Fishermen voice opposition to dredging project at Calhoun Port meeting

Seadrift fisherman Jose Martinez, right, listens as a translator assisting him addresses the Calhoun Port’s board at Wednesday’s meeting. Martinez spoke in opposition to the planned dredging of the Matagorda Ship Channel on behalf of several fishermen in attendance.

POINT COMFORT — About 10 fishermen attended the Calhoun Port Authority’s public meeting on Wednesday morning to demonstrate their opposition to the planned dredging of the Matagorda Ship Channel.

The dredging is part of a $1 billion project intended to transform the port into an oil export center.

Jose Martinez, a fisherman who said he has lived and worked in Seadrift for 40 years, spoke on behalf of the group. Martinez told the port’s board he is concerned that the widening and deepening project could affect the local shrimp and oyster populations he depends on for his livelihood.

“That’s how I support my family,” Martinez said, using a translator. “Many of us depend on this.”

In July, port officials entered into a binding agreement with Max Midstream Texas, the oil and gas company financing the planned $1 billion project. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is aiming to complete the preconstruction engineering and design phase by December, the Advocate previously reported.

At Wednesday’s meeting, the port’s board voted to advertise for bids to conduct environmental soil sampling as part of the corps’ review process. Officials tentatively plan to issue a notice for the sampling to proceed by Oct. 4, according to a memorandum shared by Felicia Harral, the port’s engineering director.

Harral said Wednesday she hopes the sampling can be completed “as soon as possible” to keep the project moving forward.

Local environmental groups including the Matagorda Bay Foundation and Lavaca Bay Foundation have expressed concerns over the dredging project, particularly the corps’ plans to place dredged material in deposits to the west of the ship channel and potential impacts on oyster reefs, coastal habitats and marine species. While the corps proposed creating 130 acres of oyster reefs and a few acres of marsh to mitigate the project’s impacts, the foundations said they thought the proposal was insufficient.

In July, the Matagorda Bay Mitigation Trust awarded a $110,000 grant for an independent study of the dredging project’s environmental impact to be conducted by two researchers at Texas A&M — Corpus Christi, following up on the corps’ own environmental study, which was released in 2019. Results from the independent study are expected by late September.

Funds for the grant came from the Matagorda Bay Mitigation Trust, which was established as part of a $50 million settlement between Formosa Plastics Corp. and Seadrift environmental activist Diane Wilson, who has repeatedly protested the dredging project and spoke out against it again at Wednesday’s meeting.

Also on Wednesday, the port’s board voted to approve Louisiana-based company Crosby Dredging’s $7.1 million bid for a dredging project at one of its liquid docks and approved its maintenance and operations tax rate for the upcoming fiscal year, which will remain at $0.0009 per $100 of property value.

Charles Hausmann, the port’s director, also announced the completion of a maintenance dredge of the Matagorda Ship Channel during the prior fiscal year.

The port’s board also met in closed session to discuss or deliberate an economic development prospect; discuss the purchase, exchange, lease or value of real property and seek the advice of its attorney.

No action was taken on those items.

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Mark Rosenberg reports on local, regional and breaking news for the Victoria Advocate as a Report for America corps member. He can be reached at mrosenberg@vicad.com or 361-574-1264 or on Twitter at @markrosenberg32. To support local journalism at the Advocate through Report for America, go to VictoriaAdvocate.com/report.

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Mark Rosenberg covers local, regional and breaking news for the Advocate as a Report for America corps member. Questions or tips? Contact: mrosenberg@vicad.com or call 361-574-1264.