Engineers Vote for More Work for Engineers on Buffalo Bayou
Developers Eager to Pave More Streets and Parking Lots
Oct. 21, 2014
Raise your hand if you ever heard of the Harris County Flood Control Task Force.
Try looking on the Internet for any mention of this 31-member semi-secret committee and you’ll find almost nothing except for an occasional reference in someone’s bio and a brief note on the website of the Bayou Preservation Association. Founded in the 1970s to create “a community collaboration of engineers, developers, and interested citizens,” according to the BPA, the task force is now mostly a collaboration of engineers and developers, as is the BPA.
County Judge Bill Elliot is reported to have said at the time: “How can Harris County government adequately protect homes and businesses from the hazards of flooding and facilitate economic development, while at the same time preserving the God-given resources we have that are still in their natural state for the present and future enjoyment of our citizens?”
Last Tuesday, Oct. 15, a county task force committee looking into that question voted 5-1 in favor of spending $6 million to wreck the last natural stretch of Buffalo Bayou in Houston, a perfectly healthy 1.5 miles of wild bayou flowing in and around our Memorial Park. The project would destroy riparian forest crucial to the health of our water, to erosion and flood control. Riparian zones are increasingly being recognized as wetlands that should be federally protected for our own health and survival.
On Monday, Oct. 27, 2014, at a public meeting in the Harris County Flood Control District headquarters, 9900 Northwest Freeway, the full flood control task force will be voting on whether to go ahead with the controversial project. Update: The chairman of the task force, Ranney McDonough, said in phone call late Thursday afternoon to Save Buffalo Bayou that the doors of the meeting will be closed and the public will be turned away. But we are going anyway.
The flood control district declined to provide us with the names of the current members of the full task force, suggesting we contact the Harris County Commissioners’ Court since the commissioners’ court created and appoints the task force. No response to those emails by press time. Update: Courtesy of one of the members, we now have a reasonably current list of the members of the task force. And generally we know that of the 31 positions approved by the commissioners, about nine seats go to engineers and architects, another eight go to developers and builders, another two go to business groups, three or four go to government agencies, and another seven go to environmental or civic groups or individuals. Several positions are empty.
We will do our best to provide their contact information. These task force members need to be contacted and informed. Please let them know of your opposition and why. In addition, please note that Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle, who represents Memorial Park, is up for election on Nov. 4.
Not In. In a Meeting. On the Other Line.
As of this writing, it is unknown how many of the five task force committee members who voted in favor of the bulldozing project have seen this part of the bayou. We’ve made fruitless calls and left messages and talked to one engineer on the committee who voted in favor of bulldozing and channelizing the last wild bayou. He’d never seen the area to be destroyed; he thought there was no vegetation there.
KUHF Radio Broadcast Room Filled With Smoke from Burning Pants
Oct. 13, 2014
An Outstanding Job by Environment Reporter Dave Fehling on Buffalo Bayou and the Importance of Riparian Forest
Dave Fehling did an outstanding job of reporting for the Houston Matters radio show on the Buffalo Bayou bulldozing project that aired last Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014. (Segment starts at 18:35.) Fehling is Houston Public Media’s State Impact reporter for Energy and the Environment.
Most importantly Fehling recognized and addressed the main issue completely ignored by the project promoters: the importance of riparian forest, which is basically wetlands necessary for cleansing our waters, controlling erosion and flooding, and providing wildlife habitat. (Yes, in addition to clean water, we need hawks and dragonflies and alligator snapping turtles to survive. We are all linked in the chain of nature.)
This project would destroy most of the perfectly healthy riparian buffer along almost 1.5 miles of the last natural stretch of our 18,000 year-old Buffalo Bayou as it flows between Memorial Park and the Hogg Bird Sanctuary on the north and the golf course of the River Oaks Country Club on the south. (The club happens to be in the process of rebuilding its entire golf course.)
Two important points that we’d like to clarify and that are causing confusion in the public mind:
- This is not a disagreement between conservationists. This is a battle between conservationists on the one side and developers and profiteers on the other. The influential Bayou Preservation Association, which was instrumental in creating this project and which continues to be its strongest advocate, is no longer a preservation group. The president of the BPA works for the Energy Corridor District, the development agency for the Katy Prairie in West Houston, one of the fastest growing areas in Houston and source of Buffalo Bayou. The BPA board is heavy with representatives of major engineering, construction, and landscape design companies. On the board is a representative of KBR, the engineering contractor for this bayou project. Representatives of the flood control district sit on the advisory board.
- This area is not suffering from severe erosion. See below.
Save Buffalo Bayou on The Radio Wednesday, October 8, 2014
Oct. 7, 2014
Susan Chadwick with Save Buffalo Bayou will be on the radio program Houston Matters at 12:30 p.m. tomorrow, Wednesday, Oct. 8, discussing the project to destroy the last natural stretch of Buffalo Bayou in Houston. Steve Hupp, director of water quality for the Bayou Preservation Association, which helped create and is the primary promoter of the $6 million dredging and channelizing project, will also be on the show, along with Dave Fehling, Houston Public Media’s State Impact reporter for Energy and the Environment.
The show takes questions from callers so call if you have a question, like, “What is the point of this hugely destructive, expensive project?” Or “Why is the Bayou Preservation Association doing this? Isn’t bulldozing the natural banks of the bayou a violation of the organization’s founding purpose?” Or “Does the BPA advocate that stripping the land of riparian forest is the best way for property owners on the bayou to control erosion?”
The number to call is 713-440-8870.
Craig Cohen is the host of the popular KUHF radio show. Tune in to 88.7 around 12:30 p.m. to hear the live discussion. But if you miss that, you can hear the show online anytime by going to the Houston Matters website. Should be a lively debate!
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.)
Memorial Park, the Master Plan, and Our Wild Buffalo Bayou
Sept. 15, 2014
Proposals for a new master plan for Memorial Park will be presented at a public meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 17, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Eldorado Ballroom, 2310 Elgin Street. Anyone concerned about the future of our great Memorial Park and Buffalo Bayou as it flows past the park will want to attend this meeting, one of four “update” meetings scheduled about the plan over the next several months.
The prominent national landscape architecture firm of Nelson Byrd Woltz is leading development of the plan. Thomas Woltz, principal of the firm, and his team will share results of their research and analysis, as well as initial design concepts at the Wednesday meeting co-hosted by Houston City Council Members Dwight Boykins and Robert Gallegos.
Do Nothing to Our Wild Bayou is the Best Policy
The last master plan for Memorial Park in 2004 recommended that nothing be done to disturb the natural environment of Buffalo Bayou. After extensive analysis by a team of fluvial geomorphologists and hydraulic engineers, the plan wisely concluded that “the recommended course of action for the Bayou is simply to leave it alone and consider it a symbol of dynamic natural process. The Bayou can serve as a valuable environmental education tool that depicts the change inherent in nature.”
It is not yet known, to us at least, what recommendations the new master plan will make about our treasured last stretch of wild bayou in Houston. However, contradicting the clear conclusions of the 2004 master plan, the Memorial Park Conservancy officially and actively supports the Bayou Preservation Association‘s bizarre project to bulldoze the bayou’s riparian forest, level and grade the banks and cliffs, dredge, channelize, and reroute the bayou. This would forever destroy a valuable and historic natural resource in our great public park, an amazing oasis of riverine wilderness in the middle of the city.
Talking to Parks and Wildlife Commissioners and Harris County Commissioner Jack Cagle
Aug. 26, 2014
What We’ve Been Doing Lately in Defense of Buffalo Bayou
Last week several of us went to the annual public meeting of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission held in Houston this year at the Museum of Natural Science. We wanted to urge the commissioners to protect our wild Buffalo Bayou in Memorial Park and the wildlife that lives in the bayou and its riparian forest.
We found the commissioners who were present attentive, sympathetic, and even encouraging. These included the Honorable Reed Morian of Houston and the Honorable Dick Scott of Wimberley.
Two days later we visited with Harris County Commissioner Jack Cagle during a canoe trip on beautiful Spring Creek in northwest Harris County sponsored by the Bayou Land Conservancy. Commissioner Cagle, a very likable, nature-loving fellow, represents Memorial Park, the River Oaks Country Club, both in the bulldozing project area, as well as points north and west.
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.
Seeing What Will be Destroyed: Our Article in the Houston Chronicle
July 26, 2014
The Bayou Banks We Could Lose
Once again, a flood-control project threatens Buffalo Bayou
By Susan Chadwick for the Houston Chronicle
July 25, 2014 | Updated: July 25, 2014 3:21pm
We have pulled the canoe up to a clean, white sandy beach on Buffalo Bayou in the middle of the city. It’s still early morning, and all along our slow paddle from the bridge at Woodway great white egrets and a great blue heron fly ahead of us, leading us to our destination: the prehistoric cliffs and forested banks that could soon be obliterated by the Harris County Flood Control District.
It’s a bizarre project, all the more incomprehensible in that the project is primarily promoted by the influential Bayou Preservation Association (BPA), founded in the 1960s to prevent the flood-control district from bulldozing the natural beauty of Buffalo Bayou.
Read the rest of the article in the online edition of the Houston Chronicle. Note: This article also appeared in the print edition of the Chronicle on Sunday, August 3, 2014, Page G4.
Tell the Bayou Preservation Association What You Think About Its Plan to Destroy Buffalo Bayou
July 21, 2014
BPA Board Meeting Tuesday, July 22, at Noon
The Bayou Preservation Association, which is promoting the project to bulldoze Buffalo Bayou, is having a board meeting tomorrow, Tuesday, July 22, at noon. The meeting is open to the public, so go and let the BPA know what you think about its plan to raze nearly 1.5 miles of perfectly healthy riparian forest along both banks of Buffalo Bayou in and around our public Memorial Park. The meeting is in the AECOM Building, 5444 Westheimer, third floor. (Update: The BPA is a private, non-profit organization, and its meetings do not have to be open to the public.)
Do be aware that not everyone on the BPA board nor every member of the BPA supports this ugly boondoggle, which would channelize one of the last remaining stretches of natural bayou left in the city, change the course of the bayou, excavate and fill in the banks, and obliterate magnificent cliffs, lovely creeks, and tributaries. It would replace the shady, wild banks with sun-baked Bermuda grass. Wildlife habitat would be eliminated.
Note that the meeting is in the AECOM Building. AECOM, you may recall, was the engineering contractor for the failing “erosion control” project in Memorial Park at Woodway as well as for the disastrous Houston Country Club erosion control project. (Story about that coming up.)
A representative of AECOM is on the board of the BPA as well as a representative of KBR, the engineering contractor for the Buffalo Bayou project and a major donor to the BPA (along with the Harris County Flood Control District). Also on the BPA board are two property owners (Mike Garver and Terri Thomas) out of the half dozen or so private property owners whose property is to be “restored” by the $4 million taxpayer-funded portion of the $6 million HCFCD project. A major BPA donor (Michael Dishberger) is also a property owner benefiting from the public project.
BPA President Robert Rayburn works as development and natural resource director at the Energy Corridor District, which means promoting development of the Katy Prairie, which means more runoff and storm waters going into the dams and into Buffalo Bayou. The Energy Corridor District has written a letter of support for the project, citing “the importance of biotechnical drainage way stabilization and riparian restoration” [sic] and “the important role that stable, sustainable drainage corridors provide to surrounding properties …”
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.