City Starts Tornado Debris Pickup, How to Help

Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin announced debris pickup has started for the tornado that struck Kingwood and Forest Cove Sunday morning, 1/9/22. Here’s how you can help.

Forest Cove Drive South of Hamblen

Help Requested

Houston Public Work’s Emergency Operations and District E staff are working with the Solid Waste Management Department to identify locations and the scope of debris pickup needed. But in case they miss something…

Report the need for residential debris pickup by calling (713) 837-0311. Make sure you report the issue as “STORM DEBRIS.”

And if you see any trees blocking roadways or if any street lights need to be reset again, call Houston 311 or (713) 837-0311.

Redbud Lane in Forest Cove


Crews began debris pickup Tuesday.

  • Residents should separate piles when placing debris at the curb.
  • Please keep roadways clear, so crews can maneuver in and around affected areas more easily. 
  • Have contractors haul off materials from their repairs.
Palmetto Lane in Forest Cove is narrowed to one lane making it difficult for crews to work as residents try to maneuver around them.

Numbers to Call, How to Follow Up

Please continue to utilize Houston 311 to make your initial report for “storm debris” and follow up by sending your service request number to Put “Storm Debris” in the subject line. This will let the District E office track cases to make sure they are handled expeditiously.

Should you have any questions please contact the District E office by emailing or call (832) 393-3008.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/12/22 Based on Information Provided by District E

1597 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Changes to ReduceFlooding: New “Funding” Page

I have made two major changes to by adding a new page dedicated to “Funding” and removing the “High Rise” page from the menu.

High-Rise Issue No Longer Topical, Funding Is

Funding is a hot topic at the moment and the high-rise battle is over…at least for now. Even though I removed the high-rise page from the menu, I did not delete it. Historical researchers can still find it by searching for “High Rise.” If the topic becomes active in the future, I will restore it to the menu again.

The Funding Page contains links to every funding post since 2019 when the equity debate first arose and commissioners adopted an “equity prioritization framework.” That framework put projects in low-to-moderate-income watersheds at the front of the line. And now some are trying to cancel projects in affluent watersheds to send more money to low-income watersheds that have already received hundreds of millions of dollars.

Learn Where Your Money is Going

The Funding page is broken into two parts. The left contains a summary of the equity debate and how it has evolved in the last three years. It also contains links to the volumes of data obtained from Harris County via Freedom-of-Information-Act requests, as well as statistical analysis of the data. The right part contains links to every related post published since the equity debate started.

Collecting all information related to funding in one place should make it easy for people to find information about their watersheds and where their money is going.

Please explore and send me feedback. I’m always eager to make ReduceFlooding better. And if you see information in the media that is demonstrably false, please send them to the Funding page to find the real data.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/29/2021

1430 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.

Planning Commission Concerns About Romerica Land Seem More Procedural than Flood-Related

Last week, the Houston Planning Commission deferred approval of the General Plan for Romerica’s Orchard Seeded Ranches in Kingwood. A City of Houston Planning and Development Department document obtained this afternoon suggests that concerns about the West Fork development may have been more procedural than flood-related.

Much of Romerica’s land lies between the Barrington in foreground and San Jacinto River in background. All 283 homes in Barrington flooded during Harvey.

Of the ten concerns listed in a letter to the permit applicant, only one had to do with flooding. And that came from Harris County Flood Control, not the City. Nine other concerns had to do with street spacing and layouts or labelling.

Half of Land in Floodway

Half of Orchard Seeded Ranches is in the floodway (below red line) of the San Jacinto West Fork.
Half of Orchard Seeded Ranches is in the floodway (below red line) of the San Jacinto West Fork. That line will shift north on new flood maps.

Half of the land lies in the floodway of the West Fork. The other half lies in the hundred-year floodplain. The development would be built on the same property that Romerica tried to get approved last year. The company wanted to build a series of high rises and 5,000 condominiums. That proposal drew a record 770 letters of protest to the Army Corps. Despite all that…

The Planning Commission document indicates that the City Engineer had no comments on the proposal.

Last week it appeared that the balance of power might be shifting at City Hall from developers to flood-weary residents. This week, it appears the other way around.

Only Harris County Flood Control Raises Serious Objections

Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) recommended deferral of any approvals until the master drainage plan for the development is reviewed. HCFCD also said, “This area has historically been prone to flooding with numerous home buyouts immediately to the west. The Flood Control District, City of Houston, Montgomery County, and San Jacinto River Authority are working on a planning study to reduce flood risk in this area.”

Those partners should complete the San Jacinto Regional Watershed Master Drainage Plan final report by September this year.

Part of that plan will include new flood surveys. They will likely show the floodway expanding to take in an even greater percentage of Romerica’s property.

Gear Up for Another Lengthy Fight

It should not take the developer much time to address City’s concerns. It’s unclear at this time whether the City will heed the HCFCD’s concerns.

As a result, this controversy could wind up back in the hands of the Army Corps and/or the US Fish and Wildlife Service again. Last year, the Fish and Wildlife Service wrote an uncharacteristically frank recommendation to the Corps, urging the Corps to deny Romerica’s permit. Their reasoning had to do with the value of wetlands on the property and the presence of American Bald Eagles, a protected species.

Bald eagle photographed adjacent to Romerica property in February, 2020.

In the meantime, the developer may realize that it still faces an uphill struggle even with City approval. Perhaps they will come to their senses and sell this land to a group or groups that wish to preserve it as green space for flood control and recreation.

Light pole near River Bend in North Shore as Harvey receded. Note the "wet marks" several feet up on pole. Photo by Jim Balcom.
Light pole by westernmost Romerica property as Harvey receded. Photo by Jim Balcom.

As if to underscore the value of that proposition, the Bayou City Initiative today announced a virtual meeting to discuss the difficulty of mass evacuations and sheltering during the hurricane season as the COVID crisis continues. Remember that most of this land was under 20+ feet of water during Harvey.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/5/2020

980 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Houston Planning Commission defers approval of “Orchard Seeded Ranches”

In a meeting today, the Houston Planning Commission deferred automatic approval of the general plan for Orchard Seeded Ranches by taking the item off the consent agenda. The Commission then asked the developer to consult with the City Engineer; the Planning and Development Department; and Harris County Flood Control before bringing further requests back to the Commission.

Taking the item off today’s consent agenda should send a strong signal to the developer that rough waters lie ahead. Any proposal will likely be debated publicly when/if the developer returns.

History of Project

Last year, Romerica filed a permit application to build 5,000 condos and several high-rises up to 50 stories tall on 331 acres near the floodway of the San Jacinto West Fork. After a record number of people and groups filed protests with the Army Corps of Engineers, the Corps withdrew the application. But now the developer is back – with a different name – Orchard Seeded Ranches. However, Harris County Appraisal District indicates that the same people still own the land.

Location of Property

The property is identical to the property Romerica tried to develop as The Herons of Kingwood last year. The General Plan below was downloaded from the City of Houston’s PlatTracker website.

plat of orchard seeded ranches
General Plan of Orchard Seeded Ranches in Kingwood filed on 4/20/2020. For high-resolution, printable PDF, click here.

For orientation, the developed area in the middle is the Barrington. The line down the west side is Woodland Hills Drive. And the river at the bottom is the West Fork.

Filing a “general plan” like this is the first step in developing property. The developer has not yet submitted detailed plats showing construction details.

Virtually Entire Development in Floodway or Floodplain

About half of the Orchard Seeded Ranches lies in the floodway of the San Jacinto West Fork. FEMA defines floodways as the main current of a river during a flood. In the map below, that includes everything beneath the red line.

Purple area = Orchard Seeded Ranches. Red line = extent of floodway north of San Jacinto West Fork. Virtually half of subdivision would be in floodway.

Virtually all of the purple area above the red line lies in the floodplain. FEMA defines a floodplain as “storage” for water during a flood. That means water covers the land without moving rapidly.

I created the map above by combining the area to be developed with the FEMA flood map below.

From FEMA National Flood Hazard Layer Viewer. Orchard Seeded Ranches is in middle. Virtually the entire project lies in floodway (crosshatched) or 100-year floodplain (aqua).

Wetlands Issues Also Abound

Every part of the proposed development contains wetlands to some extent.

Note how the areas around the Barrington and River Grove Park are filled with wetlands (green areas). From US Fish and Wildlife Service National Wetlands Mapper.
Active bald eagle nest on Kingwood Country Club Property adjacent to Romerica's planned high rise marina.
Active bald eagle nest adjacent to development. Photo courtesy of Emily Murphy.

US Fish and Wildlife documented another eagle’s nest on the developer’s property. And the Balcom family, which lives near the western edge of the developer’s property, regularly photographs eagles from their balcony.

What’s in a Name

The name sounds as if the development would be lower density than the 50-story high-rises previously planned. But you never know. In the development business, names often have more evocative than literal significance. Look at the Houston Heights. Bridgeland (on the prairie). Mount Houston. You get the idea.

Community Considerations

Whatever the development is, when and if the developer returns to the Planning Commission, we should not forget that:

High water during Harvey at Balcom house on River Bend reached the second story.

A Less Risky, Less Costly Alternative

All of these factors will increase the risk and cost of any development.

Light pole near River Bend in North Shore as Harvey receded. Note the "wet marks" several feet up on pole. Photo by Jim Balcom.
Light pole near River Bend in North Shore as Harvey receded. Note the “wet marks” several feet up on pole. Photo by Jim Balcom.

The safest, sanest course for the developer – before putting more money at risk –would be to meet with community representatives about:

  • Purchasing this land
  • Putting a conservation easement on it
  • Letting it revert to nature and turning it into park land

Harris County Flood Control District has $175 million allocated in the flood bond for partnership projects with “Municipalities, Authorities, and Other Districts in Harris County.” See item Z100-00-00-MUNI.

That money could help purchase such property and turn it into green space forever. KSA, the Lake Houston Chamber, civic leaders and residents should get behind that idea. Judging by the response to Romerica’s last offering, it’s clear that residents would much rather see this area turned into parks than see the San Jacinto turn it into blight.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/30/2020

975 Days after Hurricane Harvey

Bald Eagle Sighted Over Romerica Property

Photo taken 2/12/2020 on West Fork San Jacinto from helicopter.

While photographing the West Fork from a helicopter Thursday, I saw something large from the corner of my eye. I looked up and was treated to a magnificent sight – a bald eagle in flight … right beside us. I quickly zoomed my lens out to 300mm and snagged this air-to-air shot.

We were in the vicinity of the Romerica property just downstream from River Grove Park. You may remember a year ago that two developers from Mexico wanted to build 500-foot high-rises right next to the river. The community rose up in protest. One of the biggest concerns: the effect on bald eagles nesting in the area.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service wrote a scathing letter urging the Corps to deny Romerica’s application to fill in wetlands.

After 770 more letters of protest to the Corps, the Corps withdrew Romerica’s permit application.

The company reserved the right to refile in the future. In the meantime, it appears that the eagle(s) living there have no intent to move.

The Herons Kingwood recently took down its website. However, the domain name is still registered. I have contacted the agent for the company to inquire about the project’s status. Emails have not yet been returned.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/13/2020

899 Days after Hurricane Harvey

Full Text of SWCA’s Request for Romerica Extension and Army Corps’ Withdrawal of High-Rise Permit Application

Last Christmas, the Army Corps issued a public notice about Romerica Investment’s permit application to build a high rise development in the floodplain and floodway of the San Jacinto West Fork. Almost immediately, people and groups began writing protest letters. By the end of the public comment period, the Army Corps had received 727. That didn’t include letters from other government agencies such as the TCEQ and US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Computer rendering showing proposed high-rises in an area soon to be reclassified as the floodway of the San Jacinto.

Record Number of Protest Letters

The number of protest letters set an Army Corps record. Due to the large number of responses, SWCA, Romerica’s environmental consultant, requested a suspension of the permit. Instead, the Army Corps withdrew the application without prejudice and invited Romerica to resubmit a new application at a later date.

Status: Start Over

SWCA expressed concern about starting the process over again. But according to Janet Botello, because of the large number of comments and the fact that much of the survey work will need to be redone, a new public notice and another public review are almost a certainty.

I finally received a return phone call from Leah Manlove Howard of Manlove Marketing and Communications. Ms. Howard acts as Romerica’s spokesperson. She said that Romerica and its team of consultants were meeting this week to determine whether they wanted to climb that mountain again. I do not yet have an answer to that question.

Full Text of Letters

Under the Freedom of Information Act, I requested both SWCA’s request to the Corps and the Corps’ response to the developer.

People familiar with Corps processes tell me that the Corps rarely rejects an application outright. However, regulations can and do occasionally make it so hard to receive approval that applicants give up. Romerica is the fourth or fifth developer to try to develop this land. It has been sold and resold numerous times, but never developed, in part, because of the history of flooding and difficulty of permitting.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/16/2019

626 Days since Hurricane Harvey

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Urged Corps to Deny Romerica Permit

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Serivice (USFWS) has urged the Army Corps of Engineers to deny outright Romerica’s application to build high rises and a marina in the floodplain and floodway of the San Jacinto.

Bald eaglets photographed by Emily Murphy within a protection zone relative to most of the Romerica development. The USFWS criticized the Romerica application for an inadequate bald eagle survey.

From the date on the USFWS letter, February 28, it appears that USFWS arrived at its recommendation even before the close of the public comment period on March 1.

Read the full text of the five-page letter here or the summary below.

Summary of USFWS Concerns

The letter states that:

  • The applicant understated the likely impact on waters and wetlands resulting from fill material, raised buildings, infrastructure development and construction activities. They called the applicant’s proposal “misleading.”
  • USFWS expressed concerns about:
  • Bird strikes and mortalities associated with the high-rise buildings
  • The loss of highly functioning forested wetlands
  • Significant reduction in biological functions, particularly those related to fish and wildlife habitat
  • Water quality issues
  • A marina district built entirely within the floodway
  • The absence of appropriate stormwater management
  • Failure to fully disclose impacts on wetlands and surrounding properties
  • Inconsistencies in access road descriptions
  • Failure to fully disclose the project’s footprint impacts
  • Failure to provide an analysis of practicable alternatives to the proposed wetland and stream fill
  • Failure to demonstrate that the project meets the requirements of the EPA’s CWA 404(b)(1) guidelines
  • An incomplete compensatory mitigation plan
  • Improper assessment of the high level of functions of the onsite aquatic resources and surrounding upland habitats
  • An inadequate bald eagle survey
  • Disturbance and loss of bald eagle habitat.

Conclusion and Recommendation of USFWS

The USFWS recommended “permit denial due to the application’s deficiencies.”


I’m happy that a government agency validated the concerns of residents, especially the numerous deficiencies that became so glaringly obvious during the public comment period. Example: when I asked one of the engineers at the March 18th public meeting where all the fill would be put, he couldn’t tell me. It seemed like a simple, but important question. Turns out it was.

Jill Boullion, Executive Director of the Bayou Land Conservancy said, “The Bayou Land Conservancy is gratified that US Fish & Wildlife service has confirmed our opinion that the Romerica project site is ecologically rich and diverse.  It is, in its natural state, already providing the community immeasurable services. We believe the highest good for the community is to preserve this valuable resource, not develop it.” 

Romerica’s spokesperson, Leah Howard Manlove, contacted me earlier this week to say that the Romerica team would meet next week to discuss their options and a plan of action. At this point, Romerica has two options: answer all the questions and concerns raised during the public comment period or quietly let the project die.

Posted by Bob Rehak on May 10, 2019

619 Days since Hurricane Harvey

The thoughts expressed in this post represent my opinions on matters of public policy and are protected under the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP statute of the Great State of Texas.

There’s a Developer Born Every Minute!

This morning, local videographer Jim Zura took his drone down to River Grove Park and photographed the Romerica property flooding for the seventh time in 14 months. It proves that there’s a developer born every minute!

To see Jim Zura’s drone video, click here.

The history of this land involves half a dozen different developers, each with big dreams, determined to get rich in that promised land between buying low and selling high. Ultimately, though, they end up selling to another starry-eyed developer after reality sets in.

For the most recent owner, Romerica Investments, that reality includes waking up to find that your property was under 22 feet of water during Harvey and floods repeatedly.

Also, in the “Gee-what-were-they-thinking-department,” you would have to include the fact that FEMA will soon reclassify the property in the floodwaybefore Romerica can obtain a permit from the Army Corps.

At what point to you admit to yourself that there is no way out?

Investing $5 billion in a floodway that carries 240,000 cubic feet per second! That’s Brooklyn-Bridge smart. Expecting 15,000 condo buyers to wade into the wacky dream with you? It would be easier to sell high rises at the end of an airport runway.

Might be time to cut your losses, Mr. Haddad. Just sayin’. All those high priced consultants will be happy to keep selling you hope as long as you’re paying them.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/8/19

617 Days since Hurricane Harvey

The thoughts expressed in this post are my opinions on matters of public policy and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP statute of the Great State of Texas.

Interview with Corps’ Chief of Evaluation: What’s Next for Romerica?

After receiving 727 public comments, Kingwood Marina developer, Romerica Investments, LLC, asked Corps regulators on April 24, to “temporarily suspend an Individual Permit Application (SWG-2016-00384).”

Romercia’s environmental consultants said in a letter to Corps regulators, they made the request based on the large volume of comments provided by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) on March 28.

The request acknowledged, “It will take several months to conduct the surveys and studies needed to respond fully to these comments.” 

Interview withCorps’ Chief of Evaluation Branch

Last week, I spoke with Janet Botello, Chief of the Evaluation Branch of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers/Galveston District. We talked about what comes next for Romerica after its permit application for the proposed high-rise development in Kingwood was withdrawn by the Corps. Bottom line: if they reapply, we would likely have another public comment period.

In this satellite image taken on 2/23/19, you can see the West Fork San Jacinto at the bottom, River Grove Park at the left, Kingwood Country Club on the right and the Barrington at the top. Romerica hopes to build multiple 25-50 high rises between the little lake in the center and the golf course fairways below the Barrington.

Difference: Suspension vs. Withdrawal

Rehak: “Romerica requested a suspension of their permit application. The Army Corps withdrew it. What’s the difference? Is there any legal significance?”

Botello: “The correct wording in this case is “withdrawal.” There IS a legal difference. There is a provision within our regulations for suspending a permit. But that only occurs when a permit has actually been issued. In this case, the permit was not issued; there was only an application. We never made a final decision. So the pending application was withdrawn.”

Another Public Comment Period Likely

Rehak: “If they reapply, would there be another public comment period during the evaluation of new application?”

Botello: “I am comfortable in saying that there probably will be another public comment period based on the number of public interest factors and concerns that were raised and potential changes that could occur. But we won’t know for sure until we get the revised packet of information.”

Rehak: “How frequently does this happen?”

Botello: “It’s common. If a significant number of comments are raised during the public comment period and applicants aren’t prepared to address them within 30 days, we withdraw it. Then they go back and try to answer the concerns that were raised or revise their plans. Conversely, if they can answer and fully address concerns within 30 days, we keep evaluating the permit and we go ahead with the next step. If not, we withdraw it and give them time on their own to address the public concerns.”

Next Steps If Romerica Reapplies

Rehak: “What will be the next steps if Romerica reapplies?”

Botello: “First, we will evaluate the new submittal internally for a review of the Corps’ concerns. Then we will draft a public notice for public review – to gather public concerns. Then typically, we gather up the comments and concerns raised after that 30-day period, and forward them again to the applicant. They will have to respond within 30 days and then we will gather their responses and determine what steps are appropriate.”

Where We Are At

Romerica has not returned phone calls to discuss their intentions. If other agencies had concerns as serious as the TCEQ’s, this project could die quietly. If Romerica reapplies, which they have said they will do, the developer will likely have to significantly revise plans, and start over with a lengthy permitting process including a new public comment period.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/6/2019

615 Days since Hurricane Harvey

High-Rise Permit Application Withdrawn by Corps

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Galveston District announced today that it has withdrawn Romerica’s permit application. Romerica had applied to deposit fill in the floodplain of the San Jacinto River for their proposed high-rise development in Kingwood.

Artists rendering of several towers near the proposed marina with the Barrington in the background.

Romerica Could Not Meet Deadline

In a letter dated April 24, SWCA, Romerica’s environmental consultant, requested a “suspension” of the permit application. They said they needed more time to answer issues raised in 727 letters of protest. SWCA also said they would have to conduct additional surveys and field work requiring more than the 30 days allowed for them to respond. The official deadline for filing responses was April 27.

Withdrawal “Without Prejudice”

Instead of suspending the permit, the Corps “withdrew it without prejudice.” The Corps invited SWCA and Romerica to reapply at some future time when they had completed answers to the issues raised by concerned residents and environmental groups.

The Corps’ letter is dated today, April 30. For the full text, click here.

Romerica Not Available for Comment

Leah Howard of Manlove Marketing and Communications, Romerica’s official point of contact for the application, was not available for comment at press time. However, a third party who talked to her earlier in the day said that their team wanted “to do a good and complete job with citizens’ questions, and that 30 days just wasn’t enough time.”

Another third party source quoted her as saying, “Due to Harvey, Romerica will complete several new studies and surveys for due diligence which will shed more light on the larger issue Lake Houston faces. After completion of the necessary work, Romerica and the USACE will reactivate the permit and more information will be provided at that time.”

Issues Still to Be Clarified

It is unclear at this time whether a new application would obligate Romerica to go through an additional public comment period. However the letter sent from the Corps to the developer states, “Resultant project modifications may require additional coordination.”

While many questions remain, today’s letter DOES answer one. Romerica did NOT meet the Corps’ deadline for filing responses to citizen complaints. For a history of the controversy surrounding this development, see the High Rises page.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/30/2019

609 Days since Hurricane Harvey