By Dayna Haynes
The Anahuac Progress
During a recent Commissioners Court session, Ben Nelson, owner of Jeri’s Seafood in Smith Point asked the commissioners to not approve a permit proposed by the US Corps of Engineers for the Bayport Ship Channel project, allowing dumping of dredged material into open waters in Galveston Bay. The Port of Houston Authority proposes to use a hydraulic pipeline dredge to deepen and widen the Bayport Ship Channel and put all dredged material in a beneficial use site or on Atkinson Island where dredge material is currently stored.
The beneficial use site the Port of Houston Authority is proposing to dump dredged material is in a 475-acre portion of Upper Galveston Bay located between Chambers County, Harris County and Galveston County. As stated by Galveston Bay Foundation (GBF) the proposed new beneficial use marsh in this instance has too many down sides.
Some of the points listed by GBF is one, the negative impact to recreational use of this area by boaters, sailors and fisherman by converting 475 acres of open bay water and bay bottom, including oyster habitat, to an emergent marsh. Secondly the negative impact to the ecology of Galveston Bay due to the submerged design of the project. Including an initial underwater berm three foot below mean low tide, and including a 10-year period, with additional dredged material that will be comprised of finer silts, and only then raising the levee above the water line. Thirdly, the direct impact to 7.4 acres of oyster habitat by the placement of the dredged material. If oysters are impacted with any future marsh creation it is imperative to ensure that any oyster mitigation is completely successful, so there is no net losses of oyster production in Galveston Bay.
Tracy Woody, General Manager for Jeri’s Seafood in Smith Point submitted comments to the US Corps of Engineers regarding the Bayport Ship Channel Project pointing out the company has worked hard to be a leader in working and insuring that oysters are a sustainable resource and are one of the most successful open bay oyster farming operations in the US for more than 40 years. Although they are not claiming to know all there is to know about oysters and building reefs, they plant about 7,000 – 12,000 yards of shell and rock every year. Remember their knowledge was acquired on their dime with a little blood, a lot of sweat and a few tears. Over the years they have witnessed a majority of mitigation projects fail for various reasons and has cost acres of productive reefs over the years.
Tracy would like to see the process for oyster reefs changed. For example, regarding dredged material being placed in Galveston Bay this will immediately impact 4.6 acres of productive reef to be dredged and used for fill. “4.6 acres assumes that a reef is one dimensional. What about height above the mud line? What about depth of shell below mud line?” Woody questions. He adds these are major factors to consider for a successful oyster reef, not to mention that oyster shell is a natural resource of the state of Texas.
Tracy thinks mitigation should be minimum of equal volume dredged shell to an equal volume of suitable substrate replaced on Dow’s reef and/or Beasley’s reef where conditions are most suited for oysters 90% of the time. This material should be spread over hardpan reef in dire need of substrate giving you “the most bang for your buck” Tracy said.
Another use of the material dredged would be to fill the lightly silted fringes of the above-mentioned reefs, but not filling any area that has more than six inches of silt over hard reef elevating these areas to at least two to six inches above mud line.
His top concern is that the immediate impact would mean that 4.6 acres would be gone today. The time frame proposed between the areas being dredged and the mitigated acres would be productive again. Possibly this could take two years minimum, but more likely will take up to five years.
Tracy thinks the US Corps of Engineers should compensate this unproductive period with an additional 6,000 tons of substrate to be equally scattered over each of these reefs at a rate of 30-60 tons per acre just before the oyster spawning season, but no sooner than mid May and no later than the end of June immediately after the approval of the permit, if that occurs.
Tracy fears that after the project is complete there will be long term effects on the many adjacent reefs to the ship channel, going beyond just losing 4.6 acres of productive reef for the next two to five years. The ongoing damage to the reefs will most likely come from the increased wave action from passing ships. Wave action will roll live oysters off of the reefs into the mud and will die. “How will this be mitigated?” Tracy wonders.
In his letter to US Corps of Engineers he stated that they were opposed to the beneficial use marsh due to inadequate design and location. “We believe that all 18 acres of oyster reefs will be destroyed due to filling and siltation,” Tracy said. Adding that Atkinson Island is the best location to for the dredged material, as this area is already being used for this purpose and has already been silted over from previous fillings.
Mr. Woody sent a resolution to Commissioners Court in Chambers County on June 29,2012. Court approved the resolution. To read the resolution visit our website www.theanahuacprogress.com.
Jeri’s Seafood has been in operation successfully for forty years, selling their oysters coast to coast. The business is owned and operated by the Nelson family, headed by Ben Nelson and now runs smoothly in the capable hands of his son-in-law Tracy Woody along with various members of the Nelson’s extended family. They keep around 65- 70 employees on staff most of the time, and upwards of 135 employees during peak oyster season. They are a close knit family that work hard to preserve their way of life and are stewards of the bay. Maintaining sustainable oyster reefs successfully for several decades. They imposed self-governing harvesting times in order to not over harvest the reefs, they replenish the reefs by recycling 100% of the oyster shells along with river rock they buy and bring in to build, and maintain the reefs, helping to keep the reefs healthy and productive not only for now but for future generations.
Submitted by Tracy Woody of Jeri’s Seafood to Chambers County Commissioners Court on June 29, 2012
WHEREAS, The Commissioners Court of Chambers County, Texas submits this Resolution to The United States Army Corps of Engineers Joint Public Notice dated May 3, 2012, SWG-2011-01183 concerning Oyster Mitigation associated with the proposed Port of Houston Authority Bayport Ship Channel Improvements in Harris and Chambers Counties, Texas: and
WHEREAS, Large-scale, viable oyster reefs are essential to sustaining and improving the healthy habitat of essential fish and invertebrates, the water quality and clarity of Trinity Bay and our local economy; and
WHEREAS, The proposed dredging imposes a serious threat and danger to such oyster reefs, water, and economy, should be done with the utmost care, and always in furtherance of maintaining the long term health of the bay; and
WHEREAS, The project acknowledges it will harm the oyster habitat of Trinity Bay. Consequently, the project proposes oyster mitigation in the form of building oyster reefs in a 1:1 mitigation ratio of 1-acre-impacted to 1-acre-of-mitigation; and
WHEREAS, It is unwise, imprudent and short sighted to place mitigation oyster reefs in poorly suited areas where soft mud bottoms eventually consume the shell, clutch and other materials used to create the reef, and
WHEREAS, Historically, such mitigation reefs have been created only to be lost and the Commissioners Court of Chambers County, therefore encourage long-term, far-sighted, practical methods that are most likely to mitigate best the damage such dredging will cause; and
WHEREAS, It is the consensus of the Commercial Oyster Fisherman of Chambers County, Texas and Chambers County Commissioners Court that all oyster mitigation should require core-sampling in addition to side scan sonar of each proposed oyster reef mitigation area and dredge area to evaluate the quantity and depth of shell on the existing bottom conducive to the long-term existence of true reef mitigation, as opposed to the unwise predominance of mud and sediment upon a bottom that eventually consumes and destroys the mitigation reef making it useless; and
WHEREAS, It is generally recognized that the first cut of a bay bottom in dredging should be put back into the bay, due to the higher concentration of shell the first cut contains, and that many major, long-term reefs were built from first cut shell. Conversely, the second or subsequent cut of a bay bottom in dredging is not as beneficial to the building of reefs, and is more likely to be harmful. Therefore, second and subsequent cuts should be placed behind a levee and not be used in oyster reef mitigation; and
WHEREAS, Based on actual, long-term experience in Trinity Bay, the Chambers County Commissioners Court believe that the better areas in the bay for oyster mitigation are preferably Dow’s Reef and/or Beasley’s Reef. These are proven to be long-term, beneficial environs that are more likely to result in lasting oyster mitigation more true to the 1:1 ratio proposed; and
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, That the Commissioners Court of Chambers County, Texas fully support these concerns, and encourage the suggested use of core-sampling, side scan sonar, first cut bottoms and the areas of Dow’s Reef and Beasley’s Reef in seeking to obtain in Trinity Bay lasting oyster mitigation true to the 1:1 ratio proposed; and to discourage the use of second and subsequent cuts, and the placement of shell, clutch and other materials on bottoms predominate with mud and sediment, that as history of the bay and past mitigation from dredging has shown are short-sighted and unlikely over time to result in a true 1:1 mitigation ratio.
UPON MOTION DULY MADE AND SECONDED, the above Resolution was adopted on this 29th day of June, 2012.
Chambers County Commissioner Court
Jimmy Sylvia, County Judge
Mark Huddleston, Precinct 1
David A. Abernathy, Precinct 2
Gary Nelson, Precinct 3
A.R. Rusty Senac, Precinct 4
Heather H. Hawthorne, County Clerk