, Port Arthur, Texas

June 17, 2013

Land office attempting to close Rollover

Cody Edgerton
The Port Arthur News

GILCHRIST — The days of dropping a line and hooking a big flounder, pulling it from the teeming waters of Rollover Pass may soon be a thing of the past.

The Texas General Land Office applied for a permit to close the Pass after Hurricane Ike in 2008 because of the heavy erosion sustained by surrounding beaches and other ongoing issues.

However, after the permit’s approval, two groups emmerged crying foul at the actions of the GLO, the Gulf Coast Rod, Reel and Gun Club and the Gilchrist Community Association, bringing forward a lawsuit in an attempt to save the favored fishing grounds.

The suit brought against Commisioner of the GLO Jerry Patterson, the GLO and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers states that the GLO has no authority to take action against the property currently owned by the GCRRGC. It alleges the GLO lied to obtain the permit necessary for the closure and will violate the Americans With Disabilities Act by closing the Pass, on grounds that it would eliminate the easily accessible location without guaranteeing the creation of an equally reachable replacement.

“The accessibility it provides is unmatched,” Ted Vega, president of the Gilchrist Community Association said. “They (those with disabilities) only have to get out of their car and enjoy the fishing.”

Vega expressed frustration at what he feels is a failure of cooperation from the state, leaving him feeling as though they only want to “talk at” and not “with” those concerned with the Pass’ future.

“There were five alternatives, (and) they’ve made no attempts to address that,” Vega said, adding that he wants to work with the state using technology available today that may not have been in the past.

The GLO has countered the claims that closing the Pass could negatively impact fisherman by creating the “Rollover Pass Recreation Amenities Plan” — a proposal to build a $6 million, 1,000-foot public T-headed fishing pier using Americans with Disablities Act Accessibility guidlines.

This plan also includes the possibility of a boat ramp and several attached buildings that can be used as bait shops, food stands or bathrooms, offsetting the economic impact the area would experience and improving the location, according to a proposal released by the GLO in December 2011.

Those who visit the Pass say they don’t want to see any changes. They are fond of the cut and say a pier just won’t do, and they don’t trust that the state will hold up their end of the bargain.

Just ask Jim Linder, a resident of High Island who moved about nine years ago from Austin.

“It’s crazy (the closure). There is no justification and it’ll deprive a lot of people of a unique fishing opportunity” Linder said. Linder continued by saying the dredging that the state cites as being so costly will occur regardless. “They dredge the entire stretch constantly.”

Fisherman William Alford, of Houston, echoed Linder’s concerns.

He was visiting the Pass for the first time in 25 to 30 years but used to come regularly with family. He said that a pier seemed like an interesting offer from the state but also had reservations as to whether it would truly be built.

“You don’t have anything engraved in stone,” Alford said. “They don’t have to do what they say they will.”

Alton Thorpe, of Conroe, hoped the pass will stay open for future fishing trips, eagerly showing off a large  redfish he caught from the Pass just the day before.

“I’ve been coming here my whole life,” Thorpe said. And it’s this lifestyle of fishing that many fear will be lost if the Pass is closed.

But the problems with Rollover have been known almost from the very beginning, according to Jim Suydam, press secretary for the GLO, and though he acknowledges the Pass has substantial history, he said at this point it’s about the future of the beach and bay.

“The erosion began as they were doing the initial dredge job,” Suydam said. “It sucks the very precious beach sand and dumps it right into the Intracoastal Waterway.”

A study in 1989 identified nearly 290,000 cubic yards of sand being deposited into the waterway — that’s the equivalency of 29,000 dump trucks. This reportedly leads the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers to dredge the channel every nine months at a price tag of nearly $1 million each time.

The sediment deposits aren’t the only concern for the the Pass. East Bay’s oyster reefs and estuary system have suffered due to saltwater saturating the bay, Suydam said.

But James Blackburn Jr., lawyer for the plaintiffs, doesn’t agree. According to Blackburn, Rollover was initially created to relieve problems associated with East Bay. He expressed great concern for the effects a drainage canal from Jefferson County could have on the ecosystem once the Pass is closed.

Drainage District 6 in Jefferson County created the Needmore Diversion to channel water into the bay during times of heavy rain. Blackburn says he isn’t aware that the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers ever did the proper studies to register the impact of that amount of freshwater streaming into the bay.

He’s accused Jerry Patterson and the GLO of being bullies bent on closing the Pass without giving any other options true consideration.

“It’s a nasty situation. I think it should be offensive to anyone,” Blackburn said. “We’d simply like to see Rollover Pass restored.”

But according to Suydam, the pending litigation will simply reduce funds available to improve the already highly visited site.

“We know it’s popular,” Suydam said. “No one wants to be the guy to shut down the party.”


Twitter: @cedgerton13