Homeowners say ‘dam’ bridges cause flooding
Photo: Adams Bayou at Interstate 10 contains 43 exposed pilings supporting four bridges and a pipeline, says North Orange homeowner Tom Clary. He believes the pilings caused snags that caused flooded he and his neighbors during Tropical Storm Harvey. RECORD PHOTO: Dave Rogers
For The Record
Homeowners in North Orange blame what they call the “West Lutcher Drive dam bridges” for making Harvey flooding back up into their homes last summer.
They want the bridges removed.
Three years ago, a June 2015 Flood Risk Report for Orange County issued by the Federal Emergency Management Administration, called for replacing “undersized bridge openings.”
The bridges in question are two of the four crossing Adams Bayou at Interstate 10, plus a pipeline. Tom Clary and his neighbors say there is no good reason for the east- and westbound I-10 service roads (on maps as West Lutcher Drive) to cross the bayou.
The service road bridges were added in the late 1970s, about 15 years after the completion of I-10.
“There were three people in Orange County that wanted the bridges, and those three people are dead now,” Clary said. “There’s nobody that I know of who wants those bridges.”
Where most modern bridges built over streams are elevated, the service road bridges are not. On a recent mid-July tour, there was only about a foot and a half of clearance between the water and the underside of the bridges.
Not only could something like a tree branch get hung up between the water and low bridges, Clary points out that a total of 43 exposed pilings support the bridges and pipeline at the I-10/Adams Bayou intersection.
And can dam up the water flow.
“It’s real easy to understand how things get hung up on pilings,” Clary said. “A toothpick can’t float down the bayou without getting hung up on a piling.”
There are plenty of things larger than a toothpick to float downstream.
Mostly logs. Fallen trees that have been uprooted by prior floods.
But that’s not all; a recent boat tour of Adams Bayou north of I-10 showed the bayou is nearly blocked in several places by fallen trees.
And those trees catch plenty of flood debris and junk at water level.
The 17-mile Adams Bayou channel is located entirely in Orange County and drains up to 40,000 acres in Orange County into the Sabine River.
“I grew up swimming in the bayou and it’s only half as wide and half as deep as it used to be. It’s full of logs.” Clary said.
“The ditches [that empty into Adams Bayou] are not as big as they used to be, and if the channels are clogged, ditches aren’t going to flow.”
Clary blamed the backup at the bridges for pushing water along westbound Lutcher Drive to the 16th Street intersection with I-10.
Good news for Clary and his neighbors, who live east of Martin Luther King Drive and south of Allie Payne, is that the Orange County Drainage District expects to ride to the rescue next year by de-snagging Adams Bayou.
“The Texas Water Development Board awarded us a $500,000 grant for de-snagging,” said Don Carona, drainage district general manager.
“We still have some steps, but we do think it’s going to happen. The highest priority is starting north of I-10, de-snagging, which is basically removing fallen trees.”
Carona was among one of the first to take a bayou tour on Clary’s boat. He accompanied County Commissioner Johnny Trahan, City Councilman Brad Childs and former County Judge Stephen Brint Carlton in the winter.
In July, Childs returned to join Clary for a follow-up tour. Besides a lot more greenery, he found most of the mini-dams caused by fallen trees right where he left them. And ditto for a 2×8 plank, hung about 8 feet above the water since Harvey.
De-snagging should fix that.
But it will take more than that to make Clary and his neighbors happy.
“If you get the bayou ship-shape and we still have bridges, we’ll still have a problem,” Clary said.
The Texas Department of Transportation is in charge of the I-10 bridges in the county.
At a public workshop on drainage hosted by the Orange County Commissioners’ Court in early July, two TxDOT officials discounted that anything about the interstate in Orange County impacted Harvey flooding.
Bob Baptista, another North Orange resident, said State Rep. Dade Phelan had told him the service road bridges would be eliminated as TxDOT finished making I-10 three lanes through the county.
But when Clary relayed that news at the drainage workshop, TxDOT’s Kenneth Weimers said that was not in current plans.
Weimers did say “we are doing studies on the bridges.”