The final phase of Exploration Green, a project to convert a Clear Lake golf course into a nature conservatory with a series of detention ponds, will be finished this summer.

The Clear Lake City Water Authority, an entity that provides water, sewer and drainage services to the Clear Lake area, began the Exploration Green project in 2005. Phase 5, the final phase, was originally projected to be completed by the end of 2022 or early this year but was delayed due to weather, said John Branch, vice president of the CLCWA board of directors.

“They had a lot of rain for a while, and we do give them credit for rain day work and getting on dirt when it's all wet out there,” Branch said, referring to the contractors.

Branch explained the contractor is penalized $800 per day after the timeframe of the project is exceeded. However, contractors now have an incentive to finish the project before they incur too many penalties, Branch said.

Phase 5 cost $9.2 million. Due to a large pipeline that had to be moved in order to maximize the stormwater storage capacity, this parcel was more expensive than the others, Branch said.

Branch added that although Houston enacted a drainage fee on residential owners near Exploration Green around the time the project officially started, the CLCWA was able to negotiate a 10-year exemption for the properties in the area. After the 10 years passed, they received an extension for an additional 10 years.

This 20-year exemption saved Clear Lake around $50 million. Without those savings, Exploration Green may not have been possible, Branch said.

The CLCWA is planning a grand opening event for Phase 5 on Sept. 30 to celebrate the completion of the project, Branch said.

According to Branch, one of the main reasons the project was split into five phases was to prevent tax increases. Selling all the bonds at the same time would have led to a tax increase, whereas allowing bonds to expire over time gave the CLCWA the opportunity to issue new bonds at the same tax rate throughout the project, he said.

The 178-acre golf course's owner initially sought $25 million for the property. The seller agreed to settle for $6.3 million to CLCWA after the price was contested in court, Branch said.

According to Branch, Exploration Green will provide the community with 500 million gallons of stormwater storage. After the project is completed, the CLCWA plans to work with the Harris County Flood Control District and FEMA to re-evaluate the flooding potential in the Clear Lake area.

The CLCWA expects Exploration Green to improve flood risk zones and reduce flood insurance rates in the area, Branch said.

According to Branch, over 15,000 hours of volunteer hours have been recorded during the span of the project. Community members and locals have invested a lot of their own time and energy into achieving the shared goal of reducing flood zones; looking out for the community; and improving nature by, for example, raising the standard of rainwater consumed by bird habitats along the main route for bird migration, Branch said. Community members' contribution toward the project saved taxpayers $6.5 million, according to Branch.

“They've done a fantastic job,” Branch said regarding volunteers “And it really has built community spirit.“

The entire project, including the cost of the land, will be almost $43 million upon completion, according to Branch.