There are no cedars along Cedar Bayou. From a technical standpoint it’s not a bayou either. Not now.
Has been in the past. Some say it should be, again, in the future.
But that would cost nearly $8 million, and who has that kind of money to dig a hole on a barrier island?
Back to the beginning.
Historically, Cedar Bayou has been a long, narrow cut separating Matagorda Island and San Jose Island near Rockport. It’s been an important channel for saltwater exchange between the Gulf of Mexico and Aransas Bay, a place for adult fish to move back and forth and for juveniles to exit when they move offshore to spawn for the first time.
It’s an artery that ebbs and flows salt water from the gulf to the bay which is fed by the Guadalupe River and other streams. It’s a place that has lured anglers hunting speckled trout and redfish.
Cedar Bayou hasn’t been a channel for some time. Tides and heavy surf moved sand around by the ton, closing off the gulf end of the channel.
Now a group of coastal residents, led by Aransas County Judge Burt Mills, is lobbying the Texas Legislature for help in raising $7.9 million needed to reopen both Cedar Bayou and Vinson Slough, which is just southwest of the mouth of Cedar Bayou.
Mills acknowledges that this is not a unique proposal. Previous efforts have been made to keep Cedar Bayou open. During a previous effort, dredged mud and shell were taken from the mouth of the Cedar and dumped at the mouth of Vinson Slough. When nature took over, it re-closed Cedar Bayou and Vinson Slough and that stopped fish movement and essentially altered thousands of acres of marsh and wetland habitat on San Jose Island.
“They killed Vinson Slough (when they closed it off),” Mills said. “They put all the spoil in the mouth of Vinson Slough. If we open them up, it will replenish 18,000 acres of wetlands.”
“We’re getting a lot of support,” Mills said of Aransas County’s attempts to get money to aid the project. “I’m amazed at how many people know about Cedar Bayou. This will be good for fish and the birds (whooping cranes that winter in the area).”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is willing to permit the dig to open the Cedar Bayou cut, Mills said, but there’s the $7.9 million price tag. The county has pledged $2.7 million. The Coastal Conservation Association has agreed to put in another $500,000 and Texas Parks and Wildlife has offered $250,000 to aid the county.
“We’re trying to dredge it out the correct way so the county is going to take over the project,” said Richard Beck, a former Rockport resident who is lobbying the Texas Legislature on behalf of Aransas County. “There’s a loss of circulation from the gulf and that’s important to that area.”
But these are uncertain, difficult times, financially speaking, for Texans in general and state lawmakers in particular. After attempts at special funding, project leaders were told the state’s general revenue doesn’t offer much hope. During House budget hearings, it was suggested that possibly Texas Parks and Wildlife’s Game, Fish and Water Safety Fund could be tapped.
Known as Fund 9, that account is the repository for revenue from hunting and fishing licenses and federal excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment. It’s money that’s supposed to be used to operate TPWD. There is typically a balance of about $200 million in Fund 9.
“At this juncture, we don’t know what the status is of the Cedar Bayou funding proposal,” TPWD executive director Carter Smith said in a recent email. “It has been discussed by the Appropriations Committee in the context of a Supplemental Appropriations Bill, HB 1025.
“We won’t know whether that proposal is going forward for further consideration by the Appropriations Committee, and if so, at what level of funding, until the Committee meets again. ”