New $27 million TPWD fish hatchery near Jasper stalled

AUSTIN-One year into the construction phase of the new $27 million Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) fish hatchery near Jasper, work is about 30 percent complete, although weather delays and infrastructure issues have created significant construction challenges. The project is currently about six months behind schedule due to the effects of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike and problems with the massive drain pipes that carry water from the ponds.

Although substantial progress has been made since the project began a year ago, including construction of the 45 acres of production ponds and harvest kettles, a 34,000-square foot production building and an 8,200-square foot office building, officials say they are still working to find a solution to the drain pipe issue.

"Significant portions of the pipe have failed," said Todd Engeling, TPWD's hatchery director. "Efforts are currently under way by expert engineers, the design firm, the contractor, and TPWD staff to determine the full extent and cause of the problem and develop solutions. We do not yet have the information we need to determine the extent of the problem, the cause of the problem, how to fix it, or who will be responsible for paying to repair it. We are working on the problem and are committed to fixing it."

Solving the problem is critical to the construction process, since the massive 60-inch, 48-inch and 30-inch pipes run beneath the site and are buried beneath as much as 17 feet of earth. When the problem was first discovered this Spring, work on the ponds stopped, although construction on other aspects of the project continued.

"Completion of the project will be delayed, but we do not have the information at this time needed to estimate how long the delay will be," Engeling said.

Funding for the new hatchery is provided by a $5 freshwater fishing stamp approved by the Texas Legislature to be collected for a period of 10 years ending in 2014.

Design work on the new hatchery was completed in December 2007 by HDR FishPro, and in June 2008 a construction contract was awarded to ALLCO, Inc., of Beaumont. Construction began in July 2008 and is scheduled to be completed early in 2010.

TPWD partnered with a number of entities to make the hatchery a reality. Jasper County provided 200 acres of property and cleared it and is constructing a road and bridge to provide access to the site, which is just below the Sam Rayburn Reservoir dam. The Campbell Group and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers provided easements and rights-of-way. The Lower Neches Valley Authority provides the necessary water for hatchery operations, 10,000 acre-feet of water annually.

The John D. Parker Fish Hatchery is named for the late TPWD commission member from Lufkin who was instrumental in securing regional support for the project. The new hatchery will replace a facility more than 70 years old that has not seen major improvements since 1946. Production at the new hatchery is projected to be 4 to 5 million fish per year compared to the 1.5 million produced at the old hatchery.

Fish hatcheries are vital to the quality of fishing in Texas, which has more than 800 impoundments and 190,000 miles of rivers and streams. Some 1.8 million anglers fish in Texas annually, contributing an estimated $2.93 billion in total expenditures to the Texas economy, making fishing a major industry in the state.

"Good fishing benefits anglers, but it also contributes to the quality of life," said Phil Durocher, TPWD's director of inland fisheries. "You can't have good fishing without good water, and that's important to everyone."

PHOTOS showing hatchery construction, including drain pipe installation, are available for news media use as high resolution .jpg files in the East Fishery Hatchery news images area of the TPWD Web site.