Comments by a Galveston County commissioner in a Bolivar Peninsula newspaper about the county’s involvement in a project to close Rollover Pass have rubbed some locals the wrong way.
But County Commissioner Ryan Dennard said Tuesday the county is only trying to make sure that Bolivar residents get improvements promised by the state in exchange for the closure.
“Many people have said ‘The GLO has promised this. What is going to make sure they do it?” Dennard said. “The only way to ensure that all sides agree on what is going to be done is to get it in writing.”
The county has come into the cross hairs of Bolivar residents angry about the pass’ closure after it signed a Memorandum of Understanding in October. Under the memorandum, the county will use its eminent domain powers to seize land at the pass owners are unwilling to sell. The land office will be bound to assume all costs for the closure and provide a fishing pier and park at the site.
In a column in the Beach Triton, Dennard cautioned against waging a battle against the Texas General Land Office, which is leading the project. Doing so, he wrote, could sour the county’s relationship with the agency administering millions of dollars of grant funds for infrastructure improvements on the peninsula and keep the peninsula from getting a promised fishing pier and park at the site.
Dennard on Tuesday said the land office has been accommodating and worked with the county to administer the grants, despite complications that would have normally derailed the project. That positive working relationship with the land office will benefit the peninsula and the county.
Some, however, weren’t happy about Dennard’s comments.
“I don’t understand why Commissioner Dennard continues to support (Land Office commissioner) Jerry Patterson and (Galveston County) Judge (Mark) Henry’s plan to close Rollover Pass,” said Ted Vega, president of the Gilchrist Community Association.
Vega said the land office can’t tamper with the grant money for the peninsula projects, including a wastewater treatment plant and a generator.
“That money has already been appropriated by the federal government,” he said.
The land office said repeatedly that Rollover Pass accelerates erosion. Patterson has said that his office cannot in good faith continue to invest in erosion control efforts along the peninsula without closing the pass. An environmental study on the project indicated that salt water infiltrating the bay through the pass harms nearby oyster beds and harms the estuary system of the bay, according to the land office. The Galveston Bay Foundation came out in support of the closure earlier this year.
The community association and the Gulf Coast Rod, Reel and Gun Club sued the General Land Office and the federal government in April, alleging the state didn’t not have the right to apply for federal permits to close the pass and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was remiss in issuing the permits.
Critics of the closure argue that the project will hurt the county economy by eliminating a prime fishing area that draws fishermen.
Vega also said that birds, animals and fish use the pass for migration. The channel connecting the bay and the Gulf of Mexico creates a prime feeding area for larger fish that feed on smaller fish, creating excellent sports fishing grounds. A fishing pier won’t make up for harm closing the pass will create, he said.
Dennard said he understands the frustrations of local residents. The state opened the pass decades ago, and residents created an entire community around the pass with homes and businesses. Now, the state wants to close the pass, disrupting their lives.
“If I were a person living near the pass, I would be angry too,” he said.