Mother Nature has created a problem for Northeast Texas, a log jam that will likely require a team of county, state and federal officials to solve.
State Representative Dan Flynn held a meeting July 17 inside the Paul Mathews Exhange Building in Greenville, seeking to develop a consensus about how to approach the situation.
“It is an issue that needs to be addressed and needs to be addressed quickly,” Flynn said.
The log jam, which is reported to be several miles long, has been built up where FM 71 crosses the Sulphur River Basin near where the Hunt, Hopkins and Delta counties intersect.
During periods of heavy rainfall, such as has been the case across the area this year, portions of the highway and the surrounding farm land are flooded.
The meeting drew more than two dozen officials from the Texas Department of Transportation, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Texas Department of Parks and Recreation, Sulphur River Basin Authority, Northeast Texas Municipal Water District, the Texas A&M Forest Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Delta and Hopkins county commissioners courts, State Senator Bob Hall and U.S, Senator John Cornyn.
Flynn said he hoped the assembly could work together, as the answer would not be easy.
“This is way outside my area of expertise,” Flynn said. “We have to come up with some kind of solution before it becomes an even bigger issue.”
Most of those in attendance were in agreement with how the problem began. During the past few decades, alternating periods of extreme drought and heavy rains have caused trees along the riverbed to die off, collect and be swept up to where they and silt from the river are deposited in narrower and shallower areas.
“You’ve got several feet of silt on both sides,” said David Erinakes, Flynn’s Chief of Staff who joined Flynn to view the site earlier in the week. “You’ve got at least half a mile of repairs needed on both sides along that bridge.”
“I think the immediate solution is to somehow remove the log jam,” said TxDOT Paris District Engineer Noel Paramanantham. “It could buy us time to get a long term solution.”
However, he explained the “clean the gutters” approach is not that easy.
“We simply don’t have the authority,” Paramanantham said.
The site where the log jam is located is mostly on federal property belonging to the Corps of Engineers, with some on privately-owned land.
“If you need authority from the State we can work on that, because it is a danger to the public,” Flynn said, noting he could coordinate efforts with Hall and Cornyn.
An official with Farmers Electric Cooperative at the meeting said the utility has been attempting to retrieve and repair a power line which fell into the log jam during a recent storm, although the silt is still so wet and deep it cannot be navigated.
The argument over how to tackle the issue long term came down to two choices, neither of which were a perfect option.
One, the state could find a way to rebuild and raise the highway and corresponding bridge.
Paramanantham said that would be a costly fix, would only last until the silt deposits raised the river bed even higher and would only cause the log jam to be moved down the river to the next low spot.
“Where do you build the roadway at,” he asked. “Do you look ahead the next five years, 10 years or even father down the line?”
The other solution would be to find a way to deepen or re-route the riverbed, but that also would cost untold millions over several years.
For now, Flynn asked Paramanantham to work with the Corps of Engineers to come up with a proposal to remove the log jam, and agreed to bring the issue before his fellow lawmakers to consider what to do about the future.
“Whatever we can do to make it happen, we’re going to try,” he said.