Yesterday’s entry in Houston’s recurring game of what’s-that-mysterious-black-cloud was brought to you by LyondellBasell’s Pasadena refinery at 12000 Lawndale St. (the same one that caught fire back in early April). The shot above was taken from an overpass near the junction of Loop 610 with Hwy. 225, though for parts of the afternoon the trail was visible from at least 7 miles away at the Hilton Americas building downtown. A LyondellBasell spokesperson tells Swamplot that flaring was triggered just before noon after a Calpine facility sending steam to the refinery lost power, reportedly due to a lightning strike. The company sent a message to the East Harris County Manufacturer’s Association’s emergency response info hotline stating that observers “may notice a bright orange flame, black smoke or a rumbling noise,” but that it was no big deal, and no one in nextdoor Manchester or Deer Park needed to do anything like leave or tape their windows shut this time.
Photo: Michael Muguerza via t.e.j.a.s.
Pasadena Smoke Signals
Crisp cutouts and angled volumes designed into a 1974 custom contemporary in Deer Park give light, air, and views multi-level pathways throughout the tilt-topped property. Architect Irving Phillips, who designed this structure long before moving on to Montrose-area monuments and assorted condo towers, also opted for a fair amount of redwood, as evidenced by the ceilings (top) and sun-baked planks finishing the home’s exterior and privacy fencing (above). A week ago, the well-buffed home appeared on the market with a $295,000 asking price.
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PRESERVATIONISTS PURCHASE DEER PARK PRAIRIE No thanks to Stephen Colbert, but enough money has rolled in from more than 1,000 donations — including $2 million from Terry Hershey — for the Bayou Land Conservancy to buy up those 53 acres of prairie near Luella Ave. and Spencer Hwy. in Deer Park and stave off a subdivision. Still, at least one question remains: What else is there to do with so much prairie? Lisa Gray explains: “The conservancy plans to donate the land to the Native Prairies Association of Texas, which would manage the health of the prairie and provide guided tours.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Video still: via Brian Traylor
PRESERVING THE DEER PARK PRAIRIE WITH SARDONIC TEEVEE POWER The mad dash to raise the $4 million to buy up 53 acres of the Deer Park Prairie and save it from development got an early $2 million boost from a minor Houston celebrity, long-time environmental activist Terry Hershey; now, with the landowner’s once-delayed deadline just a week away and $650,000 still needed, the Bayou Land Conservancy is appealing to an even higher power, reports Lisa Gray: “‘There is only one man who can save us now,’ proclaims the [conservancy’s] website . . . ‘Stephen Colbert!’ In hopes of winning a mention on ‘The Colbert Report’ and enjoying the resulting ‘Colbert bump’ in popularity, [the conservancy] urges prairie fans to rally the Comedy Central TV host to their cause.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Image: Bayou Park Conservancy
CHUNK OF CHANGE DELAYS DEER PARK PRAIRIE DEADLINE Apparently, the owner of that would-be-sold-and-developed 53-acre patch of prairie in Deer Park has been persuaded to give the Bayou Land Conservancy 3 more weeks to come up with the rest of the money to buy it. A $2 million donation from Terry Hershey helped the conservancy bring in $3.2 million in less than a week; still, $800,000 more is needed before Sept. 10, or the owner will sell to a homebuilder planning a subdivision. If it can close on the prairie, the conservancy says it “will place a conservation easement over the property to permanently protect the land — which would disallow the 250 houses currently planned for the acreage and any other future development.” [Bayou Land Conservancy; previously on Swamplot] Image: Bayou Park Conservancy
The Bayou Land Conservancy is really pushing to raise $4 million in the next week or so in order to outbid a homebuilder on a 50-acre patch of prairie in Deer Park. The video above is part of what the Houston Chronicle’s Lisa Gray describes as a “Hail Mary pass” to raise the money before August 20.
The sought-after patch is among the last 1 percent of the Gulf Coast’s original prairie, reports Gray. The conservancy has been attempting to raise the money to buy it for the past year and a half — an attempt that’s now being hastened by a recent $4.25-million offer from a developer with plans for a 201-home subdivision on the land near Spencer Hwy. and Luella Ave.
And what would the conservancy prefer for the prairie? Here’s Gray:
The prairie’s fans imagine a visitor’s center fashioned from a next-door ranch house. They imagine busloads of visiting schoolkids. They imagine research into the still-mysterious workings of the prairie biome. They imagine harvesting native seed, to be used in eco-conscious plantings in the area. They imagine Battle of San Jacinto re-enactments more realistic than those that take place at the battlefield itself.
Video: Bayou Land Conservancy
PICKING UP CASH FOR THE CHEMICAL SPEW How did Harris County government swing half a million dollars in cash from Shell Chemical? The company is turning over that amount as part of a settlement covering 5 unreported chemical releases between April 2008 and March 2010 at the company’s Deer Park plant on Hwy. 225 just east of Beltway 8. According to Harris County’s lawyer on the case, Shell Chemical also made an “important concession,” which will likely result in more advance warning of similar future windfalls headed our way: Shell says it’ll now alert the county’s local pollution control office, and not just state officials, of “pollution events.” [Pasadena Citizen]
A quick roundup:
- Closing in January: NASA hangout the Outpost Tavern, an army barracks building turned spacesuit-and-bikini-festooned party site, down NASA Rd. 1 from the Johnson Space Center at 18113 Kings Lynn St. Memorialized in the appropriately named Clint Eastwood “one last time for the has-been astronauts” flick Space Cowboys, the bar and burger joint had to be partially rebuilt in early 2005 after a short in a neon sign caused a small fire. Second-generation owner Stephanie Foster reports the property has been sold to new owners who “plan to build something new on the site, perhaps a service station or shopping center.” Fans of the Outpost Tavern’s many good ol’ days will drown their sorrows on-site in a 3-day-long goodbye-party bash, January 8-10.
- Closed, Just a Month After Opening: The new 7,000-sq.-ft. prototype Bailey Banks & Biddle store in CityCentre. The new owners of the former Zales mall mainstay declared bankruptcy in August, but went ahead with the store’s planned move from its old location across the street at Town & Country Village anyway. Other local Triple Bs didn’t get the grand-opening treatment before going dark: “The Galleria and Willowbrook Mall locations are in liquidation, while The Woodlands Mall store and the new CityCentre location are expected to go dark on Dec. 24 following liquidation sales, according to store employees.”
- Open Only for One Last Big Sale: Brian Stringer Antiques, strung along West Alabama just east of Shepherd in a few separate buildings for the last 40 or so years. Stringer and his wife will retire to their turreted 14th century chateau — a former fortified hospital built by monks for victims of a mysterious skin disease — in the French countryside between Bordeaux and Gers. But lucky us, they’ll stick around Houston long enough to sell the majority of their stock of European antiques, reproductions, and fabrics at 40 percent off, Joni Webb reports: “The French house is so charming – you really feel like you’re in the South of France, except for Houston’s traffic out the front window!” When you’re done shopping there, Webb commands:
be sure to also stop in at Ginger Barber’s Sitting Room which is next door. Further up the street is Tara Shaw and Heather Bowen Antiques. Continue up W. Alabama to Antiques and Interiors on Dunlavy, Boxwood and The Country Gentleman, then hit up Foxglove and Alcon Lighting.
If you haven’t passed out from exhaustion yet, turn around and head back to Brian Stringer’s and go the other way on W. Alabama. Stop at Jane Moore’s, then at Ferndale, go to Brown, Bill Gardner, Made in France, and Objects Lost and Found. Back on W. Alabama, continue on to Thompson and Hansen, The Gray Door, Chateau Domingue, Indulge on Saint Street, and 2620 on Joanel.
More openings and closings:
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The water in Deer Park has been looking a little cloudy lately:
As Aimee Carroll pours a glass of water at her home in Deer Park, she cringes at the thought of drinking it. She says the nine people living there, including her four children, have all been sick the past few weeks.
“Nausea, diarrhea, vomiting,” she said. “My fourth grader had headaches.”
She was confused by a letter which the city sent out with water bills, saying the water had excessive levels of turbidity, that it that alone has no health effects, but that that the water could contain bacteria, viruses, and even parasites, and that those could cause all the symptoms seen at her house.
No need to worry: It’s not the water. It’s all those silly little things floating in it!
City officials say a container storing a chemical used to treat water for turbidity in Deer Park broke in late September.
Photo of Deer Park brand bottled water (not related): Flickr user Trish Heaps
That beautiful flare glowing from atop ExxonMobil Chemical’s Olefins plant in Baytown last Thursday night wasn’t just a pretty New Year’s display for the city. It came with a couple of bonuses: two “not specifically authorized” releases, including 6,857 pounds of benzene, plus a bunch of other fun toxins.
Not to be outdone, the nearby ExxonMobil oil refinery decided to celebrate the new year in its own special way, releasing a bouquet of smelly agents including 3,010 lbs. of neurotoxicant carbonyl sulfide into our lovely Gulf air.
Now when Houston visitors ask you why the east side of the city has an odor reminiscent of cooked cabbage, you’ll be able to explain why.
Meanwhile, two environmental organizations are interrupting the normal course of business over in Deer Park with a pesky lawsuit:
“On average of more than once a week for at least the past five years, Shell has reported that it violated its own permit limits by spewing a wide range of harmful pollutants into the air around the Deer Park plant,” said Luke Metzger, executive director of Environment Texas.
Photo of Baytown sunrise: Bill Jacobus