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Work begins on massive flood control project

Harris and Galveston county officials held a groundbreaking ceremony Thursday, Oct. 9, for the new South Belt Stormwater Detention Basin, a massive project aimed at reducing area flooding.

Formerly known as the Mud Gully Stormwater Detention Basin, the 174-acre site will be located near the intersection of Beamer and Dixie Farm Road in the area that once housed the South Bend subdivision. Soil sampling conducted by both Harris County and the Brio Site Task Force have determined the once-hazardous site is now safe.

Harris County Flood Control District Director Mike Talbott, who hosted the event, said the word of the day was “partnerships.” While Harris and Galveston counties are responsible for the bulk of the project, Talbot said it actually involves 16 cities, four counties, five drainage authorities and five congressional districts.

On Aug. 12, 2014, Harris County Commissioners Court awarded an approximately $3.46 million construction contract to low bidder Trans-Global Solutions Inc. for Phase 1 of the multiphase basin project. Work began in late September and is expected to be completed by late 2015.

The South Belt basin, formally identified as HCFCD Unit A520-03-00, is the fifth of at least eight major stormwater detention basin construction projects begun, or tentatively scheduled to begin, in Harris County this calendar year. Stormwater detention basins reduce flooding risks and damages by safely storing excess floodwater during heavy rain events and slowly releasing it back to the bayou when the threat of flooding has passed.

The basin will provide stormwater storage needed for mitigation of expected increases in stormwater flows as a result of future channel improvements on Beamer ditch and other projects, and will reduce future flood damages within the Clear Creek watershed. Galveston County has pledged up to $10 million toward the total basin construction costs.

The project involves removing approximately 553,000 cubic yards of soil, and constructing a weir and outfall pipe connecting the basin to the nearby channel, which is formally identified as HCFCD Unit A120-00-00 and also known as Mud Gully. A weir is any of a variety of structures designed to control and direct stormwater into a detention basin.

When the first phase of the project is complete, the South Belt basin will hold approximately 91 million gallons, or 278.9 acre-feet, of excess stormwater. When all phases of the project are complete, the South Belt basin will hold more than 407 million gallons, or 1,250 acre-feet, of stormwater.

Construction of the entire basin is estimated to take roughly seven years to complete.

Leader publisher Marie Flickinger, who also spoke at the event, said she was shocked at how quickly construction of the new pond came to fruition.

Although the detention facility had been proposed more than 20 years ago, it wasn’t until a July 2009 meeting sponsored by then-Houston City Council Member Mike Sullivan that county officials decided to take action. At the meeting, representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said the earliest drainage improvements could be made to Clear Creek would be in 13 to 15 years.

The Corps has been studying the Clear Creek Project since 1968 at a cost of more than $35 million. Corps officials at the 2009 meeting further said any future work on Clear Creek would likely require a new congressional authorization and additional funding, due to its change in scope over the last five decades.

Following the 2009 meeting, Harris County officials, with strong support from Precinct 1 Commissioner El Franco Lee, began the process of acquiring the necessary land. The deal was finalized in October 2010.

Beamer ditch improvements
Some basin capacity must be available concurrently with the Beamer ditch channel improvement project, which extends from Sagerock Drive to Astoria Boulevard, north of the basin. Combined, the South Belt basin and channel projects will remove the 1 percent (100-year) floodplain from 593 Harris County homes and 54 Galveston County homes. The Beamer ditch channel improvement project is currently in design and scheduled to begin construction by 2016, subject to funding availability.

Construction-related activities
As part of the project, portions of the basin site will be cleared of trees and other vegetation. Flood Control District foresters have evaluated the site and, as construction progresses, will carefully consider opportunities to save or relocate existing trees. Following final construction, the basin site will be evaluated for inclusion in the Flood Control District’s tree planting program, which has added more than 200,000 trees to 195 flood control sites across Harris County since 2001.

The contractor will use large construction equipment to perform work on the project and to remove vegetation and soil. Trucks will enter and exit the project site from South Fork Boulevard. The Flood Control District appreciates the public’s patience and understanding through the duration of this project.

If the public has questions or comments about the project, they may call the Flood Control District’s Project and Study Information Line, 713-684-4040, or email ProjectCommunications@hcfcd.org.

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