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Bald Eagle Joins Protest of New Woodlands Development

Last Saturday morning (9/26/2020), Sally and JG Geis were out walking around Lake Woodlands. They came across a gathering of people protesting a proposed new development on Mitchell island in the lake.

The Woodlands Land Development Company, L.P., a subsidiary of Howard Hughes Corporation seeks to re-plat Mitchell Island in the center of the photo.

The protesters’ concerns centered around the re-platting of the development. They feared it would bring an increase in traffic, create demands on local infrastructure, and impact nesting eagles. The majestic raptors in The Woodlands have attracted birders and tourists for decades.

Higher Density Now Planned in Sensitive Area

The 23-acre island was originally platted for 19 homes with a minimum size of 7,000 square feet. The new plan consists of 58 high-end residential homesites, which will reportedly start at $1 million.

According to nearby residents, the new plan will affect a pair of nesting bald eagles which visit the area every year.

As if on cue, one of the eagles flew into a nearby tree to watch the protest.

Cell phone photo of bald eagle watching protest at entrance to Mitchell Island on Saturday. By Sally Geis.
Enlargement of eagle within previous photo. By Sally Geis.

Notice of October 1 Online Public Hearing

Public Notice of Project. Photo by Sally Geiss. According to the sign, the Planning Commission will hear virtual testimony starting at 2:30PM on October 1.

From 1+ acre lots to 10 foot lot lines. Note the credit line near the bottom. LJA Engineering! Wherever there is controversy, we seem to find LJA Engineering.

Trying to Beat the Clock on New Regs and Flood Maps?

After LJA rushed to get their plans for Woodridge Village approved before new Atlas-14 rainfall statistics went into effect, hundreds of homes in Elm Grove flooded. Is LJA trying to beat the clock once again before new regulations and floodplain maps go into effect?

This island sits within the extra-territorial jurisdiction of the City of Houston (CoH). So it must meet CoH floodplain requirements. The City and Harris County are trying to harmonize their floodplain regulations. Changes in those regulations could affect development on the island. Most of the island currently lies in the .2%-annual-chance floodplain. But portions lie in the 1%-annual-chance floodplain. See below. When new flood maps are redrawn, parts of that .2% floodplain could be reclassified as 1%.

Cross-hatched = floodway. Aqua = 1% annual chance of flooding. Brown = .2% annual chance. Source: FEMA National Flood Hazard Layer Viewer. Note: These zones could soon change because flood insurance maps are being redrawn.

Chapter 19 of the City Code currently requires minimum flood protection elevation of 2 feet above the 0.2 percent flood. However, the new plat does not show any retention ponds that could provide fill.

Proposed layout shows larger lots facing lake and smaller lots facing east where smaller homes already exist. For a high-resolution PDF of the entire plat, click here.

Elevating 58 homes will take lots of fill to meet the CoH minimum elevation requirement. Where will that fill come from? Outside the development? How will that affect the floodplain for surrounding homes? So many questions!

Let’s hope that the people in the City’s Planning and Development department have eyes as good as that eagle’s.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 9/29/2020

1127 Days since Hurricane Harvey

The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.

Bald Eagle Sighted Over Romerica Property

Photo taken 2/12/2020 on West Fork San Jacinto from helicopter.

While photographing the West Fork from a helicopter Thursday, I saw something large from the corner of my eye. I looked up and was treated to a magnificent sight – a bald eagle in flight … right beside us. I quickly zoomed my lens out to 300mm and snagged this air-to-air shot.

We were in the vicinity of the Romerica property just downstream from River Grove Park. You may remember a year ago that two developers from Mexico wanted to build 500-foot high-rises right next to the river. The community rose up in protest. One of the biggest concerns: the effect on bald eagles nesting in the area.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service wrote a scathing letter urging the Corps to deny Romerica’s application to fill in wetlands.

After 770 more letters of protest to the Corps, the Corps withdrew Romerica’s permit application.

The company reserved the right to refile in the future. In the meantime, it appears that the eagle(s) living there have no intent to move.

The Herons Kingwood recently took down its website. However, the domain name is still registered. I have contacted the agent for the company to inquire about the project’s status. Emails have not yet been returned.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/13/2020

899 Days after Hurricane Harvey

Emily Murphy Photographs Inactive Bald Eagle Nest on Romerica Property from River; Active Nests Likely in Vicinity

Correction: Since posting this story two hours ago, I have spoken with an enforcement officer from US Fish & Wildlife Service. He investigated this particular nest and found no droppings or fish bones around the base of the tree. He said you would expect that if the nest was active. He also said the tree was dead, likely a victim of all the sand deposited by Hurricane Harvey along the river. Finally, he said that bald eagles often establish multiple nests in an area and sometimes switch between them. This nest may have been abandoned when the tree began to die after Harvey. The eagle in the photo may have been revisiting it because it was a good perch for fishing. So I have edited the story to remove all mentions of “apparently active.”

Emily Murphy took the shot below on 3/27/19 from her kayak on the West Fork. It clearly shows a bald eagle and a very large nest.

Bald Eagle and Nest on Romerica Property. Romerica hopes to build a series of high rises within 750 feet of this nest.
Bald Eagle and Nest on Romerica Property. Romerica hopes to build a series of high rises within 750 feet of this nest.

Ironically, I photographed what appears to be the same nest from the river on January 31, 2019 while on a ride-along with HPD Lake Patrol. My shot appears closer than Murphy’s because I took it with a 1000mm super-telephoto lens.

Photo taken by Bob Rehak on 1/31/19 from West Fork of San Jacinto with 1000mm lens. Note the similarity of the bark stripped from tree opposite the nest. GPS coordinates are embedded in the JPEG and virtually identical to Murphy’s.
Location of nest pinpointed and circled below.

The Balcom family, which lives near the river at the western (left) edge of the satellite image above, photographed a pair of bald eagles on their property in December.

Pair of bald eagles outside Balcom residence on River Bend, one mile west of nest site. Photo by Melissa and Jim Balcom.

Boaters, Please Report Sightings

Boaters, please help. Let me know through the contact page on this web site if you see activity in this area. If you see a nest – active or not – do not approach it or disturb the birds in any way. It’s illegal. See below. And do not enter Romerica’s property. That’s trespassing.

Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act

Although no longer an endangered species, bald eagles are still protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (16 U.S.C. 668-668d) is a United States federal statute.) The statute protects two species of eagle. According to Wikipedia, the bald eagle was chosen as a national emblem of the United States by the Continental Congress of 1782 and was given legal protection by the Bald Eagle Protection Act of 1940. This act was expanded to include the golden eagle in 1962.[1] 

Since the original Act, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act has been amended several times. It currently prohibits anyone, without a permit issued by the Secretary of the Interior, from “taking” bald eagles. Taking is described to include their parts, nests, or eggs, molesting or disturbing the birds. The Act provides criminal penalties for persons who “take, possess, sell, purchase, barter, offer to sell, purchase or barter, transport, export or import, at any time or any manner, any bald eagle … [or any golden eagle], alive or dead, or any part, nest, or egg thereof.”[2]

Purpose of Protection Act

The purpose of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection act is to protect bald and golden eagles from disturbance, abuse, and interference with their lifestyle. That includes sheltering, breeding, feeding, and nesting.[3] 

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/28/2019

576 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Proposed New High-Rise Development Seems to Violate TPWD Guidelines for Bald Eagle Habitat Protection

A review of Texas Parks and Wildlife Departments’ guidelines for eagle habitat protection reveals that the proposed Kingwood Marina and high-rise development appears to have some permit issues circling overhead.

No Environmental Impact Statement Prepared by Developer

Developers of the proposed massive high-rise complex claim they found no bald eagle nests on their property. Therefore, they claimed, there was no need to conduct and environmental impact survey. However, I photographed this bald eagle nest approximately 500 feet from their property. GPS data is encoded in the image.

Bald eagle nest approximately 500 feet from developers’ property. Photographed by Bob Rehak with GPS data embedded in image.

Texas Parks and Wildlife considers bald eagles, a threatened species. Bald eagles were taken off the endangered list in 2007, but still enjoy many protections as a threatened species.

Bald Eagles Still Threatened, Habitat Protected

The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (16 U.S.C. 668-668d) prohibits activities that interfere with eagles’ shelter, breeding and feeding. It provides criminal penalties ranging from fines up to $5,000 and up to one year in prison.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Habitat Management Guidelines for Bald Eagles in Texas elaborate on what that interference means.

Activities Discouraged within Management Zones

The guidelines state the following under: “Primary Management Zone For Nest Sites.” “This zone includes an area extending 750 to 1,500 feet outward in all directions from the nest site. It is recommended that the following activities not occur within this zone: 

  • “Habitat alteration or change in land use, such as would result from residential, commercial, or industrial development; construction projects; or mining operations.” 
  • “Tree cutting, logging, or removal of trees, either living or dead.” 
  • “Human presence within this zone should be minimized during the nesting season…” 

The same TPWD guidelines also stipulate a “Secondary Management Zone For Nest Sites.

  • “This zone encompasses an area extending outward from the primary zone an additional 750 feet to 1 mile. Recommended restrictions in this zone are intended to protect the integrity of the primary zone and to protect important feeding areas, including the eagle’s access to these areas. The following activities are likely to be detrimental to Bald Eagles at any time, and in most cases should be avoided within the secondary zone:” 
  • Development of new commercial or industrial sites.” 
  • “Construction of multi-story buildings or high-density housing developments between the nest and the eagle’s feeding area.” 
  • “Use of chemicals labeled as toxic to wildlife.” 

How Management Zones Overlay Development Plans

Here’s how the radii of the management zones overlay the outline of the proposed high-rise development and marina areas. The nest is at the center of the red lines.

The vast majority of the proposed high rise development falls within eagle habitate management zones defined by Texas Parks and Wildlife.

To see the proposed development within the white outlines follow this link to the architect’s web site. It features a 3D fly-though video of a computer-rendered animation.

Impact on Eagle Nesting and Feeding

My first impression: Massive. From my point of view, the proposed development clearly does not meet TPWD guidelines.

  • Virtually the entire development would fall within management and secondary management zones.
  • High-rises and high-density housing would be built between the nest and Lake Kingwood where residents often report eagles fishing.
  • Marina operations for 700 boats and 200 jet skis would almost certainly leak chemicals during refueling and maintenance. That could poison both eagles and fish.
  • Trees would be removed from most of the area.

Emily Murphy has also photographed eagles flying over the developers’ property and adjacent river.

Eagle flying from River Grove Park to proposed site for high-rises. Photo Courtesy of Emily Murphy.
Eagle photographed by Kingwood Lakes resident near Lake Kingwood. Eagles fish in lake. Photo courtesy of Clark McCollough.

One of Many Factors Being Considered

The Corps will review the developers’ application in accordance with 33 CFR 320-322, from which the Corps derives its regulatory authority. The decision whether to approve the permit will be based on “an evaluation of the probable impacts, including the cumulative impacts of the proposed activity on the public interest.”

The permit could be denied based on wildlife impact concerns alone. However, eagles are just one of the problems this proposal has. I hope that when all factors are weighed, pro and con, that the cons will vastly outnumber the pros.

So keep sending those letters to the Corps. Encourage your friends and relatives to send them also, even if they live outside of Kingwood. You might also want to copy TPWD and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/27/2019

516 Days since Hurricane Harvey