Houston City Council Member Dave Martin Provides Dredging Timeline

Dave Martin provided this report this morning to the Lake Houston Area Recovery Task Force monthly meeting at the Humble Chamber of Commerce. Compared to the post I published last week,it provides additional details about developments in recent months regarding the San Jacinto West Fork mouth bar. Council Member Martin has given me permission to reprint his report. Here it is verbatim.

Great Lakes Dredge and Dock is working downstream from River Grove Park on an area nicknamed “sand island.” See upper left corner of home page. Most of sand island is gone now. The dredging company hopes to complete this phase of West Fork Dredging by May 4.

To: Lake Houston Area Recovery Task Force     
Subject: Post Harvey Dredging Timeline
From: Council Member Dave Martin
Date:   April 1, 2019

Task Force Members,

Immediately after Hurricane Harvey, our District Council office, in partnership with the Lake Houston Area Chamber of Commerce, initiated our area’s “Plea for Three” campaign as a way to draw attention to the need for Remediation, Reduction (Lake Conroe), and Representation. The Plea for Three clearly identified the post-Harvey needs of the community for dredging, detention, and a community voice on the board of the San Jacinto River Authority. 

Following the “Plea for Three” was the “Plea to See”, which culminated visits to the Lake Houston area by Governor Greg Abbott on March 15, 2018, Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush on March 22, 2018, and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick on April 4, 2018. 

As a direct result of tours to our neighborhoods and tributaries, City of Houston and State Officials engaged with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to discuss the removal of debris within the West Fork of the San Jacinto River resulting from Hurricane Harvey. The specific concern for the debris included eight miles of newly deposited sediment starting from the confluence of the river at Lake Houston, to the upstream crossing of US Interstate 69 over the river. Several meetings have taken place with federal and state agencies to include additional portions of the reach for debris removal, and expansion of the existing dredging operation is needed to provide relief to the area. 

On April 2nd, 2018, representatives of the City of Houston and Harris County Flood Control District attended a meeting at the Texas Joint Recovery Office in Austin. Numerous agencies were represented at the meeting including Texas Department of Emergency Management (TDEM), FEMA, and the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). At the meeting the local representatives were informed by FEMA they were issuing a mission assignment to the USACE to develop a dredging project along the West Fork of the San Jacinto River. The USACE was to be responsible for determining the scope of work, preparing dredging plans, locating disposal sites, bidding the project, and managing the construction operations. An analysis was completed, construction plans were developed, and project was bid in June 2018. The reach to be dredged was determined to include approximately 2.5 miles upstream and downstream of the crossing of West Lake Houston Parkway. Dredging began early fall in September of 2018.

Due to the limited scope of the USACE project, and growth of the sand bar, commonly referred to as the mouth bar, located at the confluence West Fork of the San Jacinto with Lake Houston, and observed through historical aerial maps, our office indicated the need for the scope of dredging operations to be expanded. On October 11th, 2018, a meeting was held with representatives from TDEM, FEMA and the USACE to discuss this request. The City engaged the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) to obtain a bathymetric survey in combination with LIDAR data of sand deposits above the waterline.

Through this exercise, City of Houston consultants were able to determine total volume of material deposited. At the meeting, FEMA requested for the USACE to review the data provided by the City’s consultant. The City was also advised by the USACE that future dredging operations would require a new disposal site since the current USACE operations would utilize the two existing disposal sites to their full capacity. This triggered the identification and permitting of a new disposal site with Lake Houston resident Mr. Berry Madden. 

On December 10th, 2018, TDEM and FEMA conducted a meeting with representatives from the City and Harris County Flood Control District to discuss ongoing local recovery efforts including the possible dredging project at the mouth bar. Representatives from the USACE office were also present. At the meeting, the City was advised that USACE staff was unable to determine, with any level of accuracy, the volume of debris material deposited near the mouth bar directly associated from Hurricane Harvey. They indicated that additional data collection would be required but indicated the USACE did not have the resources, funding and staffing available to perform the necessary tasks. The City agreed to meet with the USACE staff to discuss their initial findings and outline an acceptable method to obtain the required data. 

On December 14th, 2018, a follow up meeting with the USACE was held in which staff provided the City a map highlighting the limits of focus area for data collection. USACE staff also recommended the City contact a geomorphologist to assist in the data collection and analysis, and recommended Dr. Tim Dellapenna, a geomorphologist from Texas A&M Galveston. Dr. Dellapenna submitted a proposal based upon a lump sum payment, however FEMA would not accept a lump sum payment schedule and then directed the City to ask Texas A&M for a “time and materials” contract, which A&M would not accept. 

Due to the USACE demand for a “time and material” contract, the City elected to utilize Tetra Tech, our recovery consultant, to provide the services on a time and materials agreement, as Texas A&M continued their non-acceptance of such a contract. 

The methodology utilized for the analysis is comparable to the “Stockton Protocol” for identifying storm deposited sand in bodies of water, which has been previously approved by FEMA for Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts in New Jersey. The City received the draft final report on March 23rd, 2019 and is currently reviewing the results. The final report will be submitted to TDEM and FEMA on March 29, 2019. 

On a parallel path, pursuant to the USACE instruction at the October 11thmeeting, the City has explored possible disposal sites for the future dredge material. Mr. Berry Madden, local property owner offered a site on the south bank of the river, upstream of the USACE project reach. On October 31st, 2018, on the advice and counsel provided to the City by the USACE, a Nationwide Permit 33 application was submitted to the USACE pursuant to 33 CFR 330 to enable constructing a temporary dredge pipeline across wetlands on the disposal site.

On January 29th, 2019, a meeting was scheduled with representatives from the USACE environmental group where the City was informed the permit application would need to be revised and re-submitted as an Individual Permit rather than a Nationwide Permit, contrary to what we were advised by the USACE during our October 11thmeeting. One of the major issues was related to the absence of a defined project for which the disposal site is required. As such, the permit application has been revised to an Individual Permit reflecting the project and data from the Tetra Tech work effort previously described. The permit application was submitted the week of March 29th, 2019. This permitting project has been under the direction of Berg Oliver Associates, Inc., an Environmental Services and Lake-Use consultant. 

As previously outlined, this project was first discussed on October 11th, 2018, with the intent to extend the USACE’ scope of work to include dredging at the mouth bar. Timing has been critical since the City would utilize the same USACE contractor before the USACE project is completed to avoid paying for additional mobilization costs. The total USACE project cost, as bid, is $69.8 million including $17.9 million for mobilization. However, an Individual Permit for the disposal site will have a significant delay in processing and thereby impact the timing. A more pressing issue is related to FEMA’s determination and confirmation on whether the material proposed to be dredged will qualify as debris removal activity under “Category A” recovery expense. In the event of an adverse ruling from FEMA, the City would have to cover the entire costs in lieu of the recovery local match of 10%. The next steps for obtaining additional work and expansion of dredging operations along the West Fork of the San Jacinto River include obtaining the USACE permit and receiving confirmation from FEMA. 

Council Member Dave Martin

Posted by Bob Rehak on April 1, 2019

580 Days since Hurricane Harvey