The Port of Houston Authority is abandoning its plan to use material from dredging to create a more than 400-acre marsh in Galveston Bay, according to The Houston Chronicle:
Using clay, sand and silt to create what would have eventually become a marsh of more than 400 acres was one of two disposal options in the authority’s permit application to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to deepen and widen the 3.5-mile-long channel that connects the main Houston Ship Channel to the Bayport Container Terminal in Shoreacres.
The other disposal option, which the authority has now designated as “preferred,” is to use two existing disposal areas east of the bay on Atkinson Island and raise the berms there so they can hold more dredge spoils.
The spoils will be generated from the project, which will increase the channel’s depth and width so it can more safely accommodate the larger, heavier container ships expected to call on the port with more frequency after a wider Panama Canal opens in 2014.
Local governments, as well as community, environmental and recreational organizations, opposed the creation of a marsh in the bay west of Atkinson because they said it would hurt the environment, interfere with recreational sailing and pose safety concerns.
At a special meeting Wednesday, the seven-member port commission approved a staff recommendation to abandon that proposal as the authority moves forward with the permit application process.
Ed Bluestein, a Houston Yacht Club member who has lived along Galveston Bay for more than 40 years and opposed the new marsh proposal, described it as “a wonderful example of listening.”
“When a huge organization like this charts a future course, it’s very difficult to get that course altered, and I’m so proud of the commission - and the staff,” Bluestein said.
Patrick Gibson, commodore of the yacht club, which led opposition to the proposal, said he “couldn’t be more pleased.”
Commissioner Janiece Longoria said the reversal should be taken as evidence that the port “is very sensitive to concerns of members of the public and that the Port of Houston does listen and does respond appropriately” to the public’s views.
The corps collected 150 public comments on the application through early July and provided them to the authority for review late last month, along with their analysis. The authority is required to send an official response within 30 days.
While the authority prefers the option from an environmental perspective because it would help with the goal of restoring destroyed marshland, channel development director Mark Vincent said using existing placement areas to dispose of the dredge material has a “distinct advantage” because it would require less additional work and planning, has a lower risk of increasing costs and is “virtually un-controversial.”
Also Wednesday, commissioners approved a formal response to a report compiled by the staff of the Texas Sunset Commission after a five-month review of the authority and its operations.
The 95-page Sunset report, released earlier this month, contains more than a dozen major recommendations, including that the port modernize its business practices, be more publicly transparent and limit its governing commissioners to three four-year terms.
In the letter, the port’s executive director, Len Waterworth, expresses agreement with the report’s assessment that the authority is “not a broken organization” but has “work to do.” He says the authority will move quickly to put in place management-related changes that don’t require legislative action.
The Sunset Commission will take public comment on the report on Sept. 5 at a hearing in Austin.