Waco’s tornadic past is peeking out of a riverbank on the Baylor campus.
Erosion along the Brazos River is slowly exposing debris along the riverfront, and the university now plans to spend $1.8 million to patch it up. Baylor spokeswoman Lori Fogleman said testing revealed it was construction debris, making its origins as part of the long-defunct city of Waco dump clear.
“As we mentioned before, that landfill primarily contains debris from the ’53 tornado,” Fogleman said. “We have conducted environmental testing of the area, which found mainly brick and glass.”
This isn’t the first time the old landfill, which originally spanned 15 acres, has created a headache for present-day Waco. In 2008, an archaeology firm did borings along the route of the riverwalk extension downstream of the Texas Ranger Museum and found trash deposits, and reported that the extension was “entirely within the old city dump,” according to a 2010 Tribune-Herald article.
Baylor’s Simpson Athletic and Academic Center was built over part of the closed landfill in accordance with a permit from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
The eroded area includes 2,100 linear feet along the south bank of the river, behind the Highers Athletic Complex. The waterline extends from the Daniel inlet, just past Baylor Law School, toward the Pullin Family Marina, which is on the Waco Creek inlet. Fogleman said the materials they found are inert and will not decompose, meaning they aren’t in danger of leaching chemicals or gases into the water. The TCEQ has not levied fines or penalties against Baylor for the debris, Fogleman said.
“This is a matter of doing the right thing,” Fogleman said. “The university worked with the TCEQ to handle this in the right manner. The riverfront is a huge asset and a selling point for Baylor.”
The fix will involve layering rock riprap, also known as man-placed rock, on top of a thickened foundation at the waterline. For this project, large slabs of stone will extend out into the river for 4 feet to 8 feet and prevent further soil erosion on the bank. Fogleman said the erosion is not near the riverwalk, which will remain open during construction, and the project is scheduled to be completed in August.
A routine Texas Commission on Environmental Quality inspection revealed the riverbank erosion in spring 2017. After the landfill material was discovered, Baylor conducted ongoing inspections and spot-cleanups while developing a plan to fix the waterline with TCEQ and the U.S. Army Corps of Civil Engineers. The Baylor Board of Regents voted to approve the construction at their May meeting.
The riverfront area was cleared by federal Urban Renewal programs in the 1960s and later acquired by Baylor. The city of Waco operated a dump at what was then First Street and Jones Avenue where garbage was burned in the open, according to a Feb. 5, 1954 article in the Waco News-Tribune. The article mentions that smoke had been rising from the site for “the past 50 or more years.”