“We’ve made a tremendous leap since Hurricane Harvey in 2017 but the sediment is still coming,” Houston Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin said at Partnership Lake Houston’s Humble BizCom Jan. 13. “We have to attack it, build barricades so it doesn’t make it back down here.”
It had been almost two years since Humble BizCom was held in person, this first time at the Charles Bender Performing Arts Center near Historic Downtown Humble.
Martin brought along City of Houston Chief Recovery Officer Stephen Costello to update three topics: the Lake Houston Dam project, the never-ending dredging of Lake Houston’s multiple rivers, lakes, streams and drainage ditches, and the widening of Northpark Drive into Kingwood.
“I can’t say enough about Costello. I am in his office every day,” Martin said as he began his presentation. “He has patience. I don’t. I can’t wait to see all the results of what we are doing.”
“We have so far spent more than $114 million removing 2.7 million cubic yards of debris from the San Jacinto River and Lake Houston,” he said.
Soon, dredging will begin, according to Martin, on Rogers Gulley which is near the 18th hole of the Walden Country Club. He thanked outgoing State Rep. Dan Huberty who secured $50 million in the last legislation session to continue the dredging.
Martin then discussed what he called his West Fork Challenge with the Army Corps of Engineers about debris that the Corps said was not the result of Hurricane Harvey. The Corps put together a four-page tabletop observation while Costello and his city team assembled a 96-page analysis based on analytics and engineering data challenging the Corps findings.
“We took it all the way to the Army Corps headquarters in Walla Walla, Washington — and they sided with us which is very unusual,” Martin said, “so we are getting ready to do additional work on the West Fork.”
Dredging is finally completed on the East Fork of the San Jacinto River, according to Martin, and will soon move to the West Fork starting with Rogers Gulley.
Czar Costello, as Martin called him, said the city is applying for a state grant to begin dredging the multitude of canals throughout Lake Houston. Since most are privately owned, Costello said the city would have to negotiate with the owners.
Costello also said the city is developing a long-range dredging plan to keep Lake Houston’s multiple waterways debris-free.
“We are going to utilize some of our funds to develop a plan,” Costello said. “We can’t spend a billion dollars to dredge — and then do nothing. The plan will be one where we decided how much dredging we should do year by year.”
Regarding the Lake Houston Dam, Costello said the challenge “ … we have had is the fact that it is a 70-year-old dam, but we have come to what we think is a viable plan.”
“This is a monumental task, to build on a structure built in the early 1950s that was never meant to do what we want it to do. With that comes challenges,” Martin said.
By stabilizing the dam with sediment, the city can seek FEMA approval. Once approved, Costello said the $47 million project will take 18 months to complete and the new gates should be able to release water beginning by the end of 2024.
The Northpark Drive reconstruction project has faced its own challenges, but Martin expects groundbreaking to occur perhaps in March.
“We had right-of-way acquisition issues along with money issues because construction costs are tremendously more expensive,” he said. “We started this eight years ago but, as you can tell from what Stephen told you, we have a lot of activity in the Lake Houston area. Lots of things are happening. Lots of things need to happen.”
“I only have two years left on my term,” Martin said. He and all Houston city council members are term limited. “Hopefully, these things will continue to happen long after I have left office.”
Martin concluded by discussing another of his “dream projects,” building a barrier so that the sediment never makes it into the San Jacinto and the lake. If we can control the flow and continue our dredging, we will never have to do it again.”
If we don’t do it the right way and don’t get it done, Martin warned that “ … the Kingwood we all love just won’t exist as we know it today.”
Humble BizCom can be viewed on Partnership Lake Houston’s Facebook page, facebook.com/PartnershipLH