McFaddin dune project bolstered by new money

Published 8:37 am Wednesday, April 25, 2018

By Ken Stickney

The $26.5 million award to the Texas General Land Office to restore 17 miles of beach dune ridge in McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge, announced this week, will leverage almost as many additional dollars and ramp up the project in time for the 2019 hurricane season, environmental enthusiasts say.

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“An optimum goal would be to have the beach and dune completed by early June 2019, including having the grass planted. That would work best in terms of the 2019 hurricane season,” said Tim Richardson, a consultant for Jefferson County on Deepwater Horizon restoration. “So that is the game clock for Jefferson County.”

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation announced the award Monday, largesse that will be virtually matched with funds from the National Resource Damages Assessment and RESTORE Act funds — in all, more than $50 million.

Much of that money comes from a BP court settlement following the Deepwater Horizon tragedy, which claimed 11 lives on a BP oil rig and spilled more than 200 million gallons of crude oil in the Gulf of Mexico over 87 days.

100 year-ago levels

“We’re deeply grateful for these Deepwater Horizon investments for

the McFaddin beach and dune ridge that will help restore the sand on Jefferson County’s Gulf Coast to 100 year-ago levels,” said Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick.

He said the project would protect 159,000 acres of public lands and additional private ranch land. It will also reduce storm surge on the coast, protect homes and industry and homeland security assets, represented by the petrochemical and energy products refined and shipped through the coastal waterways.

Problems abound on the shoreline, not the least of which is erosion that’s averaging perhaps 9 feet a year but extends deeper in some places, perhaps costing some 36 acres of shoreline loss annually in Jefferson County. Erosion endangers the dunes that keep saltwater out of ecologically at-risk areas, endangering some aquatic plants and animals. When the plants die, the dunes become more at risk, exacerbating the shoreline’s decline.

That’s why coastline supporters needed funding to bankroll the dune-and-berm project, which would restore to a total of 20 miles the beach dune ridge system, three miles of which are in place.

Protecting wetlands

Richardson said that would protect the significant wetlands behind the dunes, habitat for waterfowl, songbirds and other at-risk creatures and would protect the Jefferson County portion of the Chenier Plain, a 200-mile stretch of wetlands, uplands and open water that extend from Galveston to Vermilion Bay in Louisiana.

“The Chenier Plain is one of the most globally significant eco-regions that we have, really in all the western hemisphere … This is one of the most important areas for and wintering waterfowl, and wading birds and shorebirds in all of North America, particularly important as a larval or nursery area for finfish and shellfish,” said Carter Smith, director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

“And of course the marshes and dunes play a critically important role in the resilience of these communities as the first line of defense against storm surges.”

Richardson said the berm project will resume in earnest late this year and into 2019. Grasses planted on the dune will root quickly, he said, holding the dunes together.

He said three miles of dunes restored have weathered storms nicely this year, a harbinger of hope for the project that will continue to unfold.