Deadline Monday, June 30, for Comments Opposing the Bulldozing of Our Beautiful, Wild Buffalo Bayou

June 29, 2014

The deadline is Monday, June 30, for the Army Corps of Engineers to receive your comments opposing a permit for Harris County to destroy nearly 1.5 miles of our wild Buffalo Bayou in and around Memorial Park, including the Hogg Bird Sanctuary. The fight for the life of our proud, southern bayou will continue, and we will prevail with your help.

However, you must let the ACE  as well as all our political representatives know that you oppose this bizarre, wasteful $6 million project. Here’s how to do that. In addition you can sign the MoveOn.org petition that will be sent to the proper authorities on Monday.

The pointless, destructive project that we oppose is being dishonestly promoted as a “restoration project aimed at reducing erosion and sedimentation and improving water quality, while providing for improved aquatic resource functions,” according to the permit application from the Harris County Flood Control District. (See page 13 of the permit application. Warning: big pdf file.)

Their project will do none of those things, and the plain proof is in their own permit application.

Our Buffalo Bayou Is Not in Need of Restoration

1. The first thing to know is that the bayou here is not in need of restoration. Buffalo Bayou as it flows between Memorial Park and the Hogg Bird Sanctuary on the north and the River Oaks Country Club on the south is some of our last natural bayou and riparian wilderness remaining to the people of Houston.

This, our most beautiful reach of the bayou, long preserved as part of our public park, is in better condition than any altered stretch of the bayou, and to know why it’s important to understand what a riparian forest buffer is. A riparian forest already does everything that they claim to be the purpose of this boondoggle: it controls erosion and sedimentation, improves water quality, filters pollution, slows storm waters, etc. Every single academic and professional paper you can find emphasizes the importance of protecting riparian buffer. No true river scientist advocates bulldozing riparian buffer.

  • The condition of most of the riparian buffer on the banks of our Memorial Park is rated as near-perfect, a score of 4.5 out of 5, according to the county’s own permit application. See page 450 in the permit application.
  • A magnificent, very old high bluff in the Hogg Bird Sanctuary, and the lovely tributary it overlooks, have perfect riparian buffer. (Pages 533 and 557).
  • Even much of the south bank owned by the country club has near perfect riparian buffer.
  • Overall the riparian forest in the entire project area has a near-perfect average score of 4.5, and there will be no significant improvement from this costly project. “The overall Riparian Buffer Variable is anticipated to stay at high sub-optimal (Score 4.5) level.” (Page 452.)
  • The average score of our natural riparian forest in this area is significantly reduced by the eroding lawns of a few large, private homes on the north bank and the inclusion of edges of the manicured golf course on the south bank.

The riparian forest of our public park is functioning as it should. Why should we sacrifice our beautiful, naturally functioning bayou because private homeowners stripped the riparian buffer on their property to create lawns? Why should we taxpayers pay millions to restore private property while destroying our own public property?

When They Say Restoration, They Mean Destruction

2. What do they mean by “restoration?”

Since our bayou forest is fine, in order to “restore” it, they first have to destroy it.

They will do this by bringing heavy equipment into our park and cutting access roads to the bayou through the forest. (See Map 1.) They will use the bulldozers and backhoes to strip the trees and vegetation from eighty percent of the project area (not thirty percent as claimed by the Bayou Preservation Association), regardless of its condition and including in the scenic Hogg tributary. (See Map 2.) They will scrape up the riparian sand and soil in the banks, the ancient sandstone and red clay (our geologic history) and archeological remains, and cart it away somewhere. They will dig out and cut new channels in the bayou, lay down logs and other stuff, fill in parts of the bayou, which includes more than two dozen wetlands, deface and cover up the thousands-year-old high bluffs, bring the soil and sand back, grade the banks and create new slopes, cover the new banks with fiber mats and Bermuda grass, and plant some lilies and trees.

Map 1: The dotted red lines show the 14.35 acres of riparian forest to be scraped and bulldozed. According to the HCFCD, 80 percent of the vegetation in the targeted area will be removed. Note the areas to be cleared of trees extends into the interior of Memorial Park towards the maintenance facility. This is for access by heavy equipment to the bayou. Also note the land and forest to be lost by the River Oaks Country Club on the south, and the destruction of a scenic tributary and a magnificent high bluff in the Hogg Bird Sanctuary on the north.

Map 1: The dotted red lines show the 14.35 acres of riparian forest to be scraped and bulldozed. According to the HCFCD, 80 percent of the vegetation in the targeted area will be removed. Note the areas to be cleared of trees extends into the interior of Memorial Park towards the maintenance facility. This is for access by heavy equipment to the bayou. Also note the land and forest to be lost by the River Oaks Country Club on the south, and the destruction of a scenic tributary and a magnificent high bluff in the Hogg Bird Sanctuary on the north.

Why Do They Need to Bulldoze the Forest In Order to Restore It?

3. Why don’t they just plant trees and shrubs, etc. on the few bank areas where the riparian buffer is poor? Much cheaper and less complicated. The Bayou Preservation Association, which bizarrely supports this destructive project, in a four-page position paper dated June 23, 2014, says that “the pattern of storm water releases … from the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs makes the re-vegetation approach untenable.”

But doesn’t this also apply to their purported plans to re-vegetate the 80 percent of the project length that they plan to strip and recreate? Or do they plan to leave their newly “restored” banks essentially bare and shadeless?

Erosion and Sedimentation Will Not Be Reduced, and Water Quality Will Not Be Improved.

4. The HCFCD permit application claims that this small natural riparian area contributes “approximately 359 tons per year of soil erosion.” (Page 447.) That sounds like a lot, but our analysts have put that into perspective. If you spread out that entire year’s worth of soil erosion on a football field between the twenty and forty yard lines, the sediment would be only nine inches high.

The vast majority of the sediment comes from further upstream. (See page 446.) Buffalo Bayou is twenty-six miles long from the Addicks and Barker dams in Katy to the Sabine Street bridge downtown. This short but significant project area in and around our Memorial Park is our best natural, functioning bayou. It contributes only an infinitesimal amount of sediment to the waterway. There is no evidence anywhere in the application permit, no scientific studies, no explanation of how or why excavating and filling in and rechanneling the bayou reduces erosion better than the natural system already in place.

Furthermore, removal of sediment from the water has no impact on the amount of bacteria in the water. This is according to the expert analysis of Dr. George Guillen, executive director of the Environmental Institute of Houston and an associate professor of biology and environmental science at UH-Clear Lake.

But don’t listen to us. Read the HCFCD’s application permit. Page 452: Water quality will not be improved.

Map 2: Areas of the natural banks of Buffalo Bayou to be excavated and filled. Yellow is excavate. Orange is fill.

Map 2: Areas of the natural banks of Buffalo Bayou to be excavated and filled. Yellow is excavate. Orange is fill.

This Project to Destroy Our Beautiful Buffalo is Nothing Other than the Same Old Flood Control Project to Make Buffalo Bayou a Bigger Drainage Ditch.

“The project purpose is … improvements to the dimension, pattern, and profile allowing the stream to convey storm water and sediment loads more efficiently.” Page 2 of the permit application.

This stealth flood control project is a joint venture between Harris County, the City of Houston, and the River Oaks Country Club. Each entity is contributing $2 million to the $6 million cost of the “demonstration” project, and the Houston city council voted last June to approve and fund it. This zombie channelization plan, a “holistic” variant of proposals long opposed by the Bayou Preservation Association, was largely conceived by the board of the BPA, who must be in need of work, do-nothing preservation being too passive and non-remunerative to somebody, and is actively promoted by the BPA and the Memorial Park Conservancy despite the huge of loss of trees and wildlife habitat, and damage to the bayou and our great public park.

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