The National Weather Service distinguishes between four major types of flooding: coastal, riverine, street and sheet flow. After flying over Colony Ridge on New Year’s Day, I would add a fifth: flooding by government neglect.
Despite dire predictions for the New Year’s Eve storm, the Plum Grove/Colony Ridge area in Liberty County only got about two inches of rain. Yet I saw hundreds of flooded lots. They were all in a development that:
- Includes the largest population concentration in the county
- Was never mentioned by name in the Liberty County Strategic Plan or Hazard Mitigation Plan
- Routinely ignores building codes and county drainage regulations
- Does not include storm sewers
- Leaks sewage
- Flaunts TCEQ regulations for sediment control
- Sends enough eroded sediment downstream during minor rains that it discolors a major river
- Encourages do-it-yourself home building and lot grading by unqualified people
- Won’t provide residents with elevation benchmarks, or accurate plats or surveys
Those residents also live in a county that:
- Allows engineers to repeatedly misrepresent soil types in a way that flooded people
- Allegedly let the developer routinely fill in wetlands
- Fails to check the developer’s drainage plans for accuracy and construction plans for compliance
- Lost about a third of the developer’s drainage plans…if they ever existed
- Apparently accepts preliminary engineering reports without review or revision.
- Let the developer concentrate so much floodwater into Rocky Branch that it washed out FM1010 during Harvey.
Worst of all, when residents asked for help from their elected Liberty County officials, those officials berated and rebuffed them. They refused even to acknowledge problems in Colony Ridge.
Where It Starts
Irregularities that most banks would catch as part of a title search and survey during the mortgage application process never get caught here.
That’s because the developer targets a vulnerable population more likely to use Western Union money orders than banks. He offers them owner financing with low down payments and interest rates five times higher than the market.
These un-savvy buyers are so desperate to own a piece of the American dream that they wind up mired in one nightmare after another. Many speak English as a second language if they speak it at all.
A Two-Inch Rain
Trade those SVUs in for swamp buggies. Here’s what much of the development looked like 24 hours after two inches of rain fell on New Year’s Eve.
Targeting the Vulnerable
Most of these people never complain. The areas in Mexico and Central America where many came from may have conditions far worse. So what you see here may be an improvement for them.
Still, one can’t wonder whether – in its zeal to grow – Liberty County has turned a blind eye to conditions that violate its own regulations as well as human dignity.
Conditions such as these will take generations to improve. In the meantime, the County’s residents are in for decades of pain due to government neglect. Not just in Colony Ridge, but in neighboring communities such as Plum Grove and others farther downstream.
This developer has permanently altered the hydrology of the watershed in a way that increases flood risk for everyone.
And the county has lowered its standards in a way that will likely discourage investment from quality developers.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/3/2021
1223 Days after Hurricane Harvey and 472 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.