Stilts Not Always Answer, Evac Not Always Possible For High Rises Near Floodway

Last Monday, Gabriel Haddad, the Romerica developer who wants to put up 25-50 story high rises and 5,000 condos near the floodway of the West Fork, told a packed audience at the Kingwood Community Center that he would construct his buildings on stilts.

Of course, he also wants to put 150,000 cubic yards of fill in wetlands and streams which is why he’s applying for the Army Corps permit. But put that aside for the moment.

Catching Debris and Creating Backwater

Stilts may be the best answer when building near floodways. They can reduce the net impact on flooding compared to fill. However, they still have their drawbacks…as these pictures show. For instance, stilts, stairs and anything below a building will catch debris being washed downstream and back water up.

Debris washed downstream and caught on Balcom property
Debris washed downstream caught on stairs. Photo by Melissa Balcom.
All the trees caught in the bridge supports for the old 59 bridge reportedly formed a “dam” during Harvey that backed water up into Humble businesses. Ask Humble Mayor Merle Aaron about his feelings on the subject.
Debris caught under bridges during Harvey. Photos by David Seitzinger.
Stilts didn’t help thousands of homes on the Bolivar Peninsula during Hurricane Ike. They have to be high enough to elevate the home above the flood. More than a 100 people died on Bolivar who failed to evacuate before Ike. They thought their elevated homes would keep them safe.

Evacuation Routes Flooded

The next three pictures show one of the planned evacuation routes, Hamblen Road. As you can see, connecting Woodland Hills to Hamblen might help with normal traffic, but it would not help at all during a flood.

Hamblen Road during the Tax Day Flood of 2016. Photo by Melissa Balcom. Note height of street lights.
Hamblen Road during the Memorial Day flood of 2016. “This is when we thought things were as bad as they would ever get!” said Melissa Balcom who lives between Hamblen and the West Fork of the San Jacinto.
Same area on Hamblen during Harvey. Compare street lights in the background. The brick wall on the left is completely submerged.

“The water is actually even deeper than it appears because those street lights are on a hill that lines the side of Hamblen,” said Melissa Balcom, who took these photos. “The water is so deep you can’t even see the white brick fence that lines Hamblen.  It completely covers it!  That’s one of the reasons why making Hamblen a cut through street is so ridiculous.”

Horror Movie in the Making

When I asked Mr. Haddad how he planned to evacuate 15,000 people by boat if there were ever another midnight release from the Conroe dam without warning, he said that people could shelter in place.

Imagine being in a high rise…in August, when the water comes up, the power goes out, the toilets overflow, the AC fails, the humidity hits 99%, and you can’t open the windows. That may be a Navy Seal’s idea of luxury living, but not mine. I’ll pass, thank you!

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/24/2019

572 Days since Hurricane Harvey