COULD HARRIS COUNTY SAVE UP SOME FLOODWATER FOR WHEN IT’S REALLY NEEDED? Finding a way to stockpile floodwater during years of plenty, commissioner Jack Cagle tells Mihir Zaveri this week, might not only help to make more water available for use during Houston’s drought years. It might also be a way to check the Houston region’s tendency for subsidence (that slow, permanent sinking that can happen when groundwater is pulled out of Houston’s soft clay layers too quickly). Or maybe, Zaveri adds, it could be used to help keep seawater from being sucked into aquifers as fresh water gets sucked out the other side — as long as doing so didn’t accidentally contaminate those same aquifers with junk from the surface. Who knows? Nobody, yet — but the county commissioners have given the $160,000 okay to a study team to shed light on whether it would be possible, feasible, or advisible for Harris County to pump floodwater underground for storage during major storms. [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Meyerland flooding on Tax Day 2016: Tamara Fish
W. A. PARISH PLANT ONE OF THE WORST POLLUTERS IN THE COUNTRY, FINDS REPORT According to a new study published by Environment America, NRG Energy’s coal-firing W. A. Parish Electric Generating Plant, on Smithers Lake outside of Richmond, is really good at being dirty. Though the plant has been messing around with a way to clean itself up in the past year or so, the report, published today, still fingers it as the 5th dirtiest in the country when it comes to carbon emissions. And here, in order, are 1-4: “Georgia Power Co.’s Plant Scherer, Alabama Power Co.’s James H. Miller Jr. Plant, Luminant’s Martin Lake in Texas, [and] Ameren’s Labadie in Missouri.” [StateImpact; Environment America; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Flickr user Joe A.
STUDYING HOUSTON’S ROADSIDE AIR QUALITY Another source of Houston’s pollution has got the attention of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality: tailpipes. Starting in January, the agency will place a pair of monitors within 160 ft. of 2 our most heavily used roads — including the Southwest Fwy. near the Westpark Tollway — to record the amount of nitrogen dioxide leaked into the air. Apparently, the stuff can be pretty nasty, writes the Houston Chronicle’s Matthew Tresaugue: “The Environmental Protection Agency said studies have measured concentrations of the gas to be as much as 100 times greater near major roadways than away from them. Scientists, meanwhile, have linked the pollutant to asthma and other lung ailments, especially among children and the elderly.” The results of these monitors, adds Tresaugue, might lead the city to make decisions about preventing schools and residences from being built in and around affected areas. [Houston Chronicle ($); previously on Swamplot] Photo: AA Roads
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
THE WOODLAND PARK THINNING STORY THICKENS The backlash to the clearing of Woodland Park vegetation behind the 7 townhomes he’s building on Wrightwood St. seems to have encouraged first-time developer Bill Workman to make hardhat-in-hand rounds this week with local media: He’s given similar statements regretting the snafu to Hair Balls, KUHF, Click2Houston, and abc13. But more details are coming out that complicate a situation that Workman maintains resulted from a miscommunication with a subcontractor hired, he says, only to grade the site: Debris from what’s been reported to be 3/4 of an acre of parkland has been pushed down to the banks of Little White Oak Bayou, presenting a possible drainage problem — which, of course, the grading was undertaken in the first place to solve. And the claim that only invasive species had been removed doesn’t seem to be the case, either, reports the Houston Chronicle: “The Parks Department reported that the cleared property included some healthy trees,” write Erin Mulvaney and Mike Norris. (As many as 100, estimates abc13.) “Reforestation and replanting will be necessary, and erosion control and possible regrading of the site may be required, officials said. A debris pile will also need to be removed. Workman said a large amount of bamboo and an undergrowth of vines were removed in the clearing.” [Houston Chronicle ($); previously on Swamplot] Photo: Andrea Greer
FIGHTING THE INVADERS OF BUFFALO BAYOU Though much of the Buffalo Bayou Partnership’s (BBP) plans for that eponymous waterway involve adding things — kayak rental shops, pedestrian bridges, etc. — there seems to be the need for subtraction, too: “‘People look at the park and see that it’s filled with trees and grass, what most people don’t realize is that most of those plants shouldn’t be there,'” BBP’s prez Anne Olson tells Alex Wukman of Free Press Houston. “A study of the park’s vegetation, which the Partnership filed with the Texas Forest Service, found Buffalo Bayou to be overrun with invasive species — primarily White Cedar and Chinese Tallow. . . . Olson explained that the Partnership plans to combat the invasive species problem by removing 50 percent of the park’s lawn, which is mostly made up of easily-maintained but non-native Bermuda grass, and replacing it with native grasses.” Adds Olson: “‘We’re going to create an 11 acre urban prairie.'” [Free Press Houston; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Flickr user barryDphotography
Here’s a rendering of the classroom studio (and vegetable garden and recycled shipping container) that’s now under construction at the Monarch School in Spring Branch. North of the Katy Fwy. near Kempwood and Gessner, the school serves students with neurological disorders, and it says that the design elements and architecture of this very green 1,120-sq.-ft. studio from Architend will become part of the curriculum:
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ACTUALLY, SAY CRITICS, ‘ONE BIN FOR ALL’ MAYBE NOT BEST IDEA Mayor Parker’s prize-winning garbage program was questioned yesterday by activists and environmentalists, reports Hair Balls’ Vanessa Piña — especially because the $1 million the city won from Mayor Bloomberg seems awfully puny in light of the expected $100 million the new sorting facility could cost. And, reports Piña, critics are suggesting that “One Bin for All” seems kinda unnecessary: “There is a successful partnership between the city and waste management, and material is daily being handled. Waste Management’s single stream sorting facilities are running at an estimated 50 percent of capacity and can easily handle more if the city will only provide more carts to our citizens,” says Leo Gold. And here’s Dr. Robert Bullard, public affairs dean at Texas Southern: “For someone who has done research and written more than 18 books on this stuff it is rather odd that we would be opting for an unproven, risky idea.” [Hair Balls; previously on Swamplot] Photo of recycling bin in the Heights: Charles Kuffner
GARBAGE PROGRAM STILL ‘ABSOLUTELY DOABLE,’ SAYS MAYOR PARKER
So Houston’s “One Bin for All” idea didn’t win the $5 million grand prize in Mayor Bloomberg’s philanthrophic challenge — but it did tie for second. And that means $1 million will be coming Houston’s way, along with $50,000 extra for being so darn lovable and winning the “fan favorite” vote online. And what’s the city going to do with all this dough? The Houston Chronicle’s Carol Christian reports that the consolation prizes might be just enough to get the program off the ground: Though the idea to combine garbage, recycling, and yard waste into one big bin for mechanized sorting later has been around for awhile, Mayor Parker says, “This award will allow us the seed money to begin the process . . . We have thoroughly researched the technology. It’s absolutely doable.” Construction on a new sorting facility could begin as early as 2014, reports Christian. [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo of recycling bin in the Heights: Charles Kuffner
Invasion of the Art Snatchers: Carrie Schneider and Alex Tu, pictured above (though not in their everyday wear), are planning to reproduce the Art Guy Michael Galbreth’s “The Human Tour,” reports Houston Press‘s Meredith Deliso. As a UH student in 1987, Galbreth came up with the crosstown tour: a 40-mile, anatomically correct urban hike in the shape of a human figure.
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In Dallas, you have to keep at least 20 ft. between your chicken coop and your neighbor’s stuff. Here? It’s 100 ft. That’s why this map of the Greater Heights looks the way it does. Hens for Houston founder Claire Krebs, using GIS technology she learned as an engineering student at Rice, created a series of these maps (what she’s calling “policy-making tools”) out of HCAD data to show just how few Houstonians are allowed to keep hens — if they wanted, that is — because of a city ordinance requiring the 100-ft. setback.
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UP IN THE PINES TO STOP THE KEYSTONE XL PIPELINE Three hours north of Houston in Cherokee County, reports Brantley Hargrove, protesters interfering with a 485-mile section of TransCanada pipeline being built to carry diluted bitumen south to refineries on the Gulf Coast faced some resistance of their own: “[An] 18-wheeler bearing a cherry picker to pluck protesters out of trees slowed as it approached a shouting, sign-wielding crowd. Several young men leaped in its path. One fell beneath the truck. The others screamed and pounded the hood with their fists. A deputy rounded the front of the truck and drove the protesters back, loosing clouds of pepper spray. [A 75-year-old woman], standing off to the side of the road, caught a gust of the burning mist.” Separately, TransCanada’s website notes its plans for the Houston Lateral Project (shown in red on the map), a 47-mile spur that will come close to Beltway 8. [Houston Press; Gulf Coast Project] Map: TransCanada
In what appears to be a last-ditch effort to block construction of Segment E, the straight-throught-the-Katy-Prairie section of the Grand Parkway scheduled to begin construction this month, the Sierra Club has filed a new suit against the Army Corps of Engineers, the DOT, the FHA, the Texas Transportation Commission, and several public officials. But the lawsuit also focuses attention on the health of the Addicks and Barker Dams on Buffalo Bayou, which control waterflow through west and Downtown Houston. According to a July 2010 document unearthed by the environmental group this past March through an information request, the Army Corps has rated the status of both dams as “urgent and compelling” since September 2009; that rating indicates the Corps considers them to be 2 of the 6 most dangerous dams in North America.
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COMMENT OF THE DAY: THIS LAND IS THEIR LAND “Heard about it. Shouldn’t matter who the purchaser is, in fact, after reading your comments, it is probably more fair all around if they do not disclose who they are. Posters on this site are quite amazing. I am astonished daily in what they seem to feel they are entitled to when it comes to property owned by others. And how much Swamplot originators do to creatively stir the pot.” [LudiKris, commenting on How Does a Public Notice About ExxonMobil’s Giant New Corporate Campus Stay Under the Radar?]
DOWNTOWN’S PIGEON POOP POWDER KEG WILL NOT GO BOOM Swamplot reader ms. rosa reports on tonight’s scheduled demolition of the 1906 Savoy Apartments building (later the Savoy-Field Hotel) at Main St. and Pease Downtown: “Just spoke with Cherry [Demolition]. They will start tearing down the building tonight (Friday, October 2, 2009) at 7:00pm. It will not be imploded (as hoped!)” [Swamplot; previously]