Out of Control

The City of Houston requires developers in the floodplain to elevate and mitigate -- build houses on higher ground and dig detention ponds for runoff. Except, not always.

Earlier this year, the White Oak Bayou Association submitted a proposal to the flood control district that represents the area's last hope for storm-water detention. Eureka Springs, designed by Kevin Shanley, is modeled on the 441-acre Willow Waterhole, a detention and conservation reserve constructed along Brays Bayou. But the project, envisioned for the 187-acre Katy railroad corridor, south of 11th Street, is expensive. The cheapest of three alternatives designed by Shanley would cost $53 million.

Federal funding through the flood control district is unlikely. Steve Fitzgerald says that although storm-water detention in the lower White Oak watershed is desperately needed, Eureka Springs would provide a negligible flood control benefit.

"People have been asking us for ten years or more to consider some of these tracts" for detention, Fitzgerald says. "But to have any impact, it would have to be a lot bigger."

Jenard Gross's development is almost complete, but his storm-water detention is still a mystery.
Michael Stravato
Jenard Gross's development is almost complete, but his storm-water detention is still a mystery.
Jenard Gross's development is almost complete, but his storm-water detention is still a mystery.
Deron Neblett
Jenard Gross's development is almost complete, but his storm-water detention is still a mystery.

In the meantime, land adjacent to the old rail yard is being claimed for development. The 77-home project has already been subdivided, and rumors abound that surveying crews seen in the area are plotting additional subdivisions near the site that would encroach on storm-water detention for the surrounding neighborhoods.

Clark Pines resident Mary Abshier wonders whether even a small detention site would have saved some of the houses in her neighborhood, including her own. Abshier bought her home in the spring of 1999, before she knew Clark Pines was in the White Oak floodplain. She says longtime residents assured her that the bayou had never posed a threat to the 50-year-old subdivision. Since June, Abshier has watched with a sense of dread as new development visible from her front yard nears completion.

"What kind of city planning is this?" she asks incredulously. "Are they really trying to destroy the inner city so that developers can come in and change the whole nature of Houston?"

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