08/10/09 11:17am

Swamplot’s new “Bottom” of the Fifth Ward correspondent Vaughn Mueller reports from the site of the old Bruce Elementary School, where a sign indicates the property is for sale. A source tells Swamplot that a few details need to be worked out before it’s “officially” on the market, but an HISD web page provides some information about the property.

The school, which was closed at the end of the spring 2007 semester, sits along Cage and Bringhurst on the I-10 feeder road, and comprises a little more than 2 blocks. Mueller reports that the new Bruce Elementary (built by a 2002 HISD bond) less than a mile away on Jensen opened its doors in the fall of 2007.

Why the move?

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08/05/09 1:39pm

Good news for the residents of Grace Ln. who back up to that Griggs Rd. waste treatment and disposal facility run by CES Environmental Services! It’ll probably be a while before another thermal oxidizer ruptures and sends four-foot-wide metal pieces flying over their back fences again:

“I mean, this was metal that could have decapitated people,” [Grace Ln. resident and salon owner Kimberly Sadberry] said. “It was sharp. We had to put it on a dolly to take it back, it was that heavy.”

CES assured residents nothing like that would ever happen again, but less than two weeks later, another explosion occurred, she said.

Why the grace period now? Responding to complaints about intermittent explosions and noxious smells emanating from the plant — as well as the fiery death last month of a CES employee as he attempted to clean a tanker truck — police officers and federal agents raided the facility yesterday morning. And figuring out what’s really going on there might take a while:

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12/29/08 8:59am

HIGHER POWERS OF THE HOUSTON-GALVESTON REGION Environmental attorney Jim Blackburn gets religion: “At AA, they told me that that I had to admit that I was powerless over alcohol. They also told me that I needed to acknowledge a ‘higher power’ which was described as a power greater than myself that would provide me with spiritual strength sufficient to give me the ability to change. Well – I fought both concepts, particularly that of a higher power. It seemed like capitulation, that I had to return to the religion within which I was raised and from which I had fled. And then at a meeting one day, a young man said that his higher power was a METRO bus. The METRO bus as a higher power made me smile and it allowed me to loosen up and think more creatively. At this time, I was doing work on Galveston Bay and had a good feeling about the bay, so I chose Galveston Bay as my higher power, a truly life-changing event.” [Blackburn & Carter, via OffCite]

12/11/08 1:23pm

Neighbors of a permitted, non-hazardous waste treatment and disposal plant less than a mile south of Riverside Terrace have been upset by the stench that regularly rises from the new facility. And last weekend there was a bit of an eruption at the CES Environmental Services plant at 4904 Griggs Rd.:

No one was injured in Saturday’s explosion, but it was the latest in a series of incidents involving the treatment facility, which is permitted to handle non-hazardous industrial waste, such as used oil.

The city has received more than 135 complaints about the plant this year, mostly related to the odors.

So what exactly landed in the yards along Grace Lane in McGregor Terrace? Exploded waste?

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12/08/08 2:43pm

An awful stench has been wafting through the homes of Golden Glade Estates, just west of Hobby Airport and south of Sims Bayou. There’s also been backyard flooding after every rain, a constant din from trucks, and generator-powered lighting beaming into local Living Rooms during the night. The cause? Huge piles of wood debris, brought into the southeast Houston neighborhood after Hurricane Ike:

Their problems started when Federal Emergency Management Agency contractors began trucking in hundreds of semi truckloads of pungent smelling, steaming mulch. Local 2 Investigates cameras and Sky 2 helicopter footage show some mounds stacked taller than nearby homes, covering acres of land less than 100 yards from some homes.

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09/25/08 5:23pm

IKE’S TOXIC IMPRINT So far, regulatory officials have identified 228 sites potentially poisoned with gasoline, industrial chemicals, feces and other contaminants from Greater Houston to Lake Charles, La. But none of the reported spills is considered major, authorities said. Cmdr. Virginia Kammer, who leads the U.S. Coast Guard’s cleanup efforts along the Texas coastline, said the largest spill was about 3,000 barrels, and the responsible facility moved quickly to get the problem under control.” What about the region’s 28 Superfund sites? No word yet, but the EPA has “started to investigate.” [Houston Chronicle]

09/24/08 4:41pm

SHOULD GALVESTON BE REBUILT? “The city and its environs rest on barrier islands, which are made of sand, low-lying and prone to significant geological shifts. In Galveston’s case, even before Ike’s landfall, the island was both sinking slowly and becoming sharply eroded along its west end. Moreover, a couple of years ago, the city itself commissioned University of Texas geologist Jim Gibeaut to create a geohazards map for the island, that is, where should development not occur? The research study found that nearly all the development along the beach front west of the seawall, which protects the core of the island, is in ‘red’ or ‘yellow’ zones, where Gibeaut says development should not occur.” [SciGuy]

09/23/08 3:16pm

HOUSTON BAYOUS: NOW FEATURING RAW SEWAGE! “Ever since the hurricane, a number of the city’s waste water treatment plants went without power. As a result, the city was forced to actually dump raw sewage straight into the bayous. First of all, it smells awful. There have also been some oil slicks along the waterways. And you can’t miss the dead fish.” [abc13]

09/18/08 6:36pm

House and Damaged Boat on Taylor Lake, Taylor Lake Village, Texas, after Hurricane Ike

A note from the City of Taylor Lake Village:

Taylor Lake is closed to recreation – swimming, boating, fishing, and water skiing. The Gulf Coast Waste Disposal Authority industrial wastewater treatment plant on Port Road was inundated during the storm and its ponds of untreated industrial and sanitary waste overflowed into Taylor Lake. The Lake may be contaminated with industrial pollutants (volatile organic and other compounds) and bacteriological contaminants. Residents should avoid all contact with Taylor Lake water until further notice.

Any other area industrial pollutants gone AWOL after Ike? Where did they end up?

Photo of house and damage on Taylor Lake: Flickr user Linda Railsback

09/09/08 11:15am

BLOWING THIS WAY FROM TEXAS CITY [Sunday] night for about two hours, BP’s refinery released an estimated 2,725.59 pounds of sulfur dioxide when the pressure spiked during a planned shutdown — so if you were cruising through Texas City and noticed a suffocating smell that may have been it. Meanwhile, starting [Monday], and continuing for the next week, BP has three more emissions events scheduled that are related to maintenance and the aforementioned planned shutdown at the refinery. Through the magic of the Internet, you can determine the substances involved in the releases, which include benzene.” [Hair Balls]

09/09/08 9:35am

$325K FOR A 50-ACRE TEXAS CITY PARK? BP is staring at a $650,000 penalty for unauthorized land disposal of hazardous waste. . . . The penalty is not yet final but will probably come before the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in October, an agency spokeswoman said. Half of the proposed $650,000 fine requires BP to buy a minimum of 50 acres of contiguous property in and around Texas City and make it suitable for park land. The company will be required to preserve the entire property in perpetuity as a park and nature preserve.” [Hair Balls]

07/25/08 2:07pm

BACK IN THE WATERWAY, EVERYONE! City Council voted earlier this week to relax restrictions on the construction and renovation of homes in frequently flooded areas. The restrictions had been enacted quietly 2 years ago and protested by floodway residents ever since. “Under the revised rules, permits for construction on vacant land in floodways will be issued only if the building uses a pier and beam rather than a slab foundation, and if the applicant pays for any necessary mitigation, [deputy public works director Andy] Icken said.” [Houston Chronicle]

12/27/07 11:31am

Lake at Crown Oaks, ConroeThe charms of gated acreage near Lake Conroe: large, wooded lakefront homesites, plus only a 25 minute commute . . . to The Woodlands! Oh, and if we’re talking about 1400-acre Crown Oaks in Montgomery County, lots of lawsuits, too!

Last year, the Crown Oaks Property Owners Association, along with individual homeowners, sued Affiliated Crown Development LTD, citing poor structure of the two manmade lakes in the development, located outside Montgomery.

But so much has happened since then: After new board members decided the developer would finally work with them to solve the lakes’ problems, the property owners association dropped its suit this fall. But now two groups of 10 individual homeowners have hired separate legal teams to continue their lawsuit against the developer. And in turn, the developer is now suing the engineering and construction firms it hired to build the dams on both lakes.

But there’s even more lawsuit fun:

“The POA tried to get out of the suit as a plaintiff, so my group has also sued them,” [homeowner attorney Kevin] Forsberg said. “The individuals were not satisfied. … Even though the POA started working with the developer in the hopes that the lakes would be fixed, nothing has actually been done.”

What’s it like to build your home on a lake that doesn’t bother to show up? Thanks to the amazing power of the internets, you can experience all the highs and lows of manmade-lakefront real-estate investing yourself — from the comfort of your own computer! Watch videos and read details of the whole dam story . . . after the jump!

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12/06/07 2:35pm

Residences at Seventh at 5th, by DPZ

A reader who lives in the neighborhood points us to drawings and information from New Urbanist planners Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co. about the firm’s designs for the former MDI Superfund site in the Fifth Ward. DPZ, of course, is most famous for the enormous small-town-sized stage-set the company designed for the 1998 Jim Carrey movie The Truman Show, which became so popular that it was kept on and is now used as a Florida Panhandle resort named Seaside.

InTown Homes and Lovett Homes owner Frank Liu bought the MDI site — a former metal foundry and spent-catalyst “recycling” facility famously polluted with lead and several thousand chemistry sets’ worth of other toxic substances — from the EPA late last year, with promises that he’ll spend a couple of years and $6.7 million remediating the property before letting Houstonians live there. Still, 36+ acres of inner-loop land at $5 a square foot doesn’t sound like too bad a deal.

After the jump: a look at DPZ’s MDI plans, plus large grains of salt.

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06/22/07 7:55am

Biodiesel Production Plant in Carl’s Corner, TexasSure, everybody’s excited about biodiesel because it’s new and rare. But just wait until smelly biodiesel production plants start littering the landscape like fast-food franchises.

If you’ve got $1.95 million, you can set one up too. A company out of Florida is selling “prepackaged,” turnkey biodiesel plants from a German factory. Let them come, and they will build it:

As part of its business-in-a-box plan, Xenerga promises long-term, exclusive deals to purchase waste cooking oil from a network of suppliers whose clients include McDonald’s Corp. and Chili’s Grill & Bar. Xenerga’s supply side also focuses on rendered animal fats like beef tallow, chicken grease and pig fat, all of which are plentiful in Texas.

Interest from this region has been strong, the company told the Houston Business Journal: a plant in west Houston is planned already.

Xenerga also promises to deliver customers willing to buy the estimated 5 million gallons of biodiesel per year that the plants produce.

Each Xenerga plant only takes up half an acre, requires two employees at a time, and can be sited almost anywhere from light industrial parks to rural farmland.

Photo: Biodiesel production plant in Carl’s Corner, Texas, by flickr user Nicola Matsukis