BEAUMONT, Texas (AP) — For the first time in years — since before two hurricanes left their mark on McFaddin Beach — Lucille Ledouh led her black cocker spaniel Aggie for a quick walk on the sand.
"It looks good. It looks clean," Ledouh, 86, of Port Arthur said while her husband, Louis, waited in the car. "It looks different from the last time I was down here."
Visitors can't quite decide what has changed. The Jefferson County beach, a favorite day trip for many Southeast Texans, looks larger and cleaner, they say.
The dunes that had formed at the sand's edge, where vegetation begins to grow, were demolished by Hurricane Ike. Without them as a border, the beach seems to go on and on.
Months after the Sept. 13 storm, beaches from Sabine Pass to Brazoria County west of Houston still are struggling to recover.
On a recent weekend, the General Land Office had its 23rd annual beach cleanup, the first since last year's hurricane season drastically changed the coastal landscape.
"It's a marathon," said John Gillen, director of coastal assistance for the state's General Land Office, which regulates the state's open beaches. "Recovering from a storm like this is long-term."
For the first time on Bolivar Peninsula, cleanup volunteers ventured away from the beach to clean the streets and rights-of-way leading to them, where storm debris remains.
On McFaddin Beach, past the ruins of Sea Rim State Park's buildings, beer bottles and trash lie in the sand, but occasional oil barrels, a few dead turtles and a 6-foot-long carcass of an ocean animal also mark the terrain. Sections of an abandoned roadway are visible along the beach's edge, where bushes and tall grass begin to grow.
Sand dunes in much of Jefferson County protect the freshwater marshes of the McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge, a 55,000-acre area known worldwide as a waterfowl habitat. The marshes protect much of the county from storm surge by cushioning the blow of tropical storms and hurricanes that can send water rushing across the land.
Without the dunes, saltwater invades the marshes, killing native grasses and vegetation and endangering the marsh. So far, the wildlife refuge has received grant money to dump 5,000 cubic yards of sand on the beach, hoping to build new dunes, said Dean Bossert, refuge manager.
"It's just a drop in the bucket. It sounds like a lot of sand, but it is barely any," Bossert said. "We need sand. That's the bottom line."
The storm stole 3 feet of elevation from Bolivar beaches, according to a General Land Office study, with a maximum of 10 feet missing in Crystal Beach. McFaddin, Bossert estimates, has lost up to 5 feet in some areas.
From the Bolivar Peninsula to Brazoria County, the General Land Office has sifted through sand on more than 60 miles of beach in search of the smallest debris, Gillen said. Also, the office spent $39 million to use radar to scan the bays and the surf zones just off the shore in search of large underwater debris.
So far, Jefferson County's beaches have not been searched, but Sabine Lake will be checked in coming months, Gillen said.
Reverse surf as the storm surge receded into the Gulf of Mexico was not as big an issue along McFaddin Beach, Gillen said, leaving less debris in the water.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.
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