Museum, Park Conservancy Hire Firm That Gets Bank Collapse Wrong
Result: Costly Engineering, Bulldozing, Tree Cutting, Logs, Sheet Pile, Concrete Block and Damaged Buffalo Bayou
May 16, 2021
A decade ago a prominent engineering firm misdiagnosed bank failure on Buffalo Bayou for a controversial $12 million bank “restoration” project that was subsequently dropped. Now the same company has been rewarded with new bank repair contracts. And it appears to be making a similar error.
What could be the motive for repeating such basic mistakes? And why does it matter?
Inappropriate streambank projects can result in costly failure, of which there are too many examples littering Buffalo Bayou. Any alteration of the channel and banks can cause unforeseen problems, including environmental and property damage, increased flooding and erosion.
Watch this slideshow of some of the many failed erosion control projects on Buffalo Bayou:
There are two kinds of riverbank failure: banks that wash away with the horizontal flow of the stream and banks that collapse vertically from the top down. True, sometimes they do both.
But the slippery sand and clay banks of Buffalo Bayou primarily collapse vertically, usually when they get soaked from the top. They quiver and slump, sliding across the ancient hard red clay layer at the base of the bank. There’s not a whole lot to be done about that. However, common sense solutions include: stop doing what is causing the bank collapse.
But that doesn’t generate high-dollar contracts for engineering companies.
What does cost a lot of money? Cutting trees, bulldozing, scraping, grading, filling, pounding sheet pile, concrete, and logs into the bank, none of which will necessarily provide a long-term solution to bank slumping and can even make it worse.
Around 2010 a long-established engineering company was hired by the Harris County Flood Control District to develop a plan for a “natural channel design” project on Buffalo Bayou flowing between Memorial Park and the River Oaks Country Club in the center of Houston. The project, initiated by the Bayou Preservation Association (BPA) and supported by the Memorial Park Conservancy, was called the Memorial Park Demonstration Project. It would have stripped the trees and vegetation, scraped and graded the banks and channel and rerouted the stream for over a mile along one of the last publicly accessible forested stretches of the bayou in the city, a historic nature area. Though it would have destroyed the natural habitat and most aquatic life in the stream, the project was billed as “hastening recovery” of the river.
The engineering company was KBR (Kellogg Brown and Root), but at the end of 2015 KBR was purchased by Stantec. KBR’s manager for the demonstration project was Betty Leite, who also served on the advisory board of the nonprofit BPA at the time.