Tag Archive for: Great Lakes

Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Moving Corporate HQ to Houston From Chicago

Great Lakes Dredge and Dock is moving its corporate headquarters to Houston from Oak Brook, Illinois. Oak Brook is a western suburb of Chicago.

Company that Dredged West Fork

Great Lakes spent more than a year dredging the San Jacinto West Fork in 2018 and 2019 for the Army Corps of Engineers.

The Great Lakes dredge that liberated River Grove Park from a sandbar more than 10 feet high and a quarter mile long.

The company has many other interests in the Houston Area and the central Gulf Coast from Corpus Christi to Louisiana. The move puts the company closer to key customers and growing markets, especially along the Gulf Coast and Mississippi River. The company already has regional offices in Jacksonville, FL and Staten Island, New York.

The company deepens ports, maintains waterways, renourishes beaches and restores barrier islands.

About the Houston HQ

The Houston headquarters, scheduled to open in early 2021 with its executive leadership team, will be staffed gradually over the next 12 months. It is initially searching for 20,000 square feet of office space in the Energy Corridor, between the Galleria and Beltway 8. The company will maintain a business and operations support center in the Oak Brook area.

The company said the move also will allow it to leverage long-term relationships with the Center for Dredging Studies at Texas A&M University, Louisiana State University and other universities that feature coastal resilience and natural infrastructure initiatives.

Landmark Projects Throughout US

Great Lakes has been involved in the development and construction of many well-known landmarks. In the Great Lakes’ region, that has included Chicago’s Navy Pier and Michigan Avenue Bridge; straightening and reversing the flow of the Chicago River; Northerly Island, a 91-acre peninsula along Chicago’s Lake Michigan; and the deepening the St. Lawrence Seaway between the U.S. and Canada.

Elsewhere, it has completed deepening projects in almost every port in the country and worked on important infrastructure projects, such as the massive container terminals in the ports of Los Angles and Long Beach and the Fort McHenry Tunnel that carries interstate traffic underneath the Baltimore Harbor. 

Recent Texas and Louisiana Projects

Among its recent projects in Texas and neighboring states: deepening the Corpus Christi Ship Channel from the Gulf of Mexico to Harbor Island; maintenance dredging of Houston Ship Channel; dredging for liquefied natural gas facilities in Corpus Christi and Cameron Parish, La.; restoring Louisiana’s Whiskey Island, which helps protect Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes from storm surge; restoring barrier islands to protect coastal Mississippi; and building the barrier berms that protected Louisiana from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Works in Almost Every Port in County

Elsewhere, it has completed deepening projects in almost every port in the country and worked on important infrastructure projects, such as the massive container terminals in the ports of Los Angles and Long Beach and the Fort McHenry Tunnel that carries interstate traffic underneath the Baltimore Harbor. 

The company is the largest provider of dredging services in the US. It has a fleet of more than 200 vessels.

Welcome to Houston!

It will be good to have such a valuable resource in Houston. Especially as sediment builds up in our rivers and lakes to the point where it can no longer be ignored. Great Lakes’ expanded presence will make the Houston dredging market even more competitive.

For more information on Great Lakes Dredge and Dock, visit their website.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/24/2020

1152 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Crenshaw, Brady, Cruz and Cornyn Ask FEMA to Dredge More of West Fork Mouth Bar

On October 24, 2019, Congressman Dan Crenshaw, along with Texas Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz and Representative Kevin Brady (TX-08), sent a letter to Acting FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor. The letter requested FEMA’s swift approval of the City of Houston’s new plan to dredge more of the San Jacinto river mouth bar.

Letter in Response to New Request Filed by City

The letter came in response to the most recent request from the City for FEMA aid on or about October 11, 2019.

While FEMA has already completed its initial 500,000 cubic-yard debris-removal mission, sediment brought by Hurricane Harvey still exists in the San Jacinto river mouth-bar. To protect Houston, Kingwood, and Humble residents from future flooding, it is imperative that the remaining debris is removed, said Congressman Dan Crenshaw.

“The City of Houston recently filed a Project Worksheet (PW) for debris removal as Category A work under the Public Assistance program,” the group of legislators wrote. “We urge you to use any and all necessary FEMA resources to expeditiously review and approve the city’s PW. Delay will only increase costs and prevent FEMA from fully leveraging presently available dredging assets.”

To see the complete letter, click here.

Great Lakes Packing Up

Great Lakes Dredge and Dock has finished its Army Corps assignment at the mouth bar. I photographed workers continuing to dismantle the company’s dredge this afternoon.

Packing it in. Great Lakes Dismantles its dredge after a little more than a year on the West Fork. Photo taken 10/26/2019.
The command post opposite Marina Drive in Forest Cove was a behind of activity this afternoon.
Note the sections of dredge pipe stacked up in the background. It is no longer connected to the dredge.
Crew and survey boats, cranes and other heavy equipment still remain to support a future dredging effort…but not for long.

The last line of the letter (“leveraging presently available dredging assets”) refers to assets other than the dredge itself. Such assets include the command post opposite Forest Cove, a second launch point in Atascocita, pipe, cranes, and other assets that could soon be removed. See photos above.

TDEM to Forward Request to FEMA

As of yesterday, according to Houston City Council Member Dave Martin, TDEM still had not forwarded the request to FEMA. However, this reportedly falls within TDEM’s normal processing time for such requests. I wouldn’t read too much into it yet. But let’s hope they hustle up. Those crews at the command site were working late into Saturday night. I’m guessing that represents overtime.

You can clearly see from the pictures above how much equipment it takes to support a dredging operation. And remember, each 40-section of dredge pipe weighs 4,000 pounds and there are about 10 miles of it! This request should not be taken lightly.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/26/2019

788 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Great Lakes Dredge Demobilizing After Waiting At Mouth Bar 6 Weeks

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.

Great Lakes Dredge being dismantled at the Army Corps Command Site Thursday afternoon, 10.17.2019 at about 3PM., shortly before the Kingwood Town Hall Meeting to discuss flooding issues.

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.

Photo taken east of West Lake Houston Parkway Bridge on 10/15/2019 at about 10:45 am.

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.

Great Lakes Dredge at dock being dismantled. Photo taken on 10/17/2019 at approximately 3pm., just hours before 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

FEMA Concludes Partial Mouth-Bar Dredging

Over the weekend, Rachel Taylor, a Lake Houston area resident who lives near the mouth bar sent me the video below. It shows an idle dredge near its starting point. The video, plus reports from boaters, fueled speculation that the mouth bar dredging had concluded. That fact was confirmed this afternoon by Houston City Council Member Dave Martin. His office issued a press release stating that FEMA had finished dredging 500,000 cubic yards of sediment from the San Jacinto West Fork Mouth Bar.

Lake Houston area resident Rachel Taylor shot this video of the Great Lakes Dredge on 9/8/2019. The dredge had returned to its starting point, fueling speculation that it had completed its mission assignment.

FEMA Concludes Dredging Addtional 500,000 Cubic Yards

Said Council Member Dave Martin, “The Federal Emergency Management Administration’s (FEMA) mission assignment modification to address partial removal of the San Jacinto River West Fork mouth-bar has concluded.” The mission assignment authorized the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to remove an additional 497,400 cubic yards of debris from the West Fork near its confluence with Lake Houston. As of September 3, 2019, USACE removed 500,000 cubic yards of debris from the mouth-bar.

However, Martin never accepted the amount of debris included in the mission modification and continues to fight that number to this day.

Running, Year-Long Argument Over Volume

Council Member Martin and the City of Houston, through Chief Recovery Officer Stephen Costello, argued for almost a year to remove more sediment, believing that 500,000 cubic yards was much too low. But their pleas have fallen on deaf ears.

According to Martin, FEMA cannot explain how 497,400 cubic yards was calculated, even while the City of Houston has provided verifiable scientific data showing the volume deposited by Harvey near the mouth bar was 1.4 million cubic yards.

During a meeting in June, 2019, FEMA representatives verified the City’s estimate was sound. That lead Martin to believe another contract extension was feasible. In August, FEMA representatives again stated, “Your (City of Houston) data is NOT bad data”, leaving Martin with lingering questions as to why no additional modification had been granted.

Comparison of Two Reports

The analysis that FEMA used to justify their number (497,000 cubic yards) is a four-page table top study that does not begin to answer questions that were asked of the City of Houston by FEMA, which produced a 94-page comprehensive report. I previously analyzed and compared these two reports and believe there are major flaws in the Corps’ analysis which they tried to keep secret for months.

How You Can Help

As a result of the most recent meeting held in Austin, Texas, with representatives from FEMA, USACE, Texas Division of Emergency Management, City of Houston, and Governor Greg Abbott’s office, Council Member Martin along with Mayor Sylvester Turner have sent a letter to our Federal Congressional Delegation requesting action be taken to address the Hurricane Harvey debris remaining in the mouth-bar. This letter urges Senator John CornynSenator Ted CruzChairman Kevin Brady, and Congressman Dan Crenshaw to continue to support recovery of our area through requesting an additional mission modification from FEMA. It would enable dredging another one million cubic yards of sediment related to Hurricane Harvey.

Overall, dredging in the San Jacinto removed more than 2 million cubic yards of sediment. That will help reduce the effects of potential future flooding, but it will not restore the conveyance of the river.

Granting a second mission modification allows the use of existing pre-positioned resources as well as an estimated savings of nearly $20 million for mobilization.

The City of Houston has secured a third disposal site, Barry Madden’s property south of the river, that has already received USACE permits for another 500,000 cubic yards of sediment disposal.

Request from Council Member Martin

Martin asks residents who support the request for additional dredging to contact their federal representatives. Martin says he remains committed to removing additional sediment in the mouth-bar and will continue to fight for additional dredging at that location.

Why We Still Have A Problem

Last weekend, boaters, canoeists and kayakers reported that water depth in the mouth bar was only 3-5 feet deep. Even though the Corps has so far refused to release its plans or survey results, that’s very close to the estimate I calculated when dividing 500,000 cubic yards by the acreage within the dredge area.

However, boaters also report the water upstream from the mouth bar is almost 40 feet deep in places.

This will herd water into an underwater box canyon.

As water hits that wall, it will also slow down, dropping more sediment out of suspension faster. That, in turn, will accelerate re-deposition and quickly fill in the area that FEMA just spent $90 million dredging. What a tragic waste of tax dollars!

Benefits of Additional Dredging

Creating a consistently wide and deep channel through the mouth bar that connects upstream areas with the Lake beyond FM1960 will reduce flood damages to properties regionally and provide for increased resilience to transportation systems, water treatment systems, public/private utilities, emergency response facilities, petrochemical industries, and other critical infrastructure, in the West Fork, San Jacinto River Watershed, plus Harris, Montgomery, and Liberty Counties.

Last year, the Corps estimated the flood protection benefits to be on the order of $200 billion.  

FEMA regulations allow the agency to restore a river to a prior good condition if a risk to health and human safety exists.

Given that petrochemical industries in the region produce a significant amount of the nation’s petroleum-based energy products, reducing flood risks to these plants and their workers who reside in flood-prone areas will provide greater resiliency and a National security benefit. 

Environmental benefits include reduced risks to water treatment plants from flooded sand mines and chemical spills which are threats to human health and safety. Non-monetary benefits include reduced risks to life, especially among residents with insufficient means.

Start writing. It’s your home and your community.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 9/10/19

742 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Army Corps Now 70% Complete with Its Portion of Mouth Bar Dredging

The Army Corps has released a new summary of its progress on dredging the mouth bar. The report indicates that Great Lakes, the contractor is now 70% complete. They have dredged 350,000 out of 500,000 cubic yards.

Great Lakes started dredging the mouth bar on June 25th, 2019, as part of a $17,085,861 extension of the original contract (FEMA mission assignment SWD-30).

Current area of operation is the blue area on the far right. Sediment removed from that area is being pumped 10 miles back upstream to Placement Area #2, a sand mine near Kingwood College, on the far left.

Between the start of mouth bar dredging and August 12, Great Lakes dredged an average of 6,363 cubic yards per day. If they can keep that pace up, they should be done by approximately Labor Day – three months ahead of schedule. That’s HALF the predicted time.

Remainder of Project Still Not Decided

What comes next? That still has not been finalized. City, County and State officials have been meeting in the background to determine that. The Army Corps still has not accepted or rejected Berry Madden’s property as a third placement area. And the $30 million appropriated by the State for mouth bar dredging won’t even become available until September 1st.

Meanwhile, Callan Marine, the subcontractor from the original West Fork Emergency Dredging job has pulled its equipment back to the dock opposite Forest Cove. However, Callan has not yet started disassembling its equipment and removing it from the river. According to Houston City Councilman Dave Martin, Callan has agreed to stay temporarily while officials attempt to work out details for the next phase of dredging.

RD Kissling and Tim Garfield, two local geologists who first brought the mouth bar issue to the public’s attention, estimate that 500,000 cubic yards is about one-fourth of the total sediment that must be removed to fully restore conveyance of the West Fork.

How Shallow is It?

The Corps has not yet released (or even developed) plans for mouth bar dredging. We do know the volume they intend to remove, and the general area they intend to remove it from. However, they have refused to divulge how much of a dent their efforts will make in solving the problem.

This photo of a Kings River resident wading across the river shows how shallow it is near the orange channel marker. This resident says boats “beach” behind his property almost every day. Note: Deeper pockets may exist, especially near dredging equipment. The risk of drowning is real. Do not let children attempt this. Photo taken Sunday, August 10, 2019.
The resident made it almost to the channel marker without getting his shorts wet. Shot taken with 6X telephoto lens.
The lake/river within this area averages two to three feet deep. 500,000 cubic yards would lower the average level by another three feet as this calculation shows.

Problem With Stopping after 500,000 CY

The problem with stopping after the Corps finishes its 500,000 cubic yards is that the river behind this area is much deeper. Where the Corps stopped dredging just past Kings Harbor, the river is now 25-30 feet deep. And places are even deeper according to fishermen. That means water coming downriver will be forced to flow uphill in this area. That will force it to slow down and more sediment will rapidly drop out of suspension. Some experts have suggested dredging a deep channel through this area to help restore full conveyance of the river. However, the Army Corps intends to stop after 500,000 cubic yards.

How Army Corps Sees its Role

The Army Corps has prepared a series of FAQs that represent its position on the remainder of mouth bar dredging. Among them:

Q: What is USACE Galveston District’s plan for the rest of the mouth bar?

A. There is no additional work planned for the mouth bar. The current plan for the modification addressing material near the mouth bar can be found on the placemat. USACE Galveston District has no authority to conduct any additional work in the West Fork of the San Jacinto River or Lake Houston. The San Jacinto River is not an authorized federal waterway, the Corps of Engineers dredging operations are currently limited to dredging Harvey-related material. The ongoing work under the contract modification will remove the remainder of material attributable directly to Hurricane Harvey. The sedimentation from recurring annual flows are not within USACE Galveston District’s mission assignment from FEMA. Water flows on the West Fork of San Jacinto River were restored to pre-Harvey levels in December 2018.”

Q: Who can the public contact for additional concerns with the maintenance of the San Jacinto River?

A. For concerns with the maintenance of the San Jacinto River, please contact Harris County Flood Control District, the San Jacinto River Authority and the City of Houston.”

Punt!

Meanwhile the City is still arguing with the Corps about how they arrived at 500,000 cubic yards. More on that later. I have obtained the Corps’ estimate through a FOIA request to the City of Houston. It raises many questions that I am still trying to sort through. More on that later.

Posted by Bob Rehak on August 14, 2019

715 Days since Hurricane Harvey

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.

First Phase of West Fork Dredging Completed

The Army Corps has completed the original scope of its West Fork Emergency Dredging Project. Great Lakes, the prime contractor, finished its portion of the job in mid-April. This week, Callan Marine, the subcontractor, finished its portion of the dredging.

Subcontractor Callan Marine Now Demobilizing

Callan has already begun demobilizing. So far, the company has unhooked its dredge from its pipeline and is removing its booster pumps and other equipment from the river. Callan should have all of its equipment back at the command site dock by this weekend.

Yesterday, Keith Jordan, a resident of Kings Lake Estates, greeted the news joyfully. “Hallelujah! It’s simply amazing how quiet it is tonight.  It’s been a long 8 months!” Jordan had a booster pump anchored behind his home the entire time and complained several times to the Corps about noise.

Callan operated the blue dredge that worked the area downstream from the West Lake Houston Parkway bridge since approximately January.

Callan dredge near King’s Harbor on Jan. 31, 2019. West Lake Houston Parkway Bridge in background. Callan booster pump on far side of bridge.

Mouth Bar Contract Extension Ahead of Schedule

In other news, Great Lakes is far ahead of schedule on a contract extension. The extension is a separate mission assignment from FEMA to the Corps for slightly more than $17 million. It involves dredging 500,000 cubic yards of sediment from the mouth bar. The Corps originally thought the extension would take until January, 2020. However, at the current rate, Great Lakes could finish next month – in less than half the time predicted.

Five-hundred thousand cubic yards will barely scratch the surface of what needs to be removed and may not even be sufficient to cut a channel through the mouth bar area, thus leaving most of the mouth bar intact. It is unclear at this time what the plans are to restore conveyance through this area of the West Fork.

Current Dredging Photos from Carolyn Daniel

A reader, Carolyn Daniel, sent me several pictures taken earlier this week from the window of an airplane as it descended into Bush Intercontinental Airport. They show the Great Lakes Dredge south of the mouth bar. The company also removed vegetation from leading edge of the mouth bar itself. Perhaps they hoped that river currents could help erode the bar which contains far more than 500,000 cubic yards.

Great Lakes Dredge near Mouth Bar with Kingwood in background. Looking north. Town Center is on left and Kings Point on the right. Photo courtesy of Carolyn Daniel. Taken 8/5/2019.
Seconds later, as her plane descended, Carolyn Daniel grabbed this shot of mouth bar dredging. Also looking north, it shows Atascocita Point in the foreground and Fosters Mill and Kings Point in the background.

These images illustrate the enormity of the task ahead and the need to be ruthlessly efficient with resources and time.

Challenges Ahead

Tomorrow, I will look at some of the challenges ahead, and some of the obstacles to restoring conveyance.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/8/2019 with photos from Carolyn Daniel

709 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Mouth Bar Dredge Idle Over Holiday Weekend; Not Much Progress Yet

New images by RD Kissling, a Lake-Houston-area geologist and canoeist, show two things. The Great Lakes dredge near the mouth bar sat idle this holiday weekend. Also Great Lakes has not made much progress yet.

Dredge seems to be hugging the south shore of the mouth bar. An excavator has removed vegetation and loosened sand in that area.

Kissling Video Underscores Immensity of Undertaking

Also, Kissling shot more video. This 32-second clip shows him standing in less-than-knee-deep water approximately 300 yards from the mouth bar. This video dramatizes the immensity of the task at hand. It also shows where the channel currently lies relative to the mouth bar itself.

Video showing RD Kissling in shin-deep water 300 yards from the south shore of the mouth bar.

History of Mouth Bar Dredging

The Corps excluded the mouth bar in the first phase of dredging. Instead, it focused on a 2.1 mile stretch upstream. Since the Corps revealed its Phase-One plans, residents have been organizing to ensure dredging through the mouth-bar reach.

Kissling and Tim Garfield, another local geologist first brought the dangers of the mouth bar to the public’s attention. Massive deposits of sand cause water to flow uphill by 30+ feet between the end of Phase-One dredging and the mouth bar. That backs water up during floods. The channel width and depth simply don’t have enough conveyance capacity to move floodwaters through. As a result, the floodwaters slow down, drop their sediment load, enlarge the blockage, and start to spread out overland.

The mouth bar of the West Fork of the San Jacinto. Photo taken two weeks after Harvey.

Clampdown on Communications

Neither the City, County, State, FEMA or Corps have made their plans clear yet. This contrasts with the start of Phase-One dredging when the Corps and City proudly trotted out presentations in community meetings.

I submitted a FOIA request to the Corps for their plans several weeks ago. However, I have not yet received those plans. I did receive a request for clarification asking what I meant by “plans”? I responded that I could not imagine the US Army staging an operation this large and expensive without a plan. They thanked me for the clarification.

The FOIA stalling and clamp down on communication from all parties involved suggests that the Federal government and local authorities have not yet reached a mutually satisfactory agreement. It has been nine months since they announced an agreement in principle after the “everybody-but-Trump” meeting in Austin.

To be fair, this has been a holiday week and many people are on vacation. Perhaps things will become clearer when they return.

To date, the small amount of excavation completed has focused on the edge of the mouth bar itself, not widening or deepening the channel near Atascocita Point. This July 2 Community Impact article suggests that the Corps intends to dredge the edge of the mouth bar but offers no other detail or explanations.

Impact of Dredging on November Elections

With City elections fast approaching, it will be interesting to see if progress – or the lack thereof – affects how the Lake Houston Area votes. We’re running out of time to make reasonable dredging progress before November. With two years in the rear-view mirror since Harvey, I suspect voters will look at performance more than promises when they go to the polls.

In coming weeks, I will post about where the candidates line up on the three major goals for the Lake Houston Area: additional dredging, detention and gates (Plea for DDG). I also hope that this will be the first of weekly reports on mouth bar dredging. So if you are out on the water, please send pics of what you see.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/6/2019

676 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Mouth Bar Dredging Begins

It appears that dredging of the mouth bar of the San Jacinto West Fork has officially begun. Two weeks ago, I reported that the Great Lakes dredge had maneuvered into position. Then this weekend, residents started sending me pictures taken from the river showing equipment in operation.

Mouth Bar Imagery from RD Kissling

RD Kissling, a Lake Houston area resident and geologist, who first helped bring the mouth bar to the public’s attention sent me the photo and video below last week. “The dredge is up and running,” he said.

The image with the canoe below, Kissling said, “This is me standing in shin deep water about 200 yards south of the exposed mouth bar, looking north towards the bar and Scenic Shores.  There is another small channel about 20 yards south of me then the bar shoals again.”

Lake Houston Area geologist RD Kissling standing in shin-deep water 200 yards south of the mouth bar. This image, more than any other I have seen, dramatizes how critical the need for dredging has become...and how hilarious the Romerica proposal is to build a marina for more than 600 40-foot yachts.
Video shot by RD Kissling from the southernmost exposed portion of the mouth bar.  Starts looking west towards the dredge then swings around to the east.

Mouth Bar Images from Today Shot by Jeff Kristoff

Then Jeff Kristoff, a Kingwood resident, sent me the pictures below today. They show an excavator on the upstream end of the bar and dredging equipment immediately south of the bar. It appears there may be two excavators breaking up vegetative growth and sediment. Farther upstream, near River Grove Park, dredgers reportedly ran into submerged logs that had been covered by sand.

The loops in the pipelines will allow the dredge to maneuver up and downstream as it works. Note first of two excavators in background breaking up vegetation at edge of mouth bar.
Excavators can also be used to more or lift pipe for repairs.

Ultimate Plans Still Not Announced Yet

Exactly where or how much the Corps and its partners plan to dredge has not yet been announced. The Corps last issued a press release for the project on June 10, three weeks ago, and has not yet responded to a Freedom-of-Information-Act request for the dredging plans.

Because it’s hard to believe that the U.S. Army would move on a project this large without a plan, I can only conclude that all parties have not yet reached an agreement on volume and a permit for placement of the sediment.

For the time being, it looks as though the Corps will use Placement Area 2 on Sorters Road…at least initially. Pumping ALL of the sediment 10 miles upstream would hike the cost hugely because it would require at least 5 booster pumps. Each uses 1000 gallons of diesel per day.

For speculation on where and how much they might dredge, see this post.

Posted by Bob Rehak on July 4, 2019, with images and video from RD Kissling and Jeff Kristoff

674 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Dredge Finally Reaches Mouth Bar

The Army Corps of Engineers announced last week that it had received a mission assignment from FEMA to dredge 500,000 cubic yards in the area of the mouth bar of the San Jacinto West Fork. This week, the dredge operated by Great Lakes was sighted within 200 yards of the bar. (See videos below.)

Dredging Could Start Next Week

Officials close to the project say actual dredging could start as early as next week. Dredgers only need more 24″ pipe to pump the sediment 10 miles back upstream to placement area #2, an old sand pit near Kingwood College. However, the City and Corps are still debating the volume deposited by Harvey. The Corps has not yet divulged where it plans to start dredging, what its objectives are for this phase of the project, or what the contributions of other partners will be.

More Meetings Needed to Finalize Volume

All parties will meet in the coming days to finalize the volume and a plan. The City of Houston and Army Corps are still 900,000 cubic yards apart in their estimates of the amount of sediment deposited by Harvey. The City hopes to get the Corps to increase its estimate of 500,000 cubic yards. However, that hasn’t happened so far. Meanwhile everyone wants to reduce flood risk by removing as much sediment as possible before the peak of hurricane season.

New Drone Video of Mouth Bar by Jim Zura of Zura Productions

New drone footage of the West Fork mouth bar shows just how much the mouth bar has grown since Harvey. I took the still shot immediately below from a helicopter two weeks after Harvey. To see what it looks like today, scroll down. Kingwood-based Jim Zura of Zura Productions shot two new drone videos this morning. They show what the mouth bar looks like 22 months later. As you watch the videos shot from different elevations, consider the immensity of the bar compared to the dredge at the tail end of each video.

Mouth bar of the San Jacinto West Fork. Looking south toward FM1960 bridge and Lake Houston. Photo taken on 9/14/2017. Channel on either side is only 3-5 feet deep.
Here’s the first of two drone videos shot at different elevations by Jim Zura of Zura Productions. It shows what the mouth bar looks like on 6/18/2019. In the nearly 2 years since Harvey, much vegetation has started to grow on it. Notice also how much larger the two small islands behind the dune have grown compared to the still shot above.
Jim Zura’s second drone video is from a little higher. To see it, click here.

How Far Would 500,000 Cubic Yards Get Us?

Five hundred thousand cubic yards will not come close to restoring the full conveyance of the West Fork. How does 500,000 cubic yards compare with what NEEDS to be dredged?

Let’s start by looking at the channel that the Corps is dredging upriver and assume that they will extend that between the mouth bar and Atascocita Point. That strategy follows the relict channel. The relict channel is also the path with the least sediment at the moment. So that would make the most efficient use of funds.

Let’s also assume that the channel needs to be dredged an average of five yards (15 feet) deeper than its current depth along that path in order to match the profile below.

Endpoint of current dredge program shows channel 22.5′ deep by 400′ wide..

A “budget” of 500,000 cubic yards would allow you to dredge a channel 133 yards (400 feet) wide 5 yards deeper and 752 yards long. That equals 500,080 cubic yards. But 752 linear yards is only about one-fourth of the 3,000+ yards to the FM1960 bridge. And we haven’t even touched the mouth bar!

Extending the channel through the bridge is important because of the sediment built up behind it.

West Fork Map shows difference in sedimentation between 2010 and 2017. Note the white and violet areas near the FM1960 bridge. Red/orange/yellow/green areas represent decreases in sediment. Blue, violet and white represent increases.

Clearly, dredging the rest of the way to the bridge will require more money from the State, County and/or City. Thankfully for the Lake Houston Area, all of those entities have already allocated funds.

Details Yet to Work Out

However, the City, Harris County, and State of Texas have even more hurdles to clear beyond the volume debate.

They must find a suitable storage site that can accommodate all the sediment they hope to dredge. The storage site represents the biggest obstacle at the moment and a limiting factor.

The Corps would prefer a below ground site, i.e., an abandoned sand pit. That would reduce the risk of future floods carrying sediment back into the river. Also, it would NOT encroach on the flood plain.

Finally, the closer the site is to the dredging, the faster and cheaper the project. Long pipelines lead to more breakdowns. And each additional booster pump uses 1000 gallons of diesel per day.

Latest on Madden Property

The largest property evaluated so far is a 4000-acre site owned by Berry Madden of Humble. Madden’s property is close – half the distance of the sand mine on Sorters Road. It is also large enough to accommodate all the sediment people want to remove – including sediment from maintenance dredging down the road. Permitting one property instead of several would save lots of time (perhaps years).

But storage on Madden’s property would be above ground. Until someone builds on it, that introduces an element of risk that below-ground storage does not have. Madden has conducted an environmental survey of his property and is now conducting an archeological survey required for a storage permit. The Corps has not yet approved his property.

A source close to negotiations says the Corps is considering approving half of the Madden site for now while it performs additional evaluations of the rest of the site. That might be enough to accommodate immediate needs, reduce the cost of pumping sediment ten miles upstream, and provide storage room for future maintenance dredging.

80,000 CY More Sediment Deposited Since Last Survey

Meanwhile, time and sediment march on. Sources say the Corps recently found another 80,000 cubic yards of sediment deposited in the mouth bar area since the last survey after Harvey.

This supports the theory of two top local geologists, RD Kissling and Tim Garfield, who predicted that the mouth bar would form a dam that accelerated sedimentation. That theory also explains why the mouth bar must be removed, or at least why we must dredge a channel around it ASAP.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/18/2019 with drone footage courtesy of Jim Zura, Zura Productions

658 Days since Hurricane Harvey