LA MARQUE

Environmental agencies Thursday presented 13 coastal projects that could receive millions of dollars from settlements resulting from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The Texas Trustee Implementation Group, composed of four federal and three state agencies, took public comments at a Thursday meeting in La Marque. All of those who spoke commended the projects the group chose.

“I have to say, this an incredible list of projects,” said Sharon Stewart, who serves on the Galveston Bay Foundation board of directors. “These are all good; there are none of them that I would turn down.”

The proposed projects would require about $45.7 million of the settlement money, with about $6 million of that directly benefiting the Galveston Bay area. The Trustee Implementation Group is taking public comment until June 19, and then will move forward in making final recommendations for the projects.

Don Pitts, a trustee representative for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, said he is “awe-struck” that the state has been able to move from a position of disaster to one of environmental restoration.

“To translate that into a benefit for the environment and restoration planning, it’s something that we don’t take lightly,” Pitts said.

The trustee group began the process by looking at 800 projects. The group then narrowed the list down to 16 projects and settled on 13, Pitts said.

The proposed projects, as outlined in a preliminary draft plan, involve either engineering and design, habitat construction restoration or habitat acquisition.

The engineering and design projects include three in the Galveston area. One study would determine how to restore and conserve the Bird Island Cove wetlands, west of Galveston Bay, and a second study would look at ways to improve the Essex Bayou habitat, west of Christmas Bay.

A third study would identify how to rehabilitate oyster reefs in Galveston Bay that are buried by sediment and to construct intertidal oyster reefs.

Lisa Halili, vice president of San Leon-based Prestige Oysters, said she’s looking forward to seeing changes that could benefit the oyster industry.

“We hope this is something that is going to enhance and rebuild reefs that we already have that just need some strength,” Halili said at the meeting.

The trustee group has also identified a $3.1 million habitat construction project on the Pierce Marsh Wetlands, in West Galveston Bay. Dredged material in the area would help to restore 150 acres of marsh, according to project outlines.

The last project in the Galveston area is a habitat acquisition on Follets Island, between San Luis Pass and Drum Bay. The project, costing an estimated $2 million, would acquire 300 acres of wetland and coastal habitats in the area.

With the Deepwater Horizon funding, agencies have the ability to do more environmental restoration than they would have prior to the oil spill, said Amanda Fuller, the deputy director of the Gulf of Mexico restoration program at the National Wildlife Federation.

“Damage was also minimal to our coastline, thankfully,” Fuller said at the meeting. “We’re in a really strong position to use these funds to not only remedy the damage from the spill, but to dive deeper into some chronic underlying stressors of the Texas Gulf environment.

Samantha Ketterer: 409-683-5241; samantha.ketterer@galvnews.com or on Twitter at @sam_kett

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