Dr. Rusty Feagin and Mr. Thomas Huff marsh restoration project earns Texas Environmental Excellence Award 2016

Taken during the awards dinner May 6 in Austin, Texas.   L - R   TCEQ Commissioner Toby Baker, TCEQ Chairman Dr. Bryan Shaw, Dr. Russell Feagin, Mr. Thomas Huff, and TCEQ Commissioner Jon Niermann

COLLEGE STATION – Magnolia Beach to Indianola Marsh Restoration” project has earned the state’s highest environmental honor, the Texas Environmental Excellence Award, from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Dr. Rusty Feagin, a Texas A&M AgriLife Research coastal scientist in College Station, navigates a boat through the shallow water along the salt marsh between Magnolia Beach and Indianola. (Texas A&M AgriLife Research photo)

Dr. Rusty Feagin, a Texas A&M AgriLife Research coastal scientist from the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management in College Station, navigates a boat through the shallow water along the salt marsh between Magnolia Beach and Indianola. (Texas A&M AgriLife Research photo)

The Texas Environmental Excellence Awards celebrate the efforts of citizens, communities, businesses and organizations to preserve and protect the Texas environment and are presented annually to spotlight the state’s highest achievements in nine different categories.

The awards was presented May 4, 2016 at the Environmental Trade Fair and Conference in Austin. The Magnolia Beach project, which restored over 5 miles of tidal network, will be recognized in the civic/community category.

“This was truly a partnership effort,” said project organizer Dr. Rusty Feagin, a Texas A&M AgriLife Research coastal scientist from the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management in the Coastal Ecology and Management Lab. The lab is a part of the Texas A&M University Department of Ecosystem Science and Management

The project’s goal was to restore tidal flow and fish access to several hundred acres of salt marsh that stretch between Magnolia Beach and Indianola. The large area of wetlands had been dying and eroding, Feagin said, estimating more than 500 acres of marsh had been lost in this system.

Project workers follow up on a crucial piece of the puzzle, which is understanding how the restoration of the marsh has increased shrimp and fish production. (Texas A&M AgriLife Research photo)

Project workers follow up on a crucial piece of the puzzle, which is understanding how the restoration of the marsh has increased shrimp and fish production. (Texas A&M AgriLife Research photo)

Feagin said while he was the leader of the project and organized the participants, the input of many were necessary to make it happen. They include doctoral student Thomas Huff, AgriLife Research and the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management ; Roger Galvan, Calhoun County Commissioner; Carla Kartman, Texas General Land Office; Keith Schmidt, private landowner; Jaime Schubert, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/Gulf of Mexico Sea Grant; and Juan Moya and Tom Dixon, Freese & Nichols, Inc.

Feagin said Galvan was instrumental in connecting the project with the locals who fish and use the ecosystem. In addition to contributing historical knowledge, Galvan donated machinery and labor.

“I have tried for the last 16 years to get that area dredged for the good of our ecosystem, but through the years, I encountered many obstacles,” Galvan said. “After meeting with Dr. Feagin, the project became a reality.

“Now everything is blooming with new life, and I soon hope to see whooping cranes return to feed in this area,  among other species,” he said. “I would like to express my gratitude for the Dr. Feagin and his team for their fabulous work.”

Feagin said Kartman helped work through the legal permitting and surveying through the Texas General Land Office, while Moya and Dixon helped obtain the permits required and also guided Feagin and Huff through the political pitfalls they encountered.

Schmidt, an enthusiastic supporter of restoring the ecosystem, allowed his land to be used and was a great wellspring of ideas, Feagin said. Schubert, an innovator of new restoration methods, contributed his knowledge about how to restore the hydrology of the ecosystem.

There were two different blockages, said Huff, who coordinated much of the on-ground activity during the almost three-year project. The major problem was a wall of debris and oyster shells at the north end of Magnolia Inlet that blocked off all water flow from the bay into Old Town Lake, Zimmerman Marsh and farther down to Fish Pass.

Their research showed the only solution was removal of the debris plug, Huff said. This was accomplished with the help of specialized equipment to reach out over the marsh so as not to disturb the vegetation.

Large fish are now able to get through the channel and into the marsh, Feagin said. Tidal action opened up new vegetative areas and new habitat for wildlife. The fisheries in West Matagorda Bay and Lavaca Bay are benefitting and recreational opportunities have increased in the area since the work has been completed.

TCEQ Commissioner Toby Baker, Dr. Rusty Feagin, Mr. Tom Dixon, Mr. Thomas Huff, Mr. Robert Chambers, Dr. Katy Kavanagh, Dr. Juan Moya, TCEQ Chairman Dr. Bryan Shaw, and TCEQ Commissioner Jon Niermann