GILCHRIST — Gilchrist residents are vowing not to roll over in their fight to keep their beloved pass open.
“We’ll file a lawsuit,” Ted Vega, president of the Gilchrist Community Association, said. “We’ll file an injunction. Whatever it takes to keep the pass open is what we’ll do.”
At issue is a proposed $5.8 million Texas General Land Office project that would fill in Rollover Pass, a one-eighth-mile-long by 200-foot-wide channel that connects the Gulf of Mexico with East Galveston Bay, and replace it with two 1,000-foot piers.
The popular fishing destination was created in 1955. The General Land Office contends the channel’s existence contributes mightily to beach erosion. Without Rollover Pass, beach erosion would be about five feet.
“(Rollover Pass) adds about three feet of erosion per year,” General Land Office spokesman Jim Suydam said.
Closing the cut is essential in the plan to renew the peninsula’s beaches.
“We need to be able to build beaches and a healthy dune system,” Suydam said.
Vega does not disagree with the claim that Rollover Pass contributes to beach erosion. He does take issue with the idea that filling in the channel will solve the problem.
“Beach erosion occurs naturally,” he said. “Closing the pass is not going to stop erosion.”
But filling in the channel is essential to any future beach reconstruction projects, Suydam said.
“If the state is going to spend a lot of money on beach reconstruction, you’ve got to plug the hole in the bucket,” Suydam said.”
It doesn’t make any sense to go to legislators from Waco or Dallas and ask them for money to rebuild beaches if you’ve still got a hole in the bucket.”
Vega said there are other ways to curb erosion, such as building jetties, but Texas has shown no interest in pursuing other avenues.
“The state has not really sat down with us, and we want to come together and find a good solution to the problem,” he said.
It is too late to go back and look at other options, Suydam said.
“We’re past talking about all of that,” he said. “The legislature gave us $5.8 million to close the pass.”
A major concern for Vega is the potential damage to recreational fishing. Gilchrist was particularly hard hit by Hurricane Ike in 2008, and the area still is struggling.
Losing Rollover Pass would be devastating for fishermen who drop lines off the bank. Even though piers would be constructed, they are not an adequate replacement, Vega said.
“The pier is the state’s mitigation for the loss of the pass,” he said. “But you can’t mitigate the lost fishing opportunities with a pier.”
The pass was created so fish could get from the Gulf to their spawning and feeding areas in the bay. Closing the pass would have an adverse effect on fishing, Vega said — pointing to the annual flounder run where the fish stream through the pass.
“That’s their highway,” he said. “If you close the pass, the flounder won’t be coming through.”
Even though the General Land Office has announced its plan to fill in Rollover Pass, it is not a done deal. A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit must be secured first. That is expected soon, though.
“We’ve almost got our corps permit, and we expect that in early 2012,” Suydam said.
Even with permit in hand, the project can’t get started without the permission of the landowner, the Gulf Coast Rod, Reel and Gun Club.
When Rollover was created, the club granted the state an easement across its land to dig the channel.
Even though the state has an easement, Texas cannot just fill in the channel, Warren Stupka, president of the sportsmen’s club, said.
“The easement says they can build it and maintain it, not close it,” he said.
The General Land Office is in the process of getting permission to do that, Suydam said.
“We are in negotiations with the landowner,” he said.
Stupka said negotiations have been slight.
“They say they want to close it and this is what we’re going to do to replace it,” he said.
Stupka said the Rod, Reel and Gun Club has no intention of letting the state fill in Rollover Pass.
Meanwhile, Suydam said going the route of exercising eminent domain is a non-starter.
“We don’t have eminent domain power, and we wouldn’t use it if we did,” Suydam said.
Stupka said the people who want to keep the pass will not give up the fight.
“This is our last chance to save Rollover,” he said. “We’re going to work real hard for that.”