Is the North Beach Canal project dead?

By John Kelley, Contributor

Tuesday at the January 26 City Councilman meeting the long-awaited plan for North Beach was presented by LAN engineering. It was not encouraging for canal supporters; in factit probably marks the end at of the canal project, at least at this time. The study results reinforced the project critics who said that Council was spending $500,000 to prove that water couldn’t run uphill.

The study included looking at the existence and proposed drainage, conceptual layouts of two canal options, a geotechnical investigation, water quality modeling, evaluation of traffic impacts, and determination what regulatory requirements would be needed. What it didn’t include was an analysis ofexisting utility conflicts, storm surge modeling, detailed design of the canal, canal sedimentation modeling, beach erosion, permit acquisition, real estate requirements, or probable cost.

Major problems identified in order to make the canal successful were 85% of the study area of 125 acres would have to be raised 3-4 feet, the storm water drainage and streets completely rebuiltand a seawall completed. In addition one or two new bridges would have to be built over the new canal. Even then that would not protect the land from being inundated in hurricane.

Presentation slides

This would raise the cost projected at $41 million for the canal only (that this figure is highly questioned by staff), to somewhere in the neighborhood of $200-$300 million. By comparison the 2020 bond issue was $75 million. This building of the canal would require the commitment of bond issues for the next several years solely to North Beach ignoring all other needs.

Additional costs not determined were dealing with erosion, dredging of canal sedimentation, removing sand accretion and cost of jetties, seawalls, 750,000 yards of fill, property private property issues, and permitting costs. This is a perfect example of a developer getting unsophisticated people excited about watercolor engineering drawings that have little basis in reality or true reflection of the cost.

Despite the obvious unaffordable cost Councilman Richard Lerma from District 1 and Gil Hernandez from District 5 (who received over $5000 combined in donations from North Beach supporters) pushed to move ahead with the project. Since it was a briefing and not an action item it was not possible for them to gain traction with that argument. The rest of Council was either silent after the presentation or asked questions which were really immaterial to how they would vote on the issue when it came up in the future.

Peter Zanoni, City Manager, said that the staff would evaluate the three studies that had been completed already. Studies include the current one performed by LAN Engineering, and previous studies by HDR Engineering and Urban Engineering. The staff will decide and get costs for three alternatives to improve the drainage which they will present to the Council in the future.

The previous two studies had recommended a series of ditches and improvements to the current drainage system in order to alleviate much of the flooding (under $5 million). That would help rain events and would help drain tidal events sooner. However unless new funding sources could be found it is unlikely that the canal project would move ahead because of cost.

In addition to cost considerations the proposing developers, Lynn Frazier and Jeff Blackard are rumored to have had a falling out. Fraser’s development on the west side of 181 call La Vista point has changed names indicating its’ possible sale. 

Another barrier to timely completion would be the fact that on the south end of the canal would require a box culvert outlet to the bay. The location of this box culvert would have to be on land currently owned by TxDoT. 

TxDoT would only release the property when the harbor bridge is complete which is anticipated to be in 3 ½ years if no further problems work encountered. That land would then be transferred to the adjoining landowners and have to be purchased by theCity from them. They couldn’t even apply for a permit until that land was acquired.

The results pose a dilemma for Mayor Guajardo who was previously supported the project and accepted $8,200 in campaign donations from canal advocates. And it doesn’t stop there, Councilmen Richard Lerma (D1) $2,150; Ben Molina (D2) $2,050; Gil Hernandez (D5) $3,400 and John Martinez (At-Large) $4,500 accepted donations from North Beach Canal promoters. 

The discussion at the TIRZ 4 board meeting (February 16th) should be interesting to watch. The board is made up of canal advocates including County Judge Barbara Canales whose domestic partner is Doug Allison attorney for the developer.

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