Opposition to bayou erosion project grows louder
$6 million Memorial Park project would do more harm than good, opponents say
By Kiah Collier, The Houston Chronicle, May 20, 2014
A $6 million plan to tame a mile-and-a-quarter stretch of Buffalo Bayou is drawing an ever-louder outcry from several prominent environmental and conservation groups who say the project aimed at reducing erosion and improving water quality would only make things worse.
Opposition to the so-called Memorial Park Demonstration Project, targeting a segment of the historic bayou that snakes between Memorial Park’s secluded southern edge and the River Oaks Country Club golf course, has grown more vocal as a deadline to submit feedback to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approaches. The project requires a permit from the Corps.
The agency on Thursday announced it would extend the public comment period by 30 days, until June 30, citing “the complexity of the project studies and stream restoration techniques.”
Borne of a 2010 workshop hosted by the Bayou Preservation Association, the project calls for reshaping the banks of the bayou that wind past the posh country club, the Hogg Bird Sanctuary, a residential neighborhood and the southernmost border of the 1,503-acre park.
The plan calls for the segment of Buffalo Bayou – stressed, both sides agree, by the increased runoff that has come with urban development – to be widened, its course adjusted in some places and its crumbling banks shaped into stable slopes. A mass of vegetation would be stripped away from its banks and trees removed. Replanting would occur toward the end of the project, the cost of which Harris County, the city of Houston and the country club have agreed to share.
“If we strip off 80 percent of the vegetation, if we remove the trees that shade the water, we will actually ruin a mile and a quarter of the main channel of Buffalo Bayou,” said Evelyn Merz, conservation chair of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club.
The group is proposing an alternative that involves promoting the existing habitat by planting native vegetation. It would impact the area less “because it will be aimed at the areas that most need support,” Merz said.
Anne Olson, president of the Buffalo Bayou Partnership, which oversees the waterway from Shepherd Drive east to the Turning Basin Terminal, said the proposed project will reduce the amount of sediment that ends up on hike-and-bike trails farther east.
“What happens for us downstream is that the silt that sloughs off the banks in Memorial Park ends up down on our trails, and it’s a huge maintenance issue for us, so anything that can be done to alleviate the erosion of those banks is an important thing,” Olson said.