Ike's shifting sands:
It also piled a lot of sand onto the beach and adjacent to the dune line, and the city recently bulldozed some of it toward the water and spread it around to keep motorists on the beach from getting stuck in piles of soft sand.
More recently, city work crews have pushed many yards of sand into a 3-foot high pile that lies up against the dunes. The pile is about 30 feet wide for a distance of two miles along the beach.
City Manager Michael Kovacs said the sand is being stored against the dunes while the city seeks a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to move the sand - about 30,000 cubic yards of it - below the high tide line.
Geologist Richard Watson contends that the city is doing the opposite of what it should do; that the sand should be left where it was deposited to build up another line of dunes.
"What the city is doing now is very bad for the city and for the people," Watson said during a recent tour down the beach to survey the result of the city's effort to restore the beach to where people can easily drive on it.
Watson believes the city should have set up bollards about 20 feet from the dune line to allow a buildup of more dunes in case Port Aransas takes a direct hit - or two - from a hurricane in the future.
"I want to see the maximum volume of sand in the dunes, that would protect us from a one-two punch of storms, if two like Katrina and Rita hit Port Aransas," Watson said.
Kovacs countered that the city is working under the guidelines of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in its effort to clear soft sand off the beach's driving surface.
"We are getting complaints on the driving conditions and people are getting stuck," Kovacs said.
"We've been trying to restore the driving surface. Rather than fill our seaweed disposal areas (behind the dune line) with sand, we wanted to transit and get sand back to the beach. We don't want to shrink the beach," Kovacs explained.
Kovacs said a beach committee in 2006 convened many discussions about maintaining the beach as a resort community, and that Watson was a non-voting member of that committee.
"Dr. Watson served on the beach/ dune committee the city council appointed, but he refuses to stick by the group's and council's wishes," Kovacs said.
Watson, who recently flew over Galveston Island and took photographs of the damaged communities that did not have a sand dune seawall, said the city did not follow the recommendations of a General Land Office consultant when it developed its beach maintenance policy.
The study recommended that beach scraping for a hard road surface be done only in emergency conditions. The study also recommended the city relocate the bollards on the beach to an area that is 20 feet from the dune line.
The Port Aransas city council, however, worked out a compromise to keep the beach open to motorists.
"The challenge is we want a drivable surface on the upper part of the beach. We agree that the dunes are valuable storm protection, but in a category three, four or five hurricane, we're all going to get wet," Kovacs said.
"City council did not accept the 20 feet or more for dunes, and it was a compromise situation. The beach is a huge part of our economy, and we want a drivable surface. The public is used to having a drivable surface," he said.
Watson said Mustang Island's dunes are as good a protection system as the Galveston seawall, and that they should be allowed to grow.
"Dunes transfer sand to the beach and widen it. The dune seawall has $1 billion worth of real estate behind it," Watson said.
Watson said that the city's plan to move sand toward the mean high water line is allowing the sand to wash down the coast "to somebody else's beach.
"My choice would be to leave the beach completely alone. If the city had left the beach alone, there would be dunes with vegetation at the bollards. If we get two bad storms in succession, we will need every dune we have," Watson said.
Mayor Claude Brown said that sand was deposited on the beach by Hurricane Ike, and that it had to be moved to allow for driving on the beach without getting stuck.
"Our dune system is substantial right now. Creating more dunes and less beach frontage is not productive; this is a beach community. We can't live in fear of what could happen. The beach is vital to our economy and I want to help keep it open," Brown said.
"I expect Port Aransas to have an open beach and by the grace of God it will be open to drive on for eternity," he said.