Beach building project delayed

Mackenzie Gebken, left, and Jamariqune Green walk along the beach near 81st Street in Galveston on Tuesday, April 16, 2019. Plans for a beach building project to add sand to the beach between 61st and 83rd streets has been delayed.

GALVESTON

A project to lay 800,000 cubic yards of dredged material west of 61st Street will likely be delayed because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ bid process for the dredge work is being pushed back, Galveston Park Board of Trustees officials said.

The $24.5 million beach building effort, which comes four years after another similar project, will place sand dredged from the Galveston Ship Channel between 61st Street and 83rd Street in an effort to reconstruct areas that have eroded, according to park board plans.

The park board maintains beaches and promotes island tourism.

Although the first stages of the project were slated to begin early this month, the sand isn’t ready, park board spokeswoman Jaree Fortin said.

“The bid opening has been pushed back from early April to late April,” Fortin said. “Until a bid is awarded, a construction schedule won’t be available.”

That’s just part of the process, said Christopher Frabotta, chief of navigation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Now, the corps will open the bid for companies to dredge material from the ship channel April 25, he said.

“That’s typical that some of our navigation contracts might move in either direction,” Frabotta said.

Until the corps has selected a company to dredge, it’s difficult to predict when islanders will see sand on the beach, he said.

“It’s really up to the contractor how they want to do it,” Frabotta said. “You could see sand on the beach as early as June. It could be after that depending on how they sequence the work.”

The beach-building effort was launched in 2015, when local and state partners laid 640,000 cubic yards of sand between 61st and 75th streets, a $23 million project that created Babe’s Beach, named in honor of A.R. “Babe” Schwartz, the island native and former state senator who spearheaded laws protecting public access to Texas beaches. Schwartz died last year.

For this year’s project, the park board committed $750,000 and the city’s Industrial Development Corp., which oversees and allocates some sales tax revenue, put up $2 million, according to project documents.

The Texas General Land Office, which oversees state beaches, committed another $7.75 million and the corps agreed to provide the bulk of the money — $14 million — which covers the cost to dredge the ship channel, according to project documents.

When it’s completed, the project will be great for tourists, but does present some potential challenges for the Galveston Fishing Pier, 9001 Seawall Blvd., owner Jimmy McClure said.

More beach and sand could create less space for people on the fishing pier, McClure said. His customers will also be affected when people coming to visit the beach take up seawall parking spaces that would have previously been empty for anglers, he said.

“Probably, the bigger impact is all the people that park there,” McClure said. “Traditionally, there was nothing else there. There was no competition for parking spaces.”

The park board has agreed to work with the business to leave room for the fishing operations, he said.

But the pier is piloting a new business model this summer renting beach items, such as chairs or surfboards because the new beach and the naturally accreting sand bring many unknowns, McClure said.

“We’re doing that to try to mitigate loss,” McClure said.

The 2015 project ran smoothly and proved the beach rebuilding efforts work, so this year’s project should be successful, Frabotta said.

“Now, it’s kind of tried and true,” Frabotta said. “It came out great and we’re dredging the same material.”

Keri Heath: 409-683-5241; keri.heath@galvnews.com or on Twitter @HeathKeri.

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