County ERP plans continue

Setbacks, dune barriers discussed at second of three meetings

Port Isabel-South Padre Press

Coastal counties in the State of Texas have been mandated to create erosion response plans (ERP) by the spring of 2016.

As such, Cameron County, which currently does not have an ERP, has enlisted the help of Peter A. Ravella Consulting (PAR) and Applied Coastal to analyze the County’s unique needs, balancing shoreline conservation while making accommodations for future beach development.

With the March 31, 2016 deadline to submit an ERP to the Texas General Land Office (GLO) for approval fast approaching, PAR scheduled two of three public workshops to gather input from landowners, County leaders and other interested stakeholders.

During the first ERP workshop, held on Oct. 28 at the Dancy Building in Brownsville, PAR and Applied Coastal introduced stakeholders to the magnitude of the task, explaining why an ERP is necessary, and exploring possible questions that will need to be addressed in the creation of a successful plan.

A lot hinges on the creation and implementation of a well-thought-out ERP. South Padre Island is one of the largest barrier islands in the country and contains more undeveloped beachfront land than anywhere else. The island is also subject to severe erosion, up to 15 feet per year. Too, without an approved ERP, the County stands to miss out on huge amounts of federal funding in the event of a natural disaster, such as a hurricane.

In this second workshop, which was attended by far fewer people than the first, PAR and Applied Coastal presented their findings from analyzing the County’s beaches, and their preliminary proposals. The topic of chief discussion was building setback lines and the creation of a sturdy line of barrier dunes that will provide natural protection to future development.

Peter Ravella proposed a building setback line 300 feet landward from the highest point the surf reaches during high tide, or the mean high tide. The area of land from there to 200 feet from mean high tide will ideally be used to create the barrier dune line, he said, reinforced by native vegetation that will help make the dunes permanent while trapping windblown sand that will maintain the dunes.

Ravella likened the dune barrier to a piggy bank, saying it is essentially a storage bank for sand. That sand, he said, will help mitigate erosion if given the proper amount of space to store enough sand. “We need space to hold and store sand,” he said.

Dune barriers exist in some areas of the Island already, such as in front of The Shores development at the northernmost boundary of the City of South Padre Island. Vegetation planted at the beginning of its development has taken root and has created a healthy dune barrier, Ravella said, describing the area as the ideal to strive for.

But on County land, such barriers do not exist and would have to be created in many places. Ravella recommended an average dune height of between 10-13 feet, which would then need to be vegetated.
“It’s bother a shoreline management issue and a dune issue,” he said. “We’re thinking about what to do now  and between 2050,” he said.

It will be no easy feat. It took the City of South Padre Island approximately 10 years to create and fully implement its ERP within city boundaries; Ravella estimates a similar amount of time will be needed to do so with County beaches. “The commitment to take on this shoreline … issue is long term and it goes on forever,” he said.

With preliminary recommendations drafted, the question now turns to funding. Sourcing sand for beach renourishment or for the creation of dunes is not a cheap process, nor is it a one-time expense. Ravella described how the City of Galveston recently spent over $9 million to renourish beaches there, a cost that will be incurred again in two years when the process must be repeated.

Ravella couldn’t provide an answer about where the money to manage Cameron County beaches would come from, but said avenues for funding are currently being investigated. That will be discussed at the third and final meeting in February, he said. The date of that meeting has not yet been announced.

The public is welcome to review the current progress on the ERP, as well as to submit questions or comments. For more information, visit

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