This land tract is approximately 800 acres high fenced located near Madisonville, TX. The terrain is rolling with some significant elevation changes for the area. The vegetation is dense with brush 8-10 feet high and mostly pine trees averaging 60 to +100 feet in height. Logging roads are the only means of traversing the interior of the property. There are no existing bodies of water on the property. The project goal is to create a lake of at least 5 acres on this site.

The landowner has spent several years evaluating the property and settled on an area to build the lake along an existing creek. The watershed coming through this area is estimated at several hundred acres with an annual rainfall in this region of Texas of more than 40 inches. Core borings done at multiple locations within this site revealed varying soils of sand, clay and groundwater. Consequently a worst case scenario of using a plastic liner to hold the water is a possibility.

Up to this point the landowner had relied on Google Earth for an accurate elevation survey. The first step was to clear enough brush for a better site picture and actual elevation survey. The landowner was disappointed to learn that the Google Earth elevations were off 5-10’. Technology is a fine tool to have in the tool box but at the end of the day “boots on the ground” are what really counts.

The flawed Google Earth elevation survey created a situation where the area to be cleared for the lake was more than three times larger than originally estimated. This is due to a flat flood plain area rather than more defined slopes and grades. In a flatter area depth must be achieved through excavation and the spoils dirt moved to other areas to define the shoreline by filling. This type of excavation is known as “cut and fill”. You deepen some areas of the lake for proper depths and use the spoils dirt created from the excavation to fill other areas to an elevation that is above the water line of the lake. This type of excavation is expensive but typically turns out better aesthetically. All top soil MUST be carefully saved during this operation so that it can be placed on the excavated areas that must grow grass.  Discarding top soil for later use is a common cost cutting measure employed by some dirt contractors.  Erosion will be a problem if proper grass coverage is not established on banks and slopes

.Land clearing is always expensive and generally has a number of caveats. At this project the problem with clearing was:

  • Volume– The vegetation was a 10’ tall wall of solid brush interspersed with pine trees 60-100+ feet tall.
  • Soil Types– When clearing in sandy soils the brush and timber piles tend to collect up to 50% dirt as you move them. This is a problem whether you are burning the debris (dirt does not burn) or whether you are piling it (double the volume due to the dirt) to rot away on its’ own.
  • Conditions– It is summer time with dry hot weather. Piney woods in the hot summer time are extremely flammable with the forestry service estimated that a burning ember can travel up to a mile and still start a fire in the piney woods. The area surrounding the lake is 800 acres of solid brush and dense trees. There has never been a controlled forestry burn performed at this property to eliminate ample fuels for a wildfire.  At this project a number of clever ways performed by specialized equipment have been utilized to handle the clearing challenge.

The other problems associated with this project are mostly associated with logistics and infrastructure. Many landowners fail to properly address these issues because they are misinformed by the contractor. Gates and driveways that are not designed for large trucks will at some point in the construction process create significant problems that can be expensive to solve or even halt the project completely. At this project the lake site is over a mile from the main gate with most of the roads narrow and only passable to small vehicles under good conditions. Due to the sand and associated traction problems creating an area to turn large trucks around is impossible without extensive soil corrections.

This project is challenging to say the least but as in most of my projects the client is first rate and interested in learning more about successfully working with the land and Mother Nature.

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