Memorial Park Conservancy Supports Destruction of Bayou Forest

July 6, 2014

The Memorial Park Conservancy, established in 2000, is a private, non-profit organization. Its meetings are not open to the pubic. While there is nothing on its website about the project to bulldoze the natural riparian forest on Buffalo Bayou in and around Memorial Park, the MPC officially supports this project, otherwise known as the Memorial Park Demonstration Project.

The MPC’s support for this plan to raze some of the last remaining wild banks of Buffalo Bayou is contrary to the recommendations of its own 2004 Memorial Park Conservation Master Plan. Here is what the Master Plan had to say:

“Recommendation: Based on hydrologic and hydraulic analysis of Buffalo Bayou, and the Park Vision, 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. Possible solutions such as concrete surfacing and decreasing the bank slope would only destroy the habitat value and visual amenity of the bayou and conflict with the ability to observe natural process.

“The reach of the Bayou in the Park will benefit from any upstream actions to reduce impervious surface, to retard urban runoff, and to filter runoff prior to entering the bayou. The Memorial Park Conservancy should pursue outreach opportunities to advocate for such measures … ” pp. 56-57

Contact the MPC and let them know that you oppose this project to destroy the wilderness banks of Buffalo Bayou in Memorial Park.

Memorial Park Conservancy
6501 Memorial Drive
Houston, TX 77007

Jim Porter, Chairman of the Board

Shellye Arnold, Executive Director

Nicholas Butler, Conservation Director

Suzanne Landau, Community Relations Coordinator


One thought on “Memorial Park Conservancy Supports Destruction of Bayou Forest”

  1. Bill Heins says:

    Below is a copy of a letter I wrote to the Memorial Park Conservancy. The invitation is open to anyone who would like to come along:

    Memorial Park Conservancy
    6501 Memorial Drive
    Houston, TX 77007

    Jim Porter, Chairman of the Board
    Shellye Arnold, Executive Director
    Nicholas Butler, Conservation Director
    Suzanne Landau, Community Relations Coordinator

    Dear Mr. Porter, Ms. Arnold, Mr. Bulter, and Ms. Landau,

    Like all of you, I am a passionate supporter of Memorial Park. Nearly every day, rain or shine, hot or cold, my dog and I spend an hour or several in the woods along the bayou. We appreciate this little patch of wilderness in the heart of a teeming metropolis.

    I am a geologist. I make my living looking into the past; reconstructing ancient landscapes and environments from the fragmentary evidence left behind in sediments and erosional surfaces, by imagining the chain of events that lead of a previous state to the present one. This ability is also good for imagining the way things can be in the future, based on the chain of events that will lead from the present state to a future one.

    The application made by the Harris County Flood Control District to the Army Corps of Engineers for a permit to implement the “Memorial Park Demonstration Project” provides a clear road map for a curious imagination to foresee what Memorial Park would look like if the plan were implemented. That vision makes me very sad, and ultimately very angry, because it would be a terrible degradation of the healthy ecosystem that exists today.

    I hope that you will take some time to actually go into the woods, stand on the ground that the HCFCD proposes to move, and imagine with me what the park would really look like if you let this plan go forward. I think if you translate the dry prose and arcane drawings in the permit application into the physical reality of the bayou now and potentially in the future, you will be as appalled as I am, and withdraw your support from this ill-conceived project.

    I invite you to come with me any evening. Like Scrooge’s ghost, I will be happy to show you bayou past, present, and future. If you don’t have time to come with me, let me suggest some places to stop. The guided tour laid out below gives co-ordinates from Google Map on iPhone; I can’t vouch for their precision in another mapping package, but they should get you in the right ball park.

    We would start, literally, in a ball park: the softball field adjacent to the dog wash station (29.764192, -95.442436). I invite you to stand on home plate, and look 300 feet down each foul line to the fence. This is where we start translating bloodless statistics from a bureaucratic paper pile into the real life of Memorial Park.

    The HCFCD mentions the word “erosion” 17 times in the 7 page narrative description of the project. Stopping erosion, and controlling sediment input to the bayou, is a major theme of the permit application and indeed of all public discussions of the Demonstration Project. But how much erosion is there, really, on the banks of the bayou the HCFCD proposes to engineer?

    On page 10 of the permit application pdf, they say that “… active erosion occurring within the project area as a whole adds approximately 359 tons per year of sediment to the stream…”. Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? If we dig into the details of the BANC’s assessment, mentioned on page 10 and laid out in glorious statistical detail on Slide 51 of the HCFCD Information Meeting presentation at Lamar High School on 17 Dec 2013, we find that the 359 tons represents 276 cubic yards of sediment.

    Still sounds like a lot, right? Well, let’s mentally spread 276 cubic yards of sediment out over the surface of the ball field (a quarter of a circle with radius 100 yards): it would actually cover the playing field to a depth of 1.25 INCHES. That’s about the width of your thumb, or about as tall as the grass on the field. That’s the whole amount of sediment generated from 13 ACRES of banks, along 1.5 MILES of bayou. That’s the bogey man that is supposed to scare you into engineering the bayou.

    How does HCFCD propose to tame that bogey man? They will strip the vegetation from a 100’ buffer along the stream, re-route the channel, and regrade the banks (in other words, turn it into a drainage ditch). According to p. 12 of the permit application, they plan to cut 117,553 cubic yards of sediment, and fill 116,475 of it back. Hmmm? How much sediment is that? Look up at the light poles, out at the fence. Look up, up, up to just below the bulbs — that’s how much dirt you would have to pile on the ball field to equal the amount of dirt the HCFCD wants to move. That’s about 426 times more dirt moved than what nature rearranges every year. Put another way, it would take Buffalo Bayou the same amount of time it has been since the Spanish Armada sailed against England to move as much dirt off the banks as the HDFCD wants to push around with big yellow machines in this project. And they have to strip out trees that have been growing Roosevelt was president (Teddy or Franklin, take your pick) to do it.

    Speaking of big yellow machines, how are they going to get down to the Bayou? It will take a pretty broad road to get them down to do the work. Page 43 of the permit application (Exhibit 2, Project Area Aerial Map) gives a pretty good idea of where they will go and how much room they will take. The trees they cut down to make the road will more than fill up the parking lot by the ball field from the porta-potty down to the handicapped spots, at least up to the top of the fence.

    But it would be much better to go down to the Bayou and see where those roads would come out (29.759626, -95.431810, for example), and what would actually get roached out to make them. Along the way, we can see outcrops of sandstone, steep bluffs that have hardly budged in 100 thousand years, a magical ravine with lustrous snakes and Great Piliated Woodpeckers, and the wondrous wandering meander that has “taken” more than an acre (you can even see where it went!). All of them are things that would be irredeemably (at least in my lifetime) disrupted if we let the big yellow machines roll down the path.

    Please come with me and take a look. The dog and I are in the park every evening, and every weekend. My contact information is below. I would like to share the Park we all love through the lens of informed imagination to see what could happen, and what we must avoid.


    William A. Heins, PhD
    5459 Darnell St.
    Houston, TX 77096

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