Sugar Land residents upset trees cut down on levee

SUGAR LAND, TX As the chainsaws effectively do their job clearing a stretch of levee, it is a sight Charmaine van Niekerk cannot bear to watch.

"We live in a city. We need trees to feel good inside ourselves," said van Niekerk.

Although she's heard the argument on the other side, it's one she just doesn't buy.

"There are other options. They could think outside the box," she said.

The argument is that in its current state, the levee for the Brazos River just isn't safe. Under federal guidelines, no vegetation should be grown on top of the levee nor on either side. The concern is not only that the trees would interfere in emergencies, but what could happen if those trees get saturated with water.

"They turn over and the root ball comes up; when it does, it takes a big ball of dirt out and that's a big hole in the levee," said Mike Stone with Professional Project Management Services.

Officials say ever since Hurricane Katrina, the federal government has been more critical of levee integrity. However, opponents argue that only applies to perimeter levees, not internal ones which sections off neighborhoods. In a letter to the editor to local papers, one resident writes to ask why all the trees must go.

The project manager admits currently they're not bound by federal law to improve the levee, but says it only makes sense.

"This is a flood control structure and it's to protect them from flooding; it's not a park, it's not an amenity, it's not a jogging trail," said Stone.

Resident Audrey Lewis would love to see the trees stay put, but she's more concerned about what could happen if they're not removed.

"I'd go for the levee because the river is really close. I don't ever think it will flood, but it could," said Lewis.

Because of money constraints, this project will happen over a period of years. Officials estimate that more than $4 billion worth of homes are being protected because of the trees being cut down.

You can read more about the drainage project in the Fort Bend Sun, one of our Houston Community Newspaper partners.

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