Entergy in City’s Crosshairs, Northpark Lane Closures Announced

The Lake Houston Redevelopment Authority/TIRZ 10 (LHRA/TIRZ) Board Meeting on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024, focused almost exclusively on issues that have delayed the Northpark expansion project. LHRA/TIRZ also announced lane closures beginning Feb. 19, 2024.

One Source of Hold Ups Resolved, Another Remains

The Northpark expansion project is designed to move more traffic faster and to create an all-weather evacuation route for 78,000 Kingwood residents in the event of another major flood, such as Hurricane Harvey.

Two major hold ups have been:

  • Reaching right-of-way agreements with Union Pacific Railroad (UP)
  • Getting utilities, such as CenterPoint and Entergy, to move gas and electric lines.

As of this week, all railroad agreements have been resolved.

Approval of the agreements by the Houston City Council should be a formality.

And CenterPoint should complete the relocation of their gas lines within a week or two.

However, Entergy has not even started relocating its equipment. They were given notice four years ago to do so.

The board discussed the possibility of condemning an existing Entergy easement within the limits of Northpark Drive right of way, but ultimately decided to defer action for one more month. The outcome is inevitable. Entergy must move its equipment. But members hope to avoid the expense and delays of litigation involved in a condemnation proceeding.

It is unclear what Entergy hopes to gain through delays. In the meantime, it is jeopardizing its public image in the most densely populated part of its Texas service area.

Entergy Must Resolve Three Problems

Entergy has:

  • Utility poles it must move out of the City’s right of way.
  • A transformer next to the Exxon station at US59 on LHRA/TIRZ property.
  • Underground electricity lines that would be paved over in several places.

The existing wood poles between 494 and the Kingwood Diversion Ditch are in the City’s right-of-way. Entergy has sought reimbursement to move those, however, they are on City property and not entitled to reimbursement.

The transformer next to the Exxon station now sits on property purchased from Exxon by the LHRA/TIRZ.

Entergy wants 52 weeks and more than a million dollars to move this transformer in the Exxon parking lot at US59 and Northpark Drive.

Regarding the third item, utilities commonly run electricity lines under streets in urban environments. But Entergy apparently does not want that in this case and has not made arrangements to move the lines.

To resolve such conflicts, LHRA agreed to pay Entergy $711,000 in July last year. But then a consultant for Entergy demanded $1.462 million – doubling the costs. LHRA balked. The extra money wasn’t and isn’t in the budget. Neither were the cost increases itemized. Said another way, Entergy didn’t break down what caused the price increases.

Itemized Costs Being Demanded

To make sure Entergy is not folding in un-reimbursable costs such as relocating poles in rights of way with allowable relocation costs for the transformer, Ralph De Leon, project manager for LHRA, said he has requested itemized costs and a schedule of values for each part of the job from Entergy.

A schedule of values includes such things as material costs as well as labor costs. For instance, one line item might read, “X people at $Y/hr times Z hours.” He also wants to see that schedule signed and stamped by a licensed PE, whose license could be revoked for falsifying information.

Entergy First Notified in 2020

The LHRA Board reviewed a history of attempts to resolve the Entergy conflict issues. They included 22 meetings/discussions between October 2020 and January 2024.

  • October 2020: Began coordinating utility impacts with Entergy and other utility companies (at 60% design stage).  Held COH utility coordination meeting.
  • December 2020: Entergy reached out and asked if there were opportunities for relocation reimbursement.  Held COH utility coordination meeting.
  • January 2021: Held COH utility coordination meeting.
  • February 2021: Held COH utility coordination meeting.
  • March 2021: Held COH utility coordination meeting.
  • June 2021: Began discussions regarding the ground transformer near Exxon gas station.  M&S had preliminary plans prepared.
  • February 2022: Held COH utility coordination meeting.
  • March 2022: Held COH utility coordination meeting.
  • April 2022: Held COH utility coordination meeting.
  • July 2022: M&S determined that their preliminary plans were incorrect and had assumed overhead line relocations for crossing over Northpark Drive.
  • August 2022: M&S noted that their utilities were in an easement and would require reimbursement from LHRA.
  • September 2022: Additional correspondence regarding reimbursement for relocations.  Teams meeting with M&S to discuss relocations.
  • October 21, 2022: M&S provided a draft cost estimate via email.  Total estimated costs for the relocations were $1,218,000.
  • January 2023: Field meeting with M&S, AT&T and Exxon representative to discuss relocations on Exxon property. M&S provided easement documentation for their utilities and continued discussion about reimbursement.  Wade Carpenter (Entergy attorney) began involvement in the conversations.
  • February 2023: Entergy attorneys reviewing the matter internally.
  • March 3, 2023: M&S noted that utility relocations in easement (primarily west of Loop 494) would cost $710,000 and would be seeking reimbursements for these relocations.  For utility relocations east of Loop 494, those would cost approx. $500,000 and Entergy deemed these costs as non-reimbursable as they are not in easement.
  • May 17, 2023: M&S confirmed that relocation costs west or Loop 494 are reimbursable ($710,000) and relocation costs east of Loop 494 ($500,00) are non-reimbursable.
  • July 19, 2023: M&S provided draft agreement for relocations with relocation costs shown to be $711,186.26.
  • August 2023: Coordination with M&S on timeline of relocations.
  • October 2023: M&S noted that they are waiting for the go ahead to send plans to construction group.
  • December 2023: Coordination with M&S regarding fiber companies attached to their poles.  M&S provided an update relocation cost estimate with a new total being $1,462,135.57.
  • January 2024: Coordination with M&S on timeline of relocations.

M&S is an Entergy consultant.

30-Day Deadline Given on Feb. 6, 2024

On February 6, 2024, Carol Haddock, Director of Houston Public Works, sent Entergy a letter giving the company 30-days to move its property. The letter included a request to submit a timeline for the relocations by Feb. 16.

Haddock’s letter parallels one sent by LHRA/TIRZ10 on Nov. 9, 2020, which the City says suffices as proper legal notification. That’s because the LHRA/TIRZ10 is acting as an agent of the City.

The City’s position is that Entergy is not moving into the City’s footprint. But the city is getting bigger and expanding into Entergy’s footprint. It appears that the City has the upper hand at the moment.

Impact of Delays

De Leon believes the City’s letter will resolve enough issues to keep crews busy for now. Next up:

  • Continuing excavation of two stormwater detention ponds at US59 and Northpark
  • Placement of box culverts in the middle ditch
  • Creation of some temporary lanes on the north side of Northpark.

However, he admits that the Entergy delays have caused problems. Instead of following the optimal critical path, his contractors are hopscotching around to keep crews busy.

If Entergy continues to delay, he could face contractual penalties, including costly demobilization.

Lane Closure Announced

LHRA/TIRZ posted this announcement on its project website. It affects westbound traffic.

“Beginning February 19th, Lake Houston Redevelopment Authority’s (LHRA’s) contractor, Harper Brothers Construction will be closing the right two lanes of westbound traffic near the Northpark/I-69 intersection.  The first month of this closure will leave two westbound lanes open – the existing left turn lane and one through lane.  The next 3 months of the closure will switch traffic onto the newly constructed lanes while construction of the existing left turn lane and through lane are completed. Westbound traffic should expect delays and alternative routes are encouraged.  For this phase of work the contractor will be installing new storm sewer pipes and inlets along with new concrete roadway.”

Two westbound lane closures beginning Feb. 19 circled in red.

For More Information

For more information about the project including construction plans, visit the project pages of the LHRA/Tirz 10 website. Or see these posts on ReduceFlooding:

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/10/2024

2356 Days since Hurricane Harvey