Last month, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers predicted that dredging could take until early May. They allowed another month for de-mobilization. However, one of the two dredgers on the job, Great Lakes, finished this week. Their early finish could affect a series of decisions on the mouth bar.
Early Finish, New Possibilities
The early finish could let mouth-bar dredging start sooner. However, it also could put pressure on the Corps to consider options not in play a week ago.
At the end of March, the City of Houston submitted an application to FEMA to fund mouth bar dredging. The purpose: remove 1.4 million cubic yards of sediment from the giant sand bar at the mouth of the San Jacinto West Fork. Separately, the City also submitted a permit application to the Army Corps to store the dredging spoils on property in Humble, across from Kingwood’s River Grove Park.
Officials hoped that decisions could be made on both requests before the dredgers began demobilizing. That could save up to $18 million in re-mobilization fees. From a taxpayer-savings point of view, it’s more economical to keep the dredgers dredging than organize a second separate project.
However, Great Lake’s early finish is forcing everyone from Galveston to Houston to Austin to Washington to scramble.
As of this afternoon, the Army Corps said it was still reviewing the storage application permit to use the property in Humble. The permit review plus site prep, if approved, could take months though.
This raised the question of a backup site and the obvious one in my mind is one the Corps is already using – Placement Area #2 (PA2) on Sorters Road south of Kingwood College.
But that would require a much longer run, additional booster pumps, more pipe, and most likely…the larger, more powerful dredge that just finished.
Experts tell me that it is technically feasible to pump the sand all the way from the mouth bar to PA2 – IF the sand mine operator would allow it.
Will the higher cost of the longer run eat up any savings that come from avoiding a second mobilization? The Corps has not yet had time to explore all possibilities and run the numbers, but it’s good to know another possibility may exist…
- …if FEMA acts right away
- …if the Humble property runs into problems
- …if the Corps needs to move quickly to take advantage of the larger dredge.
To help keep all options open, officials throughout Texas at every level have leaped into action.
Crenshaw and Brady Urge Quick Action
This morning, representatives from Congressman Dan Crenshaw’s office met with FEMA. Both Crenshaw and Congressman Kevin Brady sent a letter to FEMA three days ago, underscoring the need for quick action on the grant request.
City, State Pushing, Too
City officials have scrambled also. Dave Martin, Houston City Council Member said, “I’ve been in communication all day, and had multiple conversations with Great Lakes; Congressman Dan Crenshaw’s office; Chief Nim Kidd of the Texas Division of Emergency Management; Stephen Costello, the City’s Chief Recover Officer, and more.” Reportedly, even Governor Abbott got involved at one point.
According to Martin, “Our #1 goal is a Mission Assignment.”
Still Time to Save Re-mobilization Costs
Martin added,”Nothing is being disassembled, yet. They are not removing any pipe yet. They are taking advantage of this down time to check the pipe’s condition so that it can be replaced if necessary. I’m guardedly optimistic at this time.”
One experienced dredger explained that pipe can wear out. Coarse sand, he said, can be very abrasive, especially with steel pipe.
So for the time being, dredgers are performing necessary maintenance and inspections. That could take days or weeks. However, it probably will not keep them here months. Bottom line: the clock is ticking … louder now than before.
Contractors can’t tolerate downtime indefinitely. How long they decide to wait will most likely depend on the certainty of future work. That depends on FEMA and how quickly it acts.
Update on Funding
FEMA has not yet committed any funding. Stephen Costello has said in the past that the amount they fund will depend on their assessment of the City’s assessment. The two sides need to agree on how much mouth-bar sediment came from Harvey.
Separately in Austin, SB500, a supplemental appropriations bill, has been approved unanimously by both the House and Senate. It includes an amendment from State Representative Dan Huberty that includes $30 million for dredging the mouth bar. That money could help form the local match for FEMA. Next step for SB500: conference committee and the governor’s desk.
Mayor Sylvester Turner has committed $18 million from the City, according to City Council Member Martin. And the County committed $10 million in last year’s flood bond.
Keep in mind though that we must also budget for dredging beyond the mouth bar. We need East Fork, remainder of the West Fork, and maintenance dredging.
All the pieces are falling into place. Keep your fingers crossed and your eyes on FEMA. This is a high-stakes, political drama for the Lake Houston area!
Posted by Bob Rehak on April 12, 2019
591 Days since Hurricane Harvey