FREEPORT — With a $10 million contract agreement approved, county officials hope the process to open the mouth of the San Bernard River flows a little faster now.
Brazoria County Commissioners’ Court approved the contract with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality a the court’s meeting Tuesday morning. The agreement, which caps the cost at $10.7 million, allows the county to move ahead and apply for permits to begin dredging.
“We’ve been working on this contract for 24 months now,” Pct. 1 Comm-issioner Dude Payne said. “TCEQ has not received money from the Treasury at this point, but they think it could be any day now.”
The funding for the project was approved through RESTORE Act grants, which allowed local governments affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico almost a decade ago to apply for federal money to help restore ecosystems along the coast.
“Ten or so years ago, the mouth of the river was dredged out, but because of a drought, it closed back up,” County Judge Matt Sebesta said. “This time, we will dredge it further into the Gulf.”
The next steps are to procure permits from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Army Corps of Engineers, which could take time, officials said.
“I sure hope this helps speed the process up. I think it helps that the county can go out and do the bidding,” Payne said. “It’s a waiting game. We are hoping to get the permits sometime in the third quarter of this year and start dredging in the first quarter of 2020.”
There always is some uncertainty about when the work could begin when seeking federal permits, Sebesta said.
“Talking about dealing with the federal government, I’d just be guessing if I gave a time frame right now,” he said.
Once dredging begins, the county has a 25-year agreement with Port Freeport to maintain the mouth of the river, officials said.
This is the second time federal funds have been used to restore the San Bernard River. The money is worth is considering the consequences of leaving the mouth clogged, Sebesta said.
“It affects shipping traffic and gates at the Brazos River because it was unnatural movement of water, and having the mouth open, water can flow on through with reduced effects,” he said.
Over the next few weeks, there will be more agenda items concerning the next steps of the San Bernard Restoration agreement, Payne said.