A plan to use barges to clear trees and other debris from Clear Creek hit a snag this week when county leaders declined to move forward until they had a clearer explanation about its costs — and where it falls on a list of drainage priorities.
With the plan in limbo, commissioners will debate whether acting more quickly on flood projects is more important than having an exact plan.
Galveston County Precinct 3 Commissioner Ken Clark last month proposed using barges equipped with cranes and lawnmowers to remove downed trees from the creek and to cut back plant growth along its banks.
The de-snagging project would reduce water levels in the creek before and during floods, which would protect houses along the waterway from floods like the kind that happened during Hurricane Harvey in 2017, Clark said.
Clark first proposed the project during a workshop meeting in October, and on Monday proposed advertising for bids from contractors interested in the work.
Commissioners, however, deferred the proposal in a 4-0 vote. Commissioner Joe Giusti was absent from the meeting. Clark moved to defer after County Judge Mark Henry and Precinct 1 Commissioner Stephen Holmes expressed doubts about the timing and details of the project.
At issue is whether moving forward with a large drainage project without considering other projects the county could be doing with the money was the wisest course, Holmes said,
The county needs to set a clear amount it wants to spend on drainage projects, and then move forward from there, he said.
“I think what we need to do is get our arms around which projects we’re going to participate in, look at what the costs are going to be, and allocate to different communities in the county,” Holmes said.
Holmes did not respond to multiple phone messages left for him on Friday.
Clark said he supported the idea of doing a comprehensive plan, and has proposed using leftover Hurricane Ike recovery money to update the county’s 8-year-old drainage master plan. But cleaning Clear Creek would undoubtedly be at the top of a new master plan and should be near the top of other commissioners’ priorities, he said.
One question that may be holding up his project is cost. Clark’s proposal would use county funds to do the project in a way that wouldn’t be eligible for reimbursement from disaster funds.
The county doesn’t have a clear estimate about how much a de-snagging project in Clear Creek would cost. Clark, citing the estimate of one business he’d personally talked to, has said the work would cost about $600,000.
On Monday, he said a competitively bid project could come back less expensive than that.
Clark’s estimate is based on a conversation he had with one company, Excavation Resources, which already works with the Galveston County Consolidated Drainage District to clear parts of Clear Creek, he said. He said he didn’t know whether other companies would bid on the project if it moved forward.
There was no harm in bidding the project, while recognizing the county could still reject idea when the prices come in, Clark said.
“This isn’t necessarily saying we’re going to do the project,” Clark said.
Part of Clear Creek separates Galveston and Harris Counties, and Clark’s proposal was only to clear the Galveston County side of the creek. He said he hoped Harris County would clear its end of the creek, and thought that starting the project without a commitment from the larger county could spur it into action.
Clark plans to put the item back on the agenda during the commissioners’ next meeting, and hopes the project will move forward then, he said. Already, cities appear to be pushing for the county to make the move.
The League City City Council on Tuesday will consider a resolution “expressing support and encouragement for Galveston County to proceed with soliciting bids and awarding a contract for clearing and de-snagging of Clear Creek.”
“We’ve got to take the first step,” Clark said. “The public scrutiny will be great if we don’t.”