Phase 1 of West Fork Dredging Almost Complete; What Happens Next Could Affect Mayoral Race

Callan Marine should complete its portion of the original Emergency West Fork Dredging Project near Kings Harbor next week. That’s a good thing because Placement Area 1 (PA1) is virtually filled up. Compare these two photos.

20-acre PA1 on 2/23/19 was about one quarter full.
This shot taken on 8/3/2019 shows the entire 20-acre pond is now full with the exception of a narrow strip along the western edge.

Next Phases of Dredging Outlined

The original scope of the emergency West Fork project extended from roughly River Grove Park to just past Kings Harbor. In a town hall meeting last October, Stephen Costello, the City of Houston’s flood czar and chief resiliency officer, called that Phase 1.

He called Mouth Bar dredging Phase 2. Great Lakes, the prime contractor, on Phase 1 has already started dredging 500,000 cubic yards near the mouth bar of the West Fork. The company has completed half of that project, according to Houston City Council Member Dave Martin. That would put them far ahead of schedule.

Costello also indicated that he was pursuing a grant through FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program to dredge further upriver between 59 and River Grove. He called that Phase 3.

Next, he talked about potentially dredging the East Fork.

Finally, he talked about the need for maintenance dredging, something the Corps and FEMA have emphasized for more than a year.

Next phases of dredging, proposed by Stephen Costello, City of Houston’s flood czar, at Town Hall Meeting earlier this year.

Phase 3 and Edgewater Park Boat Ramp

Harris County Precinct 4 plans to build a new park and boat launch immediately east of 494 and Hamblen Road starting in October. Construction will go well into 2020, but unless Phase 3 of dredging takes place, the boat launch may have limited value. I was on a ride-along with HPD’s Lake Patrol in January and their boat got stuck on sand bars several times in this reach of the river.

More Dredging Needed at Mouth Bar

The 500,000 cubic yards that FEMA is removing from the mouth bar is just a start.

The City estimated that Harvey deposited at least 1.4 million cubic yards in that area. And that doesn’t even include deposits left behind by previous storms that severely constrict the conveyance of the river.

Neither the City, nor the Corps, have yet divulged plans for restoring the full conveyance. People are so tight lipped, you would think this involved national security. I requested plans from the Corps under the Freedom of Information Act six weeks ago and have still not received them.

Drone photo of Great Lakes Dredge at Mouth Bar with Atascocita Point in background. Photo courtesy of BCAeronautics.

Meanwhile, the partial mouth bar dredging is going much faster than expected. Great Lakes originally said it would take six months to complete the 500,000 cubic yards. However, they’ve finished half the job in six weeks. That’s reportedly because they have not found the submerged trees in that area that they found upstream.

Once again, an early finish could pressure officials. Remobilizing another dredge crew if Great Lakes leaves could prove very costly. Mobilization and demobilization constituted one quarter of the cost of the current job or about $18 million.

Maintenance Dredging Needed, Too

Keeping sedimentation down to a sub-acute level in the future will require periodic maintenance dredging. And that will require a large storage site and annual budgeting.

Beyond the sediment, we also have another reason for periodic river surveys and maintenance dredging. They will help avoid battles with FEMA. After Harvey, the City, Corps and FEMA argued for a year about how much of the sediment in the mouth bar was due to Harvey and how much was due to deferred maintenance from previous years. FEMA can pay for storm damage, but not deferred maintenance. Hence the lengthy debate and delays.

Kingwood Could Swing Mayoral Election

As we head into the mayoral race this fall, we should keep in mind that we have started the dredging, but it will never be finished. Nature and sand mines in floodways will continue to dump sediment in the headwaters of Lake Houston.

I, for one, look forward to quizzing the candidates on their plans for and commitment to maintenance dredging after we restore conveyance between 59 and 1960. In previous years, because the problem was out of sight under water, mayor after mayor deferred dredging to divert money elsewhere. We paid the price during Harvey.

In the last mayoral election, Kingwood could have easily provided enough swing votes to alter the outcome. With so many crucial flood-mitigation issues still unresolved, you can count on much higher turnout this year.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/3/2019 with drone photo from BCAeronautics

704 Days since Hurricane Harvey