BOLIVAR PENINSULA — Closing Rollover Pass would cause “significant harm” to water quality and to fishing in East Bay, according to a new environmental study commissioned by opponents of the state’s plan to fill in the man-made cut that runs through the Gilchrist Community between the Gulf of Mexico and Galveston Bay.
The study was authored by Larry Dunbar, a water resources and environmental engineer in Sugar Land, and commissioned by an attorney representing the Gilchrist Community Association and the Gulf Coast Rod, Reel and Gun Club.
In April, the groups filed a federal lawsuit against the Texas land commissioner and secretary of the U.S. Army in an effort to stop the state’s plans to close down the pass.
Salinity levels for oyster production in the bay are in an ideal range, Dunbar writes in the study.
However, “these levels would dramatically drop due to the freshwater inflows entering the bay that would no longer be offset by the saltwater inflows from the pass if it were to be closed.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to issue a permit allowing the General Land Office to close the pass was based on an erroneous computer model, said Jim Blackburn, the attorney representing the groups opposed to the pass’ closure.
The official state computer model for Galveston Bay, TxBLEND, was modified by a Texas General Land Office consultant to remove sources of freshwater inflow into East Bay, Blackburn said.
“We shouldn’t close the pass until we have all the correct information out there,” he said.
The new study relies on an unmodified computer model, which accounts for a projected increase in freshwater inflow resulting from the pass’ closure, which would harm saltwater fish and shellfish in the bay, according to the study.
Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson has said that the pass increases erosion in the region and leaves the peninsula vulnerable to damage from a storm surge.
Jim Suydam, a spokesman for the General Land Office, said Tuesday he had not seen the new study. But he said that closing Rollover Pass was the best thing to do for the environment in East Bay and on the Bolivar Peninsula.
“Every natural resource agency is in support of closing the pass,” Suydam said. “The GLO isn’t going this alone. It’s a man-made pass, and it’s time to let Mother Nature take over.”