The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers finally turned on its pumps Thursday, releasing the first gouts of sand of what will ultimately be 725,000 cubic yards of new beach in front of Galveston’s seawall.
The Corps had originally planned begin the work Aug. 22, but rainy weather and choppy seas prevented contractors from getting started.
The first sand started pumping onto the beach at about 3:30 p.m.
The sand comes from the Galveston Ship Channel, from between the jetties at the east end of the island and from the west end of the Bolivar Peninsula, said Tricia Campbell, a project manager with the Corps.
The Corps has long dredged the ship channel, but placing the sand on the beach is a new experience, Campbell said.
“Usually for a project like this we dredge the channel and we carry it offshore and place it offshore,” Campbell said.
But, thanks to a request — and $23 million — from the Texas General Land Office and the Galveston Park Board of Trustees, the Corps agreed to redirect the sand back to Galveston’s shores.
It takes about 12 minutes for the sand to travel from the barge 2.5 miles offshore. When it reaches the beach it looks dark and sludgy but will lighten as it dries, Campbell said
It also smells.
Because the new sand comes from the bottom of the Galveston Ship Channel, it is filled with the organic matter that lived, and died, in those waters.
The smell from the sand will dissipate as it dries, Campbell said.
“When the material comes out of the pipe it may have an odor,” she said. “It’s not anything bad; it’s just the smell of moving material that’s been underwater for a long time.”
The pumping part of project will take about two months to complete. The sand will be pumped on the beach 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, according to the Corps.
As the sand comes ashore, heavy machinery will move it around. The new beach will be spread for 20 blocks between 61st Street and 81st Street.
Three or four barges will unload sand each day, the Corps said.
City officials hope the new beach will help increase property values and help protect the island from storm surge as the sand is naturally carried west and accretes on other parts of the island.
It also will provide a new spot for islanders and visitors to use and enjoy.
That enthusiasm might not be shared entirely by the project’s neighbors.
Jimmy McClure, the owner of the 91st Street Fishing Pier and the restaurant Jimmy’s on the Pier, said he is concerned that new beach visitors to the western expanses of Seawall Boulevard could mean fewer parking spaces for the 70,000 fishermen who pay to use his fishing pier each year.
“If we have a beach, then we have no parking for our customers,” McClure said. “If there’s a full beach all the way down it will be just like the rest of the seawall, there will be cars all the way down.”
If there is one silver lining to the new beach, McClure said, it’s the possibility of getting into the beach chair rental business.
“The only thing we can do is try to use the situation to our advantage,” McClure said. “Maybe get the park board to lease that area to us when it does have enough a beach for a long enough period of time to make a business out of it.”
Contact reporter John Wayne Ferguson at 409-683-5226 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @johnwferguson.