Exploration Green detention project temporarily halted

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Work on the Clear Lake City Water Authority’s Exploration Green project has halted over a bureaucratic snag officials expect to resolve next week.

By the time work resumes, the $30 million detention pond project could be four or more weeks behind, and it will cost a bit more money to start back up, CLCWA President John Branch said.

Exploration Green is a project to convert an old golf course near El Camino Real and El Dorado Boulevard in the Clear Lake area into a detention pond. Once complete, Exploration Green will hold 500 million gallons of water during storms, potentially preventing 2,000 to 3,000 homes from flooding.

Phase 1 of the project was completed in early 2018. Contractors were working on Phase 2, which is set for completion in early 2019, when work halted. The entire project is scheduled to be finished by late 2021.

About three weeks ago, the Houston Airport System contacted authority officials and told them work on Exploration Green had to stop because it violated city ordinance, Branch said.

The ordinance states any detention pond within 3.5 miles of a Houston airport has to be a dry-bottom pond, which is one that drains within 72 hours of filling up. Exploration Green is a couple miles from Ellington Airport, and it’s a wet-bottom pond because it retains at least 6 feet of water at all times, Branch said.

The ordinance exists over Federal Aviation Administration guidelines that wet-bottom ponds attract flocks of birds that could get into aircraft flight paths, Branch said.

When asked why the notice came months into the project after Exploration Green received other city permits, officials said “the city missed it,” Branch said. A Houston Airport System official did not return a request for comment.

Branch recently visited Exploration Green and saw only a few birds. That’s likely because Exploration Green also has a hike-and-bike trail, Branch said.

“We believe that with that hike-and-bike trail around it, birds aren’t gonna stay around in high quantities because there’s so much people traffic going around it,” he said.

A nearby dry-bottom pond with no trails had dozens of birds, Branch said.

Authority officials will go before the Airport Board of Adjustment on Sept. 27 to request a variance that would allow Exploration Green to continue. Branch is confident the variance will be granted, he said.

“I think we have a really good case,” he said. “We just want to get these things built and get them installed and move onto other things.”

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Jake Magee
Jake Magee has been a print journalist for a few years, covering topics such as city government, education, business and more. Starting off at a daily newspaper in southern Wisconsin, Magee covered two small cities before being promoted to covering city government in the heart of newspaper's coverage area. He moved to Houston in mid-2018 to be an editor with Community Impact. In his free time, Magee enjoys playing video games, jamming on the drums and bass, longboarding and petting his cat.
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