FM 1010

Liberty County Hazard Mitigation Plan Contains No Mention of Largest, Most Vulnerable Community in County

The Liberty County Hazard Mitigation Plan contains no mention of Colony Ridge, the largest and most vulnerable community in the entire county. Like Liberty County’s Strategic Plan, this is another example of shoot-yourself-in-the-foot planning. It, too, has Grand-Canyon-sized disconnects between intention and execution that could jeopardize thousands of lives.

Overlooked or Ignored?

Liberty County last updated its Hazard Mitigation Plan in 2017. Yet it contains no specific mention of Colony Ridge, a 12-13,000 acre development. At buildout, Colony Ridge projects it will cover 22,000 acres. By comparison, Kingwood occupies 14,000 acres.

The former Mayor of Plum Grove estimates more than 20,000 people currently call Colony Ridge home. Exact counts are difficult since many people are undocumented. But if the Mayor was correct, it would make Colony Ridge two times larger than the largest cities in the county. Plus…

Colony Ridge has extreme vulnerabilities caused by sub-standard drainage; poverty; language barriers; lack of street lighting and fire hydrants; poor electrical and communications infrastructure; a high percentage of mobil and self-built homes; poor access through flood-prone roads; and leaky sewage systems.

Such risk factors make residents especially vulnerable to floods, hurricanes, wildfires, tornadoes, and extreme temperatures. Moreover, poverty makes it harder for people to recover from such disasters.

Yet the plan does not contain one recommendation to address this high concentration of vulnerabilities in Colony Ridge. Even though the plan addresses vulnerabilities in much smaller areas, “the largest vulnerable population in the county” receives only one mention. That was as an unnamed area near Plum Grove. Plum Grove has a population of approximately 400-500 people compared to Colony Ridge’s 20,000.

It’s as though the people who live in Colony Ridge are invisible. For instance, the plan addresses two mobile homes in Dayton Lakes, but not the thousands in Colony Ridge.

Purpose of Plan

The purpose of Liberty County’s Hazard Mitigation Plan is to “reduce the loss of life and property within the county and lessen the negative impacts of natural disasters.” The plan addresses specific vulnerabilities in a dozen communities, but never the largest.

Part 7, which starts on Page 132, outlines several plan objectives.

Educational Programs Targeted to Government Officials

This section starts with the need to develop and implement educational programs for residents and government officials, that address, among other things, the need to improve existing local ordinances. That was a familiar theme from the Liberty County Strategic Plan (which also failed to mention Colony Ridge). The idea: better building codes can enhance survivability of structures during threats such as tornadoes, fires, hurricanes and floods.

But that idea hasn’t yet filtered down to Colony Ridge where the developer caters to a do-your-own-thing, follow-your-American-dream, build-it-yourself-on-weekends crowd. The results are predictably creative and eclectic. See below.

Colony Ridge D-I-Y housing. Photo taken 12/7/2020.
Typical neighborhood in Colony Ridge. Photo taken 12/7/2020. Note how cream-colored home (bottom left) has apparently fallen off its base.

Public/Private Collaboration to Minimize Hazards

A similar objective to the one above: Foster collaboration between public and private partners throughout the county to create and implement local ordinances and county-level programs that minimize hazards. Here are several common problems:

  • No evacuation routes marked.
  • No traffic-control signals along what would be evacuation routes.
  • Unlit streets at night
  • People walk on streets because there are no sidewalks.
  • Only a handful of fire hydrants in 13,000 acres where residents commonly start brush fires and overwhelm the volunteer Plum Grove fire department.
  • No school-zone warning lights or signs
  • No grocery stores for emergency supplies.
  • Missing street signs make emergency response difficult in many areas.

On a special note, as of 9PM tonight, the temperature has dropped into the 30s and reports of widespread power outages are pouring in from Colony Ridge due to poor electrical infrastructure that has not kept pace with the area’s growth.

Improve Drainage to Reduce Flooding and Erosion

Another goal: improve drainage throughout the county to reduce the impact of flooding and erosion on residents and structures.

FM1010 at Rocky Branch has gone un-repaired for the 3.5 years since Harvey. This road would be the major evacuation route for 20,000.

The Mitigation Plan was developed after Harvey and adopted by Liberty County Commissioner’s Court on October 9, 2018. But the Plan makes no mention of the repairing the washout above.

Create Drainage Ponds Throughout County

The plan calls for widening existing culverts and creating drainage ponds throughout the county. Yet for the entire 13,000 acres, Colony Ridge apparently has one functioning detention pond. A second pond seems to have largely silted in.

One of the few, if not the only functioning detention ponds in Colony Ridge. This is in Sante Fe Section 3 in the extreme southwestern corner of the development. Colony Ridge engineers claim such ponds would make flooding worse. See below.

Beat-The-Peak Analysis Applied to 22,000 Acres

LandPlan Engineering’s Hydraulic Analysis from March 2020 concludes on page 8 that “…detention would increase the overall peak release from [Sante Fe] Section 6 as well as those portions of upcoming Sections 7 and 8 discharging to the Luce Bayou.”

It’s hard to understand how detention ponds would increase the peak flow. The conclusion refers readers to two graphs in Appendix D. But neither mentions anything about detention assumptions such as volume or rate of release. This is yet another “beat the peak” claim which Liberty County Drainage Regulations don’t explicitly bar.

So the Hazard Mitigation Plan encourages detention ponds and the drainage regulations give developers financial incentives NOT to build them. Again, the Grand-Canyon-sized gap between intentions and execution.

As we have seen in Montgomery County, beat-the-peak claims don’t consider changes to upstream or downstream conditions. They rely on infrequently updated data that becomes increasingly out of date with the development of each new subdivision. And they encourage all developers to get their water to rivers ASAP in heavy rains, which is exactly the opposite of what you want people to do in floods.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/16/2020

1205 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 454 since 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.