As forwarded by Dave Hayward with Swan Point Landing
As you and most folks who fish the Port Aransas/ Aransas Pass/ Rockport area know, a private company was granted a lease by the Texas General Land Office (GLO), and later a “Letter of Permission” from the Corps of Engineers (USACE) to construct a mile-and-a-half long barge fleeting facility in Lydia Ann Channel, directly across from the Lighthouse.
The project has displaced recreational use of that shoreline, created a hazard to navigation and poses a very real threat of devastating environmental and economic impact on a sensitive area in the event of a spill. Those of us who have boated and fished this water our whole lives know that the Lydia Ann Channel is the main tidal connection between the Redfish and Aransas Bay Systems and the Gulf. An incredible amount of water funnels through the channel. It serves as an important migratory route for baitfish, gamefish, shrimp and other wildlife. A swift incoming tide and stiff wind will push any spill, along with the inevitable runoff, from the facility into these bays within minutes, without possibility of control. It would destroy fishing in the Lighthouse Lakes, Redfish Bay, Aransas Bay and St. Jo.
As a result, concerned citizens and fishermen formed a non-profit “Friends of Lydia Ann Channel”, and filed a lawsuit against USACE in December 2015 challenging the improper granting of a ‘Letter of Permission’, without any environmental studies or public comment. The issuance of a Letter of Permission for a project of this scale, located in an environmentally sensitive area, inside the Redfish Bay State Scientific Area, was wholly inappropriate. A Letter of Permission is an abbreviated permitting process which, by law, is reserved for situations where “the proposed work would be minor, would not have significant individual or cumulative impacts on environmental values, and should encounter no appreciable opposition”. The company and the government essentially took a short cut on the permitting process, and the result is the eyesore on one of our favorite pieces of water that threatens to ruin our fishery.
The Texas Observer recently published a pretty good piece on the issue: https://www.texasobserver.org/port-aransas-barge-lydia-ann-controversy/
As a result of the facts and issues presented by FLAC in the suit, the USACE conducted a further review of the facility and permitting process, and in September 2016, revoked the Letter of Permission authorizing the project.
The revocation letter, addressed to the permittee, Lydia Ann Channel Moorings, LLC, clearly states that the facility was constructed and operating in violation of the terms of the Letter of Permission and the mooring structures “are no longer authorized and must be removed”. The letter goes on to require that the company file a “removal and restoration plan” with the USACE addressing “all available methods for the removal of these structures”, along with surveys of threated and endangered species, seagrass and oyster beds, so that USACE can conduct a public interest review of the removal and restoration plan.
However, as you may have noticed, the structures are still in place and being used in the ongoing operation of a full scale barge fleeting, storage, re-fueling and service facility. FLAC has filed motions in Federal court seeking an injunction to stop operation of the facility pending its removal in accordance with the removal plan. The Court is currently considering these motions and has not yet ruled.
USACE requested a plan containing options for methods of removing the mooring structures, and the plan filed is a thinly veiled attempt to get an after-the-fact permit, essentially proposing that one method of “removing” the structures is to leave them in place and continue operation of the facility. USACE has now put the removal plan out for public comment as it was presented to them. This is the same public comment process that should have been initiated before any permit was ever granted for this facility. However, the public was deprived of our chance to provide input prior to the construction of this project.
Now is the time to make your voice heard. Please take the time to file a comment with the USACE expressing your opposition to the project, your reasoning behind it, and its negative effects on conservation, aesthetics, the environment, wetlands, fish and wildlife including endangered species, historic sites, navigation, recreation, shoreline erosion, water quality and our local fishing and tourism based economy. Please also voice your preference for a removal method. All it takes is an email. See template and instructions at the end of this email to help you in doing so. The public comment process works parallel to the legal process- we need to push on all fronts.
The full public notice published by the Corps can be read here: http://www.swg.usace.army.mil/Media/Public-Notices/Article/1065703/swg-2014-/
GLO has also issued a letter notifying the fleet that they are in default of their lease, but hasn’t revoked their lease, fined them or stopped them from using the lease. The underlying GLO lease is located almost entirely within the Redfish Bay State Scientific Area, designated in 2000 by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to protect and study seagrasses within a popular fishing area. Texas law requires any state lease within such a protected area to go through a public notice and hearing process, including publication in the local paper, along with other protections. Inexplicably, GLO chose to ignore this process and grant the lease without public input or environmental studies, for a mere $1,300 per acre per year for 65 acres of some of the most scenic real estate on the coast.
The justifications for the construction and continued operation of the facility rest on a series of interdependent fictions.
The project continues to be spun by promoters as some sort of environmentally friendly ‘solution’ to the problem of large numbers of tows and barges beaching along this shoreline, which they maintain has historically been the case. This is a red herring. The project is not a public good- it’s a profit center at the expense of public resources.
Proponents have devoted quite a bit of effort to establishing that the practice of widespread and frequent beaching of barges causes significant damage. Such points make an excellent argument for why such a practice would be illegal under State and Federal laws protecting shorelines, navigation, seagrass and oyster beds, but does not in any way justify placement of a fleeting facility in that location. Enforcing current regulation prohibiting this practice is the solution- not magnifying the problem by permanently parking many times more barges and providing a range of services, thus attracting more traffic.
No evidence exists that Lydia Ann Channel was ever historically used as a barge fleeting area. Frequent observers did not notice a concentration of barges until two years prior to construction of the facility.
In reality, the design of the facility doesn’t even protect the shoreline. As barges are moved or shifted by tugs, the prop wash is directed squarely at the shoreline, ‘blowing out’ some areas while shoaling others as the displaced sand and mud settles.
Project proponents attempt to present the public with a false choice between two practices which harm our public natural resources. The public shouldn’t fall for it. The only option to protect Lydia Ann Channel, surrounding waters, fish and wildlife, is the removal of the mooring structures and restoration of the shoreline. We don’t have to pick between the now un-permitted fleeting facility and the widespread unpermitted beaching practice. Both are violations that can and should be stopped. Other, more suitable locations exist to accommodate towboat and barge traffic.
Comments can be sent via mail, email, phone or fax. See contact information below. Reference “SWG-2014-00460”. All comments are due by March 2, 2017.
Regulatory Division, CESWG-RD-P
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
P.O. Box 1228
Galveston, Texas 77553-1229
Phone: (409) 766-3839
Fax: (409) 766-6301
Should you wish to review further information on the dangers posed by the project or read the FLAC lawsuit and related materials, which may be helpful in drafting your comments, please visit the FLAC Facebook page “Friends of Lydia Ann Channel” or website. www.savelydiaann.org
Also feel free to copy the General Land Office on your comment or address directly their betrayal of public trust in granting the lease in the first place, and lack of leadership in not taking action:
George P. Bush
Texas General Land Office
1700 Congress Ave.
Austin, TX 78701-1495
Thank you again for your continued support of our coastal natural resources. I hope someday soon we can once again anchor up on that shoreline and enjoy the view as it used to be, without the looming threat to our fragile fishery.
– Aldo Dyer