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High-Rise Protest Letter from Former EPA Scientist Suggests Unique Approach

Letters to the Army Corps and TCEQ keep pouring in. Without exception, they protest the permitting of the proposed high-rise development near River Grove in the flood plain and floodway of the West Fork.

If researching ideas for your own letters, consult the high-rises page of this web site, specifically the right hand column. It explains the controversy and how you can protest the permitting if you wish.

I have posted many of the letters, both from groups and individuals, to help give people ideas for how this process works. Today, I received a letter from an environmental scientist who spent almost three decades with the EPA. His name is Ken Teague and his letter impressed me – for the points it made. the succinct way he made them and a unique twist.

Mr. Teague suggested trying to get the EPA to elevate consideration of the permit by asking to have the West Fork considered as an Aquatic Resource of National Importance. He gave me permission to reprint his letter. See it below.

Text of Letter from Former EPA Employee

To: swg_public_ notice@usace.army.mil; 401certs@tceq.texas.gov; Kaspar.Paul@epa.gov; Martinez.maria@epa.gov; david_hoth@fws.gov; Rusty.Swafford@noaa.gov

Subject: SWG-2016-00384

Dear Sir/Ms: I have reviewed the subject PN and have the following comments:

  • I suggest that the wetlands proposed to be destroyed by this project may be Aquatic Resources of National Importance, and if so, I recommend the U.S. EPA elevate review of this permit application under EPA/USACE procedures.
  • The applicant has not met the Clean Water Act Section 404(b)(1) Guidelines.  The information provided with the PN does not support that the applicant has conducted an appropriate alternatives analysis, or demonstrated efforts to avoid and minimize impacts to aquatic habitats.  I strongly recommend USACE require the applicant to demonstrate they have met the requirements of the Guidelines.
  • Most of the components of the proposed project are not water dependent.  The one component that is water dependent, the marina, has not been demonstrated to be needed. The USACE must review the proposed project for its water dependency.  Non water-dependent projects should not  be permitted if they impact aquatic habitats. Water dependent projects should only be permitted if they are demonstrated to be needed.
  • The applicant stated an existing 17.59-acre conservation easement exists within the commercial and residential district which is associated with a compensatory mitigation area for Department of the Army Permit SWG-99-26-012 verified on 25 May 1999. This permit was conditioned to place 21.90 acres (12.19 acres of wetlands and 8.99 acres of upland buffer) into a conservation easement. It is not clear what this means, but if it means the applicant is proposing to destroy aquatic habitats that were previously preserved as compensatory mitigation as compensation for previous destruction of aquatic habitats, such impacts to such mitigation absolutely must not be permitted.
  • The site is subject to flooding (see attached image).  I assert that it is not in the public interest for the USACE to permit development in flood prone areas, so USACE should not permit the proposed actions. The applicant proposes to greatly elevate the areas it proposes to develop using soil from an undisclosed location.  This elevation will change hydrology in surrounding areas, guaranteeing that nearby low elevation properties will flood much more frequently, for a longer duration, and greater depth, than is currently the case.  This will almost certainly negatively impact nearby infrastructure and habitats.  Permitting such changes would clearly not be in the public interest.
  • The applicant has not proposed mitigation, other than to say that they will either conduct permittee responsible mitigation or purchase credits from a mitigation bank.  The USACE must provide the public the opportunity to review and comment on proposed mitigation. This does not meet the requirement.
  • Do not permit the proposed activity.

Sincerely,

(Signed) Kenneth G. Teague, PWS, Certified Senior Ecologist

Aquatic Resource of National Importance?

I’m not sure if the specific 47 acres of wetlands are an Aquatic Resource of National Importance. But I have no doubt that the West Fork of the San Jacinto is. And these wetlands help protect that resource, by holding and filtering water before it reaches Lake Houston.

Why is it so important? Five reasons come to mind:

  1. This reach of the West Fork connects two lakes that provide water for two million people.
  2. It provides industrial process water for a large portion of America’s refining and petrochemical plants.
  3. Bald eagles, a threatened and protected species, live up and down the West Fork. Hundreds of other species of birds use the river and the forests that surround it as a migration corridor.
  4. The shores of the river contain many bottomland hardwoods, bogs, marshes and wetlands that are all integral parts of a unique connected environment.
  5. It’s a rare and beautiful natural resource that’s easily accessible to millions of people.

Long Shot, But Worth a Try

Lake Houston communities have proved for decades that low-impact development like we now have can co-exist with this unique environment without disturbing the wildlife that make it so special. But I doubt it could survive the kind of high-rise, high-density development that Romerica Investments has in mind.

As always, these are my opinions on matters of public policy. They are protected by the first Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP statutes of the great state of Texas.

Posted by Bob Rehak on January 21, 2019

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