UTRGV, county partner on ecosystem projects

    San Benito — A new partnership between Cameron County and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley will give the county much-needed guidance on environmental challenges and may even bring more grant money to the region for future infrastructure projects.

    The partnership will establish a faculty member — or researcher — as the director of Estuary, Environmental and Special Projects as part of a new Laguna Madre Estuary Program, or LMEP.

    The director will be stationed in the county offices in San Benito.

    LMEP will encompass a region comprising of Cameron, Willacy, Hidalgo, Star, Brooks and Kenedy Counties.

    “It’s going to help because it’s probably the first partnership we’ve developed with UTRGV and it’s with … one of the departments that is going to be taking a strong role throughout the region as the university develops,” said David Garcia, county administrator.

    The university employee will provide valuable input for development of different programs, and policies and evaluation of management programs like ecosystem restoration.

    The employee also will provide technical assistance in writing grant applications, Garcia said.

    “We have a lot of projects and ongoing issues going on with the coast and when it comes to different things such as … erosion response and beach renourishment,” Garcia said. “This individual — backed by UTRGV — is going to help us take our department to the next level when it comes to those types of issues.”

    Alexander Domijan, dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science, said the partnership was in line with the university’s strategic priorities: compassion, community and technology.

    “We want to get our … department involved with the community and embed them within the fabric of the community,” Domijan said.

    Although the partnership currently only establishes one position, Domijan hopes it can segue into involving multiple faculty and students with the county. The department has about 3,000 students enrolled right now.

    “It would be a nice way for the students to see how classroom stuff is transferred to real world projects. It’s just not enough to sit in the classroom. You need the hands-on experience,” he said.

    The current partnership will last for three years, after which the county and university may seek to renew it.

    The director’s salary will be subsidized by both the county and UTRGV.

    “UTRGV is just getting started. I know the president has a lot that he wants to get done with various communities and governmental entities … hopefully we’ll continue to build on this partnership as we look at other areas of the county,” Garcia said.