Planned Buffalo Bayou Restoration Project Met With Resistance By Environmentalist Groups

Frank Salzhandler with the Endangered Species Media Project stands at Bayou Bend, one segment of the Memorial Park Demonstration Project.
Environmentalists are upset over what they perceive as secrecy about a bayou project by the Harris County Flood Control District. They claim the project would destroy natural habitats in parts of Buffalo Bayou.

This segment of Buffalo Bayou is considered for restoration under the Memorial Park Demonstration Project. That’s a maintenance project led by the Harris County Flood Control District to repair the bed and banks of Buffalo Bayou and minimize erosion along a 1.5 mile stretch at the southeast corner of Memorial Park.

But members of the Sierra Club and the Endangered Species Media Project accuse the Flood Control District of trying to keep the public in the dark about the details of the project.

The banks of Buffalo Bayou at Bayou Bend.
The banks of Buffalo Bayou at Bayou Bend.

Evelyn Merz is the conservation chair of the Texas Sierra Club.

“Right now, our biggest concern is that if the Harris County Commissioners Court does not act and instruct the Flood Control District to withdraw that Nationwide 27 Permit, that permit will be issued by the end of September without the public ever being aware what’s going on.”

She says the Flood Control District should apply for an Individual Permit with the U.S. Corps of Engineers, which — unlike a Nationwide General Permit — would require them to allow for public comment on the project. The group has asked the Commissioners Court to intervene.

But Mike Talbott, director of the Harris County Flood Control District, says it was the Corps of Engineers that advised which type of permit to apply for.

“It is a restoration, enhancement and establishment of environmental activities. It fit that criteria that the Corps said Nationwide 27 is the appropriate way to go and that’s how we submitted it. There’s nothing sinister or trying to cut the public out of the process.”

He says the public will have plenty of opportunity to weigh in on the project after the Corps of Engineers issues the permit for it. That’s because the Texas Parks and Wildlife Code requires that a public hearing must be held before a project like this can move forward.

Still, the two environmental groups want the public to have input before the Corps of Engineers issues a permit.

Frank Salzhandler with the Endangered Species Media Project says he hopes once Houstonians see what the Memorial Park Demonstration Project does, they will oppose it.

“If you re-engineer the river there, or the bayou, you basically take out all that forest habitat and understory, which denudes all of the ability for the river to heal itself.”

Mike Talbott acknowledges that there will be some disruption to the natural habitat but says the point is to put it back in a better state. He says landowners along the bayou aren’t willing to wait for the bayou to heal itself hundreds of years from now.

environmentalists
From left to right: Evelyn Merz, Brandt Mannchen (both with the Sierra Club), Olive Hershey, and Frank Salzhandler with the Endangered Species Media Project.

Bio photo of Florian Martin

Florian Martin

Reporter/NewsLab Coordinator

Florian Martin is the KUHF NewsLab Coordinator. While guiding and overseeing interns, he works on his own stories and is always on call to cover breaking news and other media events...