Last week Gromax Development and DR Horton homebuilders began developing the acreage that was formerly Goose Creek Country Club into the 128.2 acre “Goose Creek Reserve” subdivision. The land was purchased in June for $2.2 million dollars and 450 single-family home lots are planned.
The ponds were drained, and using construction equipment, are being back-filled and compacted. In the process, much natural wildlife was needlessly harmed and killed, spurring an urgent attempt by nearby residents and volunteers to help. Today, concerns linger about the welfare of remaining animals, two ducks, and the trees that have grown there.
On Tuesday, local teacher Cathy Leija took to Facebook, writing, “The ponds behind our place are being removed. They drained the water yesterday and began compacting everything today… In the process, running over and killing tons of turtles with bulldozers and excavators. We found many with broken shells… And others were buried and smushed in mud.” She and her husband Daniel, along with a friend, saved and relocated 54 turtles and a nutria.
Others followed to join and continue this work, including Lana and Diana Donath, cofounders of the non-profit Trashy Girls. According to the Baytown Sun, “What they found was a large mud pit with a multitude of animals scurrying back and forth.”
Diana Donath is quoted by the Sun: “We spent four hours working to get as many animals as we could. We all ended up chest deep in mud and water. I had to have a worker pull me out with a track hoe. Truthfully, it was very dangerous, but rewarding, work.” Individuals employed with the Baytown Nature Center and Wetlands Center also assisted.
The police were called on the volunteers, who were ultimately still allowed to finish for the day. But they reported that on the second day of their efforts they were told they would be arrested if they ever returned to the property. However, on Friday workers were sighted carrying buckets and attempting to catch and remove more turtles.
According to the Baytown Sun, after the news broke about the turtles at the country club, Kara Chaney, communications manager for DR Horton, made this statement,
“DR Horton recently became aware of potential impact to wildlife as a result of development taking place at the site of the former golf course at Goose Creek Country Club. Development activity was halted while a third party biologist evaluated the site and made recommendations prior to DR Horton resuming any more work on the property.”
The birds pictured above used to call the Country Club home. Migratory birds, brown wood ducks, Canadian geese, and many other creatures frequented the water features. There was an abundance of frogs, turtles, and other life. Muscovy ducks lived there as well.
The Goose Creek Country Club closed for good on June 30, 2014, due to financial troubles. Soon after it ceased operating, trespassing occurred on the property, as well as vandalism and theft. Some were hunting or fishing, and one by one many ducks disappeared. Some people drove off road vehicles around on the land. In response, the owners made a no trespassing policy clear, and nearby residents were notified that the police should be called if anyone was seen on the property.
Local resident Frankie Brewer has been feeding the ducks at the country club for about five years, and other owners have for much longer. Since summer of 2014, she watched their numbers dwindle, and regularly attended to two geese and two ducks. On Wednesday, volunteers were able to humanely relocate two Canadian geese.
However, two birds from Brewer’s pond remain which nobody has been able to catch. She is concerned about a mallard and a whistler duck that has a broken wing. A fence is now being constructed which will prevent access to or feeding of the birds. [Editor’s note on 10/5/2015: The mallard and Mexican black-bellied whistling duck are federally protected. More updates on this situation to follow.]
The loss of the Goose Creek Country Club and the wildlife that came to call the land home could be considered tragic, and some believe that with more conscientious action on the part of Baytown city government this could have been prevented.
The city of Baytown had initially been offered an opportunity to purchase the land, but declined. The property had many potential uses, such as a public park or scenic bike trails. As it has been noted, these things have not always been a priority for the city.
In the summer of 2014, two public hearings were held before City Council concerning the rezoning of the 132.5 acres in question from an Open Space/Recreation (OR) District to a Mixed Residential at Low to Medium Densities (SF2) District. At the time of these hearings, a potential deal was in the works with Meritage Homes’ Houston office for the purchase of the property.
Six residents spoke at the second hearing on July 10. Those in favor of rezoning had a stake in the issue, being shareholders who stood to gain financially from the sale, while other affected residents voiced strong opposition.
During the hearing, the council was asked, “There are several duck ponds there with migrating ducks. There are animals there. Where are they all going to go?” The mayor said, “The animals that are there – are we going to move them to the Nature Center or what?” Then City Manager Bob Leiper replied, “As happens anytime you have areas developed, there’s wooded portions back towards Rollingbrook, which is much… more wooded than what’s out there now, and they’ll just – as happens as Baytown grows and develops, anywhere in town, they just have to relocate.”
No provisions or stipulations were made by the city for the protection of these animals, or for how their relocation or protection should be carried out. Residents had initially been told that at least one of the ponds would be kept on the property.
Furthermore, the trees will be missed. The wooded areas of this acreage are host to additional varieties of wildlife, including avian species such as hawks and owls. Some residents living near the golf course have even expressed concern that as development proceeds, animals such as possums, racoons, skunks, and coyotes may move into their properties and neighboring areas.
Communities benefit from trees and greenery to mitigate the effects of pollution. This is especially pertinent in Baytown. The trees and other natural growth presently in this area must help to filter the air of pollution from sources such as nearby plants and vehicle emissions. New homes would bring increased traffic, and the removal of this natural beauty and means of air purification.
Brewer is concerned about what will become of the old trees which grow immediately behind her property, and that the drainage ditch behind her property at the edge of the former golf course will not be adequate to control flooding.
New development may also place additional strain on the existing sewer and drainage infrastructure. The undeveloped space provides permeable surface to help ameliorate the effects of flooding. The consequences of paving over all that could be significant. Were adequate surveys of the effects of development on drainage, flooding, wildlife, and the local ecosystem conducted prior to the decision to move ahead with construction?
Many citizens are disappointed that the city of Baytown government showed disregard for preserving the existing Goose Creek golf course property and its potential uses, or even a segment of it, but are now seeking to spend more money than the price of the Goose Creek property to acquire and expand Evergreen Golf Course1 (Proposition No. 24).
In a post shared with organization Concerned Citizens for Change at Baytown Animal Control on Facebook, Jay Tyler Garrett Jr. wrote,
This type of treatment to helpless animals and lack of compassion shown by the contractor is disgraceful. City ordinances or construction related requirements should be put in place, for situations like these in which contractors work within city limits, that requires the use of an animal protection agency to humanely relocate natural wildlife.
With the events that have unfolded over the past few months at the City’s animal shelter and with this lack of planning and ‘turn a cheek to it’ attitude with wildlife within city limits, the representatives in charge of this city seem to think that the lives of the animals within our city are not a priority. The City is willing to spend several million dollars on the expansion of Evergreen Golf Course (even when the failure of Country Club is evident and while the Director of Consulting Services advises against it *see below*) all while telling the public that they ‘don’t have the funds’ to make a difference at the Baytown Animal Control facility to stop the endless killing of healthy and adoptable dogs and cats. This is truly sad; I thank God for the people who stepped up to save the animals they could, and I pray that God take control.
Regarding the potential expense for the Evergreen Point Golf Course, Richard P. Singer of National Golf Foundation Consulting reached the following conclusions as stated in the Evergreen Point Golf Course and Acquisition Feasibility Study dated April 9, 2015:
“The NGF review of this market and subject facility suggests that there is an opportunity for the City to successfully operate the Evergreen Point GC to produce revenues sufficient for sustaining basic day-to-day operations, but not enough to cover all costs associated with the acquisition and upgrade of the facility. Given this reality, it is the recommendation of the NGF that the City of Baytown should proceed with the acquisition only if there is little or no acquisition expense to be tied to the golf course operation.”