Yesterday, shortly before the Kingwood Town Hall Meeting, I photographed the demobilization of the Great Lakes Dredge at the Army Corps Command Post. Great Lakes was dismantling the dredge. However, no one explicitly stated this at the meeting. The dredge had waited patiently at the mouth bar for 6 weeks since finishing its assignment from the Corps to dredge 500,000 cubic yards. Meanwhile, the City tried to organize a project to dredge more sediment. The City had been working toward that goal for a year, according to Stephen Costello, the City’s Chief Recovery Officer.
Only One Mention Made in Passing At Town Hall Meeting
Only Costello alluded to the demobilization. He did that obliquely in passing while talking about the permitting of a disposal site. He did not discuss the reasons for demobilization, the cost, or its significance within the context of additional dredging on the mouth bar. However, he did imply that the demobilization resulted from the Army Corps’ failure to permit a disposal site. The Corps permitted the disposal site at least six weeks ago.
Said Costello, “We had to get a disposal site. We didn’t have one.” After a brief discussion of permitting Berry Madden’s property, he finally said, “We were expecting that we weren’t going to be able to get this done before Great Lakes left the project. And it just so happens that that’s what’s happened.”
However, Madden’s property had been permitted before August 30th. Great Lakes had given the City a deadline of October 11 to make a decision about extending the mouth bar project. Great Lakes reportedly had a crew of 22 on standby for six weeks.
The City did not meet the October 11 deadline. The City did not even file its request for a new grant for additional dredging until Friday, October 11.
Then on or about October 14, Great Lakes pulled its dredge back from the mouth bar to Kings Harbor. Cranes on barges started partially dismantling the dredge to get it under the West Lake Houston Parkway Bridge. I took the photo below by Sharkey’s on 10/15/2019.
Yesterday, before the Town Hall Meeting, I photographed the dredge at the dock being dismantled. That certainly wasn’t something that the City highlighted at the town hall meeting.
High Cost of Mobilization
Mobilization and demobilization costs for Phase One of the dredging program cost more than $17 million. The idea behind dredging the mouth bar while dredges were still in the river: save those costs for re-mobilization.
Now, if and when the City can secure a grant to cover additional mouth bar dredging, remobilization costs will have to come out of it, reducing the volume that can be dredged.
Options Looking Forward
The size of the Great Lakes dredge made it ideal for the mouth bar. It pumped large volumes of sediment quickly. It will soon leave like a cool Spring breeze. Question: Do you replace what Great Lakes had? Or find something smaller that’s more versatile? Residents around the lake have clamored to have sediment blocking drainage ditches removed?
A smaller dredge could maneuver in tight spaces better. However, many of those smaller canals are on private property. State and Federal money cannot be used on private property.
Another factor to consider: A smaller dredge might not overwhelm Madden’s property so quickly and cause runoff that returns sediment to the river.
Money from the County 2018 flood bond and the State Representative Dan Huberty’s amendment to last year’s Senate Bill 500 could make $50 million available for additional dredging.
But the City continues to look for ways to dredge without putting skin in the game. And now the City will have to rebid any future project that involves Federal dollars to meet Federal purchasing regulations. That will delay the start of any future dredging even further.
Whose Money Is It?
Several speakers at the meeting last night confused City spending on flood mitigation projects with Federal, State and County spending on those same joint projects. The effect? It inflated the City’s contribution. Some speakers even took credit for projects that the City had nothing to do with.
Unless citizens had immersed themselves in the details of each project, they likely left the meeting thinking the City’s contribution was greater than it actually was. For instance, entire excavation budgets for Ben’s Branch and Taylor Gully improvements have come from Harris County Flood Control.
Early voting starts next week.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/18/2019
780 Days after Hurricane Harvey and 29 after Imelda