After an unannounced investigation of the Laurel Springs RV Resort construction site on February 2, 2022, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) issued a Notice of Enforcement (NOE) Letter to the contractor, Higbie Ventures of Texas, Inc. The TCEQ investigation found Higbie:
- Failed to maintain Best Management Practices in effective operation condition
- Had not maintained the construction site entrance
- Did not protect stormwater inlets
- Damaged erosion controls
- Improperly installed erosion controls
- Did not install erosion controls as prescribed in the Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan along the southern and western perimeters
- Let sediment accumulations travel offsite unimpeded onto neighboring property for approximately 158 yards
- Trenched the southern berm of its detention pond, letting stormwater escape onto neighboring property, a non-compliant discharge
- Violated requirements of their Construction General Permit
- Failed to remove sediment accumulations often enough to minimize further negative effect
The investigator felt the non-compliant discharge in late January warranted enforcement action. The TCEQ then issued a Notice of Enforcement Letter (NOE) to “facilitate” compliance.
64-Page Report Brims With Photos Showing Violations
The 64-page TCEQ report meticulously documents the complaints with time-stamped photographs.
The TCEQ investigator, Kyle Linville, required documentation showing the contractor had remedied all violations by February 7. But on February 14, Linville noted that several violations remained outstanding, including failure to:
- Maintain Best Management Practices in effective operating condition
- Install sediment controls on the southern boundary of the site
- Remove sediment accumulations often enough to minimize further negative effects.
Linville’s observations largely match mine and those of nearby residents who have communicated with me re: issues at the controversial construction site. Strangely, a City of Houston investigation found no problem, triggering two more investigations, but the City has not yet released the results of those.
Contractor Apparently Still Not Fully in Compliance
Since the TCEQ issued its notice of enforcement letter, most but not all of the violations have been corrected. However, Higbie still has not installed silt fencing along the western perimeter. And when I went by there today, trucks had once again turned Laurel Springs Lane into a muddy mess.
Contractor Claims Re: Unauthorized Discharge
The contractor admitted that he discharged stormwater into Edgewater Park without authorization. However, he claimed that it was necessary to begin installing pumps that would discharge stormwater into the Lakewood Cove Storm Sewer System. The contractor claimed that standing water in the detention pond had infiltrated the soil in the pond wall. That made the pond wall so unstable that heavy equipment could not operate safely on the wall, said the contractor, in his response to the TCEQ.
However, photos taken on the day of the trenching, 1/29/22, show heavy equipment already operating on the wall and the pump housing already partially installed.
On page 54 of the report, the contractor claims he dug the trench on 1/30/22, not 1/29.
He also admits that he placed 8″ pipe in the wall, but claims he removed it “the next day” on “1/31/21.” That would have been 10 months before the site was even cleared. But assuming he meant 1/31/22, the claim doesn’t match what I photographed that day. I photographed the contractor covering up pipe, not removing it. See below.
Is he claiming that he filled in the whole trench only to redig it on the same day and remove the pipe? That would have been amazingly inefficient. However, it would help explain some of the contractor’s failures. In the last 20 years, eight of Higbie’s 13 entities in Texas have gone out of business. He lost six of the eight to tax forfeitures.
Trust But Verify
Mr. Linville produced an excellent and thorough report of his investigation. But I hope he explores some of Higbie’s claims further without just taking Higbie’s word that he complied. As auditors say, “Trust but verify.” Did the contractor really remove the pipe? Did he install invisible silt fence on the western perimeter? Why is Higbie still pumping water out of the pond with portable pumps almost two months after installing the housing for permanent pumps.
We should never forget how excess sedimentation contributed to the flooding of thousands of homes along the West Fork during Harvey.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/26/22
1670 Days since Hurricane Harvey
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.