Environmentalists Respond to Draft Coastal Protection Plan

Corps of Engineers Holding Public Meetings and Soliciting Comments


Dec. 13, 2018

[Updated Dec. 31, 2018, with the comment from the Houston Sierra Club.]

[Update Jan. 7, 2019: The Corps of Engineers has extended the comment period until Feb. 8, 2019.]

Climate change is causing the seas to rise and storms to become stronger, more frequent, and more destructive. In order to protect the industry and people of the Texas coast, the State of Texas General Land Office, together with the Galveston District of the US Army Corps of Engineers, is preparing a Texas Coastal Protection Plan.

The $20 million planning process began in 2015 and is expected to be completed by 2021. Upon completion a plan will be presented to Congress for authorization and funding, expected to be in the billions of dollars.

A significant part of the plan, which incorporates both large-scale engineered infrastructure and ecosystem restoration, focuses on the potential for a big storm to send a surge of seawater through Galveston Bay and up Buffalo Bayou into the Port of Houston, inundating the chemical plants and refineries and neighborhoods there along with downtown Houston, as well as houses, businesses, and highways on the coast.

In October the Corps released a draft feasibility study for the plan along with an environmental impact statement for the draft study. Since then they have been holding public meetings about it up and down the coast. The next meeting is Saturday, Dec. 15, in Crystal Beach at Crenshaw Elementary and Middle School, 416 State Highway 87, from 1 to 4 p.m. The next and final meeting is Tuesday, Dec. 18, in Seabrook, at the Bay Area Community Center, 5002 E. Nasa Parkway. The meeting begins at 5:30 p.m.

You can read the documents and find out more about the process and the public meetings here.

On Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018, a group of regional and national environmental and conservation organizations, including Save Buffalo Bayou, released their response to the draft study and associated environmental impact statement.

One of the primary concerns was that “the information provided in the Feasibility Report and Environmental Impact Statement is insufficient to enable thorough and informed comments.”

The advocacy group response noted that there was no clear indication of where the various structures will be placed and few details on the overall impacts.

The organizations, led by Bayou City Waterkeeper, reiterated their preference for “non-structural solutions such as preservation and enhancement of prairies, riparian areas, barrier islands, and wetlands; buyouts/strategic withdrawal from areas that cannot be adequately protected, and appropriate land-use regulation to implement those concepts.”

They called for greater private sector responsibility for protecting private industry and keeping people out of harm’s way and for regulations preventing development in floodways and floodplains.

They also called for the preservation and restoration of riparian areas, green space, and barrier islands to increase stormwater storage capacity and reduce damage from flooding. “Our bayous, given sufficient floodplain, are our natural storm drains and detention systems. Preserving these areas also provides the important secondary benefit of recreational green space.”

Structural approaches, such as building dams, dikes, and levees, work against nature, encourage development in flood-prone areas, and should only be used where non-structural or nature-based methods are not feasible, they said.

You can read the full statement from the conservation groups here. Read the comment from the Houston Sierra Club here.

More information is available about the coastal protection plan and process through this notice in the Federal Register.

Comments on the draft plan must be postmarked by February 8, 2019. You may submit comments by email to CoastalTexas@usace.army.mil or by mailing to this address:

USACE, Galveston District
Attention:  Ms. Jennifer Morgan
Environmental Compliance Branch, RPEC
Post Office Box 1229
Galveston, Texas  77553-1229

Port of Houston, Buffalo Bayou Ship Channel, looking downstream towards the San Jacinto Monument. Photo by Jim Olive

Giant Turtles and Other Bayou Creatures

Not So Secret Alligator Snapping Turtles


Dec. 12, 2018

So recently the Chronicle blew the secret that there are giant alligator snapping turtles in Buffalo Bayou.

But apparently it wasn’t much of a secret. Turns out that lots of people already knew about alligator snappers in the bayou and elsewhere. We posted the article on our Facebook page, and we were bombarded with stories and photos of close encounters with the big snappers over the years—as near as back yard ravines.

Last year volunteers with Save Buffalo Bayou participated in this long-term project sponsored by the Turtle Survival Alliance to tag and track the massive turtles, the operation described by the Chronicle’s Molly Glentzer. The turtles, the largest freshwater turtles in the world, are designated a threatened species by the State of Texas, which means it is against the law to capture, trap, take, or kill them, or even think about doing that. They happen to be an ingredient in classic New Orleans-style turtle soup and therefore subject to poaching, which continues in the state, even though these days alligator snappers for cooking are farm-raised. We were asked to keep quiet about the turtles until the turtle scientists had a better idea of how they were doing here. Apparently they are doing pretty well.

Read the rest of this post.

Alligator snapping turtle trapped for research on Buffalo Bayou. Note pink tongue used to attract prey into jaws. Photo by Jim Olive, February 10, 2017