Coastal Bend Gets State’s First Community Development Agent

June 16, 2011

By Jim Hiney

COLLEGE STATION, Texas — For at least the next two years, Heather Wade will work with community leaders to bring a “sense of place” to the Coastal Bend region and the five counties that encompass the Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR).

Wade was recently hired as the state’s first Coastal Community Development Agent (CCDA) through a partnership between the Texas Sea Grant College Program, based at Texas A&M University, and the NERR, based at The University of Texas Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas with funding from a grant provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

When she begins her duties on June 27, Wade will be responsible for working with local leaders, elected officials and area citizens to “map out ways for communities in the NERR area to grow in environmentally responsible ways while retaining their coastal charm,” said Logan Respess, Texas Sea Grant’s Associate Director and head of its Extension Program.

“We talk about coastal community development allowing communities to keep a sense of place, and that means allowing these communities to have a stake in how they grow so they do not lose the look and feel of the area that attracted people to move there in the first place,” Respess said.

Wade’s experience working on a wide range of development projects will be valuable to the University of Texas as well as to the NERR area.

“We’re very excited to have Heather aboard,” said Sally Morehead, reserve manager for the NERR. “She brings with her a land use planning skill set that we can utilize with our existing projects. We have a good feel for the biological aspects of the NERR but Heather’s skills will help us to better understand the human component and allow us to carry out our ecosystem-based management plan.”

The NERR area comprises all or parts of Aransas, Refugio, Nueces, San Patricio and Calhoun counties in the upper coastal bend area centered about 30 miles northeast of Corpus Christi.

Wade, who has a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies and a master’s degree in Urban Planning, is expected to provide leadership, guidance and direction in the broad arena of sustainable development to small coastal communities whose planning resources can be limited.

Proper coastal development reduces the environmental impact people have on the surrounding ecosystems and allows communities to be better prepared for natural hazards like hurricanes.

“If you build communities correctly the first time, then after a catastrophe people can return to conducting business and living a somewhat normal life more quickly,” said Respess. “I think Heather will make a lasting difference for these communities.”

The NOAA grant funding Wade runs through the end of 2013. Throughout the grant period, representatives from Texas Sea Grant and The University of Texas will continually evaluate the position and, if it is judged to have been beneficial, will seek funding to make the job more permanent.

The partnership that created the CCDA position is itself a unique enterprise and could serve as a model for future collaborations of this type between Texas Sea Grant and other NOAA partners, governmental agencies and non-governmental organizations.

“Texas’ population, particularly its coastal population, is growing and putting additional pressure on natural resources, but we’re not getting any additional funding under the current economic situation to hire more county agents or specialists,” noted Respess. “This partnership between Texas A&M and The University of Texas is a creative way to overcome this problem.”

The Texas Sea Grant College Program is a partnership of university, government and industry focusing on marine research, education and outreach. The Mission-Aransas NERR is one of 28 sites in the National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS). The NERRS is a network of coastal sites that operate as a partnership between the federal government and coastal states. The NERRS’ goal is to perform long-term research in relatively natural settings. Both Texas Sea Grant and the NERR are administered through NOAA.

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Texas Sea Grant is a unique partnership that unites the resources of the federal government, the State of Texas and universities across the state to create knowledge, tools, products and services that benefit the economy, the environment and the citizens of Texas. It is administered through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and is one of 33 university-based Sea Grant Programs around the country. Texas Sea Grant is a non-academic research center in the College of Geosciences at Texas A&M University. The program’s mission is to improve the understanding, wise use and stewardship of Texas coastal and marine resources.