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Work to resume soon at Exploration Green

October 3, 2018

After a month-long delay because of a Houston regulation regarding construction of ponds near airports, the way has been cleared for work to resume to add flood detention capability at Exploration Green, a former golf course near El Camino Real and El Dorado Boulevard.

Construction of Phase 2 at Exploration Green, a joint effort by Clear Lake City Water Authority and the nonprofit Exploration Green Conservancy, halted in late August because a city ordinance says any detention reservoir within 3.5 miles of an airport in the city must be a “dry-bottom pond” that drains within 72 hours of filling. The ordinance stems from Federal Aviation Administration guidelines that consider birds attracted to ponds that continually contain water are a potential flight hazard to nearby aircraft, and Ellington Airport is less than 3 miles away.

A request for a variance was granted Sept. 27 by Houston Airport System Board of Adjustment, allowing the work at Exploration Green to continue.

“We are extremely happy the Clear Lake City Water Authority can move forward with construction on Phase 2 and appreciate the tremendous support from the community for this vital stormwater detention project,” said Jennifer Morrow, the water authority’s general manager.

Project officials had maintained that the kinds of birds that pose flight hazard risks, such as snow geese turkey vultures, are not attracted to ponds like the existing one at Exploration Green or the one that is planned.

“Any work that had started had to come to a stop until that (ordinance issue) was resolved,” said Jerry Hamby, board member of the conservancy, which focuses on conservation, environmentalism and sustainable flood-measures in the region.

“When the vote was taken (at a hearing on the variance request), the room broke into sustained cheering and applause,” Hamby said.

At the most, he said, the delay will postpone construction by three to four weeks.

The second phase, which will add a second pond, more wetlands and trails and another 1,000 trees, is scheduled to be completed by 2019. The $4.6 million first phase, begun in 2015, created a detention pond and spillway, as well as a public recreation area with trails. About 1,000 native trees have been planted.

Five stages are planned in the $28 million project. Phase 3 and 4 planned for completion in 2021 and the fifth phase in 2020.

Funding for the project has been supplemented from groups such as Trees for Houston, which donated the trees, and through various grants from Texas Parks and Wildlife,the Galveston Bay Foundation, Harris County and the city.

The W-shaped reservoir is bounded by Reseda Drive on the north, Ramada Drive to the south and Diana Lane on the eastern edge.

About 80 percent of Phase 1 had been completed when flooding from Hurricane Harvey occurred last August.

The project is estimated to have prevented more than 100 homes near Exploration Green from flooding, according to the authority.

“It worked like a champ,” Morrow said. “It was better than we ever expected for being not quite complete with construction. We estimated that it retained half-million gallons of water at its peak. It completely filled up the site, but it didn’t overflow.”

In the days before Harvey flooding occurred, authority officials braced for the worst, not sure of how much water Exploration Green would retain.

During previous storms, area neighborhoods had seen as much as 10 inches of floodwater in homes.

“It validated it (Exploration Green), and the pond wasn’t even complete,” Hamby said of the facility’s performance during Harvey.

The facility works, Morrow said, by funneling storm water into detention ponds for slow release into nearby Horse Pen bayou.

Clear Lake City was established in the early 1960s. The community’s golf course was popular at that time but lost its appeal over the decades. Ownership turnover by the early 2000s meant potential development and an end to the property functioning as a golf course.

Exploration Green was launched through a bond approved by voters in 2011, which paved the way for the water authority board to buy and oversee the transformation of the property.

Now, Exploration Green detention primarily helps protect surrounding neighborhoods such as Oak Brook. When finished, the facility should help downstream subdivisions such as Bay Oaks, Bay Forest and Brook Forest, according to the authority.

Residents, said Morrow, are seeing a significant difference.

Even those residents who experienced flooding, Morrow said, saw inches instead of feet of water in homes after development of Exploration Green.

The water authority’s primary funding responsibility is to cover the costs of developing and building stormwater detention. The conservatory is raising money for amenities such as trails and trees.

For more information on Exploration Green, visit https://bit.ly/2zAASsE

yorozco@hcnonline.com

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