Houston Parks Board’s Greenway Bank Collapses

Controversial Project on Buffalo Bayou Not Going Well

Oct. 1, 2020

Updated Oct. 2 with comment from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, about plans to stabilize the bank below the Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens.

A large section of Buffalo Bayou bank has slumped away below an apartment complex where the Houston Parks Board foundation for the last four months has been “restoring” the bank in preparation for a possible Bayou Greenway trail.

One resident of the Left Bank apartments on Memorial Drive west of Shepherd Drive said she was concerned the bank collapse following Tropical Storm Beta threatened the foundations of the building.

Collapsed bank below apartments where contractors for the Houston Parks Board foundation had removed native cane and bulldozed the bank, also driving sheet pile into the bank visible lower left. Photo looking upstream on Buffalo Bayou taken Sept. 23, 2020, after Tropical Storm Beta.

Heavy equipment used by the parks board contractor to strip and grade the bank flooded during the Sept. 22 storm. The equipment, including backhoes and front loaders, was parked in the floodplain next to the complex.

The parks board foundation scraped the native cane and cut down mature willow and cottonwood trees on the bank in late May. In July the foundation’s contractors began attempting to pound sheet pile into the bank. More recently they scraped chunks of concrete out of the bank in preparation for placing new chunks of concrete riprap on the bank.

Willows, cane, and other vegetation holding the bank in place before being removed by contractors for the Houston Parks Board foundation. Photo May 9, 2020.

The parks board foundation acquired the strip of land on the north bank of the bayou below the apartments upstream of Shepherd Drive around 2018 and began work to expand and reinforce the bank in late May of 2020. The multi-million dollar plan was eventually somehow to install a ten-foot wide concrete sidewalk that would connect Buffalo Bayou Park to Memorial Park, allowing hikers and bikers to avoid the narrow, broken sidewalk on busy Memorial Drive.

However, in answer to a question about the connection at the Buffalo Bayou Partnership’s recent Fifth Anniversary virtual celebration, board member and Houston Parks Board consultant Guy Hagstette, who is also vice president for parks and civic projects at the Kinder Foundation, said that the private parks foundation “has not figured out how to route that trail,” and that the money for it was “not there.” He added it was “going to be a while.”

The potential trail would have to traverse an extremely narrow section of bank (now collapsed) below the apartments, cross a ravine that floods during storms, and pass by several more sections of forested bank on private property, as well as city and county property, before reaching the previously planned destination of Westcott Street, the entrance to the Hogg Bird Sanctuary, a city park.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, was also planning to engineer nearly 1,500 linear feet of bank below the historic gardens of the Bayou Bend Collection, former home of conservationist Ima Hogg, across the bayou from the bird sanctuary. The museum was reportedly expecting an engineering report from Stantec in August. Save Buffalo Bayou sent a letter to the leadership at the museum urging the use of less damaging, nature-based solutions and offered the names of consultants.

The museum’s chief operating officer, Willard Holmes, said in a recent email Oct. 2 that the museum had submitted an engineering plan to the Harris County Flood Control District for approval, as required by the City of Houston before issuing a floodplain development permit. Flood Control requested clarification, he said, and the plan would be resubmitted shortly.

Bayou Bend provides habitat to threatened alligator snapping turtles, among other creatures. For the last six years the Turtle Survival Alliance has been conducting research in Buffalo Bayou on the giant snappers, which can live longer than 100 years and reach 100-200 pounds.


View of piles of concrete rubble and other material dredged from the north bank of Buffalo Bayou adjacent to the Left Bank apartments after mature trees were cut and native cane and other vegetation razed. Photo Sept. 23, 2020

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