Funding to reopen Cedar Bayou halfway to $7M goal

Jan 28, 2013 | Corpus Christi Caller-Times by David Sikes | Related Press

CORPUS CHRISTI — The effort to reopen Cedar Bayou received another funding boost this past week.

Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson announced a $200,000 grant for the long awaited dredging project. This puts the total collected or pledged so far at $3.425 million for a project estimated to run about $7 million.

Hopefully the funding hurdle won’t prove to be as difficult as the decade-long effort to secure a permit for the project from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. That battle ended last summer. The permit comes with a five-year deadline for action. But Aransas County Judge Burt Mills said this deadline is easily extended.

At least with funding we’re not seeking permission from a 500-pound bureaucratic gorilla with ever-changing federal requirements and an army of additional government agencies that imposed unreasonable and time-consuming constraints on what is clearly nothing more than an environmental restoration project.

This latest grant comes from the Coastal Management Program, which awards grants funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration aimed at enhancing or maintaining the environmental and economic health of the Texas coast.

Few dispute that a free-flowing Cedar Bayou, which historically has divided Matagorda and San Jose islands, would benefit the Aransas-Mesquite bay system, along with the economies of the Coastal Bend.

Unlike Packery Channel, this has nothing to do with beach resorts or boat access to the Gulf. Cedar Bayou is purely a fish pass that would benefit birds, anglers, recreational fishes, shrimpers and all manner of marine life that require gulf access for spawning.

And to document the impacts, biologists and students with the Fisheries and Ocean Health Lab at the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies are conducting an extensive pre-opening study to determine what is there now, so this can be compared against conditions after the pass is dredged.

This kind of baseline study was conduced at Packery Channel. Greg Stunz, director of the Harte Institute’s Sportfish Research Center, said the increased flow through Packery boosted nearby populations of redfish, flounder, pinfish, and blue crab. The benefits also affect shrimp and other forage species that go into creating a healthier and more robust ecosystem, Stunz said.

“I can’t imagine how Cedar Bayou would be any different,” he said. “This reopening has the potential to greatly elevate the fisheries production for the region.”

For more than a decade, the push to reopen Cedar Bayou has been on the agenda of conservation groups, angler organizations, community leaders, politicians, business owners and objective observers who believe when water flows through Cedar Bayou good things happen for everything from whooping cranes to bait shops. A healthy estuary is the engine of a coastal economy that relies on nature tourism and fishing.

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