As Grand Parkway Moves Forward Controversy Continues

Another section of the Grand Parkway is about to start construction. Section E from Interstate-10 to Highway 290 has been one of the more controversial segments. Even as it goes ahead Edel Howlin finds out that controversy is not quite over.

"The Sierra Club still has a lawsuit against the federal highway department."

Brandt Mannchen is with the Sierra Club, an organization that has some unfinished business with TxDOT and the Grand Parkway. He is holding them to task for the environmental impact the 180 mile ring road around the Houston area will have on certain sections of the city. Something which won’t be addressed by a court until September at the latest.  Unfortunately for Mannchen the Army Corps of Engineers has just removed the last stumbling block for construction to begin on Segment E.

segment e
from the Grand Parkway Association Website

"Last week, we did receive the Corps of Engineers wetlands permit to proceed with construction of Segment E of Grand Parkway."

That’s Raquelle Lewis with TxDOT. They had been waiting on this permit since the construction of the Grand Parkway was under Harris County’s control.

Now this has been granted it means they can move on to the next phase. Something which Mannchen is none too happy about.

"One of the horrible things about this particular decision by the Corps of Engineers is instead of mitigating which means basically trying to replace the damage that you do to wetlands and waters of the United States over there in the Katy prairie and along Cypress Creek. They’re allowing the mitigation to occur over in the country facility over on Greens Bayou, which is about 30 miles away."

Mannchen says the Sierra Club had also asked the Army Corps to notify them when they would be issuing this permit. Fred Anthamatten is a regulator with the Army Corps of Engineers and he says they were under no requirement to notify any one group.

"We would not treat one applicant different than any other. We are neither a proponent nor opponent of a project."

Mannchen’s biggest concern for the Katy Prairie wetlands was what would happen when large rainfalls hit. Currently the wetlands absorb water but if there’s a concrete freeway instead of wetlands Mannchen says that’s a problem.  

"It’s gonna accelerate development in that area and all that water that normally hangs in the Prairie is gonna be shot right down drainage ways and into Addicks Damn. Addicks Damn is already having problems with getting full because of development that’s already occurred."

Anthamatten feels this problem was sufficiently examined by his team and it doesn’t pose a serious threat to people in the area.

"The project, if it’s constructed as designed, it just will not adversely impact existing water surface profiles in immediate flood plains neither up, nor downstream." 

Mannchen still plans to proceed with his lawsuit and hopes to stop the remainder of the Grand Parkway. As for Segment E TxDOT will receive construction bids over the next few days and the winning bid will be announced at the end of the month.

They are also due to hear back this week on a Request For Information that went out on June 10th.  One of the possibilities was a public-private partnership.

The outcome for how Segment E and subsequent segments will proceed will be decided on in the coming days.

Bio photo of Edel Howlin

Edel Howlin

Producer, Houston Matters

Edel is a producer on Houston Matters and reporter for PBS’s Newshour Weekend...