experimental,” but she believes it will work.
“Having the material to make a new marsh is a rarity, and we want to take advantage of it,” she said. “Eventually there will be higher walls erected, and we will be planting vegetation to turn it into an inter-tidal marsh.”