The Port Arthur News
SABINE PASS —
Strolling McFaddin Beach barefoot is not recommended.
After a short time, the shoreline begins to recede, eventually giving way to gravel and sharp pointed rocks at the edge of the murky waters. That assumes, of course, one can even find the shoreline amid the piles of seaweed and debris that litter the shore. With no garbage cans in sight, the remnants of meals and beverages remain wherever people throw them.
According to Jennifer Jarrett, this is a good day.
“Normally we have to bring a shovel and make a path for our kids,” said the Nederland resident. “We don’t want them to step on glass or jellyfish.”
Despite the beach’s off-putting appearance, Jarrett makes occasional day trips to the stretch of sand that extends approximately 20 miles between High Island in Chambers County and Sea Rim State Park in Jefferson County. But she grows visibly frustrated when she talks about the beach’s upkeep — or lack thereof.
“We usually go to Crystal Beach, and it aggravates me because we’re so close to here,” Jarrett said. “People aren’t on their game.”
Jarrett can recall a time when Crystal Beach, located on the Bolivar Peninsula, closely resembled McFaddin — until, she said, someone took initiative and cleared the eyesores away. She sees no reason why the same can’t be done at McFaddin.
“People are going to want to spend money in your town if you take care of what you need to take care of,” Jarrett said.
‘Even after Ike, we’re still here’
Becky Dolas echoed Jarrett’s sentiment. Dolas moved to Sabine Pass at age 15 from another coastal town — Holly Beach, La. — and now works at Sportsman Supply, 5310 S. Gulfway Drive, Sabine Pass, where she sells bait and other supplies to the fishermen who stop by en route to McFaddin.
Over the years, the crowds have thinned, Dolas said — even more so after Hurricane Ike.
“We’ve slowed down majorly,” she said. “But even after Ike, we’re still here.”
Dolas remembered a pristine beach bustling with activity — a far cry from the seaweed-strewn picture of today. She said the blame lies with the city of Port Arthur for not maintaining McFaddin.
“It’s a shame,” Dolas said. “They ought to try to get people down here instead of running them off.”
An estimated 50 percent of Sabine Pass’ population never returned after 2008’s storm, and those who did are still reeling from Ike’s wrath five years later. But, Dolas said, the community is steadily rebuilding itself.
“If they opened that road again, it’d really get going,” she said.
‘We have to mobilize’
“That road” is Highway 87, a transportation route between Sabine Pass and High Island. Maps from as far back as 1863 showed a “Road to Galveston” along the shoreline southwest of Sabine Pass. Over the years, the beach road repeatedly sustained damage from various storms. But it was Hurricane Jerry that put the final nail in the Highway 87 coffin. Since the Category 1 storm made landfall in October 1989, the Beach Road has been closed indefinitely, left to deteriorate against the Gulf of Mexico’s tidal zone.
No one feels the frustration of McFaddin Beach more than Michael “Shane” Sinegal, Jefferson County Precinct 3 Commissioner. He has fought to improve the beach since his election in 2008, but has been continually thwarted by a dearth of funds and manpower.
The beach itself is owned by the state, Sinegal said, and serious budget cuts at the state level forced the funding onto the back of the county. For some time, the beach’s primary source of funding was the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), but those funds have since been discontinued.
“The biggest issue with us maintaining the beach is that we have to mobilize,” Sinegal said. “And my hands are tied with the manpower I have just to maintain the county.”
Sinegal knows the most viable solution is to reopen Highway 87, and he is channeling all his spare energy into keeping that issue at the forefront of the county’s minds.
“When you have traffic, you have a need for funding,” he said. “I live for the day I can drive from Galveston through Sabine Pass.”
Several entities have expressed interest in making Highway 87 a reality, including Port Arthur contractor Cherokee Development, LIHEAP Engineering and the Jefferson County Department of Engineering, but Sinegal said there was trouble getting all of them to the table at the same time.
‘We’re in the preliminary stages’
Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick has little hope that McFaddin Beach will ever register on TxDOT radar again, but he is hopeful that progress can be made without their aid. The county has received a “patchwork of funding” — $3.2 million from United States Fisheries and Wildlife, $5 million from Round 2 of Hurricane Ike funding, and several hundred thousand from Coastal Erosion Planning and Response Act (CEPRA).
“We're in the preliminary stages, so I'm hopeful that it's going to become a reality,” Branick said.
Branick has taken some steps. He recently traveled to Albuquerque, N.M., to meet with the head of the U.S. Fisheries and Wildlife, who has expressed support of a roadway. He has also met with the RESTORE Act Council in Galveston, which is comprised of the governors of the five Gulf states — Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.
“If the beach road is ever going to happen, it’s going to have to be through innovative financing,” Branick said. He cited toll roads or tax increment reinvestment zones as examples.
Sinegal estimated construction on the road zone would take two years to complete, bringing with it between 500 and 1,000 jobs to Jefferson County. Making it a toll road would generate still more revenue. More importantly, he said, the citizens of Sabine Pass would benefit. They would no longer be at the mercy of emergency management in the event of an unforeseen disaster — such as an oil spill at Valero or Chevron — and the town would regain some footing it lost in Ike’s aftermath.
“Only the heart of the people have kept them on the map,” Sinegal said. “Some you would have to threaten to murder before they left. I’m proud to say they’re in my community.”
‘I’d rather be here with the seaweed’
In the meantime, private groups of people will be the only source of maintenance on McFaddin Beach. Fortunately some people, like Lance Bridges, are willing to brave the seaweed and trash. The Nederland man said he prefers McFaddin to the heavily patrolled Crystal Beach.
“You either go south and get to the green water, or you tough it out here,” Bridges said. “I’d rather be here with the seaweed than at home.”
He pointed to a faint glimmer of deep blue water on the horizon.
“Plus, if you go 100 yards out, you can see a green line.”