TCEQ Lists Water-Quality Concerns About Romerica High-Rise Permit

Last week, SWCA, Romerica’s environmental consultant, requested more time to respond to concerns about the proposed high-rise development in Kingwood. On April 30, the Corps withdrew Romerica’s permit application. The Corps suggested that Romerica resubmit a new application once they worked out issues with the first submittal.

Eight Pages of Concerns

All along, Kingwood residents have expressed skepticism about the suitability of this project for the Kingwood location. Turns out the 727 residents and groups that submitted protest letters weren’t the only ones with questions.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s (TCEQ’s) letter to the Corps expresses eight pages of concerns. Keep in mind that it was dated March 1. So the developer had it for TWO MONTHS. Also remember! TCEQ was reviewing ONLY water-quality issues posed by the development.

Full Text of Letter

Reading the TCEQ letter makes one realize how deficient the original application must have been. Here is the complete text for those who want all the detail.

Summary of Key Points

For everyone else, I have summarized the main concerns below.

  1. Title 30, Texas Administrative Code (TAC), Chapter 279.ll(c)(l), states that “No discharge shall be certified if there is a practicable alternative to the proposed discharge which would have less adverse impact on the aquatic ecosystem, … ” “Please have the applicant clarify the purpose and need for the project, as portions of the proposed project are not aquatic-dependent.”
  2. From the public notice, the applicant states that “they have avoided and minimized environmental impacts by configuring the location of the proposed structures and reducing the size of the lakes within each district.” “This statement does not detail how and where wetland and stream impacts were avoided or minimized. Please have the applicant explain how and where impacts to stream and wetland resources were minimized and avoided.”
  3. “The applicant proposes to develop a mitigation site or purchase credits but says nothing more…The compensatory mitigation plan must include the objectives, site selection, the site protection instrument, baseline information, how the compensatory mitigation will provide required compensation for unavoidable impacts to aquatic resources, a mitigation work plan, maintenance plan, ecological performance standards, monitoring requirements, long-term management plan, adaptive management plan, financial assurances, and other information per the mitigation rule requirements.”
  4. “During the site visit, the resource agencies and the applicant’s representative noticed several streams that were not accounted for in the impacts tables. Please have the applicant incorporate the additional streams and revise the total amount of project impacts accordingly.”
  5. “There are several impacts within the commercial district that appear to be unaccounted for or are unidentified. Please have the applicant revise the impacts table to account for all resources that will be converted.”
  6. “Please have the applicant determine if project specific locations (PSLs) such as borrow, stockpiling, staging, and equipment parking areas associated with the project will impact wetlands. These PSL impacts should be included in the accounting of total project impacts.”
  7. “Several wetlands within the proposed project boundary will be hydrologically disconnected from the current floodplain. Please have the applicant revise the impacts tables to include wetland and stream resources that will be affected secondarily by the proposed project and address the cumulative effect of each district on the interconnectedness of the onsite wetlands.”
  8. “Please have the applicant explain in detail what measures will be taken to avoid groundwater and surface water contamination from construction activities.”
  9. “Please have the applicant provide a hydraulic analysis of the site to account for current site conditions, projected increased impervious surface runoff, as well as drainage patterns for the site, and describe how water quality on and off the project site will be protected from impacts such as erosion.”
  10. “Stormwater drainage from residential and commercial lots should be routed away from the West Fork San Jacinto River, the marina, and stream resources onsite. Stormwater should be redirected and routed to stormwater treatment features before entering the aforementioned resources. Please have the applicant provide details on how the replacement of lost onsite water quality functions will be addressed.”

Other Issues Outlined in Letter

  1. How an expanded Woodland Hills Drive would affect stream crossings
  2. The purpose and design of the so-called “water-quality ponds”
  3. The design of channels and marinas; their connectivity to the San Jacinto; and their impact on water quality
  4. The impact of boat channels on water-oxygen levels
  5. Channels that cross wetland habitat
  6. Box culverts instead of bridges
  7. Channel widths (100-foot wide for a channel 4-feet deep)
  8. Channels crossing property Romerica doesn’t own
  9. Slope of channels
  10. Diversion of stormwater from roads and parking lots away from channels
  11. Dead-end channels
  12. How domestic wastewater will be collected and treated
  13. Dissolved oxygen monitoring and reporting
  14. Applicants characterization of stream types (intermittent vs. perennial); requests “an accurate assessment.”
  15. Conservation easements on the property. (21.90 acres of wetlands are covered by a conservation easement located within the residential and commercial portions of the proposed development. “Please have the applicant verify that the conservation easement will be protected from potential development and ensure the preserved wetlands will not be impacted, directly or indirectly, from the construction of the proposed project.”

Start Over?

There may be no good answers to some of these questions and concerns. SWCA, CivilTech and Romerica must be re-evaluating the impact of these questions on the economics of their project.

This isn’t the type of stuff you need another week to figure out. These questions will make the developers rethink their commitment to the entire project.

Finding answers will likely involve a redesign of the project and that could cost more than the land itself.

Keep in mind that water quality was just one of 20 different areas that the Corps is evaluating.

TCEQ Didn’t Have Enough Info to Make Decision

I asked Peter Schaefer, a team leader within the TCEQ Water Quality Assessment Section, whether the TCEQ had made a recommendation to the Corps on this project. He said “No.”

The reason: “Because TCEQ did not receive a response to our comment letter, and the applicant had not begun the process of working with us and the Corps to address the concerns raised in the letter, TCEQ was not in a position to make a decision on the project,” said Schaeffer. Hence the detailed requests for more information.

Schaefer added, “A typical 404/401 permitting process would normally take several months, if not a year or more, for the applicant to address comments from TCEQ, Corps, resource agencies, and the public. Because of the magnitude and nature of this project, it would likely have required much more time, coordination, discussion, project revision(s), and perhaps additional public notice(s) to get to the point where the Corps was prepared to complete a Decision Document.”

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/1/2019

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