Engineers Vote for More Work for Engineers on Buffalo Bayou

Developers Eager to Pave More Streets and Parking Lots

Raise your hand if you ever heard of the Harris County Flood Control Task Force.

The Katy Freeway in west Houston, widest freeway in the world.

The Katy Freeway in west Houston, widest freeway in the world and major conduit of stormwater into Buffalo Bayou. Engineers voting for bulldozing Buffalo Bayou work on Interstate 10 and other highway and paving projects as well as public drainage systems.

Thought not.

Try looking on the Internet for any mention of this 31-member semi-secret committee and you’ll find almost nothing except for an occasional reference in someone’s bio and a brief note on the website of the Bayou Preservation Association. Founded in the 1970s to create “a community collaboration of engineers, developers, and interested citizens,” according to the BPA, the task force is now mostly a collaboration of engineers and developers, as is the BPA.

County Judge Bill Elliot is reported to have said that the time: “How can Harris County government adequately protect homes and businesses from the hazards of flooding and facilitate economic development, while at the same time preserving the God-given resources we have that are still in their natural state for the present and future enjoyment of our citizens?”

Last Tuesday, Oct. 15, a county task force committee looking into that question voted 5-1 in favor of spending $6 million to wreck the last natural stretch of Buffalo Bayou in Houston, a perfectly healthy 1.5 miles of wild bayou flowing in and around our Memorial Park. The project would destroy riparian forest crucial to the health of our water, to erosion and flood control. Riparian zones are increasingly being recognized as wetlands that should be federally protected for our own health and survival.

On Monday, Oct. 27, 2014, at a public meeting in the Harris County Flood Control District headquarters, 9900 Northwest Freeway, the full flood control task force will be voting on whether to go ahead with the controversial project. The flood control district declined to provide us with the names of the current members of the full task force, suggesting we contact the Harris County Commissioners’ Court since the commissioners’ court created and appoints the task force. No response to those emails by press time. Update: Courtesy of one of the members,  we now have a reasonably current list of the members of the task force. And generally we know that of the 31 positions approved by the commissioners, about nine seats go to engineers and architects, another eight go to developers and builders, another two go to business groups, three or four go to government agencies, and another seven go to environmental or civic groups or individuals. Several positions are empty.

We will do our best to provide their contact information. These task force members need to be contacted and informed. Please let them know of your opposition and why. In addition, please note that Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle, who represents Memorial Park, is up for election on Nov. 4.

Not In. In a Meeting. On the Other Line.

As of this writing, it is unknown how many of the five task force committee members who voted in favor of the bulldozing project have seen this part of the bayou. We’ve made fruitless calls and left messages and talked to one engineer on the committee who voted in favor of bulldozing and channelizing the last wild bayou. He’d never seen the area to be destroyed; he thought there was no vegetation there.

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KUHF Radio Broadcast Room Filled With Smoke from Burning Pants

 

An Outstanding Job by Environment Reporter Dave Fehling on Buffalo Bayou and the Importance of Riparian Forest

Dave Fehling did an outstanding job of reporting for the Houston Matters radio show on the Buffalo Bayou bulldozing project that aired last Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014. (Segment starts at 18:35.) Fehling is Houston Public Media’s State Impact reporter for Energy and the Environment.

Most importantly Fehling recognized and addressed the main issue completely ignored by the project promoters: the importance of riparian forest, which is basically wetlands necessary for cleansing our waters, controlling erosion and flooding, and providing wildlife habitat. (Yes, in addition to clean water, we need hawks and dragonflies and alligator snapping turtles to survive. We are all linked in the chain of nature.)

This project would destroy most of the perfectly healthy riparian buffer along almost 1.5 miles of the last natural stretch of our 18,000 year-old Buffalo Bayou as it flows between Memorial Park and the Hogg Bird Sanctuary on the north and the golf course of the River Oaks Country Club on the south. (The club happens to be in the process of rebuilding its entire golf course.)

Two important points that we’d like to clarify and that are causing confusion in the public mind:

  1. This is not a disagreement between conservationists. This is a battle between conservationists on the one side and developers and profiteers on the other. The influential Bayou Preservation Association, which was instrumental in creating this project and which continues to be its strongest advocate, is no longer a preservation group. The president of the BPA works for the Energy Corridor District, the development agency for the Katy Prairie in West Houston, one of the fastest growing areas in Houston and source of Buffalo Bayou. The BPA board is heavy with representatives of major engineering, construction, and landscape design companies. On the board is a representative of KBR, the engineering contractor for this bayou project. Representatives of the flood control district sit on the advisory board.
  1. This area is not suffering from severe erosion. See below.

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Edible smart weed and young box elder, black willow, and sycamore building a new riparian forest on a sandy marsh of Buffalo Bayou in Memorial Park. Great white egret in the background. Photo taken on October 6, 2014, by Susan Chadwick.

Edible smart weed and young box elder, black willow, and sycamore building a new riparian forest on a sandy marsh of Buffalo Bayou in Memorial Park. Great white egret in the background. Photo taken on October 6, 2014, by Susan Chadwick.

Save Buffalo Bayou on The Radio Wednesday, October 8, 2014

 

Susan Chadwick with Save Buffalo Bayou will be on the radio program Houston Matters at 12:30 p.m. tomorrow, Wednesday, Oct. 8, discussing the project to destroy the last natural stretch of Buffalo Bayou in Houston. Steve Hupp, director of water quality for the Bayou Preservation Association, which helped create and is the primary promoter of the $6 million dredging and channelizing project, will also be on the show, along with Dave Fehling, Houston Public Media’s State Impact reporter for Energy and the Environment.

The show takes questions from callers so call if you have a question, like, “What is the point of this hugely destructive, expensive project?” Or “Why is the Bayou Preservation Association doing this? Isn’t bulldozing the natural banks of the bayou a violation of the organization’s founding purpose?” Or “Does the BPA advocate that stripping the land of riparian forest is the best way for property owners on the bayou to control erosion?”

The number to call is 713-440-8870.

Craig Cohen is the host of the popular KUHF radio show. Tune in to 88.7 around 12:30 p.m. to hear the live discussion. But if you miss that, you can hear the show online anytime by going to the Houston Matters website. Should be a lively debate!

Thunderstorm approaching on Buffalo Bayou Monday morning, Oct. 6,2014. Looking with the forest of the River Oaks Country Club on the left. All this will be bulldozed and a new channel cut for bayou.

Thunderstorm approaching on Buffalo Bayou Monday morning, Oct. 6, 2014. Looking upstream with the forest of the River Oaks Country Club on the left and Memorial Park on the right. All this will be bulldozed and a new channel cut for the bayou.

Update on Our Campaign to Save the Last Natural Stretch of Buffalo Bayou in Houston

Where are we now and what should you do?

The Harris County Flood Control District has applied for a permit to bulldoze most of the riparian forest and vegetation along both banks of more a mile of the last remaining stretch of natural Buffalo Bayou in the city. This is our bayou as it passes by Memorial Park. Also targeted are the tributary and high bluffs of the Hogg Bird Sanctuary, as well as other ancient cliffs and prehistoric sandstone used in the past as water crossings by buffalo and people. The project would excavate, fill, grade, and artificially rebuild the banks; dredge, deepen, and reroute the bayou channel, damming tributaries. Hundreds of trees will be cut down, many of them riparian species too small or too young to be counted by the district’s inappropriate tree survey. The shading tree canopy will be removed (project proponents claim there is no tree canopy!); the water temperature increased. The soil, packed with protective, binding roots small and large, will be dug up, tossed around, and compacted by heavy equipment. Wetlands and lovely sandy beaches will be obliterated along with the colonizing and stabilizing plants that have taken root there, a crucial stage of the natural process of building the riparian buffer so important to water quality, flood and erosion control.

All of this and more violates best management practices for riparian zones. It will destroy the bayou’s ecosystem. And this is a project developed and promoted by the Bayou Preservation Association, supported by the Memorial Park Conservancy.

Timelines Are Difficult to Predict

The Army Corps of Engineers has delivered to the district all of the comments made during the public comment period, which ended June 30. The district had until October 6 to respond to the Corps about issues raised in the comments, says Dwayne Johnson, regulatory project manager for the Galveston District of the Corps. Johnson said in an email that the Corps expected the district to ask for more time to respond to the numerous and detailed comments made on the project. As of this writing, no request for additional time had been made.

Read the rest.

The River Oaks Country  Club has killed the grass on its golf course, along with vegetation on the high banks, in preparation for redoing the golf course. Photo on Sept. 20, 2014, by Jim Olive.

The River Oaks Country Club, which owns the entire south bank of the bayou project, has killed the grass on its golf course, along with some vegetation on the high banks, in preparation for redoing the golf course. Photo on Sept. 20, 2014, by Jim Olive.

The Memorial Park Master Plan and the Survival of Buffalo Bayou

Nobody wanted to mention the strange plan to bulldoze our wild Buffalo Bayou in Memorial Park and they wouldn’t let us put out our flyers at the Memorial Park Conservancy meeting in the El Dorado Ballroom on Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014, to introduce the beginnings of a new master plan for the park. The previous master plan in 2004 recommended that this last remaining stretch of wild bayou be left alone as a valuable educational tool about nature and its dynamic process. The conservancy, a private, non-profit organization charged with protecting and preserving the 1500-acre park, has decided to ignore that recommendation and supports razing the riparian forest, dredging, channelizing, rerouting, and destroying the ecosystem of this stable, functioning reach of the bayou. Because.

Well, few people understand what the purpose of this bizarre project is, and we have talked to some certified geniuses about it. Proponents call it erosion control, flood control, invasive species control, “restoration,” but none of it explains the massive amount of destruction planned or why they are using long-discredited channelizing methods that likely will result in more erosion, more flooding, and the whole artificially reconstructed bayou washing out, along with whatever native vegetation they plant there.

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Topographic map of Buffalo Bayou on the southern edge of Memorial Park, 2013.

Topographic map of Buffalo Bayou on the southern edge of Memorial Park, 2013.

Learning How Rivers Work and Why Bulldozing Wild Buffalo Bayou Won’t Work

If more city people understood how rivers work, they would know why our wild Buffalo Bayou should be left alone in and around Memorial Park and why the project to bulldoze it is pointless, wrong, and won’t work.

Interested in learning about the living process of a stream and the importance of riparian zones? Want to find out more about proper land use and management to protect riverfront property against erosion?

Save Buffalo Bayou is developing an educational program about urban riparian areas. But the basic principles are the same for streams in the city and in the country. For now you can learn from an expert at Texas A&M.

The Texas Riparian Association is holding a Riparian and Stream Ecosystem Workshop on September 24, 2014, from 8 am to 4 pm at Whites Park Community Center, 219 White Memorial Park Road in Hankamer near Anahuac, about an hour east of Houston.

Read the rest.

Riparian forest on Buffalo Bayou. Photo by Jim Olive.

Riparian forest on Buffalo Bayou. Photo by Jim Olive.

Memorial Park, the Master Plan, and Our Wild Buffalo Bayou

Proposals for a new master plan for Memorial Park will be presented at a public meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 17, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Eldorado Ballroom, 2310 Elgin Street. Anyone concerned about the future of our great Memorial Park and Buffalo Bayou as it  flows past the park will want to attend this meeting, one of four “update” meetings scheduled about the plan over the next several months.

The prominent national landscape architecture firm of Nelson Byrd Woltz is leading development of the plan. Thomas Woltz, principal of the firm, and his team will share results of their research and analysis, as well as initial design concepts at the Wednesday meeting co-hosted by Houston City Council Members Dwight Boykins and Robert Gallegos.

Do Nothing to Our Wild Bayou is the Best Policy

The last master plan for Memorial Park in 2004 recommended that nothing be done to disturb the natural environment of Buffalo Bayou. After extensive analysis by a team of fluvial geomorphologists and hydraulic engineers, the plan wisely concluded that “the recommended course of action for the Bayou is simply to leave it alone and consider it a symbol of dynamic natural process. The Bayou can serve as a valuable environmental education tool that depicts the change inherent in nature.”

It is not yet known, to us at least, what recommendations the new master plan will make about our treasured last stretch of wild bayou in Houston. However, contradicting the clear conclusions of the 2004 master plan, the Memorial Park Conservancy officially and actively supports the Bayou Preservation Association‘s bizarre project to bulldoze the bayou’s riparian forest, level and grade the banks and cliffs, dredge, channelize, and reroute the bayou. This would forever destroy a valuable and historic natural resource in our great public park, an amazing oasis of riverine wilderness in the middle of the city.

Read the rest.

1915 USGS topographic map of Buffalo Bayou in the area to be bulldozed by a project supported by the Memorial Park Conservancy and the Bayou Preservation Association.

1915 USGS topographic map of Buffalo Bayou in the area to be bulldozed by a project supported by the Memorial Park Conservancy and the Bayou Preservation Association.

Memorial Service for Don Greene, Defender of Buffalo Bayou, Sunday, September 14, 2014

 

A memorial service for Don Greene, defender of Buffalo Bayou and all rivers and streams, will be held at 1:30 p.m. Sunday,

Don Greene on Buffalo Bayou as it passes by the Arboretum.

Don Greene on Buffalo Bayou as it passes by the Arboretum.

September 14th, at the Houston Arboretum in Memorial Park.

The service will have two parts. Guests will gather inside the expanded classrooms and then move outside to Emmott Circle for quiet reflection. Each person will have an opportunity to share his or her thoughts and remembrances about Don, in no particular order.

A reception will follow back in the classrooms.

Don was a past president of the Bayou Preservation Association when the BPA’s mission was still preserving bayous. He was deeply opposed to the BPA’s plan to destroy the last natural stretch of Buffalo Bayou in the middle of the city.

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness?  Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

—Gerard Manley Hopkins

 

 

Upping Our Game

The alligator snapping turtle lives in Buffalo Bayou. It is listed as threatened in Texas.

The alligator snapping turtle lives in Buffalo Bayou. It is listed as threatened in Texas.

Frustrated with the lack of awareness? Fed up with their deeply misguided plans to destroy the last natural stretch of Buffalo Bayou we have in the city? Angry that they will bulldoze our riparian forest, kill our wild bayou, sacrifice the natural bayou ecosystem, mutilate our magnificent bluffs, and drive the wildlife away to someplace where they cannot survive.

Worried that after they do all that, their fake, landscaped, rebuilt bayou will all wash out? (You should be.)

Interested in hitting back where it will hurt?

We are contemplating some fun-filled, entertaining, and informative picketing and leafleting at a significant event in the next two weeks. This could involve some creative costumes, bright lights, and cameras. It’s still in the planning stages so if you’d like to help plan, create, and participate, email us at info@savebuffalobayou.org.

Talking to Parks and Wildlife Commissioners and Harris County Commissioner Jack Cagle

The high bluff opposite that Jones Nature Center on Spring Creek. The springs on top of this bluff are believed to be the Springs of Santa Rosa, location of villages of the tribe of Canos, an Orcoquisa tribe, one of the least known tribes of North America but mentioned by early Spanish explorers. The bluffs along Spring and Cypress creeks are part of the same Meander Belt Ridges that form bluffs along Buffalo Bayou.

The high bluff opposite the Jones Nature Center on Spring Creek. The springs on top of this bluff are believed to be the Springs of Santa Rosa, location of villages of the tribe of Canos, an Orcoquisa tribe, one of the least known tribes of North America but mentioned by early Spanish explorers. The bluffs along Spring and Cypress creeks are part of the same Meander Belt Ridges that form bluffs along Buffalo Bayou.

What We’ve Been Doing Lately in Defense of Buffalo Bayou

Last week several of us went to the annual public meeting of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission held in Houston this year at the Museum of Natural Science. We wanted to urge the commissioners to protect our wild Buffalo Bayou in Memorial Park and the wildlife that lives in the bayou and its riparian forest.

We found the commissioners who were present attentive, sympathetic, and even encouraging. These included the Honorable Reed Morian of Houston and the Honorable Dick Scott of Wimberley.

Two days later we visited with Harris County Commissioner Jack Cagle during a canoe trip on beautiful Spring Creek in northwest Harris County sponsored by the Bayou Land Conservancy. Commissioner Cagle, a very likable, nature-loving fellow, represents Memorial Park, the River Oaks Country Club, both in the bulldozing project area, as well as points north and west.

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