BARGING IN How a felon with a fake name convinced a federal agency and the Texas General Land Office To fast-track a controversial project in Port Aransas.
When Mike Edwards walked into the Corpus Christi office of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers one June afternoon in 2014, he came prepared. His task: convince six state and federal agencies, including the Army Corps and the Texas General Land Office, to sign off on a plan to build a barge mooring facility in an ecologically sensitive part of the Texas coast.
He was flanked by two towboat captains and state Representative Todd Hunter, whose district includes Port Aransas. Hunter is also a powerful lieutenant of Texas House Speaker Joe Straus. The problem, Edwards and his crew told the agencies’ representatives, was that the Port of Corpus Christi had gotten so busy that barges were backed up. While waiting for room at the port, they were idling in Lydia Ann Channel, a small pass tucked just inside San Jose Island on the bay side of Port Aransas. The barges, they said, were nosing up on the shoreline, running their engines and killing seagrass.
The proposed temporary mooring facility would stretch for a mile and a half and keep the barges tied up in deeper water, away from the shoreline and off the seagrass. As a sales pitch, the meeting evidently worked wonders. Six months later, in January 2015, Lydia Ann Channel Moorings LLC had its permit from the Army Corps and a lease from the General Land Office (GLO), which owns submerged lands along the coast. The Army Corps allowed Edwards and his partners to skip public notice and an environmental assessment, even though the project lies within a state scientific area and hosts several endangered species. As salty Port Aransans would quickly point out, Lydia Ann Channel lies within casting distance of an extensive black mangrove estuary made up of tidal channels and flats popular with fishermen stalking redfish, speckled trout and flounder.
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