After the Park Board of Trustees stopped allowing private companies to operate under its federal beach-cleaning permit, some West End residents are worried a heavy seaweed season could leave their beaches inundated.
Last summer, the park board decided to stop allowing firms to operate under its U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit after cleaning methods sparked ire between a company and an island environmental group.
Now, West End residents want the park board to step in.
“Beaches need to be cleaned on the West End,” said Bob Dolgin, president of the Sandhill Shores Property Owners Association.
The property owners want the park board to clean the beaches, when necessary, and would be happy to pay for those services, Dolgin said.
State law requires the park board to remove litter and debris, but doesn’t mandate the removal of sargassum, a type of seaweed, because it has ecological benefits, park board Executive Director Kelly de Schaun said.
The corps permit allows the park board to operate heavy equipment to clean the beaches. Heavy equipment is required to remove large amounts of sargassum.
Because some beach land is privately owned, some residents were concerned about using public resources on private land, de Schaun said.
“For this reason, the park board passed a policy in 2012 that it would remove seaweed only from those properties that are managed by the park board and are squarely in the public domain,” de Schaun said.
Only one company, Beachside Environmental LLC, previously operated under the park board’s corps permit.
The decision to not allow the company to use the park board’s permit has hurt business, owner Hernan Botero said.
“Now they have no one to clean the beaches and it’s going to be devastating for the economy of the island and for the property values,” Botero said.
The company last year received pushback from environmental group Turtle Island Restoration Network, which promotes turtle populations and beach health.
“Sargassum is beneficial to the beaches,” regional Program Director Joanie Steinhaus said. “We’re a barrier island. It helps to hold sand in place. It’s a source of nutrients for our birds.”
Cleaning excessive seaweed can be done, but it needs to be handled with care, Steinhaus said.
In July, Beachside Environmental LLC sued the restoration network and Steinhaus, claiming she defamed the company with false statements.
Beaches need to be handled with care, but cleaning up seaweed would help the park board’s tourism efforts, said Jerry Mohn, president of the West Galveston Island Property Owner’s Association.
“We hope we can prevail upon the park board to do the chore for some of these neighborhood associations,” Mohn said.
Mohn doesn’t think it makes sense for a company to try cleaning the beach, he said. Because the corps’ permit only allows seaweed clean-up in certain conditions, it’s an unreliable business model, he said.
The park board will discuss options Tuesday to prepare for the possibility of a heavy seaweed season.
It took the park board about two years and cost $100,000 to get its permit, which it obtained in 2017.