LJA Engineering Report on Woodridge Stormwater-Pollution Safeguards Shows Deficiencies

An investigation by LJA Engineering found many stormwater pollution-prevention safeguards were not in place on the Woodridge Village construction site at the time of the Elm Grove flood on May 7.

After the flood, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) received multiple complaints about alleged SWPPP (stormwater pollution prevention plan) violations on the site. TCEQ referred them to Montgomery County for investigation. Montgomery County then referred them to LJA Engineering, which coincidentally also represented the Woodridge developer. But more on the apparent conflict later.

Timeline of Investigation

  • Between May 8 and May 10, 2019, LJA Engineers received five complaints for investigation.
  • On or about May 11, 2019, Rebel Contractors began installing safeguards and posting permits that should have been in place months before the flood.
  • LJA conducted its investigation on May 15, 2019.
  • LJA submitted its findings to Montgomery County on May 16. The report showed several deficiencies, but many more had been corrected shortly before the LJA inspection.
  • On June 5, 2019, LJA reinspected the site and found that all corrective actions requested on 5/15/2019 had been completed.
  • On July 8th, an email between LJA and the TCEQ indicated that the contractor was now in compliance and that Montgomery County considered all the complaints resolved.

Findings of LJA Engineering Investigation

Below are copies of the reports. Note that the LJA report reflects only what was in place at the time of their investigation, not before the flood.

Results of 5/15 inspection show that SWPPP permits were posted, however they were posted just before the inspection even though construction had been in progress for months.

The following photos were attached to the email containing the report above. They give the impression that the vast majority of silt fencing had been in place and that all the permits were posted. I could see no fencing and no permits when I visited the site immediately after the flood.

Permit notices, such as these, should have been in place months earlier, but showed up just before the LJA inspection.
Silt fence along Woodland Hills in Kingwood was also missing at time of flood, but installed days before inspection.
Lack of protection around storm sewer allowed silt to enter drains near Woodland Hills Drive.
Looking south on Woodland Hills, you can see silt fence adjacent to road but none protecting Sherwood Trails in background.
Looking east along county line (southern border of development), you can see recently installed silt fence.
These rock baskets at the entrance to Taylor Gulley in Kingwood were installed just before the inspection to control erosion (visible in the background). They were not in place at the time of the flood on May 7.
Looking south toward Taylor Gulley from the concrete culvert above.
Interior portion of the site without silt fencing. Taylor Gulley lies between utility poles and tree line on the left.
Looking south along the Porter boundary. Yates property is on right. Lack of silt fencing and adequate drainage covered his property in muck.
Clean bill of health issued after reinspection on 6/5/2019.

As proof of compliance, LJA submitted these two before/after photo sequences. Neither sequence corresponded to the photos from May 15 where the inspector noted deficiencies. These “before” photos bear a different date: May 23. The second report above never mentions an inspection on May 23.

Conflict of Interest?

Both the developer and Montgomery County hired LJA Engineering independently:

  • Subsidiaries of Perry Homes (Figure Four Partners and PSWA) hired LJA to design the site and its detention ponds. AND…
  • Montgomery County hired LJA to investigate complaints about multiple construction sites throughout the county.

LJA did not see a conflict of interest. Nor did it recuse itself. Instead, it claimed that two different divisions of the company handled the contracts, therefore, there was no conflict.

However, the timing of the investigation by LJA raises questions. LJA gave Rebel Contractors time to install most of the pollution-prevention measures that they should have installed months earlier.

Questions of Conscience

At this point, after reviewing hundreds of photos and drone footage taken after the flood, I have several questions:

  • Why didn’t Rebel Contractors address these deficiencies before the May 7th flood?
  • Did an LJA engineer’s repeated references to “I can’t comment on anything that existed before the inspection” indicate that he was aware of violations?
  • If so, why didn’t he take action to correct them earlier?
  • Construction permits specify that an engineer was to be onsite. Why wasn’t the engineer monitoring compliance with the SWPPP all along?
  • Did LJA Engineers give contractors advance notice of the inspection and then delay it so that all involved could look less culpable?
  • Did any fines result from the SWPPP violations?
  • If so, did advance notice of the inspection allow LJA’s other client, Figure Four Partners, to minimize the amount of fines?

Hundreds of Elm Grove residents have sued the Woodridge developer and contractor, alleging negligence, gross negligence, and negligence per se. They deserve answers to these questions.

Copies of the SWPPP plans still have not been made public to see if other irregularities exist. LJA Engineering has not returned phone calls.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/10/2019

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All thoughts expressed in this post represent my opinions on matters of public interest and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the great State of Texas.