Tag Archive for: Carolyn Daniel

Government Gone Wild: Army Corp Refuses to Release Dredging Documents that Explain Decisions, Delays

The Army Corps has refused to release documents that explain key decisions, delays and plans related to West Fork mouth bar dredging, and a potential placement area for the spoils. At issue are the Corps’ decisions to dredge only 500,000 cubic yards from the area of the mouth bar and to delay approval of the City’s proposed placement area for long-term dredging.

As a result of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request related to these decisions, I also learned that the Corps:

  • Is dredging near the mouth bar without a plan
  • Is almost done with the mouth bar project and hopes to have a plan before it finishes
  • Has repeatedly delayed a decision on a new placement area that could have saved millions of tax dollars.

Meanwhile, the Corps continues sending sediment to a mine that leaks it back into the river. That mine – in the floodway – has a dubious environmental record at best. This seems to be a case of Government Gone Wild.

Dueling Studies Offer Different Opinions of Harvey-related Mouth Bar Volume

The City of Houston and Army Corps have reportedly argued for a year or more about how much sediment Harvey deposited in the mouth bar. Late last year, FEMA required the City to perform a core-sample study using something called the Stockton Protocol. The City hired Tetra Tech to do it. And Tetra Tech concluded Harvey deposited 1.4 million cubic yards. Here is their study.

The Corps, however, evidently did not buy the results. The Corps conducted another study for FEMA using a different protocol. It concluded Harvey deposited 500,000 cubic yards.

The Corps, however, refused to release the results of that study for public review.

FEMA and the Corps went ahead and hired Great Lakes to dredge that volume from the mouth bar. That job is now more than half complete.

As part of their refusal to release their study, they cited the need to keep “pre-decision” information confidential so that inter- and intra-agency personnel could debate the merits of proposals freely. I get that. What I don’t get is how they justify this as “pre-decision.” The job is almost complete!

Dredging Without a Plan

While inventorying the documents that the Corps DID send me, I also discovered that they are now dredging the mouth bar area – without a plan. I know this because I requested the plan and they did not supply it. A Corps representative then explained that they are still working on the plan. They hope to have it done before they complete the $17 million job.

Wasteful Spending?

The Corps could be saving much of that money by using Berry Madden’s property near Kings Lake Estates as a disposal site. That’s because they need more than 5,000 gallons of diesel per day and two extra boosters (plus their crews) to pump sediment 10 miles upriver to an old West Fork sand mine in the floodway.

At the current price of diesel (about $3/gallon), that’s about $15,000 per day for fuel alone. More than $100,000 per week. And more than $400,000 per month. Waaaaay more than the limit on my gas cards. So what does the Corps get for all that?

Dike Breaches of Placement Area in Floodway

Minor floods last December breached the dike of that sand mine at least three times. Sediment continues to sweep out of the mine.

Placement Area #2 near Kingwood College on West Fork. This image is from February, but it is the same mine, whose dikes were breached in December.

It has caused additional shoaling (see below) that will need to be removed some day near the I-69 bridge. It even buried Great Lakes pipes, causing cost overruns for Phase 1.

Shoaling has become so bad through this reach of the river that it buried Great Lakes pipeline, resulting in cost overruns.

A year ago, this same mine was caught on camera deliberately sending its process water straight into the West Fork.

Video provided to ReduceFlooding.Com. Source wishes to remain anonymous.

Yet, while approving this site, the Corps reportedly has environmental concerns over a much closer disposal site that would require less fuel and fewer boosters. It’s also on higher ground and out of the floodway. It’s Berry Madden’s property in Humble immediately west of Kings Lake Estates between the West Fork and 1960.

Five different proposed placement areas on Madden property avoid wetlands (the cross-hatched areas).

The Corps may or may not have good reasons for disliking the property, but they won’t reveal them whatever they are.

After more than a year of environmental and archeological studies costing Madden more than $100,000, the Corps still has not approved or rejected his property. Nor have they explained delays in approving or rejecting it. The documents that the Corps DID supply show that they are throwing one obstacle after another in Madden’s path. Despite the fact that he’s on higher ground and farther from the river than the current placement area.

Meanwhile, the Corps subsidizes the sub-optimal sand mine/placement area above. Go figure!

Potential Setback for Future Dredging

One of the consequences of NOT having an approved site to store additional spoils is that it could delay future phases of dredging. Those potentially include:

  • Additional mouth bar dredging
  • 59 to River Grove Park
  • Maintenance dredging
  • Mouths of ditches such as Ben’s Branch

FOIA Scorecard

I filed my Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the Army Corps 50 days ago. I requested:

  • Their plans for mouth-bar dredging
  • Conference reports of meetings where the mouth bar was discussed
  • Documents relating to the approval of Berry Madden’s property in Humble as a potential storage site.

About a month ago, they requested a clarification. “What do you mean by ‘plans’?” Seriously! The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers needed to have the concept of plans explained????!!!

After more delays and excuses, five days ago, I received a compact disk in the mail with approximately 800 total pages of material. The Corps:

  • OMITTED any mouth-bar plans.
  • OMITTED the Corps study that contradicted the Tetra Tech study.
  • WITHHELD 118 pages of material that could have explained their decision.
  • REDACTED key correspondence relating to Madden’s property.
  • SUBSTITUTED dredging status reports from contractor meetings for conference reports of meetings among City, State and Federal officials where decisions about the mouth bar were considered.

Government Gone Wild

After several phone calls in which I tried to cajole them into supplying the Corps’ study, I received another email from the Corps. It said that they considered my original FOIA request closed. They then asked me to submit another one for the same material that I requested in June. They seem to be treating this as a national-security issue, not a public-safety issue. Why?

Here’s the explanation from the Corps. The letter claims that they need to keep pre-decision information secret in order to foster free discussion between its employees and other government agencies and to avoid confusing the public.

Unfortunately, that does not allow informed discussion among the public, whose safety is at stake. Nor does it recognize the fact that they have already made a decision, i.e, to dredge 500,000 cubic yards and have half-completed the project. So how does this qualify as “pre-decisional”?

You’ll have to ask the man who signed this letter.

He has the title “Initial Denial Authority.” How many levels are there?

In my opinion, this is clearly a government agency out of control. The Corps has made a decision to dredge only 500,000 cubic yards – despite scientific evidence supporting a higher volume of 1.4 million cubic yards. And that scientific evidence was acquired using a protocol that the CORPS AND FEMA DEMANDED.

Who Will Pick Up the Pieces?

That leaves the State, County, City and the public in the lurch. Maybe a Congressional investigation could sort this out. That’s what it will take.

At this point, it’s not clear how, when or if the mouth-bar job will be finished. Five hundred thousand cubic yards is a small fraction of what needs to be removed to restore conveyance to the river.

It’s also not clear how many more hurdles the Corps will put in the way of a placement area farther from the river on higher ground. Or why.

A curtain of secrecy has descended upon this job. I will continue to follow the story. The public has a right to know.

Open Offer to Corps to Rebut Criticisms

If the Corps feels I have criticized it unjustly, I invite a spokesperson to explain the Corps point of view. I promise to reprint the rebuttal verbatim.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/9/2019

710 Days since Hurricane Harvey

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

Weekly Mouth Bar Dredging Update with Images from Carolyn Daniel, Kendall Taft, Franz Willette of BCAeronautics, and the Army Corps

We learned a little bit more this week about the next phase of dredging. Several graphics (below) released by the Corps summarize modifications to the Emergency West Fork Debris Removal Project.

What We Confirmed and Learned

We confirmed that:

  • Great Lakes, the prime contractor on the original job, will be the only contractor on the Corps portion of the contract extension
  • Great Lakes will pump sediment all the way upstream to Placement Area 2
  • The Corps intends to dredge 500,000 cubic yards in the area of the mouth bar.

We learned that:

  • The original contract contingency allotment of approximately $3.5 million was used up, most likely by additional sediment washed downstream during floods in December, January, February, May and June.
  • Callan, the subcontractor for phase one, has approximately 83,000 cubic yards to dredge due to modification of the original contract.
  • Dredging an additional 500,000 cubic yards will cost another $17,085,861
  • The FEMA/Corps portion of the dredging should finish by December 6, 2019
  • Demobilization and cleanup will take until Jan. 22, 2020
  • This is FEMA mission assignment SWD-30
  • Great Lakes started dredging the mouth bar on June 25th
  • Great Lakes will dredge a wide area but not go all the way to the FM1960 bridge.

Corps Releases Summary of Project and Extension(s)

I compiled the information above from a PDF developed by The Army Corps. They released it on July 9.

First page of a 2-page PDF released by the Corps on July 9.
Second page of a 2-page PDF. Army Corps summary of Emergency West Fork Dredging project. For a high-resolution PDF, click here.

To calculate the depth of dredging in that blue area to the right, I simulated the outline in Google Earth and found that it roughly equals 500,000 square yards. That means if they dredge this whole area, they will reduce the river bed by approximately 3 feet. The area already averages 2-3 feet deep. That means the river will be roughly 6 feet deep through this reach when the Corps finishes its portion of the job.

The area outlined by Corps is approximately 500,000 square yards.
Where Callan will finish dredging near Kings Harbor, the depth will be approximately 22.5 feet.

However, upstream, Callan is dredging to a depth of 22.5 feet. Thus, creating a continuous gradient along the river bottom would require dredging approximately another 16 feet deeper in the same area…and that wouldn’t even get you to the FM1960 bridge. Also, note the gap in the graphic between where Callan will finish its portion of Phase One and Great Lakes will start mouth bar dredging.

Unknowns

It is unclear at this point who will dredge the rest of the material that needs to be removed to restore conveyance of the West Fork. Neither the City, County, nor State have yet announced their plans. We don’t know:

  • Where they will dredge
  • How deep they will go
  • Where they will place the material
  • How much it will all cost, or
  • When they plan to do it.

In the meantime, here are two dramatic sequences of photos plus a video submitted by readers this week. They show what the start of mouth bar dredging looked like from the air and water.

Carolyn Daniel Mouth Bar Shots from Airplane Landing at IAH

Carolyn Daniel submitted these shots of the mouth bar and dredging activity taken from her airplane window while on a landing approach to Bush Intercontinental Airport.

On approach to IAH. FM 1960 at bottom of frame. East Fork of San Jacinto upper right and West Fork on the left. Kings Point and Royal Shores between them. Image courtesy of Carolyn Daniel.
Can you spot East End Park? Kingwood Drive? Town Center? All are visible in this shot by Carolyn Daniel.
Mouth bar of west fork with dredge. Photo courtesy of Carolyn Daniel. Note the large Triple-P sand mine near the top of the frame in Porter.
Mouth bar of San Jacinto West Fork with Great Lakes Dredge. Image courtesy of Carolyn Daniel.
Mouth bar of West Fork with dredge. Atascocita Point on left in foreground. Fosters Mill and Kings Point in background. Photo Courtesy of Carolyn Daniel.
Through the clouds. While landing at Bush Intercontinental Airport. Mouth bar of San Jacinto West Fork with Great Lakes Dredge. Image courtesy of Carolyn Daniel.

Franz Willett Drone Shots Courtesy of BCAeronautics

Franz Willette runs a company called BCAeronautics that uses drones in mapping, inspections, roofing analyses, site surveys, and 3D modeling. He did not have clouds to contend with and could shoot safely from a much lower elevation. Willette is FAA certified.

West Fork Mouth Bar with Great Lakes Dredge. Drone image courtesy of Franz Willette, BCAeronautics.
West Fork Mouth Bar with Great Lakes Dredge. Drone image courtesy of Franz Willette, BCAeronautics. Great Lakes should dredge those two small islands in the background.
West Fork Mouth Bar with Great Lakes Dredge. Looking south toward the FM1960 Bridge. Drone image courtesy of Franz Willette, BCAeronautics.
West Fork Mouth Bar with Great Lakes Dredge. Drone image courtesy of Franz Willette, BCAeronautics.

Kendall Taft Video

Video courtesy of Kendall Taft. Shot from south of mouth bar looking north.
Shows how shallow the water is and how vast the expanse is.

I hope to post updates weekly on this project. So readers, please help. Submit your images through the submissions page of this web site. My thanks to Carolyn Daniel, Franz Willette, BCAeronautics and Kendall Taft.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/13/2019 with help from Carolyn Daniel, Franz Willette, BCAeronautics and Kendall Taft.

683 Days since Hurricane Harvey