Interview with Corps’ Chief of Evaluation: What’s Next for Romerica?

After receiving 727 public comments, Kingwood Marina developer, Romerica Investments, LLC, asked Corps regulators on April 24, to “temporarily suspend an Individual Permit Application (SWG-2016-00384).”

Romercia’s environmental consultants said in a letter to Corps regulators, they made the request based on the large volume of comments provided by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) on March 28.

The request acknowledged, “It will take several months to conduct the surveys and studies needed to respond fully to these comments.” 

Interview withCorps’ Chief of Evaluation Branch

Last week, I spoke with Janet Botello, Chief of the Evaluation Branch of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers/Galveston District. We talked about what comes next for Romerica after its permit application for the proposed high-rise development in Kingwood was withdrawn by the Corps. Bottom line: if they reapply, we would likely have another public comment period.

In this satellite image taken on 2/23/19, you can see the West Fork San Jacinto at the bottom, River Grove Park at the left, Kingwood Country Club on the right and the Barrington at the top. Romerica hopes to build multiple 25-50 high rises between the little lake in the center and the golf course fairways below the Barrington.

Difference: Suspension vs. Withdrawal

Rehak: “Romerica requested a suspension of their permit application. The Army Corps withdrew it. What’s the difference? Is there any legal significance?”

Botello: “The correct wording in this case is “withdrawal.” There IS a legal difference. There is a provision within our regulations for suspending a permit. But that only occurs when a permit has actually been issued. In this case, the permit was not issued; there was only an application. We never made a final decision. So the pending application was withdrawn.”

Another Public Comment Period Likely

Rehak: “If they reapply, would there be another public comment period during the evaluation of new application?”

Botello: “I am comfortable in saying that there probably will be another public comment period based on the number of public interest factors and concerns that were raised and potential changes that could occur. But we won’t know for sure until we get the revised packet of information.”

Rehak: “How frequently does this happen?”

Botello: “It’s common. If a significant number of comments are raised during the public comment period and applicants aren’t prepared to address them within 30 days, we withdraw it. Then they go back and try to answer the concerns that were raised or revise their plans. Conversely, if they can answer and fully address concerns within 30 days, we keep evaluating the permit and we go ahead with the next step. If not, we withdraw it and give them time on their own to address the public concerns.”

Next Steps If Romerica Reapplies

Rehak: “What will be the next steps if Romerica reapplies?”

Botello: “First, we will evaluate the new submittal internally for a review of the Corps’ concerns. Then we will draft a public notice for public review – to gather public concerns. Then typically, we gather up the comments and concerns raised after that 30-day period, and forward them again to the applicant. They will have to respond within 30 days and then we will gather their responses and determine what steps are appropriate.”

Where We Are At

Romerica has not returned phone calls to discuss their intentions. If other agencies had concerns as serious as the TCEQ’s, this project could die quietly. If Romerica reapplies, which they have said they will do, the developer will likely have to significantly revise plans, and start over with a lengthy permitting process including a new public comment period.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/6/2019

615 Days since Hurricane Harvey