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Great Lakes Finishes Dredging Early; Accelerates Need for Mouth Bar Decision

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.

Sand Bar blocking the West Fork of the San Jacinto where it enters Lake Houston. The City estimates that 1.4 million cubic yards of sediment was deposited in this area during Harvey.

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.

Great Lakes’ dredge is back at the dock at the Corps’ command site in Humble.

New Possibilities

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.

Evaluating Alternatives

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

Governor Abbott Extends Hurricane Harvey Disaster Declaration

Last week, Texas Governor Greg Abbott extended the disaster declaration for the 60 counties affected by Hurricane Harvey in 2017. The extension enables government agencies to work together under special rules designed to enable mitigation efforts and speed them up. See the wording in the third paragraph from the bottom. Below is the exact text of the Governor’s press release:

Governor Greg Abbott Extended The State Disaster Declaration In January For Texas Counties Affected By Hurricane Harvey

January 18, 2019 | Austin, Texas | Proclamation

TO ALL TO WHOM THESE PRESENTS SHALL COME: 

WHEREAS, I, GREG ABBOTT, Governor of the State of Texas, issued a disaster proclamation on August 23, 2017, certifying that Hurricane Harvey posed a threat of imminent disaster for Aransas, Austin, Bee, Brazoria, Calhoun, Chambers, Colorado, DeWitt, Fayette, Fort Bend, Galveston, Goliad, Gonzales, Harris, Jackson, Jefferson, Jim Wells, Karnes, Kleberg, Lavaca, Liberty, Live Oak, Matagorda, Nueces, Refugio, San Patricio, Victoria, Waller, Wharton and Wilson counties; and

WHEREAS, the disaster proclamation of August 23, 2017, was subsequently amended on August 26, August 27, August 28 and September 14 to add the following counties to the disaster proclamation: Angelina, Atascosa, Bastrop, Bexar, Brazos, Burleson, Caldwell, Cameron, Comal, Grimes, Guadalupe, Hardin, Jasper, Kerr, Lee, Leon, Madison, Milam, Montgomery, Newton, Orange, Polk, Sabine, San Augustine, San Jacinto, Trinity, Tyler, Walker, Washington and Willacy; and

WHEREAS, on September 20, 2017, and in each subsequent month effective through today, I issued proclamations renewing the disaster declaration for all counties listed above; and

WHEREAS, due to the catastrophic damage caused by Hurricane Harvey, a state of disaster continues to exist in those same counties;

NOW, THEREFORE, in accordance with the authority vested in me by Section 418.014 of the Texas Government Code, I do hereby renew the disaster proclamation for the 60 counties listed above.

Pursuant to Section 418.017 of the code, I authorize the use of all available resources of state government and of political subdivisions that are reasonably necessary to cope with this disaster.

Pursuant to Section 418.016 of the code, any regulatory statute prescribing the procedures for conduct of state business or any order or rule of a state agency that would in any way prevent, hinder or delay necessary action in coping with this disaster shall be suspended upon written approval of the Office of the Governor. However, to the extent that the enforcement of any state statute or administrative rule regarding contracting or procurement would impede any state agency’s emergency response that is necessary to protect life or property threatened by this declared disaster, I hereby authorize the suspension of such statutes and rules for the duration of this declared disaster.

In accordance with the statutory requirements, copies of this proclamation shall be filed with the applicable authorities.

IN TESTIMONY WHEREOF, I have hereunto signed my name and have officially caused the Seal of State to be affixed at my office in the City of Austin, Texas, this the 18th day of January, 2019. 

GREG ABBOTT
Governor

To view a PDF of the signed document, click here.

Posted by Bob Rehak on January 22, 2019

511 Days since Hurricane Harvey