Summer of 2014 will go down in the Park Board records as an unforgettable year for the coastal zone management team.
Cool weather during spring break lulled staff into believing it would be a slow start, but only one week into the season, operations were thrown headlong into a full run.
The Texas City Wye oil spill found Park Board teams occupied with the emergency response, followed almost immediately by unprecedented amounts of sargassum along the coast.
The maintenance of our Island’s single most important public asset is a tall task. Emotions regarding the beaches run high for both residents and visitors alike.
The public oftentimes holds differing opinions about how, when and if Galveston’s beaches should be groomed.
Some believe that the beaches should be left in their natural state, while others advocate for highly maintained beaches.
Each side has valid points varying from the preservation of scarce sand resources to the generation of almost a billion dollars a year in tourism receipts.
Combine these differing perspectives with a highly regulated, well guarded environment, and “beach cleaning” becomes even more complex.
Along the seawall, alternatives for disposition of the material are challenging. The integrity of the seawall as the principle line of defense for storm surge dictates that certain practices, such as the trenching of the beach and burying of material, are prohibited.
The preservation of the beach itself mandates that the material collected stay within the immediate area.
Management is further complicated given the abundant marine life that finds refuge in the sargassum.
Record numbers of threatened green turtles were stranded on Galveston beaches, and nesting Kemp Ridleys were undoubtedly frustrated in their efforts to find a square of sand to lay their eggs.
For the first time, the Park Board hired 14 outside contractors as turtle monitors to ensure the safety of these endangered species.
The policies and practices of the Coastal Zone Management department of the Park Board are guided by the BMAC — Beach Maintenance Advisory Committee — under the leadership of Jerry Mohn.
BMAC is a well rounded group of individuals representing the coastal sciences, academia, regulatory agencies and civil society.
The dedicated souls of the BMAC are recognized professionals and private citizens who hold dearly the responsibility to maintain Galveston’s beaches as “clean, green and pristine.”
These past few years have seen significant changes in the way the Park Board approaches the maintenance of those areas for which it is responsible, including investment in new technologies, recruitment of qualified staff and the development of strategic partnerships to support coastal research.
Despite these challenges, or perhaps because of them, discussions around the BMAC regarding the care of Galveston’s beaches were rich this summer.
Environmental education took on a new significance and volunteers rose to the occasion to help educate the public over 4th of July weekend with “Seaweed Buckets Brigade” events along the beach.
Texas A&M researchers provided weekly advisories and measured landings, documenting 11.34 acres at 61st street jetty at the height of the summer.
And staff stretched budgets generated in their entirety by Hotel Occupancy Taxes to maintain paid parking beach access areas.
All said and done, the management of the coast this summer was a task without comparison.
The decisions on how to maintain the beaches were made by qualified representatives in a highly regulated environment.
It is important for the public to understand the complexities of this process in order to develop informed opinions and contribute to a productive dialogue.
Melvin Williams is chairman of the Galveston Park Board of Trustees.