Poe steps into bayou battle

By Kari Griffin, Baytown Sun
Published December 5, 2007

The City of Baytown and residents protesting a barge terminal across from Roseland Park have an ally in District 2 Congressman Ted Poe.

The congressman has been corresponding with Col. David Weston, district engineer and commanding officer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Galveston District, about the concerns he and his constituents have regarding the proposed project.

Developer Richardson WaterRail plans to lease an 80-acre tract of land across from Roseland Park to construct a barge terminal. Property owner Johnnie Jennings, a Chambers County resident, originally applied for a boat slip permit through the Corps, but it was later expanded to include the construction of a barge terminal.

The permit for development was granted twenty-something years ago, Poe said. Are they even operating under a valid permit?

The Congressman wants to make sure that Richardson WaterRail is not developing outside of the permit.

If its not valid, I want the Corps to take action, Poe said.Poe will continue to work with the Corps until he gets an answer, which he expects soon. But even if the permit is legitimate, and the Corps did all that was legally required of them by issuing a public notice on Jan. 11, 2005 (a notice city officials said they can find no record of), Poe still believes citizens should be heard.

I think there should be a public forum on that whole issue because it does effect the community, and the people should have their input on it heard in a public forum before it goes any further, Poe said.

In a letter written to Weston last week, Poe relayed the message passed on to him from his constituents. Residents of the area feel the continued expansion of this project is not in the best interests of the public, he said.

Its a quality of life issue the people of Baytown are concerned about, Poe said.

The Congressman agreed with the residents and city officials, who have predicted an end to water recreation as they know it on Cedar Bayou once Richardson WaterRail moves in a barge terminal.

The validity of the permit is just one of several issues, concerns and questions adding to the controversy surrounding Cedar Bayou.

Poe recently inquired about a barge dock that is currently operating on Cedar Bayous Finger Lakes,(West Bay Road in Baytown, Chambers County), and learned that the activity had not been approved by the Corps.

The unauthorized work and filling activities occurred at 5959 West Bay Road, Weston said in a letter to the congressman. Mr. Doyle Toups, the property owner, constructed an unauthorized barge dock facility in Finger Lakes and discharged fill material into a tributary of Finger Lakes, associated with the creation of a road access, without the appropriate Department of the Army Permit.

Weston said the Corps is working to determine an appropriate resolution to this matter, while also looking into another report of unauthorized activities immediately north of the Finger Lakes area.

Rest assured that we are making every effort to bring these matters to the appropriate closure in the most efficient manner possible, Weston said.

Deputy city manager Bob Leiper said the city appreciates Poes involvement in the preservation of Cedar Bayou and supports the Corps determination that the unpermitted and unauthorized construction and barge activities at multiple locations in the Finger Lakes area need to be investigated and stopped as soon as possible.

The City believes the owner(s) of these properties on which unauthorized activities have taken place should be held accountable for these actions, Leiper said. We will continue to monitor the area and provide the Corps with updated information.

Poe added that there is no money available to do any dredging of Cedar Bayou, but an amendment to the Water Resources Development Act permits the bayou to be dredged 100 feet wide by 10 feet deep.

Up until 2006, the bayou was allowed to be dredged 125 feet wide by 12 feet deep, Poe said.

The change means Cedar Bayou will be a little smaller and shallower, he said.

City Council will also discuss the waters in and surrounding Baytown at a special meeting Thursday.

On the agenda is the consideration of a proposed ordinance amending the Environment section of the citys current code. The proposed ordinance, Article VIII Watershed Protection would allow the city to police and protect watersheds and streams within the citys boundaries and its extraterritorial jurisdiction. Most of these are listed as impaired waters, to be protected by the Federal Clean Water Act governing water pollution.

Uncontrolled use and development of property abutting or adjacent to surface water bodies causes and contributes to the degradation and pollution of these vital resources, the quality of which must be assured for health, safety, the publics welfare, a healthy economic climate and development of future public water supplies.

The proposed ordinance would provide protection for the citys water resources, including those subject to degradation and pollution from point and non-point (stormwater) sources, erosion, sedimentation and increased turbidity.

Council will meet at 5 p.m. on Dec. 6 in the Council Chamber in City Hall, 2401 Market Street.