TCEQ Blasts Colony Ridge, Says Construction Practices Could Adversely Affect Human Health

A seven-month-long TCEQ investigation of Colony Ridge construction practices resulted in a 184-page report that confirmed allegations of erosion and silt flowing uncontrolled into ditches and streams. The investigation resulted in a “notice of enforcement.”

TCEQ Alleges Permit Violations Affecting Human Health

TCEQ found the Colony Ridge developer in violation of its Construction General Permit for failure to install even minimum controls such as silt fences and vegetative buffer strips.

As a result, the report says the developer failed to prevent discharges that “contribute to a violation of water quality standards” and that have “a reasonable likelihood of adversely affecting human health or the environment.”

Investigators found unstabilized and unprotected drainage channels connecting 3,678.69 acres of disturbed land to unprotected streams and creeks. Sediment now almost completely fills some of those streams. They lead to Luce Bayou and and the East Fork San Jacinto River, which empty into Lake Houston, the source of drinking water for 2 million people.

Lack of Construction Best Management Practices

Colony Ridge’s Construction General Permit does not authorize discharges into Texas surface waters. Yet investigators found:

  • Drainage ditches with unstabilized soil on their sides
  • A drainage ditch with completely destabilized sides
  • Sediment deposition in multiple creeks
  • One creek channel almost completely filled by sediment
  • Culverts blocked with sediment
  • A washed out road
  • Water samples with elevated levels of dissolved and suspended solids as high as 1370 milligrams/liter (suspended) and 6360 (solid)…
  • ...All tied to inadequate or non-existent best management practices

See photos below.

Self-Reports in Stark Contrast to TCEQ Report

In contrast, the construction superintendent’s own inspection checklists (pages 51-78) rated virtually all erosion-prevention measures that the company did employ as “acceptable.” However, he also indicated that the company did not use most common protective measures, such as vegetation, sod, silt fences and detention basins; claiming they were “not applicable.” His report on 2/19/20 contained a note indicating the construction site “Looks good.” His last weekly report before the complaint that triggered the investigation found no “action items.”

Get the Picture

Pages 139 to 159 of the report (Attachment 13) and pages 167-171 (attachment 17) show photographs of almost five dozen violations that contradict the construction manager’s reports.

Below is a sampling of ten photos from the report. The TCEQ investigator took them all on 6/16/2020. He also provided the captions. Page numbers refer to the full TCEQ report.

Downstream view of Rocky Branch Creek. Washed out road in background. Photo 2 out of 57. Page 141.
Destabilized banks along Long Branch Creek and sediment deposition in creek channel. Note: the creek channel almost completely filled in by sediment. Photo 17 of 57. Page 146.
Unstabilized drainage channels in Section 7 that are tied into Long Branch Creek. Photo 20 of 57. Page 147.
Area surrounding Long Branch Creek destabilized with no BMPs installed around the creek. Note unstabilized sediment piles next to the creek. Photo 30 of 57, Page 151.
Area surrounding Long Branch Creek destabilized with no BMPs installed around the creek. Note unstabilized sediment piles next to the creek. Photo 32 of 57, Page 151.
Sediment and debris in cement culvert that allows Long Branch Creek to flow underneath Section 5 entrance road. Photo 40 of 57. Page 154.
Sediment and debris in cement culvert that allows Long Branch Creek to flow underneath Section 5 entrance road. Photo 41 of 57. Page 154.
Inadequate BMPs in drainage ditch that leads to Long Branch Creek. Note: Undercut silt fence. Photo 44 of 57, page 155.
Sediment deposition in unnamed creek channel right before Long Branch Creek. Note sediment line on cree. Sediment line is demarcated by pocket knife in red circle. Photo 48 of 57. Page 156.
Sediment in a drainage ditch that is tied into an unnamed creek. Note over-capacitated silt fence. Photo 53 of 57. Page 158.

Personal Observations Corroborate Report

Based on personal observations, I don’t think the investigator exaggerated. On the contrary, he may not have captured the full scope the hazards. Some can only be seen from the air. As luck would have it, I flew a helicopter over Colony Ridge on the same day the investigator captured his photos. Here are two from the air and one from the ground.

Washed out ditches abounded.
The developer was clearing more land before previously developed areas could be stabilized.
Silt fence being propped up to allow raw sewage to flow underneath it into Luce Bayou, which empties into Lake Houston.

Other Strangeness

Colony Ridge hired Merit Professional Services in Flower Mound, a Dallas/Fort Worth suburb. Merit obtains stormwater pollution prevention permits and also provides stormwater inspection services. However, according to the complainant in this case, Merit claimed they only provided the permit, but not inspection services. Lack of local oversight may have been a large part of the problem.

Page 182 of the TCEQ report contains an August 12, 2020, memo from Landplan Engineering to the investigator. It states that, “Going forward, Colony has switched to Double Oak since they are headquartered in the Houston Area.” Double Oak provides the same services and then some. Their website shows they offer construction, erosion control and stormwater management.

Ironically, Double Oak Construction is a defendant in the Elm Grove lawsuits against Perry Homes and its contractors on the Woodridge Village project in Montgomery County. That case involves many of the same issues involved in both the TCEQ report and the City of Plum Grove’s lawsuit against the developer of Colony Ridge. The report does not mention exactly when Double Oak started working for Colony Ridge.

For the full TCEQ report, click here. Caution: large download, 28 megs, 184 pages.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/16/2020

1144 Days after Hurricane Harvey and 393 After Imelda

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