UPDATED: Army Corps of Engineers nears end of dredging project on West Fork of the San Jacinto River


Updated: The Federal Emergency Management Agency authorized the Army Corps of Engineers Galveston District to dredge the mouth bar, which is at the confluence of the West Fork of the San Jacinto River and Lake Houston, according to an April 26 news release from Houston City Council Member Dave Martin.

Senate Bill 2126 also did not pass during the legislative session, but it has been placed on the general state calendar.

As the Army Corps of Engineers Galveston District begins wrapping up its $70 million dredging project on the West Fork of the San Jacinto River, the city of Houston has resubmitted an application to the Corps requesting a permit to further dredge the river to mitigate future flooding in the Lake Houston area.

The Corps awarded the project to Great Lakes Dredge and Dock in July, and the contractors began dredging in September with the intention of removing about 1.8 million cubic yards of sand and debris from the river between River Grove Park and east of the West Lake Houston Parkway bridge.

While one machine was disassembled in April, the second dredge, located east of West Lake Houston Parkway, will continue work until late May, said Alicia Rea, chief of the emergency management branch for the Corps’ Galveston District. She said they expect to remove only 1.7 million cubic yards from the 2-mile scope to complete the project.

Project Engineer Alton Meyer said the purpose was to restore the river to pre-Hurricane Harvey conditions.
“When Hurricane Harvey came along, it dumped an awful lot of sand into the river, and because of that, anytime we experience a significant amount of rainfall you’re reducing the capacity of the river,” Meyer said.

Extending the project

In addition to the Corps’ current dredging project, the city of Houston also resubmitted its permit application March 29 to the Corps requesting the dredging site be extended to include the mouth bar, which is at the confluence of the West Fork of the San Jacinto River and Lake Houston.

Houston City Council Member Dave Martin said the extended dredging project will cost about $70 million. He said the city of Houston has agreed to allocate $20 million toward the dredging extension, while the city will request roughly $50 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He said the city hopes to have the permit application and FEMA funding approved before the Corps finishes breaking down the machines in May, as restaging dredging will cost the city more money.

“What we don’t want to do is have those pipes and those dredges and those companies presently working in our waters to leave because we’d have to redo the staging expenditures,” Martin said.

As of press time, the Corps’ regulatory division was still reviewing the city of Houston’s permit application, Corps officials said.

“This channel is not a federally authorized channel, so we don’t have the authority to do anything there unless FEMA asks us to,” Rea said.

Addressing sediment

Another option to address sedimentation in the West Fork of the San Jacinto River that the city is considering is forming a public-private partnership with local sand mining operators.

State Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, filed Senate Bill 2126 during the legislative session, which would allow sand mining operations to mine sand from the West Fork of the San Jacinto River and its tributaries to help with water flow. The operators would be contracted and managed by an overseeing district, which would most likely be the San Jacinto River Authority—a state agency that manages the resources in the San Jacinto River.

Martin said allowing the operators to dredge the river would be a “win-win” for both the community and the operators, who make money from selling sand and gravel to construction companies to build things such as roads and other infrastructure.

“They need sand, we have sand, so let’s find a way to help each other,” Martin said. “That way maybe … we could do the dredging operations 365 days a year and allow them to take the sand from the dredging operations for their construction projects.”

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Kelly Schafler
Kelly Schafler is the editor for the Lake Houston, Humble and Kingwood edition of Community Impact Newspaper, covering public education, city government, development, businesses, local events and all things community-related. Before she became editor, she was the reporter for the Conroe and Montgomery edition for a year and a half.
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