TTC-69's "Environmental Streamlining" threatens Texas inshore fisheries
By Ret Talbot
Shallow Water Angler
The recent passage of the National Highway Bill advances the Trans-Texas highway project, which may significantly impact Texas’ recreational inshore fishery. Interstate 69 Texas, a key component of the project, will cut a quarter-mile-wide swath of asphalt, rails and utility lines across the grasslands of the western coastal plain.
When completed, it will represent the southern terminus of 1,600 miles of transportation infrastructure designed to bolster North American trade from Mexico to Canada. As a result, an unprecedented amount of industrial traffic and secondary development will impact this fragile ecosystem along a route which crosses every major river system in Texas.
Because the health of estuaries and bays depends on the health of these rivers, I-69 Texas poses a very real threat to one of the nation’s most important inshore fisheries.
Texas Parks and Wildlife’s (TPWD) Director of Aquatic Resources Dr. Larry McKinney calls the bays and estuaries Texas’ most valuable natural resource. “Texas possesses among the best inland and coastal fisheries in the United States,” McKinney says.
In the last seven years, Texas has added 168,000 new saltwater anglers, a rate of 2,000 per month. Many of these anglers are attracted to Texas’ shallow water which supports world-class redfish and seatrout fisheries, as well as a recovering tarpon fishery. Texas’ bays and estuaries, according to McKinney, provide for an industry worth at least $2.5 billion each year.
Over the past 60 years though, development in the coastal plain, as well as significant impact to the rivers that provide the essential fresh water to the state’s estuaries, has taken its toll. Today, 35 percent of Texas’ population lives in this region, and much of the state’s industrial infrastructure and commerce—including more than half of the nation’s chemical and petroleum production—is situated within 100 miles of the Gulf.
While the Trans-Texas project promises “an extensive environmental review,” the agencies in charge of the review are woefully under-funded. Although federal law requires that each of the 13 segments of independent utility along proposed I-69 Texas have separate environmental impact statements (EIS), all segments are now subject to “fast track” review due to an executive order from Washington.
Rollin MacRae is TPWD’s wetlands program leader in resource protection. For the past four years, his office—the Wetlands Conservation Program in Inland Fisheries—has been involved in assessing the impact of I-69. While MacRae is relatively hopeful about minimizing I-69’s impact, he acknowledges some impacts are unavoidable.
“The tributaries, especially small ones, would be the main casualties, due to filling, re-routing and channelization,” he says. “When streams are affected by road projects there is usually no way to just create more stream habitat, there or elsewhere.”
In addition to the habitat loss, the increased pollution load on the environment will likely be significant. “The factor that probably won’t be considered in the EIS,” MacRae points out, “is secondary development of infrastructure by the private sector, as towns and cities spring up along these roadways.”
Providing adequate consideration to the constantly changing plans of the Trans-Texas project is the hard part. According to MacRae, “Funding for regulatory and review functions of many of the agencies is being reduced while the workloads are increasing.” MacRae encourages the general public and concerned interest groups to remain informed, involved and ever vigilant.
To learn more about the Trans-Texas project, visit Texas DOT’s I-69/Trans-Texas Corridor Study website at www.i69corridorstudy.com where you can also submit public comment. Interested individuals may also wish to visit CorridorWatch.org’s website (www.corridorwatch.org). This site seeks to increase public awareness and understanding of the Trans-Texas project and provide resources to identify and address potential negative impacts.
© 2005 Primedia Enthusiast Magazine: