October 25, 2014
The chairman of the Harris County Flood Control Task Force has closed the upcoming Monday afternoon meeting during which the task force will vote on the project to destroy the last natural stretch of Buffalo Bayou in Houston.
Task Force Chairman Ranney McDonough said in a phone call late Thursday afternoon that the doors to conference room 100 in Flood Control District headquarters, 9900 Northwest Freeway, will be closed to the public and anyone who tries to attend the meeting without authorization will be turned away.
The Sierra Club representative on the little-known 31-member task force said she was surprised by the move. “I never heard of the meetings being closed,” said Evelyn Merz, chair of the conservation committee of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. “Most often they have difficulty getting enough people to attend to have a quorum.”
McDonough’s legal authority to close the meeting is dubious, based on the Texas Open Meetings Act. The task force, appointed by the Harris County Commissioners Court, makes no binding decisions, and the vote Monday is symbolic. The purpose of the task force, founded in 1973 as a result of citizen activism, was to balance the interests of flood control, economic development, and preservation of our diminishing natural resources.
Opponents of the $6 million project, officially known as the Memorial Park Demonstration Project, will be attending the 2 p.m. meeting despite McDonough’s declaration. All are urged to attend to witness the proceedings in defense of the bayou. We must shed light wherever we can on the absurdity of this wasteful enterprise and those who are responsible for it.
McDonough, of McDonough Engineering Corp., declined to answer questions from Save Buffalo Bayou. Asked whether he had ever seen the bayou in the project area, McDonough said he’d visited Buffalo Bayou many times. Pressed specifically on whether he’d seen the bayou in the area where the riparian forest is to be razed, the banks graded, and the river dredged, channelized, and rerouted, McDonough said he didn’t want to be interviewed.
A task force committee on the project appointed by and including McDonough voted 5-1 in favor of the project Oct. 15. Merz cast the only negative vote.
The controversial test project would wreck nearly 1.5 miles of meandering bayou, its high cliffs, and its largely undisturbed riparian forest as the bayou passes between Memorial Park and the Hogg Bird Sanctuary on the north and the River Oaks Country Club on the south.
Proposed by the Harris County Flood Control District and promoted by the Bayou Preservation Association, the project is an experiment funded with $4 million in county and city public funds. The club, which is in the process of rebuilding its golf course using a plan created by well-known designer Tom Fazio, is contributing the remaining $2 million.
The Army Corps of Engineers is considering whether to issue a permit for the project, which is intended to test and demonstrate techniques that have failed elsewhere in the country. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality must certify that the project, if permitted by the Corps, meets Texas Water Quality Standards.
The Houston City Council, which in June 2013 voted to fund the project, must still vote on whether the project violates state law regarding the proper taking and use of public parkland.
The meeting of the task force takes place Monday, Oct. 27, from 2 to 4 p.m. in Room 100 of Flood Control District headquarters, 9900 Northwest Freeway.