Update on the Plan to Bulldoze the Riparian Zone, Dredge, and Channelize Wild Buffalo Bayou
Feb. 8, 2015
The Army Corps of Engineers reports that it is continuing to supply the Harris County Flood Control District with their comments on the Flood Control District’s responses to the public comments on the district’s application for a federal permit.
Dwayne Johnson, regulatory project manager for the Galveston District office of the Corps, wrote in an email to Save Buffalo Bayou on Jan. 20, 2015, that the Corps expects to have a response and a possible new Public Notice about the permit application within thirty to sixty days. The new Public Notice would request new public comments only on the changes to the project plans made since the original Public Notice last April, said Johnson.
A federal Clean Water Act permit is required for the project because it will dredge and fill navigable waters of the United States. The Corps is responsible for that. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality must certify that the Corps’ permit meets Texas Surface Water Quality Standards. The Environmental Protection Agency also has the authority under the Clean Water Act to overrule a federal permit, although the EPA has rarely done that.
In addition, the Houston City Council, as the governing body for Memorial Park, must give public notice, hold a hearing, and vote on whether the project is a proper use or taking of public parkland under Ch. 26 of the state Parks and Wildlife Code.
Memorial Park has some protection from the deeds establishing the park. The Hogg Family, which sold the parkland to the city at cost in the early 1920s, set up the multiple deeds so that ownership of the park reverts to their heirs if the land is used for other than park purposes. These reversionary rights have been left to the Daughters of the Republic of Texas and the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health.
Plus, the City of Houston Floodplain Management Office must issue a development permit for the project because it involves construction activity within a city floodplain.
Parks Department: Take Down That Fence
When is a Public Boat Launch Not a Public Boat Launch?
Nov. 6, 2014
A boat launch is no longer a boat launch after the City spends $1.3 million designing, building, and landscaping it and doesn’t include access for the people and their boats.
That’s the explanation from representatives of the parks department and the Uptown TIRZ 16 for why the once-popular official Parks and Wildlife boat launch at Woodway in our Memorial Park remains fenced-off and closed to the public more than six months after it was transformed into a massive drainage outfall.
Coincidentally, being able to put in at Woodway allows the public to float down Buffalo Bayou through the historic natural area that the City and County want to obliterate. That nearly 1.5-mile stretch of the river further downstream is one of the last remaining wild reaches of our 18,000-year-old mother bayou. So keeping the put-in closed makes it more difficult for people to see the majestic very old cliffs, lovely forested banks, and sandy beaches of this little known wilderness area that will be destroyed.
Officially it’s not a boat launch at all, which is why it is closed, although it might be a boat launch again sometime in the future, according to Rick Dewees, assistant parks department director in charge of Memorial Park, and Sarah Newbery, the Uptown TIRZ 16 project director for the Memorial Park Master Plan. The Uptown TIRZ 16 financed the project at Woodway with taxpayer funds.
But wait, what’s that gently sloping, winding paved ramp leading down to the water?
That’s not for people; that’s only for maintenance trucks, said Dewees. Newbery agreed.
Will the New Memorial Park Master Plan Be for the People?
Nov. 5, 2014
Public Meeting Monday, Nov. 10, 2014, on proposals for a new Memorial Park Master Plan.
The Memorial Park Conservancy, Houston Parks and Recreation Department, and the Uptown Houston TIRZ are holding the second of four community meetings Monday, Nov. 10, 2014, about proposals for a new $1.8 million Memorial Park Master Plan.
The meeting will be from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. in the White Oak Conference Center, 7603 Antoine Drive, 77004.
Go and ask them why they have locked up an entire forested section of our Memorial Park south of Woodway west of 610 and closed off access from there to Buffalo Bayou, access that historically had always been open to the public.
As far as we know, which is not much, the proposals for the new master plan make no mention of Buffalo Bayou. The previous master plan from 2004 recommended that the bayou be left alone as “a symbol of dynamic natural process.”
The 2004 plan reported that “a study of the Bayou’s dynamics and stability concluded that, after adjusting to increased urban runoff and water management structures upstream, the Bayou is vertically and horizontally stable, i.e., it is not deepening its channel nor is it dramatically widening its path.”
The landscape architecture firm of Nelson Byrd Woltz is leading the development of the new master plan. The City of Houston and the Uptown TIRZ plan to spend $100 to $150 million in tax money on capital improvements to the park in the next twenty years. None of that money is for park maintenance.
Opponents of Bulldozing Wild Banks of Buffalo Bayou Shut Out of Meeting
Oct. 30, 2014
Nobody Was Pepper-Sprayed But Door-Holding Constables Didn’t Smile Either
The unsurprising vote was 18-1 Monday, Oct. 27, 2014, in favor of stripping the forested banks, dredging, channelizing, and rerouting the last natural stretch of Buffalo Bayou as it flows past our great Memorial Park in the middle of Houston.
The Harris County Flood Control Task Force, dominated by engineers, builders, architects, bankers, developers, and realtors, voted behind closed doors on secret ballots to spend $4 million in tax money to make our wild Buffalo Bayou a bigger drainage ditch for development of west Houston. That seems to be the gist of it. Along with helping the River Oaks Country Club shore up the banks of its currently being renovated golf course. The club, which owns half the property in the project, is contributing one-third of the $6 million cost.
Whether the experimental project will work is another question. But hey, if it washes out, it’s only beautiful public parkland and a stretch of the river that teaches us the healthy benefits of what natural rivers do.
Evelyn Merz, the Sierra Club representative, cast the lone opposing vote. Representatives of the Citizens Environmental Coalition and the Audubon Society did not attend the meeting, as far as we could tell. The representative of the League of Women Voters apparently voted in favor.
Task Force Chairman Ranney McDonough of McDonough Engineering refused to allow Merz to speak, though she tried.
“It wasn’t always like that,” recalls Frank C. Smith Jr., past chairman of the task force, who was allowed into the meeting as a guest of Merz. In the past, says Smith, the task force was more evenly balanced between development and environmental interests.
The thirty-one members of the little-known task force, founded in 1973 through the efforts of citizen activists like Smith, are appointed by the Harris County Commissioners’ Court. It is an advisory body, and the vote Monday was symbolic. A committee of the task force, appointed to “investigate” the controversial project, voted 5-1 in favor of it Oct. 15. Again, Merz was the only negative vote.
The Army Corps of Engineers is considering whether to issue a permit to the Harris County Flood Control District for the project, known officially as the Memorial Park Demonstration Project.
The Houston city council has already voted to waste $2 million on destroying an irreplaceable natural resource in the middle of the city. However, councilmembers must eventually vote on whether the test experiment (the often-failing techniques haven’t been proven to work on a river like ours) is a legal taking and use of public parkland according to state law.
So let your city council representatives know what you think about that.
A Bold Stand on Buffalo Bayou from A Long-Time Conservationist
It’s time again to stop the bulldozers on the bayou
Flood-control plans are a ‘tragic, misguided, destructive experiment’
October 24, 2014 | Updated: October 24, 2014 5:22pm
I feel responsible.
In 1966 Terry Hershey asked me to join with her, George Mitchell, and then Congressman George Bush in their campaign to stop the Army Corps of Engineers and the Harris County Flood Control District from bulldozing the natural banks of Buffalo Bayou near our homes on the west side of Houston.
At the time none of us knew what we know now: that the trees and vegetation that grow on the bayou’s banks are so important to the quality of our water, to erosion and flood control. We just knew that we preferred and respected nature. My house backed up to the bayou, and I let the enchanting forest back there grow wild. I was one of the only homeowners in our small neighborhood on the river who never had problems with erosion. Others who cut down the wild trees and plants saw their backyard gardens and lawns wash away.
We stopped the bulldozers on the bayou back then, and at other times too over the years. The organization that we formed became the Bayou Preservation Association, and eventually I became the president of it. I am still on the executive committee of the BPA, as it is called, though the organization no longer serves the cause of preservation. The BPA has lost its way.
Update on Our Campaign to Save the Last Natural Stretch of Buffalo Bayou in Houston
Oct. 5, 2014
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 — Updated Oct. 30, 2014
The Harris County Flood Control District has responded to the public comments sent to the Army Corps of Engineers during the public comment period, which ended June 30. The district has posted its responses on its website, and you can read them here. (Caution: big pdf.)
The Bad Things That Happen When You Strip Forest from the Banks of Bayous
Aug. 2, 2014
We Have Forgotten The Wisdom of Our Predecessors
The early settlers knew better than to cut down the trees and vegetation from the banks of Buffalo Bayou and other streams.
Even where they set up sawmills along the bayou in the 1820s and ’30s, the mill owners had the common sense to leave the trees standing along the riverbank to protect the land from erosion, says Janet Wagner, chair of the Harris County Historical Commission.
Before that, says Wagner, the indigenous people who lived and camped along the bayou left the riparian forest intact, understanding its importance for holding the banks in place, cleansing and cooling the waters, slowing storm waters, providing fish and wildlife habitat, and much more.
The Harris County Flood Control District, in a wrongheaded plan promoted by the Bayou Preservation Association and supported by the Memorial Park Conservancy and the City of Houston, is proposing to strip most of the riparian forest buffer from some of the last wild banks of Buffalo Bayou in Houston. Known as the Memorial Park Demonstration Project, the controversial $6 million project is demonstrating to landowners up and down the bayou and elsewhere exactly what they should not do to protect their property. Preservation of riparian zones along waterways is both federal and state policy, but apparently the city and the county have not yet understood that message.
Recently the flood control district announced another misguided “restoration” project to strip trees and vegetation from the banks of a tributary of Greens Bayou.
The costly experience of the Houston Country Club ought to be instructive. The club not too long ago bulldozed a significant amount of trees and vegetation from the banks of Buffalo Bayou as it passes by the club golf course in Tanglewood. This was a project designed by the engineering firm AECOM, which also designed the failing “erosion control” project in the former Archery Range in Memorial Park at Woodway. A representative of AECOM sits on the board of the Bayou Preservation Association.
Watch this slide show of the disastrous results of razing riparian forest at the Houston Country Club. The photographs were taken on June 27, 2014, and annotated by geophysicist Richard Hyde, a longtime supporter of Buffalo Bayou.
Here is another shocking slide show of photographs taken almost three months earlier on April 2, 2014, of the same, formerly forested area of the Houston Country Club. (See comparison aerial photos below.) The photos were provided by Evelyn Merz, conservation chair of the Houston Regional Group of the Sierra Club. Note in the photos shown above how much more damage had been done three months later.
The flood control district proposes to bulldoze, dredge, and trample with heavy equipment nearly 1.5 miles of Buffalo Bayou and its banks as it flows between Memorial Park and the Hogg Bird Sanctuary on the north and the River Oaks Country Club on the south. The taxpayers of Houston and Harris County are paying $4 million and the country club $2 million for this project.
The Army Corps of Engineers is currently considering whether to issue a permit for the project to the flood control district.
Reminder: Meeting With City Council Members Representing Buffalo Bayou
July 29, 2014
Public Meeting with Council Members Pennington and Cohen
It’s about Shepherd Drive, but go and ask why they support the project to destroy Buffalo Bayou.
Don’t forget the public meeting tonight (Wednesday, July 30, 2014) with City Council Members Oliver Pennington (District G) and Ellen Cohen (District C), who represent the wild banks of Buffalo Bayou to be bulldozed by the misguided project known as the Memorial Park Demonstration Project. Even the natives and the early settlers (including mill owners) knew better than to cut down the riparian forest on Buffalo Bayou, recognizing its importance for naturally controlling erosion of the banks, slowing storm waters, filtering pollution and bacteria, trapping sediment, and providing wildlife habitat.
Cohen represents Memorial Park, which belongs to all of us. And Pennington, who is running for mayor, represents the south bank of the project, owned by the River Oaks Country Club, stewards of the riparian forest for which it is named since 1923. Pennington also represents that little-known section of Memorial Park just west of 610, now known as the Bayou Woodlands, formerly the Archery Range. There, just off Woodway, a failing “erosion control” project is spewing mud and silt into the bayou. Previously this was a lovely forested ravine with a nature trail. The TIRZ 16, encompassing the Galleria area, now including Memorial Park, and a special kind of improvement district that gets to keep and spend tax money that would have gone into the city treasury, spent $1,147,934 on this particular drainage boondoggle designed by engineering firm AECOM, which also designed the failing “erosion control” project on the banks of the Houston Country Club.
So go and ask these city council members why they support the destruction of some of the last best, healthiest and most beautiful bayou we have in the city. The project would destroy nearly 1.5 miles of the bayou, including most of the forest on both banks, dredging up and rechanneling our lovely, shady stream, obliterating creeks and prehistoric bluffs too old even to contemplate, killing and driving away wildlife, trampling and removing habitat, and so much more that is wrong. The Army Corps of Engineers is considering whether to issue a permit for the project.
The meeting, held in conjunction with the city Public Works and Engineering Department, is from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at St. Anne’s Catholic Church (St. Basil’s Hall), 2140 Westheimer Road. The purpose is to review a paving and drainage project, set to begin in a few weeks, on Shepherd Drive from Westheimer to Buffalo Bayou. So it’s not exactly about the bayou project. But there will be a question and answer period.
A Misguided Project and Waste of Public Funds
July 19, 2014
Often the best project is to let the river fix itself. — Mathias Kondolf, “Meander Bends, Landscape Preferences, and River Restoration.” p. 51
Mathias Kondolf is one of the world’s leading river scientists. He recently wrote a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers recommending that the corps deny Harris County a permit to bulldoze the wild banks of Buffalo Bayou in and around Memorial Park.
The $6 million project would remove most of the riparian buffer from nearly 1.5 miles of some of the last remaining stretch of natural bayou in our city, demonstrating to landowners up and down the bayou and elsewhere the exact wrong thing to do. By far the most beautiful and healthiest stretch of the bayou, as it flows past Memorial Park and the Hogg Bird Sanctuary this shady, slow-moving wild bayou belongs to all of us. And amazingly, it is right here in the middle of our big city.
The project, promoted by the Bayou Preservation Association and officially a project of the Harris County Flood Control District, has no scientific or any other justification, says Kondolf. He points out that even the HCFCD says in its permit application that the stream is “recovering” (from something) and questions the county’s odd claim that razing the trees and vegetation, excavating and filling in the banks, and realigning the channel would “decrease the time needed for natural recovery.”
Kondolf points out that the existing riparian habitat is of “high quality,” that the erosion rate of the banks in the target area as estimated by the county is “not really problematic,” and notes that the construction project itself would likely dump three times more sediment into the waterway than this area does in a year.
Another Failed Erosion Control Project on Buffalo Bayou
July 15, 2014
Kayaked down Buffalo Bayou past Memorial Park the other day with geophysicist Richard Hyde, a longtime supporter of Buffalo Bayou, an early member of the Bayou Preservation Association, and an opponent of the BPA’s very bad plan to destroy the natural beauty of Buffalo Bayou in order to … well, no one can quite figure out the purpose of this bizarre and heart-breaking project that would raze over a mile of perfectly fine riparian forest along both banks in and around our great Memorial Park. The proposal, created and promoted by the BPA and officially a project of the Harris County Flood Control District, would also dig up and fill in the bayou, its banks and high bluffs, dam up or bulldoze tributaries, causing enormous loss of land and forest to the River Oaks Country Club, which is paying $2 million for the privilege. It is a mystery why anyone thinks this is a good idea; a mystery how a project with no public benefit and so much public harm ever got funded ($4 million from county and city taxpayers); and a mystery why the BPA, an organization founded to “preserve the natural beauty” of the bayou, would be so hell-bent on eradicating it.
The water was very low — known as base flow, the bayou’s natural flow during fair weather, which is very slow and shallow. Except it wasn’t really base flow because a thunderstorm had just passed over, so even as we were slip-sliding in under the Woodway bridge the water was rising and the current picking up from runoff.
Our first shocking encounter was the new Woodway drainage outfall, recently constructed at a cost of $1,147,934 to Houston taxpayers (i.e. taxes that went to the Galleria area TIRZ 16 rather than into the city treasury). Laughably, this project, no longer under construction but still closed to the public, is described as an “erosion control” project in the TIRZ 16-Uptown 2013-2017 Capital Improvement Plan. “This drainage outflow project is to mitigate erosion in banks of Buffalo Bayou at Woodway,” says the budget description.
Please note the horrific erosion from the dissolving banks of this new massive outfall, the sand and mud clogging the channel, the concrete sidewalk and steps. There were trees here once, and a nature trail. Update 8.4.2014: In 1848, the rock-bottomed ford here was known as “Dutchman’s Crossing.”
The budget shows no funds allocated for operating and maintenance.
The big, new drainage pipe was also supposed to be set at an angle that allowed the often powerful flow of water to be released in the direction of the flow of the bayou, instead of shooting directly at the opposite bank. But apparently someone forgot to tell that to AECOM, the engineers who designed the project (as well as the tragically unsuccessful “erosion control” project at the Houston Country Club, which razed much of the riparian forest buffer on the banks of Buffalo Bayou along its golf course). AECOM designed the Woodway outfall so that the water blasts directly at the opposite bank, which is already being eaten away by the force.
Mr. Hyde just shook his head.
This “erosion control” project is in City Council Member Oliver Pennington’s district and Mr. Pennington is running for mayor, as he tells everyone he meets, so be sure to let him know what you think about Mr. Pennington’s “erosion control.” He’s holding a public meeting on Wednesday, July 30, 2014, from 6:00 to 7:30 pm at St. Anne’s Catholic Church, St. Basil’s Hall, 2140 Westheimer (at the corner of Shepherd). The meeting is to discuss “storm drainage improvements” on Shepherd from Westheimer to Buffalo Bayou. The project is scheduled to begin in a few weeks and will last over a year, so it’s very kind of Mr. Pennington to offer a public meeting about it.
Mr. Pennington supports the “erosion control” project that requires razing the wild banks and destroying our natural bayou in and around Memorial Park. So let him know what you think about that too. Might be time to bring out the pitchforks pickets and banners.
To be continued.