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Corps of Engineers Agrees To Stop Dredging in Intracoastal Stretch

March 30, 1994

HARLINGEN, Texas (AP) _ The Army Corps of Engineers agreed to stop dredging and dumping sand, sludge and mud along a 120-mile stretch of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway and study alternatives to clear the way for barge traffic.

The decision Wednesday came after Gov. Ann Richards wrote to the Corps saying that she was concerned about open bay dumping.

Environmentalists called it an important, although temporary victory in their fight against the practice of dumping the material into the vast, shallow lagoon in the Laguna Madre. The waterway extends from Corpus Christi to the border town of Brownsville.

″When you consider how the Lower Laguna Madre has been treated for the past 40 years, this is really a historic event,″ said Walt Kittelberger, chairman of the Lower Laguna Madre Foundation, which opposes the dredging.

Environmentalists say the dredging has clouded the bay and damaged the seagrass bed and nearby wetlands, harming crucial habitats for the bay’s diverse fish and wildlife.

Business interests say the dredging is needed to keep the waterway open for 2 million tons of barge traffic per year between ports in Corpus Christi and Brownsville. The barges carry oil, concrete and other products.

The Corps said it will defer dredging to allow a state task force to study alternatives to dumping in the bay.

″We are trying to look for the best ways to keep it open without doing harm to the environment,″ said Marilyn Uhrich, a spokeswoman in the Corps’ Galveston office.

She said the delay will be indefinite, but she added that, if necessary, crews will dredge any sections that become too shallow for barges.

The governor suggested that the ″best hope″ might be disposing the spoil into the Gulf of Mexico, instead of the Laguna Madre.

A Corps statement said such a move would likely cost five to 20 times more than the current practice. It said the state, which sponsors the canal maintenance, would have to pay for the difference.

Steve Valerius, president of the Texas Waterway Operators Association, a barge industry group, said Corps officials told him the delay will be only about 60 days.

″They have to continue dredging sometime this summer or the waterway will close,″ Valerius said. ″It’s that simple.″

Business groups say the Intracoastal Waterway makes Texas products more competitive because canal-going barges are cheaper than shipping in the open gulf.

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