The first steps toward establishing a 1,100-acre natural area on Padre Island, just north of Packery Channel, were taken Friday.

The owner of the Tortuga Dunes development at Highway 361 and Zahn Road donated seven acres of land to the Coastal Bend Bays and Estuaries Program. The donated land is about three miles from the JFK Causeway and is connected to the 1,000-acre Packery Flats Reserve along the Laguna Madre and a 50-acre tract on the Gulf Beach owned by Nueces County.

What is unusual about the project is the owner of Tortuga Dunes, who bought property two years ago, is going to tear out existing structures and turn the land back into wetlands.

"We are literally going to remove all the sidewalks, remove the streets, remove the lights, remove the power boxes, remove a lot of the fill so it gets down to the same elevation it used to be, which is about six to eight feet below where it is currently," Tortuga Dunes developer Jeff Lamkin said. "Make it a natural coastal beach habitat."

The Tortuga Dunes project was begun more than 10 years ago but stalled after the infrastructure was built. The land donation is part of a plan to restart the project by mid-2018.

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