Rio History: A Brief History of the Mansfield Cut

Special to the PRESS

In March of 1950 the Willacy County Navigation District appeared in court and sued to have the 1,760 acres of land immediately surrounding the port facilities of “Red Fish Landing” condemned. In a court ordered settlement, the District paid the American Legion $3 an acre for the land it owned. The small fishing park was renamed Port Mansfield in honor of state Senator Mansfield from Columbus. Mansfield had headed the Commission that pushed legislation through the U.S. Congress to have the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway extended from Corpus Christi.

The new harbor at Port Mansfield was completed by 1956. The next logical step was to open a jetties-protected channel across Padre Island to the Gulf of Mexico. This would provide the new port with recreational opportunities and enhance its commercial uses.

The initial operation proceeded smoothly until the day the dredge ran its hoses right through an old Spanish galleon, the Santa Maria de Yicar, which had wrecked along the shores of Padre Island in the summer of 1554. Creating a flood of twinkling silver flashing in the afternoon sun, the hoses spewed a silvery stream of coins back into special holding areas built to contain the spoil banks. Work was briefly stopped as workers collected as many coins as possible but after a short time the hoses were once again lowered and the men resumed their task.

The first cut through Padre Island was completed by September of 1957. Disregarding advice from the Army Corps of Engineers, local engineers chose to construct their jetty with geometrically-shaped concrete blocks called tetra pods that looked vaguely similar to the toy jacks used in sidewalk games.

The blocks were placed with three legs touching the sandy bottom and the fourth leg sticking straight up. In addition, the rocks to the north of the channel were placed atop the shattered remains of the Spanish galleon. No footing was laid down, however, and with nothing but the sands of Padre Island to support them, the jetties fell victim to the erosive effect of a roaring surf generated by several late November storms that struck that same year.

Before long, the new channel was almost completely closed. The Island might have healed itself if it were not for the intervention of the Army Corps of Engineers, which in July of 1962, re-dredged the channel and built a new stone jetty of granite boulders to protect the channel
through Padre Island. The newly deepened channel extended to the Gulf allowing larger vessels access to the Port.

The government assumed maintenance of the jetties, channel, harbor and navigational aids. The Port Mansfield Gulf Channel, now known as the East Cut, provides a much-needed route to the protected Intracoastal Canal and provides access by boat to Padre Island.

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