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My public comment on the West Houston Mobility Plan

The following is my public comment submitted to the H-GAC West Houston Mobility Plan illustrated with photos.  I urge everyone else to comment and let them know how stupid this plan is during the public comment period that ends January 9, 2015.  Visit their website at http://mywesthouston.com/ and send comments to PublicComments@h-gac.com. When I read your “mobility plan” yesterday it started 2015 on a bad note.  It was hard to pick my jaw up from the disbelief at how stupid some of your recommendations are.  There is plenty wrong with this plan but I am going to focus my comments on the worst part of it all-the proposals you have for land within Barker and Addicks Reservoirs.  Did anyone who designed this "mobility plan" even go out and explore the areas within Barker and Addicks Reservoirs that you plan on destroying?  It appears to me from reading this plan that you never physically entered the area and just looked at a satellite photos and drew a line wherever you felt like a road or trail should be.  If this is the case your entire study is the equivalent of a child drawing on a napkin with a crayon and whoever put this together should be fired and ashamed to even be alive.  I spend the majority of my free time within Barker Reservoir and will focus my comments on that section of your plan but everything I have to say applies to what you are proposing within Addicks Reservoir as well.  I will begin by addressing the roads first and the "shared use path/trails" afterwards. 
Road impact on wildlife My primary problems with your "plan" are the proposed street extensions of Patterson, Baker, and Highland Knolls/Briar Forest roads through Barker and Addicks Reservoirs.  Barker and Addicks Reservoirs are the ONLY areas in West Houston/Katy that have been left in a somewhat undeveloped state (excluding the shooting ranges, golf course, baseball fields, etc) and they absolutely should remain undeveloped.  As West Houston and Katy have grown into ridiculous sprawl these two reservoirs are the only refuge for wildlife that have been forced out of their homes for an endless procession of retail centers, subdivisions, and apartment complexes.  When you look at a satellite photo of West Houston these reservoirs are the first thing you notice due to the development in every direction around them.  The area of Buffalo Bayou North of Westheimer Parkway heading towards Mason Creek is perfectly described by Louis Aulbach as "the wildest, most remote and inaccessible sections of its course.  Protected from development and allowed to remain in a mostly natural state, the land in the interior of Barker Reservoir is a wild an untamed place within a stone's throw of urban civilization.(1)"  Both Mason Creek and Buffalo Bayou are tree lined and beautiful throughout this area other than the litter that flows in constantly from residents of the very developments you are trying to appease by building these roads.  Neither channel looks anything like the portions outside of the reservoir where Cinco Ranch and other developments have widened them to ridiculous proportions and removed all foliage along the banks.  And you want to build a road directly through this area to destroy it! 
The wildlife diversity in this area of Barker Reservoir is incredible and I have spent hundreds of hours there exploring and photographing wildlife.  There are already numerous species of animal that have been extirpated from the West Houston/Katy area and this loss of species will increase if you are allowed to build roads to bisect these reservoirs.  For instance, the archaeological study by Joe Ben Wheat which started in 1947 within Addicks Reservoir found bone evidence from bison, badgers, and antelope..when is the last time you saw any of those in West Houston?(2)  These sections of Buffalo Bayou and Mason Creek overflow their banks anytime it rains more than an inch or two and the surrounding woods in any direction are left multiple feet under water for weeks at a time.  Consequently the amount of reptiles and amphibians here is greater than areas outside of the reservoir.  Satellite photos reveal a couple oxbow lakes and ponds but in actuality the entire area is primarily wetland.  The photos below illustrate this point well showing the difference a single rain on December 18, 2014 made when Buffalo Bayou overflowed.
From a human standpoint these street extensions are a horrible idea as well.  For cyclists, joggers, walkers, etc the trails within Barker and Addicks Reservoir are the ONLY places in West Houston/Katy where someone can go multiple miles without having to worry about automobiles running them over or choking them with exhaust fumes.  The trail that begins at the Highland Knolls and Fry Road intersection into Barker Reservoir is a haven for cyclists and you are proposing building a road there to ruin it.  Whether the road is separate from the trail or you plan to build a "shared use" road the end result is the same- it will destroy this area for cyclists.  Why don’t you put out a map of your proposed roadway near the benches where cyclists gather near Highland Knolls and Fry Road and ask their opinion of your plans?  Are you scared of the backlash? From an archaeological perspective these roads are also a horrible idea.  Previous archaeological studies within Addicks and Barker Reservoir such as those by Blaine Ensor, Prewitt & Associates, or Joe Ben Wheat all found numerous historic sites.  You are proposing building roads in areas that could contain undiscovered historic sites.  Once you cover the ground with concrete for a road there is no turning back-those sites will be lost forever.  The former LH7 Ranch has already been destroyed for an apartment complex adjoining Barker Reservoir and we  do not need more of our past lost. How do you plan to mitigate for wildlife in this area when you build a road that bisects their home?  How do you plan on keeping alligators, snakes, frogs, skinks, deer, feral hogs, and other animals from getting ran over constantly?  What do you plan on doing when the first human is killed that runs into a feral hog on these roads with their vehicle?  Nowhere in the Houston area have roads been built with any wildlife considerations like wildlife overpasses, underpasses, culverts, or elevated roadways and I suspect you have no intentions of doing so either.  How do you plan on keeping debris, chemicals, and other pollutants from the roadway from contaminating these areas?  If these horrible roads are allowed to be built I sincerely hope that whoever designs them has read the book Road Ecology by Forman et al and that wildlife mitigation is a primary concern.  Putting a road through these areas will also open up access to humans who otherwise would not visit them and further stress wildlife that currently lives in relative peace with infrequent human visitation.  Regardless of how you build the road there will always be a place where someone can pull over and park their car to get out and explore.  People on dirtbikes and four wheelers will find a way into these areas from your new roads and be off-roading where they do not belong in no time at all. What is your plan to mitigate the flooding impact of your proposed roads in these reservoirs?  You are proposing building roads through spots that are constantly flooding and concrete will only add to the problem.  During the last large rainfall events in May 2014 and September 2014 are you aware that Buffalo Bayou overflowed its banks less than 3/4 mile from the Cinco Ranch Saddlebrook Crossing neighborhood and your road could be the cause of a future flooding disaster.
The proposed shared use path/trails The Army Corp of Engineers manages these reservoirs for flood control along with "recreation and nature observation opportunities..the visitor is welcome to come and walk through the fields or along the streams and enjoy the many opportunities that mother nature has to offer. (3)"   There is simply no reason to build a path or trail on every single piece of land around-it is just as bad as building a roadway.  Organizations such as your own are obsessed with building hike and bike trails and so called greenways along every bayou in existence.  These areas are already open to the explorative public at all hours.  I am going to focus on the proposed trails along Buffalo Bayou and Mason Creek within Barker Reservoir but my comments apply to all the other areas within the reservoirs you want to build a trail on. 
Wildlife will be negatively affected by these trails both by loss of habitat and by being killed by pedestrians using the trails.  These areas are heavily populated with snakes which inevitably are killed by many morons whenever they are encountered. Are you aware of how many ponds, creeks, and other wetlands exist in this area that branch off of Buffalo Bayou or Mason Creek?  Do you intend to build bridges over all of these spots (every 100 or so feet) to keep people high and dry who use this trail?  Again this goes back to my initial question of whether you even visited these areas since these wetlands are not visible on satellite photos.  If you just sat in an office and never went out there you need to get off your rear end and go for a hike to see for yourself how stupid your plans are. These trails would do nothing to increase mobility or allow more than a fraction of a percent of people to commute to work by bicycle.  They are unnecessary and should not be made.  These trails will ruin the area for every explorative person from hikers, the photographers, to geocachers. Are you aware that along Buffalo Bayou there are wooden nesting boxes every couple hundred feet throughout this area along the game trail?  Do you know that multiple nesting boxes have become full of active bee hives that many people will not like to pass by.
Buffalo Bayou Overflowing its banks May 28, 2014
You want to build a trail along Buffalo Bayou connecting the Barker Clodine trail and the Texas Western Railway trail for what reason?  The primary allure of this section of Buffalo Bayou is the lack of visitors.  For those such as myself that spend time there it gives a chance to explore nature for hours and escape the surrounding city.  On the paved trails within the reservoirs it is rare to go even 30 seconds most days without seeing another person.  You are basically wanting to build a shortcut to connect two existing recreation trails and promoting laziness by offering people an easy way out.  If people want to explore this area of Buffalo Bayou there is already a game trail parallel to the water on both sides that is easily followed.  If people cannot follow an obvious trail through the woods they should not be there because they are likely unaware of their surroundings and could be injured, yet these are the people you are wanting to create access for.  Your proposed trail would take away both the seclusion and chances for exploration in this area. 
In conclusion Have you even contacted the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers to inquire about whether it is possible to build roads and trails on their land?  How exactly do you intend to seize federal land to build a road when you have no authority to do so? The overall problem spurring your study is the sprawl that is continuing unrelentingly within the West Houston and Katy area.  These "master planned" communities are built with seemingly no consideration for mobility or pedestrian use.  I could type a few thousand words on it but instead would just suggest you read the book Suburban Nation by Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater- Zyberk, and Jeff Speck.  Your "mobility plan" is only doing exactly what developers want by building more roads to allow them to build more useless sprawl.  Transit options make sense constructing more roads does not. Unsurprisingly there is no stakeholder group listed on your website that has any concerns about wildlife.  Nothing was considered for your plan except human interests and how to attract more development and growth, which will require yet more roads in a never ending cycle.  The stakeholders listed such as The Energy Corridor were created to represent some of the most environmentally appalling companies on the planet that have offices in West Houston.  From looking at the plans it appears that you put absolutely no thought into anything other than trying to worsen the sprawl situation.  Everyone in the Houston area will be worse off if your horrible recommendations within Barker and Addicks Reservoir are turned into reality. We are all blessed to have 2 reservoirs that contain around 26,000 acres of somewhat natural areas in the West Houston area and they should remain undeveloped perpetually-no trails, no roads, no retail centers, donut shops, or whatever you come up with next to screw them up.  Just because a piece of land is undeveloped does not mean that it is useless.  If you are allowed to build a road in either reservoir there is no question you will want to keep building more things alongside it and you need to be stopped before ever starting. Photos of some of the areas you plan on destroying follow:
References 1.  Aulbach, Louis.  Buffalo Bayou: An Echo of Houston's Wilderness Beginnings.  Louis Albach. 2012.  Page 12. 2.  Wheat, Joe Ben and Newman, Marshall T.  The Addicks Dam Site Parts 1 and 2. Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 152.  1953. Page 237. 3.  “Addicks and Barker Reservoirs.  US Army Corp of Engineers Galveston District.  Pamphlet available at Addicks Field Office. 4.  Prewitt & Associates, Inc. Inventory and Assessment of Cultural Resources at Barker Reservoir Reports of Investigations Number 40. 1986 5.  Ensor, Blaine.  The Cinco Ranch Sites Barker Reservoir, Fort Bend County, Texas Archaeological Research Laboratory Reports Of Investigations No. 3. 1987 6.  Forman, Richard T.T., Sperling, Daniel, et. al.  Road Ecology Science and Solutions.  Island Press. 2003 7.  Sizemore, Deborah Lightfoot. The LH7 Ranch In Houston's Shadow.  University of North Texas Press. 1991 8.  Duany, Andres, et al.  Suburban Nation.  North Point Press.  2000
January 2, 2015
The following photos of wildlife were taken in the areas shown above between October and December 2014.
N29°44'35.20" W95°41'51.55"
N29°44'31.55" W95°41'51.96"
N29°44'14.83" W95°42'12.35"
N29°44'15.30" W95°42'8.32"
N29°44'46.86" W95°41'30.06"
N29°44'13.94" W95°41'59.15"
N29°44'18.35" W95°41'57.86"
N29°44'42.78" W95°41'50.60"
N29°45'5.72" W95°41'48.89"
N29°44'30.03" W95°41'56.14"
N29°44'38.61" W95°41'47.87"
The following videos were taken November 15, 2014 and show portions of the area above.
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