CORPUS CHRISTI CALLER-TIMES

Aransas County, state and federal officials tour Cedar Bayou

Oct 12, 2010 | Corpus Christi Caller-Times by Jaime Powell | Related Press

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FULTON — The mood before a boat ride to Cedar Bayou was upbeat after Aransas County officials recently heard that a long sought plan to reopen the silted-in waterway is closer to fruition.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife and National Marine Fisheries Service recently approved the project, and it awaits final approval and permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Friday morning, Aransas County Commissioners and officials, along with representatives of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Texas General Land Office and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul’s office, rode aboard a charter boat toward Cedar Bayou, where they were to catch air boats to survey where the actual dredging could occur.

Aransas County Judge Burt Mills who has called the project his top priority smiled Friday when U.S. Corps of Engineers Col. Christopher Sallese acknowledged the project’s value.

“It’s a great project,” Sallese said. “We see the environmental benefits and have worked well with the county.”

For more than 10 years, project supporters have said that opening Cedar Bayou, a natural pass between San Jose and Matagorda islands, would allow the easier inflow and exchange of water from the Gulf of Mexico. It also would provide access to the bays for aquatic life and would provide mating grounds for fish, shrimp and crabs among others.

Cedar Bayou was blocked in 1978 to prevent an oil spill from entering the bays and never was properly cleared out. It was dredged several times, including in 1995 when the spoils were deposited at the mouth of neighboring Vinson Slough, which further deteriorated flow.

Initial concerns from federal and state agencies that have stalled the permitting process necessary to open the pass for years have been addressed.

Sallese, who must sign off on the permit, said the corps is waiting on final data from the county regarding mitigation for the dredging effort.

The county’s mitigation plan is to install a 6.5-acre garden of cordgrass near the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. The information already has been sent to the corps and any remaining details are small, officials said.

Project Manager Carlos Swonke and engineer Hugo Bermudez said they expect the permit this year.

Earlier this year, Aransas County commissioners voted unanimously to earmark $500,000 of the county’s already allocated federal Coastal Impact Assistance Program funding in an attempt to attract $4.5 million in more funding from the state, which would pay the anticipated $5 million project cost.

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