CEC ENVIRONMENTAL NEWS UPDATE 06/09/06 - HOUSTON
PROTECTING GULF COAST COMMUNITIES
By Ella Tyler
The Gulf Restoration Network and the Sierra Club released a joint report, May 31, titled "The School of Big Storms - the High Cost of Compromising Our Natural Defenses and the Benefits of Protecting Them." The report examines actions taken by communities across the Gulf that either increase protection from storms or make them more vulnerable. The report concludes that much of the devastation from hurricanes in 2004 and 2005 could have been avoided if the lessons discussed in the report had been heeded.
The report presents case studies for eight issues: development in flood plains; political pressure weakening plans to reduce flooding impact; protecting barrier islands and coastal wetlands; allowing projects that destroy natural storm barriers; encouraging development that is set back from the waterfront; protecting coastal habitat; exempting development from building codes; and strengthening oil and gas infrastructure.
According to the report, "Nature has suffered at the hands of the oil and gas industry in the Gulf Coast for many years." A great deal of coastal wetlands loss is due to the pipelines and canals crossing swamps in Louisiana and Texas. Extraction of oil and gas contributes to subsidence. Toxic chemicals used in drilling remain in soil and water. These were issues before the increase in hurricane strength seen recently.
In addition, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita destroyed 113 oil platforms and damaged 457 pipelines. It may take as long as seven years to repair the damage to pipelines. Some oil rigs are still missing and have become navigational hazards.
The report also examines the Murphy oil spill in St. Bernard Parish that occurred during Hurricane Katrina. More than 1 million gallons spilled and the mixed crude spread over a one-mile area. The oil that was not recovered has evaporated, but high levels of benzene remain in the sediment. According to the report, the storage tank that overturned was only 10 percent full, leaving it an easy toss for the 18-foot storm surge. Standard practice is to top off tanks so they do not overturn.
The report recommends that oil and gas companies be held accountable for the damage they have done and be required to assist in wetland restoration. It also suggests that those facilities that can be relocated be moved out of harm's way whenever possible. Facilities that can not be moved must be built to withstand Category 5 storms.
One case study focuses on Houston and its response to Tropical Storm Allison. The study blames the damage, in part, on development in flood plains and the region's failure to complete projects that were supposed to mitigate the impact of upstream development. However, the study also looks at improvements the Harris County Flood Control District has made in its flood control plans and recommends that other communities study them.
The full report is available from the Gulf Restoration Network, http://www.healthygulf.org.
PATTERSON HAS PLAN FOR HOUSES ON PUBLIC BEACH
By Ella Tyler
Jerry Patterson, Commissioner of the Texas General Land Office, announced Wednesday that he is making $1.3 million in state money available to help remove houses from public beaches. The money would be available to homeowners for reimbursement of expenses relating to moving or demolishing the houses. Grants will be for up to $40,000. The deadline to apply is October 1.
Under the Texas Open Beaches Act, land that is on the seaward side of the natural vegetation line is public beach, where construction is not permitted. The natural vegetation line moves in response to beach erosion and subsidence. After Tropical Storm Francis in 1998 and additional erosion of beaches in the Galveston and Freeport areas, the General Land Office began suing property owners who had failed to remove houses that were now on the public beach. Two years ago, however, Patterson ordered a moratorium on litigation so that the natural line of vegetation would have time to re-establish itself and the issue could be studied. That moratorium ended Wednesday.
The targeted houses are mainly in Bermuda Beach, Jamaica Beach, Sea Isle, Spanish Grant, and the Village of Surfside Beach. Patterson did not rule out the possibility of renewed litigation to force removal of the houses.
The announcement included a larger plan for open beaches, some of which would require legislative action. The entire plan is at http://www.glo.state.tx.us/news/archive/2006/docs/PATTERSONPLAN.pdf.
MOTHERS FOR CLEAR AIR ANNUAL MEETING SATURDAY
The Mothers for Clean Air annual meeting will be Saturday, June 10, from 9 - 11:30 am, at Emerson United Unitarian Church, 1900 Bering Drive. The program will include a discussion of two new Mothers for Clean Air projects, community monitoring and Ozone Theater. At 10:30, Donna Phillips, Regional Director for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Region 12, will speak. She will present the air toxics data collected at two new air monitors near Milby Park in southeast Houston and show a video of new, ground-breaking technology for detecting air pollution. Come early at 8:45 to enjoy a free continental breakfast. For more information, contact Mothers for Clean Air at (713) 526-0110.
RICE DESIGN ALLIANCE AWARDS
The Rice Design Alliance has chosen three proposals for funding under its Initiatives for Houston grants program.
Urban Ecology of Houston, a proposal from Rice University undergraduates Jean Daly, Katherine Dankberg, and Benjamin Regnier, was awarded $2,000. The students proposed identifying and indexing existing ad hoc urbanisms in order to assemble a tool box for the creation of an urban ecology of competing identities. The students will then project a strategy for identifying the Pierce Elevated area of Houston, and show the potential for these strategies to work together and add up to an urban fabric as the re-urbanization of Houston occurs.
Donna Kacmar, an assistant professor at the University of Houston Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture, received a grant of $3,000 for her proposal, "Accommodation in Houston: beer, burgers, and barbacoa." Kacmar will study Houston's version of public accommodation through several non-traditional ritual sites, such as ice houses, burger joints, and taco stands, that are specific to Houston.
Thomas M. Colbert, also an associate professor at the U of H Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture, received a grant of $5,000 for his proposal, "Documentation and analysis of Prison Architecture in and around Houston."
The jury for the awards included David Gresham, executive director of the Citizens' Environmental Coalition; John Mixon, University of Houston Law Center; Carrie Shoemake, of Glassman Shoemake Maldonado Architects, Inc; and Flora Yun Yeh, Clark Condon Associates Landscape Architects.
GREEN GRANTS & JOBS
DOW HAS FUNDS FOR NONPROFITS AND EDUCATION
The Community Grants Program of Dow Texas Operations has allocated $200,000 to provide Brazoria County nonprofit organizations with funds to carry out various projects within the county. Projects should address a social, economic, or environmental need in the community and have a solid, sustainable plan for how they will work to address it. To qualify, organizations must have a 501(c)(3) federal tax designation or be a municipal or government agency and be located in southern Brazoria County. Each submission must be accompanied by a funding statement for the project.
Community projects submitted must also have a Dow employee as the sponsor for the nonprofit organization and must meet Dow's charitable giving criteria. The deadline for applications is June 16. Applications are available at http://www.dow.com/facilities/namerica/texops/community/grants.htm
This fall, the Education Grants Program of Dow Texas Operations will make awards for math and science projects. Applications available to local school campuses beginning in August.
THIS WEEKS EVENTS
A FIRST IN HOUSTON: 85% ETHANOL AT PUMP
Houston Chronicle 6/6/06
Houston drivers were offered a new alternative to gasoline Monday, when a northwest Houston Kroger opened the first pumps in town selling fuel made of 85 percent ethanol.
REPORT: STORMS LEFT NEW HUMAN LANDSCAPE
Houston Chronicle 6/7/06
Nearly two-thirds of New Orleans' population was scattered by Hurricane Katrina's assault last August, and the city left behind, richer and whiter, bears little resemblance to the metropolis that charmed the world.
OF KATRINA AND POLITICAL HUSBANDRY
REPORTS REVEAL KATRINA'S IMPACT ON POPULATION
CLEANUP MAY BE FIRST OF ITS KIND
Houston Chronicle 6/5/06
A 36-acre Superfund site east of downtown could be the first property of its kind to be cleaned up by a party not responsible for its contamination, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.
PROPOSED OFFSHORE WIND FARM RUFFLES A FEW FEATHERS
Houston Chronicle 6/3/06
All the talk about massive wind farms with huge rotating blades sitting offshore near Galveston and Padre Island has bird conservationists concerned.
LAWMAKERS RACE TO REFORM FLOOD PROGRAM
Galveston County Daily News 6/7/06
Owners of vacation properties and houses prone to floods could see insurance premiums skyrocket.
BUILDING HEIGHT CAUSING ELEVATED TEMPERS
Galveston County Daily News 6/4/06
Owners of a Clear Lake Shores property still haven't flood-proofed a building city officials say violates codes and federal insurance rules.
RESIDENTS CHALLENGE TWO DEVELOPMENTS
Galveston County Daily news 6/5/06
GALVESTON - The city council will consider challenges to two condominium developments at a meeting this month.
SAFETY COULD EQUAL TAX BREAK
Galveston County Daily News 6/7/06
TEXAS CITY - Industrial facilities seeking tax breaks for expansion projects are likely going to have to meet some new guidelines in Texas City.
LIGHTING REG CHANGE TABLED
Fort Bend Herald and Coaster 6/7/06
A major update to the Fort Bend County lighting ordinance, which was supported by the majority of the Fort Bend County Commissioners Court, was tabled on Tuesday.
TRUCKING COMPANIES' PROFITS OUTPACE RISING FUEL PRICES
Houston Chronicle 6/7/06
SEATTLE - At Paccar's upbeat annual meeting in April, shareholders applauded the truck builder's record $1.1 billion profit in 2005. The appreciative company, in turn, handed out coffee-table histories of its first 100 years.
MEXICO'S 'GREEN WALL' PRESERVES, PROTECTS RIO GRANDE
Environmental News Network 6/6/06
MEXICO CITY ó Mexico is creating an environmental reserve about 30 feet wide and 600 miles long on the Texas border, a "green wall" to protect the Rio Grande from the roads and staging areas that smugglers use to ferry drugs and migrants across the frontier.
THE BUSINESS OF GREEN: A SPECIAL SECTION
New York Times 6/5/06
Businesses are going green for many reasons, not just to enhance their image. Some are seeking a competitive advantage.
ANALYSIS - IS CORPORATE AMERICA GOING GREEN?
SPOOF PENALTY TICKETS SPOOK BRITISH 4X4 OWNERS
LONDON - The grimace may be real as the "parking ticket" is peeled from the windscreen, but the mood lightens as it becomes clear the penalty notice is fake.
BEACH PLAN MAY HAVE NO WINNERS
Houston Chronicle 6/8/06
AUSTIN - A $1.3 million plan unveiled Wednesday to help property owners relocate houses blocking public access to Texas beaches is unlikely to please either side in a decades-long debate.
ABOUT THIS PUBLICATION
CEC Environmental News Update is a weekly publication by the Citizens' Environmental Coalition, a 501(c)3 dedicated to fostering dialogue, education and collaboration about environmental issues in the Houston-Gulf Coast Region. Visit the CEC online at www.cechouston.org.
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