COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE REAL REASON WHY BUFFALO BAYOU SMELLS AND LOOKS THE WAY IT DOES “If Buffalo Bayou stunk so much, then no one would have built a bunch of expensive homes all along it (west of downtown). Most of the Houston area’s waste water effluent flows into the Bayou east of downtown anyways. The Clinton/69th plant (the largest in the city) is just east of downtown, and the Sims and Braes plants don’t enter until well past downtown. With that said, I don’t think the treatment plants are the big contributors to the overall unpleasantness of the Buffalo Bayou water (flood events not withstanding). Most of the effluent (when the plants are properly operating) is nearly clear and usually only has an ‘earthy’ odor to it if any at all. I think the big issue with the bayou’s water quality is the regular runoff and trash that flows into it and eventually lines the shores of it all along downtown.” [nmj, commenting on The North Canal, a New Downtown Island, and Other Secret Plans for Downtown Houston’s Future] Photo: Swamplot inbox
COMMENT OF THE DAY SECOND RUNNER-UP: THINGS TO THINK ABOUT BEFORE YOU START PLANNING UNDER-FREEWAY DEVELOPMENTS “One conclusion I’ve made about the U.S., compared to European countries, is that we don’t use space efficiently. We’ve got all these open ditches, grass patches . . . along our roadways. So this Tokyo solution appeals to me.
But while I haven’t traveled extensively, I feel that selling/renting under-highway space to retail smacks of third-world. Would Houston ever go for that?
There is so much filth that washes off roadways and would filter into/onto these shops. A friend has his bike storage cage under the apartment driveway. It’s just a drive! yet the bikes always have a greasy blackness on them. Ever park in an airport garage for more than a couple days? Your car is filthy.
Maybe it’s just me, but I wouldn’t/couldn’t eat a taco made under the Pierce Elevated.” [movocelot, commenting on Midtown Sears Closure Nets Rice 9 Acres near the Wheeler Transit Center] Illustration: Lulu
Captured on Sunday between bands of Harvey downpour by an enterprising drone photographer hunkering in Friendswood, the video above includes a quick pan over the Brio Superfund site south of Beamer Rd. near the intersection with Dixie Farm Rd. The former chemical facility, once at the heart of both the long-gone Southbend neighborhood and of the series of lawsuits filed by Southbend residents over contamination-related birth defects and illnesses, makes its cameo around minute 3, as the drone passes over a waterlogged Exxon Mobil station and rotates from south to east down Beamer toward the San Jacinto College South Campus.
Might floodwaters flowing across the Brio site and all those other Superfund spots dotting the local map have stirred up toxin-laced sediments and spread them around? (Texas A&M Galveston scientist Wes Highfield was worried enough about the possibility to attempt a mid-flood outing from his home to try to get some watersamples.) In the video, the Brio site appears to be a little less waterlogged than some of its surroundings — including the adjacent section of Beamer Rd., shown picking up a bit of kayak traffic — but likely got washed over by around42 in. of rain altogether in the past week.
In a follow-up drone run flown on Wednesday, the site (making an appearance about 2-and-a-half minutes in) looks like it might have dried off a bit:
SMELLING BLIND IN THE EAST END A possible cause of the nasty smells that caused East End residents headaches, sore and scratchy throats, and itchy eyes as Hurricane Harvey approached and inundated the area? Houston-area industrial plants in the last week released more than 2.25 million pounds of emissions above legal limits, according to an Environment Texas tally of Texas Commission on Environmental Quality data. The reason: plant shutdowns before the onset of the storm and startups after it left. “So far,” writes Emily Atkin, “TCEQ has not indicated these events have triggered health impacts. . . . TCEQ Media Relations Manager Andrea Miller told me the agency or local emergency officials would contact residents if an immediate health threat were to occur. What’s more, Miller said companies were probably reporting higher emissions that what actually occurred, ‘since underreporting can result in higher penalties.‘ It’s unclear, however, how TCEQ would check many of the companies’ reports, since the agency turned off all its air quality monitors in the Houston area before Harvey hit. Miller confirmed as much on Monday, saying devices were either turned off or removed “to protect against damage or loss of these sensitive and expensive instruments.” [The New Republic] Photo of ExxonMobil Baytown refinery: Louis Vest [license]
A stolen Dodge Durango was the first car pulled out of Brays Bayou earlier this month as Harris County Flood Control and friends resumed work on removing some of the 100-plus sunken vehicles previously discovered gently rusting below the surface of a few of Houston’s major waterways. (The Nissan Maxima above was next in line.) Last year’s test run of the removal setup snagged a total of 20 cars out of Brays and Sims bayous; the contracts signed earlier this year for a new round of vehicle fishing budget for a catch of around 65 vehicles from the 2 bayous, depending on size and how much of a fight each one puts up. (Texas Equusearch did note back in its 2011 survey that at least one big rig is lurking somewhere in the watery depths, and some of the cars are more filled with mud and debris than others.)
The county says the new car count was up to 13 by the time work crews paused last week to let Cindy pass; a county worker also snapped photos showing off some of the haul, which has so far included a range of more and less easily identifiable makes and models including a Nissan Frontier, a Jaguar, a Ford Mustang, a Ford Bronco, an Eagle Talon, and others:
Urban wildlife cellphone videographer Christine Wilson sends some footage captured from Allen’s Landing documenting the eons-old nature vs. civilization struggle, which played out earlier this week in the form of tiny ducks dodging their way through the floating trash field where White Oak and Buffalo bayous join up. Wilson caught sight (and sound) of a duck and 4 ducklings struggling across the White Oak outflow toward the Buffalo side of the confluence, which she notes is significantly less debris-spangled. That’s the Harris County Jail in the background for most of the shot, across White Oak from the main building of the University of Houston Downtown. (The footage cuts out mid-scene, but Wilson says the ducks did eventually make it across.)
The map above (a snap from Luke Whyte’s click-and-zoom-able original version, published this week by the Texas Tribune) shows the abandoned oil and gas wells scattered in and around the Houston area, per the official accounting of the Texas Railroad Commission. The state agency (which has had nothing to do with railroads since 2005) regulates pipelines, oil, and gas, and keeps tabs on so-called “orphaned wells” whose original owners have stopped keeping tabs on them for one reason or another, writes Jim Malewitz this week — the ones that were reported in the first place, that is. Kerry Knorpp, formerly on a defunct state committee overseeing oilfield cleanup efforts, also tells Malewitz that “there is about to be a tsunami of [newly] abandoned wells — wells were drilled at $110 oil that you would have never completed otherwise.”
The shaded hexagons above are meant to help show the density of those holes, not the degree to which they might pose a pollution hazard (though the agency ranks each well by its hazard potential, too, to help it decide which ones to plug up first, of the more than 10,000 currently on the docket).
Just what kind of hazards can a bunch of abandoned holes pose, anyway?
Weather permitting, an area along the edge of the San Jacinto Waste Pits Superfund site under the I-10 East bridge should be getting around 800 cubic feet of new rocks piled onto it this week and next, according to this month’s EPA update on the project. The agency asked International Paper and McGinnis (which might be on the hook financially for much of the final cleanup) to cover up some recently-discovered areas of the nearby riverbed that were scoured as deep as 8 feet in some places by this spring‘s torrential flooding; the tarp-with-rocks-on-it armored cap itself doesn’t appear to have been damaged, but the EPA says the extra rocks will help ensure its continued protectiveness.