Last week, according to the Houston Chronicle, Harris County Commissioners discussed in executive session a deal to purchase the Woodridge Village development in Montgomery County. Woodridge Village has contributed to repeated flooding of Elm Grove and North Kingwood Forest. At issue: the possibility of turning the land into a regional detention facility that could help the affected communities and others on the East Fork of the San Jacinto.
But shortly before the crucial meeting, the Houston Chronicle printed an article calling it a “bailout” of Perry Homes. As I read and reread the article, I cringed. The headline screamed “A homebuilder in the floodplain wants a bailout. Should Harris County cut a check?”
Article Raises More Questions than Answers
This article left me with more questions than answers.
How did the reporter arrive at the conclusion that Perry Homes wanted a “bailout”? He never explained.
He called it an unprecedented deal. But flood control authorities routinely purchase land for detention projects.
The author implied that developers “bungled” the project, but never explained how.
He quoted Commissioner Jack Cagle as saying that the builder made unwise decisions. But the reporter never explained what those were.
The reporter consistently implied that residents’ claims were unsubstantiated. But photographs and videos taken during the event clearly show water streaming from Woodridge Village directly into the streets of Elm Grove and North Kingwood Forest.
Inconsistencies and Inaccuracies
Bizarrely, the article implied that Harris County Commissioners would be letting developers “off the hook.” What hook? Yes, Perry Homes is being sued by hundreds of homeowners. But Commissioners have nothing to do with the lawsuits and can’t influence them. The lawsuits are moving forward independently, as the article points out later.
The article claimed the parcel being considered for purchase is inside city limits. It is NOT. It is, however, within the City of Houston’s extra-territorial jurisdiction.
Another inaccuracy: The article said “Elm Grove” sits inside the 100- and 500-year flood plains. Only a portion of it does.
Getting to the Heart of the Mystery
The article claims that the new development also sits in floodplains. I agree. But now we’re getting to the crux of the flooding issue and the mystery surrounding these floods. This is where the Chronicle could have won a Pulitzer.
LJA Engineering, which prepared the drainage analysis for Perry Homes, claims the property does not sit in floodplains. They also claim the property contained no wetlands. Hmmmm. The wetlands clearly show up on the USGS National Wetlands Inventory. This is where a good investigative reporter would have started digging. But there’s no discussion of these issues.
A glance at the construction plans and drainage analysis would have shown that Perry Homes did not build what was on paper. They failed to follow the permitted plans.
- Perry obtained permits by saying it intended to develop only 30 of approximately 188 acres on the northern portion of the site in Phase 1. They then cleared the entire site, including the “non-existent” wetlands.
- Even though they have clear-cut 100% of the land, Perry had only 7% of the promised detention in place before the May flood. Nine months later, the company still has less than 25% of the promised detention.
Adding Insult to Inaccuracy
To add insult to inaccuracy, the article then goes on to claim that portions of Kingwood have flooded repeatedly in the last five years, as if that explains Perry’s problems. But those areas are not even in the same watershed as Elm Grove! They have separate issues; those other areas were built in the floodway of the San Jacinto river. Elm Grove, on the other hand, never flooded before Perry clear-cut 268 acres immediately upstream from them and then filled existing streams.
Dubious Slant Could Rile Up Voters, Torpedo Deal
Whether intentional, unintentional or both, the article’s omissions, inaccuracies, and mischaracterizations could rile up voters who may fear their tax dollars are being wasted by the “bailout” of a billion-dollar company that they don’t especially like. That kind of publicity often scares authorities who fear blowback. And that, in turn, could torpedo any land purchase and doom desperate people to more flooding. I sincerely hope not.
Advice for Houston Chronicle
If the Chronicle wants to write about this issue, I suggest they research it. Don’t just call both sides and think you have done a good job of balanced reporting. Get to the damn truth. Then maybe more people would buy subscriptions. Why:
- Has Perry done virtually nothing on the job site for six months?
- Did LJA say there were no wetlands or floodplains in its drainage analysis?
- Have contractors clear-cut 188 acres on the northern section of the property when the permitted drainage plan called for cutting only 30?
- Did Perry not sample soils in the wetlands or where the detention ponds would eventually go? This has had a radical impact on runoff and detention capacity.
- Have they not followed Montgomery County’s Drainage Criteria Manual?
- Did Perry Homes promise the City they would fix drainage issues and then ignore their own deadlines, leaving people at risk of more flooding?
- Has the TCEQ had to issue 13 citations to Perry Homes’ subsidiaries and contractors working on this development so far?
- Has Montgomery County turned a blind eye to all these problems and hired a Perry contractor to investigate itself?
People’s lives, homes, lifesavings, and sanity are at stake. I sincerely hope the Houston Chronicle starts digging for answers, instead of shoveling bull.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/4/2020
889 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.