- Associated Press - Thursday, April 26, 2018

DICKINSON, Texas (AP) - Hurricane Harvey’s epic rain in August 2017 convinced many residents and elected officials in Southeast Texas that the drastic flooding required drastic drainage solutions.

The Galveston County Daily News reports one drastic solution is transforming the scenic bends in the bayous of Galveston County into straight, concrete ditches. But before creating concrete-lined rivers, officials would consider dredging the bayous.

Dredging requires specific equipment to suction silt from the bottom of the bayou to a barge or to the banks. Proponents argue that removing the silt and making bayous deeper and wider would help control flooding by increasing the water volume capacity. Opponents worry that dredging would harm the environment.

Government agencies want to study all the factors - a time-consuming investment.

A lack of government action to dredge Dickinson Bayou frustrates Galveston County resident Gerhard Meinecke so much that he’s starting his own advocacy committee, he said.

“I am canvassing neighborhoods,” he said.

Meinecke, a retired engineer who lives on the Dickinson-Texas City border, has ideas to solve drainage problems, but no government agency is acting on them, he said. Most don’t even return his calls, he said.

His detailed list includes dredging Dickinson Bayou, redesigning bridges and building a man-made canal north of the bayou that feeds into Galveston Bay.

All his ideas would be expensive, would take time to study, would take more time to build and would require everyone involved to agree, officials have said.

In 1987, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers studied Dickinson Bayou. At the time, the benefits of improving water flow in the bayou did not outweigh the costs, said Byron Williams, chief of the corps’ Project Management Branch, Galveston District.

But after Hurricane Harvey in August caused disastrous flooding in Dickinson and other mainland communities, the district asked its higher-ups if it could re-evaluate a potential bayou project, Williams said. If the Galveston District gets money for the re-evaluation, it would conduct that study with the city of Dickinson and Galveston County as possible sponsors. But that would be a study of the costs and the benefits again. It wouldn’t be a construction project, officials say.

“It is too premature to comment on the possible alternatives from a general re-evaluation report, but none will be ruled out during the initial stages,” Williams said. “Dredging, clearing and de-snagging, levees, non-structural measures will all be evaluated.”

Meinecke set up a meeting in March with key Dickinson officials and invited county, state and federal officials, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He promised the meeting would be free of politics and would focus on practical solutions, he said. They were his solutions and his ideas, but he wanted to get something started, he said.

But Dickinson officials postponed the meeting, which has not been rescheduled, Meinecke said.

The city is applying for assistance from the Texas Department of Emergency Management and the Federal Emergency Management Agency and state-led hurricane response efforts, Dickinson spokeswoman Gabrielle Bernal said.

Once the money starts coming in, fixing drainage could be one of the options for Dickinson, she said. But without the money, there are no firm plans, she said.

Also, drainage isn’t just a Dickinson issue, but a regional one, Bernal said. The city is looking for state or federal agencies to help improve Dickinson Bayou, she said.

Meinecke understands Dickinson can’t do it all, he said.

“The Dickinson Bayou watershed drains from multiple cities and unincorporated areas and culminates in a small municipality that does not have the resources to construct what is needed,” Meinecke said.

Another concern is that changing the way a bayou flows could have legal complications for property owners.

Straightening some of the sharper curves in the bayou could be necessary and could even mean that the city, county or state would have to invoke eminent domain, which allows the government to take private property through condemnation proceedings, Meinecke said.

“It would be for the greater good,” he said. “But before you do that, you should build the canal.”

A man-made canal that diverted water to the bay would be more effective, but it would also cost more, Meinecke said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is waiting to get the go-ahead to re-evaluate Dickinson Bayou before deciding what to do next.

“We have absolutely no alternatives picked, screened or otherwise chosen,” Williams said. “We have not yet begun the study. The idea of a concrete-lined bayou has not been considered any more than buyouts.”


Information from: The Galveston County Daily News, http://www.galvnews.com

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