Published on August 25, 2020

San Bernard will soon get a big mouth

By Jan Edwards
The Bulletin

The end is near - the end of a sand-filled mouth of the San Bernard River, that is.

If you have been following the saga of the San Bernard River mouth, you have probably heard of Roy, my husband, and me. We first noticed something was wrong with the river mouth when we noted that the sun set over the mouth of the river. Rivers run north and south – not east and west.

On Aug. 1, a much-anticipated step to open the river mouth was completed when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved their portion of the permit and returned it to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) for the final work.

I’ve been documenting the process since the beginning. Allow me to give you a “Reader’s Digest” version of how the saga has progressed since 2004.

We started our river journey with a petition to open the mouth of the river delivered to our county commissioner, Dude Payne, in 2004. After much research, traveling thousands of miles to meet with politicians, writing, speaking, presenting, helping start Friends of the River San Bernard, and winning a Community Catalyst award, our river community was successful in opening the mouth of the river.

On Feb. 22, 2009, at 2:12 p.m., the waters of the Gulf reached out to the San Bernard and joined at its traditional mouth.

The follow up on this project died after it was proven that opening the river mouth solved the navigation problem at the west gates of the Brazos, and Dr. Nicholas C. Krause of the U.S. Corps of Engineers (who wrote the definitive study on re-opening the mouth) passed away soon after the mouth was open. A permanent solution for re-opening the mouth of the San Bernard River was needed.

Along came the Deepwater Horizon disaster, impacting the Gulf Coast on April 20, 2010, leading to litigation. Due to the catastrophic explosion and oil spill, the federal government enacted the R.E.S.T.O.R.E. Act (Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revised Economies of the Gulf Coast States) to govern the distribution of the fines and penalties assessed against the British Petroleum Company (commonly known as BP).

The R.E.S.T.O.R.E. Act establishes several grant programs to benefit the Gulf Coast region. To acquire funds under the Direct Component (Bucket 1) section of the RESTORE Act, the state is required to develop a Multi-Year Implementation Plan (M.I.P.) that includes specific activities to be implemented in the coastal area.

Brazoria County has three projects on the initial list: the re-opening of the mouth of the San Bernard River; the Quintana Beach public fishing pier; and the Surfside Village beach groin. The public comment to determine which projects would be included in the final plan to receive funding ended June 30, 2017.

On Dec. 19, 2017, the TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) issued a press release in which TCEQ Commissioner Toby Baker announced the U.S. Treasury acceptance of Texas’ Multi-year Implementation Plan (M.I.P.) for R.E.S.T.O.R.E. Act funding. This was the next step in re-opening the mouth of the San Bernard, which meant the U.S. Treasury could begin the process of funding the projects.

By 2018: TCEQ developed a grant application for submission by the projects’ local sponsors. (For the San Bernard River mouth, local sponsors are the Brazoria County Commissioner’s Court.) Our sponsors returned the grant applications by March 15, 2018, were reviewed by TCEQ and forwarded to the U.S. Treasury for review. Our grant was awarded to the local sponsors, and the U.S. Treasury has approved the release of funding. The San Bernard Project went to the top of the M.I.P.

Then came the Hurricane Harvey floodwaters, which partially opened the mouth of the river and the historic pass at Cedar Lakes further down the coast. The opening allowed floodwaters, which had been accumulating and flooding residents along the river for days, to drop five feet in 24 hours.

Unfortunately, the partial opening has again closed. Also, due to Hurricane Harvey’s effect on the mouth of the San Bernard, the Corps of Engineers permit to dredge open the mouth had to be adjusted.

For a second time, the voice of the singing river had been silenced by the sands of time.
So, since 2018, the last leg of the permitting process has been crawling along. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the USACE have been collaborating on the final details of the permit. A government furlough slowed that process down, but by Aug. 10, 2020, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finally approved its portion of the final permit, sending it back to the Corps of Engineers, which should have the permit completed in 30 to 45 days.

Chris Sallese and Suzy Alford are working with Kristi McMillan with USACE to get the permit. Once that is done, the county will have two to three months of work to do before our sponsors go out for bids. Behind-the-scenes work has already begun to prepare for the bid package.

If all goes well, the bid package will go out to dredge the river mouth the first quarter of 2021. Get ready to celebrate – 2021 already looks better than 2020!

Open her heart, let the life blood flow; Gotta’ get on our way ‘cause we’re moving too slow.
- Gordon Lightfoot

(Write Jan in care of The Bulletin. Email: john.bulletin@gmail.com. Snail mail: The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton TX, 77516.)