By: John Zippert, Co-Publisher, Special to the Greene County Democrat
Diane Wilson, a fourth-generation fisher from Seadrift, Texas enters the fourth week of a hunger strike to protest the dredging of the ship channel in Matagorda Bay, coastal Texas, about one hundred miles south and east of Houston. Wilson, a 72-year-old grandmother, is the San Antonio Bay and Estuarine Water keeper who has been an environmental guardian of the San Antonio, Matagorda and Lavaca Bay areas on the Texas Gulf Coast. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACOE) has reactivated a plan to dredge the ship channel in Matagorda Bay to serve Max Midstream, a pipeline company that plans to build a crude oil export terminal at Port O’Connor at the eastern head of Matagorda Bay. The dredging will involve deepening the 26-mile channel by 8 feet and widening it by 150 feet, which involves dredging 14 million tons of mud from the seafloor. The dredging is complicated because it touches upon an EPA Superfund site, which was polluted with mercury by Alcoa in the past. The original USACOE Environmental Impact Statement, compiled in 2009 for a LNG export terminal project, that was not built, provided for placing the dredged materials to create new wetland marshes, islands and oyster reefs offshore. This is similar to dredging projects in Galveston Bay and other Texas coastal areas. The USACOE revised its plan to allow placing the dredged materials on the western side of the bay, covering a third of the existing oyster reefs, beaches used for recreation and generally impairing commercial and recreational fishing in the Matagorda Bay complex. The USACOE also accelerated the permitting process for the dredging at the request of Max Midstream and Texas politicians supporting export of the state’s fracked petroleum resources. Wilson said, “ I felt I had no choice but to start my hunger strike. I saw no way to stop this fast-tracking of the dredging of my beloved bays in Texas to provide for a crude oil export terminal, that some oil and gas people say is not even needed. I want to alert the community to the dangers of this dredging to health, fishing and recreation. I want the dredging to stop and President Biden to reinstate the ban on exporting oil that Trump lifted.” Wilson says that this is her eighth hunger strike. She participated in a 56-day strike, her longest, in Washington D. C. to try to close the Guantanamo Bay prison. Wilson, was also a plaintiff in a 2019 case against the Formosa Plastic Corporation, for polluting Matagorda Bay with microscopic plastic pellets. This case resulted in a $50 million dollar settlement against Formosa to help restore and improve the environmental quality of Matagorda Bay. The settlement includes $20 million to support the development of a fishing cooperative to revive the traditional economy of the coastal area. “The U. S. Army Corps of Enginers have never been helpful to the environment unless we force them to pay attention to these issues. I am on this hunger strike to stop this harmful dredging of the bay. The state of Texas regularly gives tickets to fishers for harvesting oysters that are smaller than 3 inches but now it is planning to dump mud on and destroy 700 acres of oyster reefs. This expedited plan to dredge the bay will kill our efforts to develop this fishing cooperative,” said Wilson The Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund, based at its Rural Training and Research Center, in Epes, Alabama, has been contracted, as part of the legal settlement, to provide technical assistance in developing the commercial fishing cooperative. Cornelius Blanding, Federation Executive Director said, “We have been working with fishers in the Matagorda Bay area to develop a cooperative. This dredging, without suitable environmental protections, will imperil this important grassroots economic development and revitalization effort. We have reached out to our contacts in the Biden Administration to ask them to stop this dredging until a new EIS is developed and approved. We are especially concerned about the disturbance and dispersal of mercury in the bay as well as the destruction of oyster reefs and shrimp breeding estuaries ” A group of environmental organizations, connected with Earthworks, held a protest rally, together with kayaks in the bay, at the end of the Lavaca Bay Causeway, the site of Diane Wilson’s hunger strike, on Sunday, April 25th. This rally was held to call attention to her hunger strike and urge the USACOE and President Biden’s Administration to stop the dredging and the export of crude oil. Persons interested in supporting Diane Wilson’s hunger strike and campaign to stop the dredging and export of oil may contact her through: http://www.facebook.com/unreasonablewoman or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.