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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4 thoughts on “Bank Destruction Update”

  1. Deborah Lancaster says:

    I am a member of the MFAH. What can I do? This just doesn’t make sense. Why do we continue to be so short-sighted about our environment?

    1. Thanks, Deborah. We are going to be reaching out to the board, offering alternatives. We will have a fuller report in the next few days. In the meantime, send an email to the museum director, Gary Tinterow, at gtinterow@mfah.org.

  2. Eth says:

    This makes me mad & sad. Seems like a good time for the MFAH to be spending money on other issues right now.

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