Critics have called it an illegal land grab, but a controversial 23,000 acre Galveston Bay Oyster lease is emerging as a great deal more legitimate than many had thought.
Extended by the Chambers Liberty County Navigation District, the 30 year exclusive lease with Sustainable Texas Oyster Resource Management was labeled invalid in a legal opinion from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department which claimed CLCND lacked authority.
But Fox 26 News has obtained a previous oyster lease agreement that was deemed legal between the navigation district and surprisingly, Texas Parks and Wildlife.
“They have not been able to tell us why their lease is valid and ours is invalid,” said Tracy Woody, co-owner of STORM.
Opponents of the deal are mostly competitors in the bay oyster business and have hired well known investigative journalist Wayne Dolcefino as a spokesman.
“I know a lot of people think this is silly, it’s so silly that it won’t ever happen, but the fact is a couple of guys in a two room house in Anahuac have just sold half the bay. That’s the bottom line,” said Dolcefino.
If CLCND has the right to lease to STORM, as it did in the past to the state, Dolcefino and others have questioned whether the oyster lease opportunity should have been open to others willing to bid.
“You know if you have a bucket of oysters and you leave them out in the sun, they start to really stink. This deal really stinks, plain and simple,” said Dolcefino.
But both CLCND and lawyers for STORM say the agency had absolute authority to lease the oyster beds to a responsible party for up to three decades.
“We have a proven track record that spans 45 years”, said Woody who runs the only oyster operation in the CLCND district.
Woody claims he and his father-in-law Ben Nelson have pursued the large quantity of submerged territory purely to rebuild reefs and regenerate Galveston Bay’s diminishing oyster population.
He says the CLCND’s is both legal and prudent.
“They wanted to deal with one responsible company that will follow the guidelines and would have to answer to them,” said Woody.
Meantime, a spokesman for Texas Parks and Wildlife says its lease with CLCND was for purely recreational development and not for commercial enterprise like the deal with STORM.
TPWD still contends the CLCND with STORM is invalid.