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DATE:  July 20, 2007       
CONTACT: Dr. Jennifer Smith-Engle 361.825.2436; or Steve Paschal 361.825.2336

Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi Faculty Members Testify at Congressional Field Hearing on Beach Erosion

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Four Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi faculty members testified at the United States House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife and Oceans field hearing on Saturday, July 14, in South Padre Island. 

The purpose of the hearing on “Vanishing Beaches:  Coastal Erosion and its Impact on Coastal Communities,” was to examine coastal erosion issues in South Texas. Faculty members Dr. Jennifer Smith-Engle, Conrad Blucher Institute Director Dr. Gary Jeffress, and assistant professor Dr. Stacey Lyle with the Conrad Blucher Institute provided critical background information County Commissioner Chuck Cazalas’s remarks to the subcommittee and assisted with his presentation.

“North Padre and Mustang Islands are among the last undeveloped barrier islands in the world. They have experienced burgeoning development in the past decade, a trend expected to continue,” stated County Commissioner Chuck Cazalas. “They are a significant economic asset to the region, but also present significant environmental challenges and are especially vulnerable to potentially devastating losses.”

Cazalas stressed that because the barrier islands serve as protection to residents on the island and on the mainland, smart growth must be employed along with well-planned development which incorporates sound land use practices. He added that erosion can have a significant impact on public infrastructure such as public recreational parks, roads and bridges as well as the delicate ecosystem by the wearing away of beach and dune sediments by wave action, tidal currents, wave currents, drainage or normal wind effect.

Dr. Jim Gibeaut with the University’s Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies made a separate presentation, explaining to the subcommittee that most of the Texas coast is eroding, mainly due to a lack of sand supply to beaches. He noted that most sand carried by rivers to the coast today is deposited behind dams or in coastal bays and estuaries, not carried to the open coast.
“Nueces County depends on tourism and erosion of the beaches has an enormous financial impact to the area,” said Gibeaut. “The loss of beaches, whether real or perceived, affects the success of marketing efforts to attract visitors to the Texas coast.”

In Texas, state and local government share the responsibility for preserving the dunes and protecting the public’s right to use and enjoy the beach. Dune protection permits detail the actions an owner, builder or developer must take to prevent or minimize damage to dunes.

Commissioner Cazalas highlighted the critical needs of Nueces County including additional safe emergency evacuation routes for a growing barrier island residential population; updating coastal elevation data for south Texas counties using modern technologies and current national standards; updating topographic and hydrographic maps for Texas Coastal Bend to permit accurate modeling of storm surge inundation, and planning which accounts for sensitive habitats, areas susceptible to storm flooding, sea level rise, and other variables, to guide sound coastal development. 

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