Lamar group looking to partner with city, county to restore Pleasure Island

Published 12:40 am Wednesday, April 26, 2023

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The Lamar University Center for Resiliency is seeking partnership with the City of Port Arthur and Jefferson County to apply for a grant to restore approximately 160 acres of Pleasure Island.

Matthew Hoch, an associate professor of biology at Lamar, appeared before City Council Tuesday to discuss the intentions and benefits of the project.

“I enjoy the resources here in Port Arthur and Pleasure Island immensely,” he said. “I’m here representing a group interested in both coastal restoration from a sociological as well as an environmental and ecological basis.”

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Hoch said the three-way partnership would allow an application to request funds from the Texas General Land Office’s Coastal Erosion Planning and Response Act to restore the road at the north end of the island.

“If you drive up the north levee road on Pleasure Island, you’ll see just a thin slice of trees that are eroding away and falling into either the ship channel or Sabine Lake,” Hoch said, adding it has left the ship channel more vulnerable to sedimentation.

The north end of the island began to show signs of erosion during the 50s, he said. After 1996, the erosion became “aggressive.”

The North Pleasure Island Restoration project would take place in three two-year phases. The first would be used to collect data for the design process, access community stakeholders’ needs and interests, and seek permitting.

Phase One would require a 40-percent match, or approximately $150,000, from the City of Port Arthur and Jefferson County.

Phase Two will complete designs and initiate contracts for construction. Hoch said there is a potential for a grant match there, but Lamar would be pursuing available waivers.

Phase Three is the start of construction.

If funding is secured, Hoch said, the project would be complete in less than seven years.

“It would increase fish and wildlife habitat,” he said. “We know the City of Port Arthur is interested in becoming a bird city, so there’d be a focus on birding habitat. There is already an excellent area for anglers and fishing. As well as a large marshland complex that will create value to industry in helping with the restoration because they can get carbon credits for creating marshland.”

The project would also provide opportunities for graduate students seeking degrees in nature-based restoration with the availability to involve students from Lamar State College Port Arthur, as well as area school districts.

“A large scale project would be designed to take into consideration changes to our climate over the next few decades,” Hoch said. “This is a project that’s long been neglected.”

If Port Arthur enters the agreement, it would also be required to enter into a 20-year commitment to maintain the project. Lamar University would continue to provide the grant writing over the course of that time.

“I have been in discussion with Dr. Hoch for a few months now,” said City Manager Ron Burton. “We have looked at both the environmental and the economic benefits the project would bring to the City of Port Arthur for a very long period of time.

“The idea is to build for future generations as we continue to experience the deterioration of our coastal environment with climate change as it continues to occur. We’re in the very initial stages of the project.”

Burton said he’s spoken with County Judge Jeff Branick, who supports the project.

“All in all, it’s a very good project for the city of Port Arthur…and the county that will leave tremendous benefits for the long-term future of the city and the citizens,” he said.

Hoch said while he’s been involved in accessing restoration for eight years, the Pleasure Island project is also a personal one.

“This is our chance and we’re looking at a very comprehensive vision for the future,” he said. “And I hope one day I can show my grandkids and take them fishing there.”

The deadline to apply for the grant is June 1.