THE TIME MY BROTHER AND HIS FRIENDS ALMOST BLEW UP A GAS PIPELINE IN THE BAYOU One Houston summer in the early 1960s: “My brother and his friends were playing, pretending they were WWII soldiers and they were running around shooting fake machine guns and then they would go over and jump in the bayou pretending it was a foxhole. And I went over and I heard them talking . . . they were going to build their own bomb. And I told them you know you better not do that. . . . The next thing I know I see them in the garage and they’ve got a bunch of my dad’s leftover firecrackers and they’re splitting them open and pouring them into this big prescription bottle. I tried to find my mother. And she ended up being next door. When I ran next door I was standing in the backyard and I heard this loud boom and looked at where the explosion came from and it was right where my brother and his friends had been playing. I heard sirens in the distance and a helicopter started flying real low over the pipeline. . . . Shortly after that there was a knock at the door and it was the police. . . . they said that the magnitude of this explosion had blown an almost-6-ft.-deep hole right above the Shell gas pipeline [that ran along the bayou] and it could have blown up our whole neighborhood had it been a little bit more than that.” [Texas Standard] Photo: Adam Baker [license]
These crop duster-height shots of 12 acres of solar paneling were snagged above FM 3013 half a mile south of Gebhardt Rd., where Harvest Moon Renewable Energy Company is getting ready to bring its juice to market in Sealy and Houston areas served by CenterPoint Energy. According to a fresh-from-the-farm press release, the plant’s 15,000-and-then-some solar panels, blossoming on the end of more than 1,000 steel posts, should produce around 2.5 million kilowatt-hours of power each year (bundled into the 952 million kWh the EPA says Houston uses annually). MP2 Energy will take care of the actual selling, and plans to fill in the gaps from the solar supply with power bought from other renewable sources.
Harvest Moon’s president Joey Romano, who previously developed the solar-focused Mirabeau B. apartments on Waugh at Hyde Park, is now running the operation with founder and CEO Joe Romano, formerly CEO of Contango Oil & Gas and CFO of Zilhka Energy. The company plans to allow customers to tour the family farm, but you can also watch the panel crop grow online — the company took a time-lapse video of the 120-day installation, which wrapped up late last year:
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Fresh from the Photovoltaic Module
THE PARTS OF TOWN WHERE THOSE STREETCORNER MINI MURALS ARE POPPING UP If you’re wondering where you can find more of those painted-over traffic signal control boxes —- like the one pictured here, which just appeared at the corner of Stella Link and Latma Dr. in Woodside — there’s a . . . website for that. UP Art Studio, the mural project’s instigators, has pics up of more than 2 dozen of the altered streetcorner cabinets colorfully transformed by artists so far, as well as an interactive map for scouting them out. The project is restricted (so far, at least) to the southwest part of town inside the Beltway. In all, 14 artists have been commissioned to reimagine 31 metal boxes. [UP Art Studio] Photo: 2:12
NEW IPHONE APP BUGS YOU WHEN IT’S TIME TO TAKE OUT THE TRASH, BUT REFUSES TO DO IT FOR YOU A local CTO who knows his way around iOS programming but had trouble at first figuring out what day the garbage trucks are supposed to come by is behind a simple app that became available on Apple’s App Store just last week. Kenton Gray’s Rollout! Houston was one of the winners of the citywide Hackathon in May. The free program can’t help you lift or pull bins or navigate a path from back yard to front yard around your lot-filling townhouse, but it does do one thing well: inform you of the next pickup day for garbage, recycling, and heavy trash for whatever City of Houston location you’re in. Oh, and then it does one more thing: It lets you set reminders for each. [Houston Chronicle; App Store link]
SEWAGE NOW FLOWING PROPERLY UNDER GULF FWY. AGAIN That pipe break spotted underneath an I-45 South overpass leaking what appeared to be raw sewage onto a concrete path adjacent to Brays Bayou last week has now been repaired — or at least covered with a new sleeve. A photo of the fix also shows flood-remnant bouquets still intact along the pipe’s length at the bayou crossing south of Idylwood and just east of Telephone Rd. Photo: Allyn West
COMMENT OF THE DAY: WILL THE NEW BIKE TRAIL SYSTEM BE THIS SHOCKING? “Here’s something a little off topic but has to do with putting trails on power easements. Has anyone ever experienced what happens when you ride under the lines down the dirt road in Memorial Park? The electromagnetic field actually shocks you where you are touching the frame or handlebars especially during peak Summer usage hours and when sweaty. Not sure if that’s ever been addressed.” [j, commenting on FPSF Moving Next to the Astrodome; I-10 Toll Hike Delay; Secrets of the I-45 Redo Plan] Illustration: Lulu
A couple of readers have sent in pics of the curious driveway installation at 2115 Taft St. just south of Welch St. just over the eastern border from Montrose, on the former site of the Taft St. Coffee House and Ecclesia Church. The utility pole dates from the lot’s former inhabitants; the courteous flatwork has been built around it for later patching. “In case you are wondering,” writes one of our tipsters, “the space on either side is not wide enough for a car to pass, nor does the driveway go all the way through to the next street.”
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The Townhomes Are Coming
A LOOK AT SOME OF THE LIQUID POO FLOWING ONTO COLQUITT ST. IN MONTROSE A reader wants to be sure Swamplot readers are alerted — as city inspectors, the HPD’s environmental division, and the property manager have already been, the reader says — to the “recurring” problem of raw sewage flowing out from the Takara-So Apartments at 1919 W. Main St. and into neighboring storm drains. The photo at left, taken on Monday, shows the sewage (“you can smell it”) along Colquitt St., pausing for a bit of sun on its way to lower-lying bayous and waterways. [Previously on Swamplot] Photo: Swamplot inbox
Without making a big alert-the-neighbors fuss about it, CenterPoint Energy appears to have begun expanding the electrical substation across the street from the new Alexan Heights apartment complex going up on Yale St. into an adjacent vacant lot, a reader reports. Crews began breaking up the 6,600-sq.-ft. lot’s concrete surface yesterday. CenterPoint has owned the lot at 612 Yale St. since 2004, according to county tax records, though the neighboring 6th and Yale Collision and Repair shop had often used it as parking space.
The lot appears at the top center of this recent aerial view of apartment construction and the substation:
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HIGH VOLTAGE NEWS FOR HOUSTON BICYCLISTS Parks and Rec department director Joe Turner tells the Chronicle‘s Mike Morris that a powerline right-of-way crossing on University of Houston property northeast of the intersection of Martin Luther King Boulevard and Old Spanish Trail will be the first improvement allowed by a new agreement between the city and CenterPoint Energy (subject to city council approval this week) that will allow hike-and-bike trails to be cut along electrical transmission-line right of ways throughout the city. Most likely the next up, according to Turner: a trail from Sims Bayou to Cambridge Village Park in southwest Houston. That route, along with others being contemplated, runs north to south. As Mayor Parker noted in her announcement, that should complement the bayou-side (and therefore mostly east-west) trails being created as part of the Bayou Greenways 2020 project. CenterPoint is donating $1.5 million toward the creation of new trails on their property, possibly because it got what it wanted in the deal, which also involves the conversion of all 165,000 city traffic signals to LEDs over the next 5 years. Writes Morris: “Bills to allow trails on utility right of way were filed as early as 2007 but stalled over questions about how much liability CenterPoint should face in opening its land for recreational use. A compromise was reached last year. The utility is liable only for a serious injury or death caused by its ‘willful or wanton acts or gross negligence.’ Under the agreement announced Friday, the city would pay the utility’s legal bills if lawsuits are filed.” [Houston Chronicle ($); more info; previously on Swamplot] Photo of bike trail along Brays Bayou: Dave Fehling/State Impact
Tweeting from low Earth orbit on board the International Space Station, NASA astronaut and Clear Lake City resident Rick Mastracchio sends out this spiderweb-like nighttime image he snapped of Houston. What’s that bright spot in the section in the lower right? “Think I left my lights on!” he writes.
Photo: Rick Mastracchio
Photographic Signs of Intelligent Nightlife
A TREESTARTER FOR MEADOWCREEK VILLAGE PARK There’s no ponderous selfie video to go with the appeal (a more generic promotional vid from Trees for Houston is posted instead), but the Beautification Committee of the Meadowcreek Village Civic Club has taken to a crowdfunding site to raise money for twenty 15-gallon trees they hope to plant at drought-stricken Meadowcreek Village Park on Forest Oaks Blvd. just south of Allendale Rd. The $3,000 the committee hopes to raise from online donations won’t be going to buy the trees, however — Trees for Houston has already donated them. Instead, they’re trying to fund the trees’ watering costs for 2 years, which committee chair Joe Rocha figures will cost $75 per tree per annum. With a mere 43 days to go before the end-of-the-year watering-fund deadline, the campaign is almost a third of the way toward its goal. [YouCaring] Drawing of Meadowcreek Village Park: Beautification Committee
Air conditioning repair guy David Lewis finds what he considers a novel installation of the AC condenser units found on the ground outside most Houston homes. The site (above and at left) is a 6,500-sq.-ft. doctors’ office converted from a house built in 1940, about a mile away from Rice University. Here, the condensers have their own vented add-on room tucked behind an added exterior stair — where they’re protected from the elements, thieves, and offended eyeballs. The expensive setup also means there’s a little more work for repairs: “You must have the area well ventilated hence the brown vents and weird hoods on the units. The greatest downside is that those hoods prevent service to the unit. If the condenser fan motor decides to quit then the hood must first be removed to allow access for replacement.”
Photos: David Lewis
WILL POWER LINE BIKE TRAILS COME TO HARRIS COUNTY? Approved this week and sent on to Gov. Perry was a new draft of that bill proposing bike trails along CenterPoint utility rights of way. CenterPoint didn’t seem too crazy about the first draft of the bill, saying back in February that it wouldn’t allow the trails unless it was assured it wouldn’t be liable should something shocking happen. This revised draft, the Houston Chronicle’s Mike Morris reports, covers CenterPoint all the way up to “willful or wanton acts or gross negligence.” And Morris writes that as many as 142 miles of right of way in Harris County could be available for trails if Gov. Perry signs off on the bill, many of them providing missing north-south connections between the existing trails that run primarily east-west along the bayous. (Houston Chronicle ($); previously on Swamplot) Photo: StateImpact