Tree Lane Bridge

Tree Lane Bridge over Ben’s Branch Damaged…Again

Recent heavy rains and high-density upstream development on Ben’s Branch in Montgomery County have increasingly placed pressure on the aging Ben’s Branch Bridge over Tree Lane. The bridge is immediately adjacent to Bear Branch Elementary School in Kingwood and its 638 students.

The City of Houston repaired the bridge less than three years ago in March 2020. But…

5-Year Rain Leaves Bridge Worse Than Before Repairs

I took the photo below on 1/24/23 when Kingwood experienced a five year rain according to the gage at US59.

Photo taken on 1/24/2023 after 3.6 inches of rain in 2 hours.

I went back today to see what it looked like after the water went down.

After another 1.5 inch rain on 1/29/23. Note how the concrete fragment is pinching off street drainage for Bear Branch Village.

The issue, in my opinion, has to do with more and more water jetting through the narrow opening of the bridge. The turbulence has undermined concrete armoring on the banks that protects bridge supports. It has also carved out a huge area in the stream just south of the bridge.

Photo taken on Tuesday 1/24/23 as jetting erodes area south of bridge.

Exacerbated by Upstream Issues

The Preserve At Woodridge, upstream on Ben’s Branch offers 13 homes to the acre. It’s one of several high-density developments recently built along Ben’s Branch and its tributaries.
Detention pond south of St. Martha Catholic Church owned by MUD. Looking S. Water flows R to L. Note how outlet is bigger than inlet.

The detention pond above on Ben’s Branch had its outlet wall blown out during Harvey 5.5 years ago and has not been fixed since.

An aging bridge. More water coming downstream. Insufficient mitigation. Eroding banks. 638 children. A perfect storm, so to speak. Let’s hope the City can expedite the repairs.

You encourage what you tolerate.

It’s time for people to speak up.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/29/23

1979 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.

Lone Star College

County Outlines Plan for $750 Million in Flood-Mitigation Funds

Harris County Community Services Department (CSD) has finally shared a high-level summary of how it would spend $750 million in Hurricane Harvey Flood Mitigation Funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The plan, called a Method of Delivery (MOD), was submitted to the Texas General Land Office (GLO) in December for preliminary approval, but returned to the county in January for tweaks to make it HUD-compliant.

CSD’s presentation is informational; the Department is not yet seeking approval from Commissioner’s Court. But this will be the public’s first peak at CSD’s direction.

While the presentation predictably emphasizes support for low-to-moderate income and socially vulnerable groups, it also contains some surprises. For instance, it mentions supporting activist groups, but fails to mention protecting bridges, hospitals and schools.

I-69 repairs
Damage to I-69 bridge disrupted areas to the north for 11 months after Harvey.
Lone Star College
Harvey flooded 6 of 9 buildings at Lone Star College/Kingwood. Repairs cost $60 million and disrupted classes for more than a year.

Long-Awaited

George P. Bush, former GLO Commissioner, requested a $750 million allocation for Harris County from HUD in May of 2021. HUD formally approved that amount in March of 2022. But Harris County Commissioner’s Court didn’t approve the grant agreement until August 31, 2022. And CSD didn’t submit its plan to the GLO for review until late December 2022.

The CSD plan reflects both HUD’s mission and the requirements spelled out in the State’s Action Plan. However, the GLO required CSD to make some tweaks to the initial plan to make it HUD compliant. During the tweaking process, Commissioners replaced CSD Director Dr. Adrienne Holloway with a new Interim Director, Thao Costis, the department’s SIXTH leader under County Judge Lina Hidalgo in four years. Costis previously led a non-profit group in Houston that provided services to homeless people.

“These funds intend to mitigate and build resiliency against flood risks in the region.”

Harris County Community Services Department

The Department claims it conducted ample data analysis and public input on the MOD. It says constituents lobbied for prioritizing “(1) low- and moderate-income population, (2) social vulnerability, (3) total population, and (4) National Flood Insurance Program repetitive loss properties.”

However, the presentation does not specify whether:

  • Repetitive losses will be weighed against previous mitigation investments. Will an area that once had high repetitive losses, but which already received hundreds of millions of mitigation dollars, still be prioritized over other areas that have received no flood-mitigation money?
  • Severity of flooding will be considered. Will one inch of flooding in a low-income home count for more than ten feet of flooding in a middle-income home?
  • Threats to infrastructure will be addressed. For instance, the loss of interstate highway bridges, hospitals and schools.

There’s no measure of “current risk,” nothing that addresses “threats to life,” and nothing that balances impacts to the community vs. impacts to individuals…at least in the summary that CSD is now sharing.

Plagued by “Vague”

CSD claims it prioritizes flood control and drainage improvements, natural or green infrastructure, water and sewer facilities, provision of generators, buyouts, and planning activities. I say “claims” because CSD did not provide a list of projects with the presentation. Nor did it provide a matrix for scoring projects.

However, CSD did allude to the April 2020 Harris County Multi-Hazard Mitigation Action Plan which contained 834 action items. As of August 13, 2022, the County reported 9% of those completed.

The CSD presentation also referenced 2018-Flood-Bond Projects. But it’s not clear at this time if a potential project list goes beyond Hazard-Mitigation-Action-Plan Projects and Flood-Bond Projects … or even if there is a list. Nor does the presentation hint at which Haz Mit and Bond Projects would be included.

Finally, the summary makes no mention of any effort to ensure transparency and accountability. The public deserves to know where its money goes!

CSD says it would administer the $750 million grant and work with Harris County Flood Control District to “reduce flood risk and increase resiliency to future natural disasters for Harris County’s nearly 5 million residents.”

But we still don’t know who will get how much for what. Nor do we know what the expected benefits will be.

Partnerships

Though only Harris County and the Flood Control District are eligible to receive HUD’s $750 million, CSD states it will partner with other entities, including cities, within Harris County, that have “shovel-ready” flood mitigation projects. “Additionally, Harris County could sign [emphasis added] a Memorandum of Understanding with the Flood Control District to increase the amount of funding devoted to the 2018 Flood Control Bond,” says CSD. In other words, the County might send some of its share to HCFCD. But there’s no guarantee.

Extension Requested

CSD’s current agreement with GLO requires expending all grant funds by August 2027. But CSD says it will request a 3-year extension.

Splitting $750 Million

The CSD presentation shows that Harris County Flood Control will get only $326.25 million from the $750 million. The rest will go to Harris County. Out of the other $423.75 million, the county plans to spend $97.5 million on administration and planning. That would leave both Flood Control and Harris County with $326.25 million for actual mitigation work.

Word on the street in the engineering community is that the Harris County Engineer’s Office will handle the County’s portion of the money. Adrian Garcia appointees lead the Engineering Department and that would help Garcia influence where the money goes.

Inconsistencies, Typos Raise Questions

CSD’s presentation boils over with contradictions and typos that don’t speak well for “attention to detail” in a grant where $750 million is at stake. For instance, the plan says:

  • Projects will help the county’s entire population, but it prioritizes projects in low- and moderate-income, socially vulnerable areas. 
  • CSD needs a 3-year extension … for shovel-ready projects.
  • The County will partner with other entities within Harris County, but cities and towns get $0.

I can’t wait to hear the explanations…especially how the money will help neighborhoods outside the Beltway given inside-the-Beltway priorities.

Nor can I wait to hear whether the cities in Harris County rebel against a plan that seemingly guarantees them nothing.

The presentation literally underscores CSD’s priorities:

“Once the MOD is approved by GLO, Harris County MOD entities reserve the right to partner with local governmental entities and special districts in the county to perform eligible projects, including but not limited to cities and Flood Control District. Harris County may also partner with local non-profit agency [sic] regarding public service activities that support mitigation and resiliency, particularly in areas were [sic] drainage or other mitigation activities are affecting low-to-moderate income households [sic] stability.”

Yikes! Three typos in one sentence!

Next Steps

This presentation only informs Commissioner’s Court and the Public about the grant’s status. CSD will not ask for approval of any projects on Tuesday. That will come later. The next steps include:

  • Public comments
  • Determining how to partner with other entities (Still, after almost 2 years)
  • Preparation of final MOD that incorporates public comments and responses
  • Approval of final MOD by County Commissioners (2/21/23)
  • GLO review and approval (March/April)
  • After GLO approval:
    • “Call for information of projects” (whatever that is)
    • Submit project packets to Commissioners Court
    • Submit project packets to GLO
    • Start projects (Fall 2023) six years after Hurricane Harvey!

See CSD’s full presentation here. It’s item 381 on the agenda.

Commissioner’s Court begins at 10AM on Tuesday. If you wish to make a public comment, here’s how to sign up to speak.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/28/2023

1978 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.

No active HCFCD construction projects in Precinct 3

All Active HCFCD Construction Projects Now in Democratic Precincts

According to Harris County Flood Control District’s (HCFCD) latest flood-bond update, 19 of 19 active capital improvement construction projects are now in Democratic precincts (1, 2 and 4). None is in the County’s lone Republican-led Precinct 3, the county’s largest.

Moreover, the update also shows that the San Jacinto watershed now has NO active maintenance OR construction projects.

Latest Update Restates Numbers for 12 Months Ending 11/22

Every month, Harris County Flood Control District issues an update on 2018 Flood-Bond projects. The updates typically cover:

  • Newsworthy items from the previous month
  • Performance metrics
  • A master schedule of all projects
  • Funding and spending to date by watershed
  • Active Maintenance Projects
  • Active Construction Projects.

This month, the update also includes restated figures for 2022 reports. The last page corrects several figures in previous monthly reports. Some of the reports contained incorrect figures related to confusing labels.

The corrected figures show that from December 2021 through November 2022 (the last month covered in this report), HCFCD:

  • Awarded 7 constructsruction contracts valued at a total of $60 million.
  • Awarded 91 other agreements for things, such as engineering studies and design, valued at a total of $140 million
  • Spent a total of $1.151 billion on all bond projects since 2018. That includes:
    • $602 million of bond funds
    • $392 million in grants
    • $157 million of other local funds
  • Completed 24.1% of the bond projects in 44% of the time allotted.
  • Gives itself a schedule performance index of .95
  • Completed 913 buyouts for $174 million total (Average = $190,000 each)

No Active Construction Projects Shown in P3

Under Active Capital Improvement Construction Projects, HCFCD shows none (zero, nada, zilch, bupkis, diddly-squat, zip, i.e., nothing at all) in Precinct 3, the county’s largest precinct and one of the most heavily flood damaged.

Note absence of active construction projects in Precinct 3 (pink), the county’s largest. All active construction projects are now in the three Democratic precincts.

However, elsewhere on the Commissioner’s Court agenda for Tuesday, Rodney Ellis is asking for $2.66 million for hike-and-bike trails around Willow Water Hole on South Post Oak in his Precinct 2. See Item 303. Precinct 2 Commissioner Ellis is reportedly an avid bicyclist. He lives near there.

No Active Construction OR Maintenance Projects in San Jacinto Watershed

Also, the update shows NO active construction or maintenance projects anywhere in the San Jacinto Watershed, the county’s largest and one of the most heavily flood damaged.

Updated Spending Totals by Watershed

Here are the latest spending totals by watershed per the update.

Spending by watershed through November 22

In tabular format, they stack up like this:

Totals by watershed from inception of bond through end of November, 2022.

To see the complete update, click here.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/27/23 based on the November 2022 HCFCD Bond Update

1978 Days since Hurricane Harvey