Grant sought to strengthen dunes on South Padre

The Cameron County Parks and Recreation Department is teaming up with Texas A&M University-Kingsville to acquire funding for their joint effort to shore up dunes at coastal parks.

Cameron County commissioners on Tuesday gave them the green light to apply for a nearly $556,500 National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant that would fund dune mitigation projects at Isla Blanca Park, E.K. Atwood Park and Beach Access No. 3. The required match of nearly $567,000 of in-kind services from the county and university would come from the work put in personnel from each partner and use of county equipment, Parks Director Joe Vega said.

The objective of the project is to build more resilient dunes and enhance sea turtle habitat, said Kim Jones, TAMUK professor and director of the university’s Institute of Sustainable Energy and the Environment.

“The better we make these dunes, the better protected we’re all going to be,” he said. “It’s a long road, but you’ve got to start somewhere.”

Jones noted the project falls under a new discipline called ecological engineering, which may appear to be an oxymoron. It’s the practice of using natural systems or materials to reach engineering goals, such as the creation of wetlands to clean water, he said.

Jones estimated graduate students in the university’s Environmental Engineering Department will replace 300 square feet of native vegetation as part of the plan, including some vegetation being grown in Kingsville for the back dunes that aren’t as windblown. They are working with Sea Turtle Inc. and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure their strategy and methods will be safe for the environment.

Already, students are working on dune mitigation at Isla Blanca Park, where construction crews are working on about $17 million in upgrades to the bayside and gulfside. Vega said they harvested native vegetation that will be transplanted when the dunes are relocated.

Vega said the two gulfside pavilions have been torn down to be moved 200 feet landward, and dunes will be constructed in their place. Dune mitigation is ongoing at E.K. Atwood Park, where high tides eroded 30 percent of dunes last fall, he said, and work to dunes at Beach Access No. 3 will help as the county looks to add amenities there in the future.

“Projects like this with Texas A&M (University-Kingsville) allow us to come back and restore those dunes,” he said. “They’ve been a great partner.”