Update: County Resilience Task Force. Will Same Problems Prevail?

Commissioners to Vote Tuesday

August 9, 2020

Update August 10: The Office of County Judge Lina Hidalgo today released the final proposed bylaws for the Community Resilience Task Force, now the Community Flood Resilience Task Force. Read them here.

Note: Harris County Commissioners Court will again discuss and possibly vote on the proposed bylaws for the new Community Resilience Task Force at its virtual meeting Tuesday, Aug. 11

Recently we told you about how the useless Harris County Flood Control Task Force was being transformed into a new Community Resilience Task Force.

On very short notice, the public was asked to participate in online workshops, send in comments by July 30, and speak at the July 28 Harris County Commissioners Court meeting, which turned out to be a marathon 12 hour 22 minute meeting. (You can watch the meeting here. Discussion of the resilience task force starts around 7:35:00.)

The original task force was established in 1973 in response to a successful, years-long campaign to preserve Buffalo Bayou and prevent it from being stripped, straightened, and smothered in concrete. The 1972 bylaws approved by commissioners court to establish that task force cites “conserving and wisely using the God-given resources we have for the present and future enjoyment of our citizens” as a primary reason for the task force. “God-given resources” meant nature.

Social Equity and Green Infrastructure

In the intervening years, rather than just “enjoyment,” we have come to better understand the superior role of nature in protecting us from flooding, among other important benefits. But for some reason, the proposed new bylaws, in referring to the original task force, overlook this environmental concern as the driving force behind creation of the task force. And although the commissioners in 2019 instructed the district to emphasize nature-based solutions in “public and private projects” (see below), the proposed bylaws don’t mention this either.

The very broad overall purpose of the new task force is “to act as an advisory board to Commissioners Court on matters related to planning, projects, and other efforts concerning infrastructure resilience in Harris County that includes a wide range of stakeholders reflecting a diversity of experience and geographic, socioeconomic, and demographic attributes.”

A major component of this is “the equitable and effective expenditure of flood mitigation and other resilience funds.”

Background of the New Task Force

In August of 2019, commissioners court passed the Harris Thrives resolution, which, among other things, instructed the Harris County Flood Control District to “adopt a framework that ensures a process for the equitable expenditure of Bond Program funds.” In 2018 county voters had approved the issuance of $2.5 billion in bonds to fund flood reduction projects.

The 2019 court resolution also called for the district to “bolster community engagement related to flood control by revamping the roles and responsibilities of the Harris County Flood Control District Task Force and ensuring that a geographically diverse range of community members is represented …”

It also instructed the district to “emphasize an approach that respects, reclaims, and restores floodplains; preserves undeveloped prairies and forests that detain stormwater; and encourages the use of nature-based solutions, natural infrastructure, and cutting-edge technological methods where possible in public and private projects …”

The resolution resulted in the Harris Thrives initiative to expedite more equitable and effective projects and funding for flood control, housing, and emergency preparedness.

Read the rest of this post.

Opinion: More concrete ditches and paved-over prairies? Houston must pivot to nature-based flood mitigation

By Amanda Fuller and Jordan Macha, Houston Chronicle

August 6, 2020

SBB editorial note: On July 15 Amanda Fuller gave a presentation on “Incorporating Nature into Houston-Area Flood Mitigation” to the Houston Galveston Area Council’s Regional Flood Management Committee. You can watch the presentation here.

With damage already felt from Hurricane Hanna on the middle and lower Texas coast, and the potential for a devastating hurricane season upon us, the fear of a repeat Hurricane Harvey is top of mind for Houston-area residents and local elected leaders alike. However, many are unaware that leaders in the region have an unprecedented opportunity to set Houston and Harris County on a more resilient and equitable path when it comes to mitigating the impact of future flooding events. With long-standing conventional projects waiting in the wings, there is growing concern that the window for innovation is closing.

After Harvey, many scientific and technical expert groups were formed, reports commissioned, and the public was convened — all in search of solutions. A common theme emerged from all of these efforts: we can’t keep approaching flood mitigation in the same ways and expect a different result — the powerful role of the area’s natural systems, plus a focus on the equitable distribution of funds, must be part of the answer. Continued development in floodplains and reliance on outdated hard infrastructure, such as reservoirs and drainage channels alone, coupled with the paving over of the Katy Prairie, have proven to be a recipe for disaster as the impacts of climate change intensify in the region, especially in communities that have been underinvested in over time.

The good news is that billions of dollars for mitigation activities are pouring into the state by way of $4.3 billion from HUD’s Community Development Block Grant Mitigation Fund (CDBG-MIT), administered by the Texas General Land Office, which is taking applications until Oct. 28. That’s in addition to the opportunity to compete for hundreds of millions of dollars from FEMA’s new Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities Program (BRIC), which will begin accepting grant applications this fall.

Read the rest of this editorial in the Houston Chronicle.

Fuller is director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Texas Coast and Water Program. Macha is the executive director of Bayou City Waterkeeper.

Greens Bayou flows near a neighborhood that is part of Harris County’s home buyout program on Thursday, November 21, 2019, in Houston. Photo by Elizabeth Conley, Houston Chronicle.

Changing the Houston Parks Board: How to Apply

Delays, Backlash Against Buffalo Bayou Bank Destruction

July 27, 2020

(Update July 29, 2020: The “How to Apply” link below expires and shows a “Page Removed” message. To reach the application page, go to Boards and Commissions and click on the Apply button.)

We spoke recently with the director of boards and commissions for Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. We asked her about the Houston Parks Board, the process for becoming a board member, when the board meets, and other issues. Alas, she seemed just as confused as most other people.

We had proposed some potential candidates for the board, a public local government corporation (LGC) that is required to have open meetings. And we wanted to tell the Houston public how they, too, could nominate themselves or others to serve on the board. Four of the 20 positions have expired terms.

This was all in response to a damaging project the board has undertaken—without any public input—on Buffalo Bayou. Except that it wasn’t the public board, it was a private foundation acting as the board, without any accountability. And what they have done to the north bank of Buffalo Bayou above Shepherd Bridge is cut down mature trees, scrape up native vegetation, bulldoze the bank, and encounter some heavy resistance in their attempts to drive sheet pile into the bank. Progress has been slow, with weeks of no visible activity other than sediment leaking into the bayou. The contractor is NBG Constructors.

Trees and vegetation hold the bank together, cleanse and absorb runoff and flowing water, provide shade and habitat, among many other benefits. Even the Harris County Flood Control District recommends against hardened banks, which can increase flooding and erosion up and down stream. (p. 21)  The private Houston Parks Board foundation, using both private and public funds, has provided much needed hike-and-bike paths for many Houstonians as part of its Bayou Greenways initiative.  But most of these 10-foot wide concrete sidewalks have been placed on channelized or altered, largely shadeless streams. This is the parks board’s first project on Buffalo Bayou.

The Houston Parks Board’s unfinished sheet pile wall on the north bank of Buffalo Bayou on July 25, 2020, after heavy rain.

That Lack of Transparency

We had long been concerned about the lack of transparency from the Houston Parks Board, and this project forced the issue.

Maria Montes, director of boards and commissions for the last two years, said that she would be meeting with the mayor in early August to discuss whose term has expired and potential candidates for the parks board. She said there were basically three ways to become a candidate for the public Houston Parks Board: a recommendation from a city council member, making an application online, and by recommendation from a current parks board member.

When we mentioned that all twenty members of the board were also board members of the private parks board foundation, she said that only a couple of people on the public board were on the board of the private foundation.

However, a comparison of the current roster of the public board with the board of the private foundation shows that everyone on the public board serves on the private board. Most major cities have public park boards or commissions with members, naturalists and community activists, for example, who are different from the board members of the private supporting foundation.

We asked Montes how often the public board meets and how to find out about meetings. She said that notices of board meetings are posted on the board’s website. But the public board does not have a website. The website of the Houston Parks Board belongs to the private foundation, which is the public face of the parks board. There are no announcements about meetings on the website. The foundation does not hold public meetings.

How to Apply

To apply to be a member of the public Houston Parks Board LGC, go to the City of Houston Boards and Commissions page and click on “Apply.”

To learn more about the private Houston Parks Board foundation and its relationship to the City of Houston, register here for Parks Board 101, a free virtual “lunch and learn” offered by the foundation’s Rising Leaders group on Thursday, July 30, from noon to 1 p.m.

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Sheet pile being driven into the north bank of Buffalo Bayou on July 17, 2020. The bayou channel is lined in places with layers of hard, cemented sandstone.

Citizens Flood Control Task to Become Community Resilience Task Force

July 22, 2020

From the mid Sixties to the early Seventies, a group of well-to-do and influential Houstonians fought to prevent Buffalo Bayou from being stripped, straightened, and covered in concrete like White Oak and Brays bayous.

In the wake of that success, in 1973 Harris County Commissioners’ Court created a Citizens Advisory Task Force to make sure that future flood protection projects incorporate environmental concerns.

In the intervening years that goal has become even more important as modern practice recognizes that nature-based methods of reducing flood risk are more effective, more beneficial, more flexible, longer lasting, and less costly. (See p. 27, also here and here and here and here, for starters.)

Yet, instead of becoming more vital, our citizens flood control task force somehow became pointless and irrelevant, and the Flood Control District continued to strip, dredge, and armor streams all over the county—even as every engineering intervention in our streams, particularly Brays and White Oak bayous, has continued to require constant maintenance and repairs. Buffalo Bayou, where the Corps of Engineers in the 1950s stripped and straightened upstream of Beltway 8 and downstream of Shepherd Bridge, also continues to require costly repairs.

A Community Resilience Task Force And An Opportunity To Comment

Now Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo has proposed a Community Resilience Task Force to replace the Flood Control Advisory Task Force. The purpose is “to act as an advisory board to Commissioners Court on matters related to planning, projects, and other efforts concerning infrastructure resilience in Harris County that includes a wide range of stakeholders reflecting a diversity of experience and geographic, socioeconomic, and demographic attributes.”

From now until July 30 Hidalgo is inviting the public to comment on the proposed bylaws for the task force either by email, through a virtual focus group meeting, or by speaking at the July 28 Harris County Commissioners’ Court meeting.

Here are links to the proposed bylaws.

The first of two focus group meetings takes place Thursday, July 23 at 3 p.m. Here is how to register for that Zoom meeting as well as another that takes place July 30 at 10 a.m.

Make Up of the Task Force

The task force is to meet at least six times a year and have 17 members who “represent the geographic, racial, gender, age, and ethnic diversity of Harris County.” Five of the members are to be appointed by commissioners’ court, who in turn appoint the remaining 12 members.

Of those twelve, there must be one each from the following categories:

1.Housing/Land Use

2. Health

3. Engineering/Construction

4.Urban Design/Planning

5.Environment

6.Community Leadership

7.Social Justice

8.Other Regional Infrastructure

The draft of the bylaws also proposes, among other things, that:

Appointed members must be residents of Harris County, have a demonstrated interest in serving the community, and meet one or more of the following qualifications:

•Represent one or more larger Harris County communities impacted by flood and infrastructure disruptions and resilience efforts

•Demonstrate knowledge of or interest in equitable and sustainable infrastructure resilience or flood mitigation

•Demonstrate knowledge of or interest in the socioeconomic and demographic factors that affect the resilience of communities

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Mama screech owl near Buffalo Bayou in Houston.

Plastic Free July

July 19, 2020

Houston’s Citizens’ Environmental Coalition is recognizing Plastic Free July with several free fun and educational events. These include an online showing of the film The Story of Plastic, available for viewing July 21 through July 23, followed by online panel discussions July 23 at 12 and 6 p.m.

In addition there’s an online Trivia Night July 29 during which you can test your knowledge of plastic. Starts at 6:30 p.m. Prizes from the Houston Chapter of the American Association of Zookeepers! Wonder what those prizes could be? Find out!

Find out more and register here.

Going Round the Bend in Summer

July 19, 2020

We had planned to meet for an early morning float down Buffalo Bayou. This meant rising with the sun. And since we needed our summer photo of that Bend in the River, it seemed a good idea to head out to the woods first.

Every season since the summer of 2014 we’ve been documenting the same bend in the bayou from a high bank in the woods of Memorial Park. Of course, the bank changes, the woods change. The path of the bayou, however, remains remarkably stable.

You can see the entire series here. But our summer 2020 photo had been delayed because our great photographer Jim Olive was still on lockdown in California by order of his beloved. Texas in the time of Covid was too dangerous, even though it was way hotter there in the desert, with an actual high of 121 later in the day. (Not a typo.)

The woods were not exactly cool. Only slightly steamy at 7 in the morning. The temperature was already over 80 degrees. With the humidity it was going to feel like 110. However, it’s always cooler on the water.

It was surprising to hear so many human voices in the woods early in the morning, despite the fact that the Memorial Park Conservancy claimed that the unofficial trails were closed. People were talking to each other as they jogged and hiked along the narrow footpaths through the tall trees and over and around the ravines.

Looking downstream from a high bank in Memorial Park just after sunrise on July 12, 2020. The recently expanded River Oaks Country Club golf course is on the opposite bank. Photo by SC

The banks at the water’s edge were heavily lined with giant ragweed, a native that helps protect against erosion. The water had only recently receded after ten days of flow well over 2,000 cubic feet per second (cfs). (Normal or base flow is about 150 cfs.) The Corps of Engineers had been releasing the stormwater pent up in the federal flood control reservoirs behind Barker and Addicks dams far upstream in west Houston. There had been some heavy rain in the western part of the county – over eight inches in 24 hours — above the dams near the end of June.

Black Water

During the final days of emptying the reservoirs, the water flowing down the bayou was a dark gumbo color, almost black, and there was some concern about that. We were unable to get an explanation from the Corps, but our geologists theorized that this was likely decomposed organic matter from the bottom of the reservoir pools.

The Float

We put in at the public boat launch in Memorial Park at Woodway just west of Loop 610. We were all wearing masks, slipping and sliding in the mud. Actually the boat launch, once part of a popular nature trail through the woods, is a giant concrete stormwater outfall draining Post Oak Road. Badly designed by global engineering giant AECOM, the faux-stone structure shoots stormwater directly across the stream, a violation of Flood Control District and Corps policies, blocking the flow, creating turbulence, clogging with sediment, etc. Unfortunately, it seems that the majority of the storm pipes emptying into the bayou, old and new, are improperly installed.

We were five people in three kayaks and a wooden canoe, including Bruce Bodson, Save Buffalo Bayou board member and founder of Lower Brazos River Watch; Rachel Powers, executive director of the Citizens Environmental Coalition, and musician and composer Paul English, an experienced white-water paddler on his first float on Buffalo Bayou.

Read the rest of this post!

Ask the County Runoff Candidates: Environmental Forum June 24

Democratic Runoff for Harris County Precinct 3 Takes Place July 14

June 20, 2020

Harris County Precinct 3 is of particular interest to residents concerned about flooding and how we deal with it. On Wednesday, June 24, voters will have an opportunity to participate in an online forum with the two candidates running to be the Democrat who will face the Republican in November for the position of Precinct 3 commissioner.

Precinct 3 includes Buffalo Bayou west of Loop 610 and many tributaries, as well as other major streams like Cypress and Little Cypress creeks, part of Spring Creek and Brays Bayou, the federal flood-control reservoirs, Addicks and Barker; and much of the Katy Prairie. It also includes parts of Memorial, Spring Branch, Bellaire, West University, and more.

The west-northwest area of the county, once farm and ranch land, has been under heavy development pressure for many years, with resulting controversies over requirements for stormwater detention and preservation of the native prairie.

Nature-based approaches to reducing flood risk—prairie grasses and wetlands, trees, parks, ponds, and gardens—slow rain runoff and absorb stormwater before it even enters and overwhelms our natural (green) and built (gray) drainage systems.  Green flood management is the most practical, beneficial, and cost-effective method of reducing flood risk.

For these reasons, local environmental groups are sponsoring an online forum with the Democratic candidates vying to take the place of retiring Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack, a Republican who has represented Precinct 3 since 1989.

The forum, which takes place online June 24 from 7 to 8 p.m., will focus on environmental issues. Advance registration for this event is required. To sign up go here.

The Candidates

The Democratic candidates are Diana Alexander, an educator, and Michael Moore, former chief of staff under Houston Mayor Bill White. The runoff election is July 14, with early voting starting on Monday, June 29 and running through Friday, July 10.

The winner will face Republican candidate Tom Ramsey in the general election on Nov. 3.  Ramsey is a four-term mayor of tiny Spring Valley Village in west Houston, a civil engineer and until 2015, senior vice-president of Klotz and Associates, now RPS Group, a major contractor with Harris County and the Harris County Flood Control District.

Harris County Commissioners Court is the governing body of the flood control district, and individual commissioners have specific oversight over the activities of the district in their precincts.

A follow-up discussion is planned between the Republican candidate Ramsey and the winner of the Democratic runoff election.

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Little Cypress Creek in northwest Harris County. This remaining natural section of the creek is to be stripped and graded by the Harris County Flood Control District. Photo Dec. 29, 2019, by SC

A Lack of Transparency

Houston Parks Board Falls Below State, National Standards

Confusion Over Public And Private Roles

June 14, 2020

The Houston Parks Board is confusing even to knowledgeable people. That’s because there are two parks boards: a public board and a private board. But the two boards, public and private, are the same people. And the problem is these people operate like a private board, making decisions in private.

As members of the public parks board, appointed by the mayor, they are required by law to have public meetings.

A parks board—our parks board—is supposed to be accountable to the general public, making decisions in a transparent way, on behalf of the community. Otherwise, it can appear that the developers, real estate investors, bankers, business lawyers, etc. who are on the board (in Houston and elsewhere) are making decisions that lean more towards profit than the health of the people.

Other Major Cities: Two Separate Parks Organizations, Public Meetings, Agenda, Minutes

Virtually every other major city in the country has two separate parks organizations: a public board and a supporting private foundation, with different sets of people.

And virtually every other major city, including every large city in Texas other than Houston, has a public parks board that announces its meetings and posts its agendas and minutes on its online website. (See Austin and Dallas and San Antonio and Galveston.) Some cities, like Minneapolis, even televise their meetings online.

Houston’s public parks board is a local government corporation required by law to hold open meetings. Its twenty members are appointed by the mayor and approved by city council. But our parks board makes no public announcements about meetings. Our public board has no website, no staff. By contrast, the private parks board, a private foundation, has a website and a staff of thirty people, including a chief executive officer who is paid almost as much (p. 18)  if not more than the mayor. The 34 members of the foundation board include the 20 members of the public parks board.

We’ve been told, after nearly three weeks of asking, that the parks board, public and private, meets with itself briefly somewhere twice a year.

How to Fix This and Why We Should

The north bank of Buffalo upstream of Shepherd on June 1, 2020, after trees, cane and other vegetation were scraped by the Houston Parks Board foundation.

To fix this unusual situation, the mayor needs to appoint new people to the public board. Four of the twenty positions are open, their terms having expired in January 2020. The mayor should appoint people interested in public accountability and the need for green space and nature in our city, especially during a pandemic. Fill the board with people who, in a time of declining budgets and increased demand, can guide us to low-cost, low maintenance rewilding of public spaces.

These are the kind of people who serve on parks boards all over the country. They are public officials, community activists, ecologists, even environmentalists. The kind of people interested in the social and health benefits of natural spaces in the city.

Green spaces and economic development are not mutually exclusive. It has long been understood that better public parks deliver material benefits: increased property value and investment opportunities.

Economic development is largely the purpose of Bayou Greenways 2020, the signature project of the private foundation, a project paid for with $100 million in public bond funds (p. 2) plus $120 million in private donations. City taxpayers also contribute over $6 million annually for ongoing maintenance of the Greenways. (p. 9)

What Difference It Makes

Why does it matter if our parks board is not truly public?

Our parks are public parks, and the people should know what’s being done in their name, for their benefit. But specifically, the parks board foundation recently and surprisingly announced that they were cutting down trees and razing the banks of Buffalo Bayou, a valuable and beneficial natural resource that belongs to the people. (See also this update.)

This was being done in preparation for building an artificial bank out into the channel and installing concrete riprap and metal walls to hold it up. The project is described as “restoring” the bank, filling in land lost to Harvey, although the bayou was already naturally doing that: collecting sediment, rebuilding, regrowing. The location is a narrow strip of land behind two apartment complexes on Memorial Drive, purchased by the foundation and valued at $1.15 million. The foundation is funding the “repair” project with $2.6 million in private funds, according to CEO Beth White. Their plan is to make room for some future concrete sidewalk along the bayou between Shepherd Drive and Memorial Park, part of Bayou Greenways.

The same bank of Buffalo Bayou on May 9, 2020, before scraping and cutting by the Houston Parks Board foundation.

Until this project, most of the 100-plus miles of 10-foot wide concrete hike-and-bike trails installed by the parks board foundation have been along channelized bayous, long ago stripped of nature, treeless, mowed, concrete ditches.

Why It’s a Bad Idea

If there had been some public discussion about this, we and many others would have explained why scraping and bulldozing the bank was a horrible idea, not just ugly but damaging to the beneficial functions of the stream (like cleansing polluted water), likely to cause future flooding and erosion problems, and in violation of the City’s Floodplain Management (p. 6) and Resiliency plans (p. 151) and goal of preserving and creating as much natural and green space as possible.

It also threatens to increase local premiums for flood insurance under the National Flood Insurance Program. The federal program gives discounts to communities “for protecting natural floodplain functions, thereby protecting or restoring wildlife habitat, some of which may be home to threatened and endangered species.”

This remarkable stretch of urban river is home to families of alligator snapping turtles, a threatened species in Texas; beaver, herons, hawks, otters, giant scaly fish (yes, they are alligator gar), dragonflies, and many more beneficial creatures that have been here much longer than we have. They can’t nest in metal and concrete. The loss of biodiversity, particularly in cities, is a global threat to our health and future.

The Solution

So the solution is simple. In order to bring Houston up to state and national standards, the mayor should appoint new people to the public parks board.

That way we can have transparency, accountability, and a balance of interests in decisions about our public parks, green spaces, and natural areas.

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Genetically Modified Mosquitoes in Harris County?

What Could Go Wrong?

June 12, 2020

The Houston Sierra Club reports that Harris County is considering releasing genetically modified mosquitoes into the environment to see how that goes.

The mosquito species Aedes aegypti, originally from Africa, has been genetically modified by a British biotech company to prevent them from reproducing. The mosquito is one of several species of mosquitoes responsible for the Zika and other viruses in Harris County, according to the Harris County Public Health Department. However, the Aedes aegypti prefers to live near and feed on people.

There are some 56 varieties of mosquitoes buzzing about the county. Mosquitoes breed in stagnant or very slow-moving water, slower than the bayou, which is why we don’t have mosquitoes on the bayou. Also turtles, fish, dragonflies, bats, birds, frogs, toads, lizards, and other creatures eat mosquitoes.

Frank Blake of the Sierra Club writes about modified mosquito project that “there are social and environmental justice concerns around the lack of transparency, the release site of the mosquitoes, the fact that Harris County residents cannot consent to essentially being human experiments and the impacts this may have on our local environment.”

He notes that environmental advocates suggest that “there are existing, less risky methods of mosquito control that have documented and demonstrated effectiveness.”

Find out more.

You can keep track of mosquito-borne disease in Harris County through the this online map. These diseases include the Zika, Dengue, Chikungunya, Saint Louis Encephalitis, and West Nile viruses. On June 10, the county reported that mosquitoes had tested positive for the West Nile virus in northwest Harris County. The Mosquito Control Division was treating the area.


Aedes aegypti. Photo by James Gathany, Center for Disease Control Public Health Image Library

Bank Destruction Update

Private Parks Board Bank Project Temporarily Stymied By Lack of Bank

Bayou Bend Bank to Be Armored Too

June 8, 2020

We bring you some recent before and after photos from the Houston Parks Board foundation’s $2.6 million project to remove the trees and vegetation and build an artificial bank of concrete riprap, dirt, and sheet metal. Described as “restoring” the bank to its “pre-Harvey condition,” the project purpose is to support a future concrete hike-and-bike trail on the edge of Buffalo Bayou.

After cutting down large trees and scraping the vegetation from the north bank of the bayou upstream of Shepherd Drive, contractors were forced to cut down cane and other greenery by hand where the remaining bank apparently was too narrow to support heavy machinery. Heavy machinery should never be used on the bank of a stream anyway, (p. 14) despite this being a common practice of the Harris County Flood Control District. For that matter, lining a stream with concrete riprap and sheet metal is also discouraged in enlightened communities. Doing so increases flooding and erosion upstream and downstream. (p. 3 and p. 17)

Work on the project seems to have been suspended since early last week.

The north bank of Buffalo Bayou stripped and graded with large trees cut by the Houston Parks Board as part of a Bayou Greenways project upstream of Shepherd Drive. Photo June 1, 2020.

The private parks board foundation purchased $1.5 million worth of land along the bayou below two apartment complexes on Memorial Drive, according to Harris County records. The eventual plan is to install a 10-foot-wide concrete sidewalk along the bayou edge as part of the foundation’s Bayou Greenways project, which is supported by $100 million in public bond funds (p. 2) plus $120 million in private donations. The sidewalk would extend from Shepherd to Westcott Street in the Hogg Bird Sanctuary, a city park.

Contractors working for the Houston Parks Board foundation cutting a large tree and removing cane and native vegetation from the bank of Buffalo Bayou on May 22, 2020.

Extending the sidewalk will require the further removal of large cottonwoods and other trees in order to build a bridge across a ravine fed by several large stormwater outfalls. According to a resident of the neighborhood, the ravine becomes a “raging river” during heavy rains.

Many large trees would have to be cut to build a bridge across a ravine and extend the hike-and-bike trail along the north bank of the bayou. Photo May 21, 2020

The parks board foundation filed a pre-construction notice for the project with the Galveston District of the Corps of Engineers in August of 2018, according to documents provided May 22, 2020, by Beth White, president and chief executive officer of the foundation. White said the current project, funded with private tax-deductible donations, is 620 linear feet, although the notice to the Corps describes work along 1,102 linear feet.

The required notice was filed in conjunction with the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, which apparently plans to bring in heavy equipment and armor its bank for nearly 1,500 linear feet below the Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens, the former home of conservationist and philanthropist Ima Hogg, who also donated the land for the bird sanctuary across the bayou.

As seems to be standard practice these days, the Corps did not actually review the pre-construction notice or plans to restore the bank to its “pre-Harvey” condition but simply let lapse the six-week time period to respond, automatically “verifying” the project. The Corps is responsible for protecting our streams and waters under federal law.

This is the large cottonwood that was cut down and the vegetation scraped by the Houston Parks Board foundation as part of its project to “restore” the bank of Buffalo Bayou to its “pre-Harvey” condition. Photo May 9, 2020

The Museum of Fine Arts has hired Stantec Engineering to devise a plan for hardening its bank with metal or concrete riprap or both below the woods at Bayou Bend, said Willard Holmes, chief operating officer for the museum.

The Bayou Bend gardens feature towering loblolly pines, sycamores, oaks, and other trees along the bank. The estate and its gardens, home to families of alligator snapping turtles, a threatened species in Texas, is named for the lengthy bend in the bayou that will be scraped and artificially rebuilt if the museum board approves.

“Our property is falling into the bayou,” said Holmes. “Our plan is to properly address all the nature and wildlife issues that we can.”

This section of Buffalo Bayou downstream from the Bayou Bend footbridge is part of a planned Museum of Fine Arts project to remove trees and vegetation and harden some 1,500 linear feet of bank with metal or concrete riprap or both. Photo June 2, 2020

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