Like many people in the area, Candlelight Place resident Shaun Benesch likes to walk his dog along the bayou that runs parallel to his neighborhood into White Oak Bayou. Along the route, he passes two detention ponds bordered by the bayou and a dead-end road with access off Pinemont Drive.
The strip between the ponds and the road is where the landscape is a lot less picturesque, due to illegal trash dumping, which Benesch has been trying to get cleaned up over the past eight months.
“There continues to be new dumping, most recently of some clothing,” Benesch said. “In addition to that, the area is getting worse and continues being used as a party pit with a recent fire pit dug on the lot. Aside from being unsightly, it is a fire hazard, too.”
The two ponds are owned by separate entities – the larger one is the City of Houston’s, and a cylindrical one closest to Candlelight Place is property of the Candlelight homeowners assocition.
The ponds have been mostly clean, although a concrete ditch in the city’s pond appears to be a graffiti-covered hangout. Most of the trash has been at the edge of the ponds and in the ditch closest to the road.
Candlelight Place builder Chris Franz, who is a member of the HOA, said they have reached out to the city on multiple occasions about the dumping as well as about trucks and motorcycles that use the drainage areas as a place to ride.
“The ruts they make impact the drainage, so that’s an issue, too,” Franz said. “The city did block access to the bayou path from the entrance of our neighborhood.”
Because the address closest to the dump sites – 0 Del Norte St. – is the property of the city, Benesch said he started making 311 requests last September.
He said he sent pictures and asked if it was possible for the city to do something to prevent dumping and asked if heavy trash could come pick up the larger items.
After an email back from the city to clarify the location, Benesch said there was no action taken, which prompted Benesch to send another email in late October with additional photos.
“It doesn’t look like anything has been done about the dumping happening over here and seems to be getting worse now that they know they can get away with it,” he wrote.
This led to the city citing itself on Dec. 2, requiring cleanup by Dec. 9, according to a violation notice posted on the property.
When there was no action, Benesch said he reached out yet again about the fact the dumping was now bringing other problems.
“I have sent in multiple requests for this,” he wrote. “Now we have a fire pit dug on a city of Houston property. ... There has been dumping in this area for a long time which I have continuously reported.”
A return email informed him there was an open investigation with the city's Department of Neighborhoods and the appropriate city officials had been contacted.
Evangelina Vigil, spokesperson for the Department of Neighborhoods, said the area is a city property managed by the Houston Public Works and Transportation & Drainage Operations departments.
“It is their responsibility to clean and maintain the property, and there is a maintenance schedule for their city inventory,” Vigil said. “If violations occur in between their maintenance schedule, the Department of Neighborhoods notifies them, and the violation is corrected as requested.”
Vigil said Transportation & Drainage Operations planned to investigate the property this week and determine the appropriate actions for maintenance, removal of debris and an ongoing maintenance strategy.
That will be good news for Benesch, who said that while a new city citation sign showed a resolution deadline of July 2021, he also has an email saying the case was closed April 9. Benesch said there have been no improvements in the area.
“This whole area is neatly tucked away and ripe for abuse,” Benesch said. “It really is a beautiful area and ideally it would be nice if it could double as a detention pond and a dog park, community garden or something to that effect. I’m not an expert, though, so perhaps that’s not feasible, but we need something different to increase positive citizen activity and reduce negative citizen activity.”
He also questioned the nearby bayou, which has its fair share of tires and bottles.
“I think the bayou is owned by (the) Harris County Flood Control (District), so do they also need to be issued a citation?” he wondered.
Representatives with the flood control district said they do not collect trash or debris on a normal collection schedule.
“The flood control district’s primary focus is on the collection of debris and trash that impede the conveyance of storm water,” a spokesperson said. “Flood control maintenance crews routinely address items such as fallen trees, shopping carts, sofas and illegal dumping.”
Residents who see debris or heavy trash items in the bayou can report it through the flood control district's online service request form or by calling the Citizen Service Center at 346-286-4197.
Oak Forest’s Matt Dowiak has taken things one step further. He and his family, who also enjoy the green space, noticed a shopping cart and a tire in the small creek that intersects the bayou and runs parallel to the city’s detention pond.
“We cleaned and bagged a lot of trash,” Dowiak said. “There was a shopping cart and a tire.”
He said he put the shopping cart with other heavy trash he saw near the road because he did not know what else to do with it and that it was picked up.
“There is (heavy trash) that has been there and is now gone, but now some new stuff,” he said.
Vigil said residents are encouraged to report illegal dumping violations to 311 as they can also ask for updates on their service requests. She said there is a division of the Department of Neighborhoods, the Mayor’s Citizens Assistance Office, that can assist citizens in resolving concerns.
For now, Benesch said he will wait and see.
“I would happily volunteer and encourage interested constituents to help clean this up and raise awareness,” he said.