"GALVESTON - An omission in a computer model led to faulty conclusions about the need to close Rollover Pass, a trench dug to bisect the Bolivar Peninsula more than 50 years ago that has become a fishing mecca, according to an attorney fighting the closure.
"This isn't something that happens by accident," said Jim Blackburn, attorney for Bolivar Peninsula residents fighting state efforts to close the pass.
Blackburn said a consultant for the Texas General Land Office left out data about freshwater inflow into the East Bay from a computer program used in a study to justify closing the pass. When the information is included, Blackburn said, it shows that closing Rollover Pass will result in so much freshwater that it could harm oyster beds.
Blackburn's accusation, if verified, would discredit a claim by the Land Office that closing Rollover Pass would end the harm caused by too much salt water flowing into East Bay.
The Land Office also contends that closing the pass would slow erosion of the peninsula shore line and would end expensive dredging by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers of sand washed through the pass into the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway.
Land Office spokesman Jim Suydam said his agency hired Jacksonville, Fla.,-based Taylor Engineering Inc., but otherwise was not involved in the study criticized by Blackburn.
"I don't think they cheated," Suydam said. "The Land Office doesn't direct a contractor about how to do a study."
Taylor Engineering could not be reached for comment.
Suydam said that the closure of the pass has been studied for years and is supported by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
The closing is opposed by many of the residents of the Gilchrist Community that straddles Rollover Pass.
The Gulf Coast Rod, Reel and Gun Club, which owns the property the pass cuts through, and the Gilchrist Community Association hired Blackburn, who in April filed a federal lawsuit on their behalf aimed at halting the closure.
The Land Office in the meantime entered into an agreement with Galveston County Commissioners Court to condemn Rollover Pass so closure operations could begin. The Land Office has offered to build a fishing pier to replace the pass.
Blackburn hired engineer Lawrence Dunbar to review the study by the Land Office consultant that was used by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to do an environmental assessment. Dunbar's report says that the computer model used by Taylor Engineering was flawed. "This model is totally invalid and unreliable," Dunbar wrote.
Dunbar's report says that the Taylor Engineering model failed to account for freshwater flows from Oyster Bayou, which he says is the primary source of fresh water to the East Bay. The report also said the Taylor model did not consider the Needmore Diversion project now under construction, which will put more freshwater into East Bay.
"It is my opinion that the closing of Rollover Pass would have adverse impacts to the water quality in East Bay, specifically to the dramatic lowering of salinity levels in the bay," Dunbar wrote. He said current salinity levels in East Bay are in the ideal range for oyster production.
Dunbar's report said that the reason for digging Rollover Pass was to increase the salinity of East Bay and make it hospitable to oysters and other marine life."