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Intensive Cultural Resources Survey of the Proposed 829.9-Acre Schiel Storm Water Detention Basin Project, Harris County, Texas
Texas Historical Commission
Horizon Environmental Services, Inc. (Horizon) was selected by Berg-Oliver Associates, Inc. (BOA) on behalf of the Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) to conduct a cultural resources inventory and assessment for the proposed Schiel Storm Water Detention Basin Project in Harris County, Texas (HCFCD Project No. L500-09-00-E003). The proposed undertaking would consist of constructing an extensive system of storm water detention basins and other drainage control measures within an approximately 335.8-hectare (829.9-acre) tract located near Hockley in northwestern Harris County. The project area generally flanks Little Cypress Creek and is bounded roughly on the west by Becker Road, on the south by Schiel Road, and on the east by Mason Road. For purposes of the cultural resources survey, the project area was assumed to consist of the entire 335.8-hectare (829.9-acre) tract.
The proposed undertaking is being sponsored by HCFCD, a political subdivision of the state of Texas; as such, the project would fall under the jurisdiction of the Antiquities Code of Texas. In addition, the project would require the use of federal permits issued by the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Galveston District, under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (CWA). As such, those portions of the overall project area that fall within the federal permit area would also fall under the jurisdiction of Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). As the proposed project represents a publicly sponsored undertaking, the project sponsor is required to provide the applicable regulatory agencies with an opportunity to review and comment on the project’s potential to adversely affect historic properties listed on or considered eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) under the NHPA and/or for designation as State Antiquities Landmarks (SAL) under the Antiquities Code of Texas, as appropriate.
Between February 2019 and April 2020, Horizon archeologists Charles E. Bludau, Jr., Luis Gonzalez, and Amanda Kleopfer conducted an intensive cultural resources survey of the project area. Jeffrey D. Owens acted as Principal Investigator, and the survey was conducted under Texas Antiquities Permit No. 8700. The purpose of the survey was to locate any significant cultural resources that potentially would be impacted by the proposed undertaking. Horizon’s archeologists traversed the tract and thoroughly inspected the modern ground surface for aboriginal and historic-age cultural resources. The project area consists of a vast tract that largely follows the channel of Little Cypress Creek. Areas adjacent to the creek were largely undeveloped and covered in moderately dense hardwood forests with a dense understory of shrubs, grasses, forbs, brambles, vines, and various grasses. Portions of the project area consisted of extensive cleared fields, some of which appeared to have been formerly cultivated, and most of which were in use as pastureland. Vegetation in the more open areas consisted of dense pasture grasses with isolated copses of hardwood trees. Whereas most of the project area is undeveloped and appears to be largely intact, various disturbances were observed. Several roadways traverse the project area, including State Highway (SH) 99, Bauer Road, and Mason Road, and a linear pipeline corridor passes northeast to southwest through the northern portion of the project area. An extensive sand-mining pit located immediately west of SH 99 has effectively destroyed approximately 35.8 hectares (88.5 acres) of the project area. Two large, contoured drainage channels have been constructed in the western portion of the project area that have disturbed a collective area of approximately 13.2 hectares (32.5 acres) of the project area. These drainage channels appear to be associated with a small residential subdivision located to the west of the project area off the eastern side of Becker Road that was under construction at the time of the survey. Visibility of the modern ground surface ranged from poor (<20%) in more heavily vegetated areas to excellent (80 to 100%) in cleared areas.
The cultural resources survey was conducted prior to the implementation of revised archeological survey guidelines by the Council of Texas Archeologists (CTA) and Texas Historical Commission (THC) on April 17, 2020; as such, the prior guidelines of 2014 were utilized for the project. Under these guidelines, the Texas State Minimum Archeological Survey Standards (TSMASS) require a minimum of one shovel test per 1.2 hectares (3.0 acres) for project areas measuring 40.9 hectares (101.0 acres) or more in size. As such, a minimum of 211 shovel tests would be required within the 335.8-hectare (829.9-acre) project area. Horizon excavated a total of 633 shovel tests, thereby exceeding the TSMASS for a project area of this size. Shovel tests typically revealed sandy clay loam to sandy loam sediments overlying sandy clay. Mottling and iron staining was ubiquitous in shovel tests, suggesting that large portions of the project area are likely saturated on a seasonal or perennial basis. Extensive areas of standing water were observed over the course of the year during which the cultural resources survey was conducted. The majority of the project area is characterized by fluviomarine terraces created during the Late Pliocene and Early Pleistocene epochs, though the terraces of Little Cypress Creek are of Holocene age. While not all shovel tests contained iron concretions, they were encountered in enough of the shovel tests to suggest that shovel testing was capable of penetrating Holoceneage sediments with the potential to contain subsurface archeological resources. It is Horizon’s opinion that shovel testing was capable of fully penetrating sediments with the potential to contain archeological deposits; as such, mechanical deep testing was not utilized.
One newly recorded archeological site, 41HR1241, was documented within the project area during the survey. This site consists of the remains of the 20th-century farm of Alfred William (A.W.) and Mary Kathryn Petry. Historical maps indicate the farm was in operation as early as 1920, and it appears to have been abandoned by the 1980s. Formerly, the farm was composed of a domicile, at least one large outbuilding, and several smaller outbuildings, but all of the historicage structures have been demolished. Numerous large bulldozer push piles were observed on the site that contained concrete rubble and other construction debris, and it is likely these push piles are all that remains of the historic-age buildings that once stood on the site. Currently, all that remains of the Petry farm are several abandoned vehicles, a concrete well covered over with an overturned wheelbarrow, and a low-density surface and shallow subsurface scatter of domestic debris, including clear and brown glass shards, metal wire fragments, a railroad spike, a spark plug, construction debris (primarily concrete chunks), aluminum beer cans, glass beer bottles, and some polyvinyl chloride (PVC) piping. Aside from the beer bottles and cans and the PVC piping, which are clearly of modern age and date from the end of the lifecycle of the farm, most of the cultural materials observed on the farm are only generally diagnostic of the 20th century. The only standing structure remaining on the site is a modern metal garage. Site 41HR1241 has been largely destroyed, and very little remains of the Petry farm. Based on the lack of standing historic-age buildings or intact cultural features, the ephemeral character of the surficial and shallow subsurface archeological deposits, and the absence of any known historical distinction of the members of the Petry family or association of the farm with events or trends of historical importance, site 41HR1241 is recommended as ineligible for inclusion in the NRHP and for designation as an SAL.
Based on the results of the survey-level investigations documented in this report, no potentially significant cultural resources would be affected by the proposed undertaking. In accordance with 36 CFR 800.4, Horizon has made a reasonable and good-faith effort to identify historic properties within the project area. No cultural resources were identified within the project area that meet the criteria for designation as SALs according to 13 TAC 26 or for inclusion in the NRHP under 36 CFR 60.4. Horizon recommends a finding of “no historic properties affected,” and no further archeological work is recommended in connection with the proposed undertaking. However, human burials, both prehistoric and historic, are protected under the Texas Health and Safety Code. In the event that any human remains or burial objects are inadvertently discovered at any point during construction, use, or ongoing maintenance in the project area, even in previously surveyed areas, all work should cease immediately in the vicinity of the inadvertent discovery, and the THC should be notified immediately. Following completion of the project, project records will be prepared for permanent curation at the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory (TARL).
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