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Plum Grove Sues Colony Ridge Developer Over Floodwater, Sewage Leaks

The City of Plum Grove on the San Jacinto East Fork has sued the developer of Colony Ridge over alleged breaches of an agreement that governs development in the City’s extra territorial jurisdiction. Colony Ridge is the world’s largest trailer park. Specifically, the City claims that Colony Ridge:

  • Allowed stormwater runoff from the development to flood the City
  • Failed to contain sewage that overflowed into neighborhoods and waterways

The City wants the developer to fix the problems and live up to the terms of their agreement (see Exhibit 1, Page 15). Plum Grove’s lawsuit cites several instances of both flooding and sewage spills. Only some have previously been covered in ReduceFlooding.com posts.

Parallels with Elm Grove Lawsuit against Woodridge Village Developer

This lawsuit has many parallels with a lawsuit by Elm Grove Village homeowners in Kingwood. They are suing Perry Homes, its subsidiaries and contractors for flooding hundreds of homes last year. Similarities include:

  • Neighboring homeowners vs. a developer that…
  • Clearcut land
  • Filled in wetlands
  • Without allegedly installing adequate detention or drainage

More than $1 Million in Damage to City Hall, Roads and Other Property

Plum Grove seeks damages for Colony Ridge’s “repeated and serious damage to City-owned or maintained buildings, roadways and other property.” The City claims more than $1 million in damages to date. But the City is not seeking compensation for damages. It wants the developer to fix the problems that are causing repeated flooding and sewage spills.

Causes of Action

Lawyers for Plum Grove cite several “causes of action” to support their claims and damages:

  • Breach of Contract
  • Negligence
  • Private Nuisance
  • Violation of Texas Water Code § 11.086
  • Trespass
Breach

“The fundamental breach of the Agreement arises from the fact that Defendant has paved over wetland area and/or diverted the flow of surface water without construction of adequate drainage or detention facilities. Because of developments by Defendant without conforming to applicable drainage standards and regulations, Plum Grove and the surrounding area are now experiencing significant flooding after major rainfall events,” says the lawsuit on pages 6 and 7.

Wetlands that used to exist on Colony Ridge Property. Source: USGS National Wetlands Inventory.
From Liberty County Stormwater Regulations. Plum Grove’s agreement with the developer specified that the developer had to comply with these regulations.
Negligence

A defendant’s actions rise to the level of negligence under Texas law if 1) the defendant “owed a duty” to plaintiffs (had an obligation); 2) the defendant breached that duty; and 3) the breach caused the plaintiff’s damages.

Nuisance

Private nuisance is a condition that substantially interferes with the use and enjoyment of land by causing unreasonable discomfort or annoyance. In that regard, the suit mentions both flooding and the repeated overflow of sewage into creeks, ditches and property.

Water Code Violation

The Texas Water Code, Chapter 11.086, prohibits a person from diverting the natural flow of surface water in a manner that damages the property of another.

“Because of the increased stormwater runoff from Defendant’s developments during significant rain events like Hurricane Harvey, Tropical Storm Imelda, and the May 7, 2019 storm,” says the suit, “City Hall was flooded, City-owned/maintained roads, and residential areas have been inundated and City-owned/maintained bridges and culverts have experienced significant damage. Defendant’s actions constitute the wrongful diversion of surface water onto City property.”

Plum Grove residents allege that Colony Ridge cleared forests, filled in wetlands and re-routed runoff without adequate detention. And as a result, flood risk has increased within tiny Plum Grove which has only several hundred residents left. Many have been driven off already.

Trespass

The most interesting legal theory is that the stormwater “trespassed” on neighbor’s property. A defendant commits “trespass to real property,” claims the suit, “where there is an unauthorized entry upon the land of another, and may occur when one enters—or causes something to enter—another’s property.”

Problems Became Apparent in 2015

Further, the suit alleges that Colony ridge was aware of drainage violations since at least 2015 (Page 7). Finally, it alleges that had Colony Ridge followed County regulations and standards as required by the agreement with Plum Grove, that flooding and its impact on the City and nearby properties would have been significantly reduced.

Long-Time Resident Verifies City Claims

Resident Michael Shrader says that his property never flooded before Colony Ridge started clearing land upstream from his home on Maple Branch. He has lived in Plum Grove since 1987 and weathered huge storms in 1994 and 2001 (Tropical Storm Allison) without flooding. “The extreme flooding in my yard and home during more recent storms,” said Shrader, “was clearly a result of the Camino Real Colonia’s stormwater run-off that’s all directed to the head of Maple Branch that then runs behind my back yard. Colony Ridge is the only major change to the landscape since I’ve lived here. All the wetlands that were there are now gone!”

Area the way it existed in 2011, before Colony Ridge
Same area in 2019. Colony Ridge is still expanding today. See area at right.
Shrader’s house as water was still rising during Harvey. Shrader says it eventually got up to the windows in the foreground.

Maria Acevedo, another local land owner and activist has seen firsthand the construction practices at Colony Ridge. “Their lack of Best Management Practices has sent silt downstream. That silt as clogged drains and ditches, causing water to back up and overflow. The TCEQ has documented these practices. The longer such abuses continue, the more pushback this developer will get from Plum Grove residents and also residents of Colony Ridge.”

“We are not going away until they comply with the law.”

Maria Acevedo

More on that TCEQ report tomorrow. It’s 184 pages long and deserves its own post.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/15/2020

1143 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 392 since 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.