Tag Archive for: Buzbee

Buzbee Has a Chance to Succeed with Flood Mitigation; Turner Blew His

I’m voting for Tony Buzbee on Saturday. It’s not just that Buzbee has a chance to succeed with flood mitigation; it’s that Sylvester Turner blew his.

833 Days after Hurricane Harvey, it’s hard to tell what the City of Houston has accomplished in terms of flood mitigation or even what the City hopes to accomplish. That’s not to say no work has been done. Or that I don’t appreciate that work.

I just can’t find a comprehensive list of projects and where they stand that matches what Mayor Sylvester Turner has promised the Lake Houston Area.

Turner Not Getting Job Done, Not Committed to Transparency

I did find two City web sites that catalog flood mitigation projects.

  • “City of Houston Harvey Relief” lists four flood mitigation projects, none of which involve the Lake Houston area. Worse, that page has not been updated in two years, even though other parts of the site have frequent updates. There’s not even a way to link to that page from the site’s navigation! You can only find it through search engines.
  • City of Houston Public Works also operates a site called “BuildHoustonForward.Org”. It shows no projects in the Lake Houston Area or the San Jacinto Watershed. (See below.) In fairness, the site does say they are still uploading projects. But really! After 833 days! The map below shows where the City’s priorities are. Just look at the concentration. There’s nothing in Kingwood, around Lake Houston or ANYWHERE in the entire San Jacinto watershed!
Screen Capture from Build Houston Forward on 12/10/2019 at 6pm.

Net: I believe the Lake Houston Area is a low priority for Mayor Turner.

Worse, he has accepted $5,000 from Kathy Perry Britton, whose company, Perry Homes, contributed to the flooding of hundreds of Kingwood homes. The timing of the contribution, after the City’s cease-and-desist letter to Perry, looks like a brazen attempt to buy influence. Turner’s acceptance of the contribution speaks volumes about his priorities yet again. Meanwhile, Perry missed it’s own first deadline, exposing residents to more flood risk. And there was nary a word from Turner.

What Happened to All the Projects Turner Promised?

I have lost faith in Mayor Sylvester Turner to get the job done. Flood mitigation is complex. It requires partnerships and funding from multiple sources. Those partners must trust each other. And it’s not clear we can take Mayor Turner at his word. What happened to Lake Houston Dam Gates, maintenance dredging on the San Jacinto, storm drain repairs, and clearing the mouths of drainage ditches around the lake? What happened to the drainage repairs that Turner promised us Perry would make in Woodridge Village?

Buzbee: A Fresh Start and Fresh Approach

The final day to vote for mayor of Houston is this Saturday. It’s time for a fresh start. I have been meeting with Tony Buzbee re: his priorities for flood mitigation as have many other Lake Houston area flood mitigation leaders. I am refreshed by his openness, willingness to talk, and commitment to transparency and accountability. No doubt, the man has fire in his belly. He’s not a career politician; he’s down to earth and plain spoken.

Buzbee has made many visits to the Kingwood area. He waded onto the mouth bar like a Marine at Normandy (he is a Marine BTW). He witnessed the May mine breach at the Triple PG sand mine on the West Fork and made it a central part of his campaign for Mayor.

Tony Buzbee, on banks of Caney Creek at Triple PG Sand Mine Breach in May.

Buzbee has specified – in detail – his commitments to flood mitigation projects in the Lake Houston Area, as well as Houston in general.

Buzbee’s open letter to the Lake Houston Area includes provisions that address best practices for sand mining and developers; removing sediment from the river and lake; working across political boundaries; openness; transparency; drainage improvements; professional project management and much more. See below.

He has put those commitments in writing. And he has signed the document. I urge you to read it before going to the polls on Saturday. I have reprinted the text below for ease of viewing on portable devices.

Signed Buzbee Commitments

Commitments by Tony Buzbee to the Lake Houston Area Community that he will put in place, if he becomes Mayor of Houston from the runoff election in December, 2019.

If some of these measures are already in place, Tony will improve them as stated below.  If these measures are not already in place, Tony will put them in place by the time frame stated.  Tony agrees to work with local community groups, such as the Lake Houston Area Long Term Recovery Task Force, to identify and flesh out details of these plans.

First 100 days:
  • Have fully operational a Website that will have fundamental info on the additional gates on Lake Houston project, C.I.P.# S-000890, (project manager, engineering & environmental studies contractors, identified project milestones, etc.). This Website shall also have project reporting, updated every month on the status of reaching those milestones or not, plus explanations of why not, if that is the case, and subsequent plans to correct any delays to get the project back on schedule.  This includes a commitment from Tony that this project will stay on schedule to be completed by fall of 2022.
  • Announce what City of Houston (COH) department and individual will lead the responsibility for the City of Houston in taking the significantly expanded leadership role with other government agencies (HCFCD, SJRA, CWA, FEMA, USACE, Montgomery, Liberty & other surrounding counties, State of Texas and Texas Agencies, and other government and non-government entities (NGOs) as necessary) in achieving world-class flood protection projects & policies for the San Jacinto Watershed. This COH department shall be given significant and proper resources to function as a world-class agency to provide the expected world-class results.
    • Some potential milestone difficulties that have been questioned specifically for the Lake Houston Gates project, that may need particular scrutiny are the necessary buyouts of property downstream of the Lake Houston Dam and associated mitigations problems identified in any environmental study, including Superfund sites.
  • Continue to fund and execute the complete removal of the blockage area in the West Fork of the San Jacinto River commonly referenced as “the Mouthbar” and stay committed to the removal of sediment in both the East and West Fork Rivers to restore the conveyance of these rivers to the levels of when the Lake Houston dam was built.  It is not expected that the removal of the Mouthbar and other sedimentation areas will be completely removed in 100 days, however there will be a show of progress, commitment to remove these areas and identify a maintenance plan with a funding source that will ensure conveyance is maintained in the future.
  • Release plans on how the COH, in it’s new expanded leadership role, will work with the appropriate government agencies (HCFCD, SJRA, State of Texas, Federal Government, etc.) and appropriate non governmental entities to remove sediment & debris from all the inlets & canals that feed storm water runoff into Lake Houston.  This removal process shall be done within nine months of sediment removal of the Mouthbar at a rate consistent to the levels of reduction of the Mouthbar, subject to appropriate right-of-way agreements being in place.
Projects that Will Take Longer than 100 days

For these projects Tony will release his plans of how he will achieve these goals, dedication of staff and resources and a time line for each activity.  These plans will be listed on a Website with milestones and reporting progress every month in the same fashion as the website described above.  

  • Within six months, identify and prioritize removal of major and minor system restrictions including debris and sediment on the East and West Fork of the San Jacinto River and Lake Houston in partnership with the SJRA, CWA, The State of Texas, the US Federal Government and other governmental and NGOs as necessary for a plan of a long-term maintenance plan to manage the constrictions and storage reductions that sediment and debris is causing for the Lake Houston region, that may include long term maintenance dredging if that is determined to be the best solution.  These plans shall contain projected dates of the start of execution.
  • Provide guidance and support to Harris County Commissioner Court and HCFCD to prioritize and fund projects that increase the capacity of the Bayous through partnerships with HCFCD to allow for water to efficiently move into the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Identify a plan for routine maintenance for overgrown and sediment filled ditches within COH ROW. Prioritize by complaints filed via 311, and/or potential 311 Website, as well as investigate flooded areas identified by the above referenced community groups.
  • Ensure completion of the projects that Public Works SWAT team has identified and forecast out future projects.
  • Identify a work group to outline a plan for the creation of dynamic storm water models that are integrated with HCFCD Bayou/creek models to ensure we understand how the system is draining. This will identify areas that an integrated sewer/ditch and bayou improvement plan is needed.
  • Re-evaluate the storm drainage/curb and gutter criteria to align with current Best Management Practices (BMPs). Identify a plan with projected costs to design and improve existing open ditch systems to the concrete top elevations criteria.
  • Strongly encourage developers in the San Jacinto Watershed to leverage the Houston Incentives for Green Infrastructure Plan http://www.houstontx.gov/igd/ which launched in Aug 2019. Evaluate the success of the program and identify opportunities for improvement. Support Public Works incorporating Green Infrastructure design as a storm water management approach with projects.  
  • The COH shall exercise its expanded leadership role by:
    • Lobbying and advocating to the State of Texas (SoT) that the Aggregate Production Operators (APOs), commonly known as the Sand Miners, that operate in the San Jacinto Watershed, shall use SoT approved Best Management Practices (BMPs).
    • Lobbying and advocating to the State of Texas (SoT) and all the counties that have the San Jacinto Watershed in their boundaries for developers to use SoT recognized BMPs in storm water control.
Publishing Own Report Card

Tony commits to publish on a Website available to the public all of his stated plans published on https://www.tonybuzbeeformayor.com/issues/ as of 12/9/2019.  Also published on this Website will be a Report Card reporting on the progress of all of his promised plans updated every month.  There will be a phone number for you to call and a Website to ask questions about any of Tony’s plans and you will get answers.

Signed: (Tony Buzbee – see original above)

Dated: December 10, 2019

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/10/2019

833 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Triple PG Sand Mine Denies Attorney General Claims

Surprise. Surprise. The Triple PG Sand Mine has denied all of the claims by the Texas Attorney General in the state’s lawsuit. The attorney general alleged that breaches in the mine’s dikes allowed wastewater to escape into tributaries of Lake Houston, the source of drinking water for two million people.

One Sentence Denial

When I first read the denial, its brevity shocked me – one sentence. It basically says to the attorney general “prove your case.”

I quote: “…Triple PG generally denies each and every allegation contained in Plaintiff’s Original Petition, and all amendments and supplements thereto, and demands strict proof thereof by a preponderance of the evidence.”

I called a lawyer to ask whether such brief denials were common. The answer: yes. My next question: Why?

Why the Brief Denial?

Basically, had the defendant made no reply to the claims within 20 days, it could have had a default judgement entered against it. So this blocks a default judgment. This also stops the clock, forces the Attorney General to reveal more of its case, and gives the defendant more time to develop an affirmative defense … if it has one. Triple PG can always amend its reply later.

AG Already Laid Out Evidence

The TCEQ has performed onsite inspections and overflights. The TCEQ report was made public with the AG filing. But the TCEQ isn’t the only entity investigating. So by delaying a settlement, the mine could be opening itself to additional fines. And the discovery of additional evidence.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration is also investigating the mine thanks to complaints from dozens of residents around the mine.

The AG could also amend its suit if new evidence becomes available.

In addition, numerous residents, including Tony Buzbee, candidate for the Mayor of Houston, have photographed the breaches in this mine’s dikes.

The longer they wait to settle this case, the higher per-day fines could go.

Hearing Delayed Again

The hearing scheduled for November 12 on a permanent injunction against the mine has now been rescheduled for November 25th.

Deny This

When I flew over the mine on November 4, 46 days after Imelda, Triple PG was only starting to fix the second of eight breaches. The TCEQ did not even find all of those breaches because many roads within the mine had washed out when they paid their surprise visit. So delays could add to Triple PG’s woes as they also run up legal fees.

Here’s what breach #2 looked like on 11/4/2019.

Breach between Triple PG sand mine pit (upper left) and White Oak Creek lower right, photographed on 11/4/2019.
Same breach photographed from reverse angle over pit. Note the white scum floating out of the mine.
Third angle shows more scum and trees blown inward toward the mine during the breach.

The Defendant’s response also included a one sentence prayer. They prayed that all charges would be dismissed and that they would be entitled to further relief, which they did not specify. The only other thing the AG sought was a permanent injunction barring the mine from discharging wastewater. But they might seek to recover court costs if found no guilty.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/14/2019

807 Days after Hurricane Harvey and 56 after Imelda

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

Buzbee Video Puts Mouth Bar, Sand Mining at Center Stage In Mayoral Election

Tony Buzbee and Bill King both understand the importance of Kingwood in the upcoming Mayoral election. In the 2015 runoff, Sylvester Turner won by 4,000 votes city wide. But more than 28,000 registered voters in Kingwood didn’t vote, largely because of a major storm on Election Day. Storms may again shape this election, but in a different way.

Slow Pace of Mitigation Creates Opening

Since Hurricane Harvey, identifying the causes of flooding in the Kingwood area and mitigating them have dominated public discourse. Now both candidates running against incumbent Mayor Sylvester Turner are courting Kingwood residents. We could be the swing vote in the next election. And the slow pace of mitigation since Harvey could give them the opening they seek. Especially after recent flooding in Elm Grove reignited waves of anxiety.

King has met with many area residents on numerous occasions for the last year. He has slogged through swamps and sand dunes with me on more than one occasion, trying to see first hand how the San Jacinto became clogged with sediment, in part, due to sand mines in the floodway.

Buzbee joined the race later, but didn’t waste time wading into the issues. He asked local activists to arrange a trip to the mouth bar and a sand mine for him. When we got to the mouth bar, the former marine captain literally sprang out of the boat and waded ashore like he was taking a beach at Normandy.

Buzbee Sees Firsthand the Breach of Sand Mine Dike

Upriver, at the sand mine, we saw a tangible example of a theoretical discussion I had been having with him for several months – a sand mine discharging silt and wastewater into the river. We discovered, by accident, a massive breach in the dike of the Triple-P mine in Porter.

As we turned a bend on Caney Creek, suddenly we realized we were no longer on the creek. We were in a channel that connected the creek to the Triple-P Mine in Porter.

About 50 to 100 feet of the dike had vanished. From the way trees laid down, it looked as though the wall of the mine had been blown outward by floodwaters.

Breach in dike. The tree laying down in the background at about a 10 degree angle is on Caney Creek which flows left to right in this shot.

Danger of Floodway Mining Comes to Life

Suddenly, all the tumblers clicked into place. Buzbee said, “So that’s what you’ve been talking about!” The danger of building mines in the floodway became apparent. It was what they call in science “The Aha Moment!” I could see him connecting thoughts that were previously unconnected, such as sand mine and mouth bar. He got it.

Luckily for Kingwood residents, a video crew was present when he got it. Here, on video, is Buzbee’s voyage of discovery.

Click here to see 2 minute and 50 second video.

An Open Offer to All Candidates

While I have tried to keep flood discussions apolitical, inevitably the solutions are political. Hence, I am wading into some uncharted waters. I told Buzbee and King the same thing I will tell any candidate for any office. I will help you understand the causes of flooding in this area and what we need to mitigate them. My hope is that by making this part of the political debate, the candidates will focus awareness on the problems that leads to solutions.

I also make this promise to all candidates – incumbents and challengers alike. People deserve to hear what you have to say about flooding. Send me your thoughts or videos and I will publish them.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/24/2019 with special thanks to Josh Alberson and his boat

633 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Nailed: Triple-P Sand Mine Photographed Discharging Wastewater Directly into Lake Houston Tributary

Since Harvey, I’ve been talking about the dangers of sand mining too close to the river. Texas is the only state I can find that has no minimum setback for mines. Tony Buzbee, candidate for Mayor of Houston, asked to see what I was talking about. So a friend, Josh Alberson, took us on out his jet boat this afternoon.

Massive Breach in Mine Dike

As luck would have it, we went up Caney Creek. Just above where it enters the East Fork, we spotted a massive new breach in the dike of the Triple-P mine. Here’s what we saw.

Looking into the Triple-P Mine through a breach in its dike on Caney Creek
Note the exposed shoreline in the background indicating how much water the mine lost to the river.
Looking 180 degrees from the shots above. The tree leaning over at a ten degree angle from the river is on the far bank of Caney Creek.
This shows how wide the breach is in relation to the boat. The boat is 22 feet long.
This shot taken from the boat shows the mine’s cleaning, sorting and transportation equipment in the background. I could not see the dredge operating in the mine’s pit from this angle.
This Google Earth image shows the approximate location of the breach. The blue diagonal line is the Harris/Montgomery County Line. Caney Creek connects up with Lake Houston to the south (bottom part) of this image. Mmmmmmm. That water looks delicious, doesn’t it. If you get your water from Lake Houston, you’re drinking it!
Tony Buzbee, examining the sand bar at the bottom of the shot above (below the mine). The bar has grown in size, according to Alberson, a regular East Fork boater. This illustrates the danger of sand mining so close to the river. Buzbee also visited the mouth bar on the West Fork during his river tour today.

Mine Has History of Problems

I previously posted about breaches in this mine’s dikes and the loss of a major portion of its stockpile during Harvey. The stockpile is located in the confluence of two floodways (Caney Creek and White Oak Creek). Partially as a result of this mine, Kingwood’s East End Park just downstream was inundated with sand and gravel up to 15 feet deep after Harvey. Repairing damage to the trails in the park cost Kingwood residents almost $200,000. The wetlands have been lost forever.

Wetlands no more. Eagle Point in East End Park is drowned in sand from the Triple-P mine. It washed downstream during Harvey. Massive sediment deposits in the San Jacinto have also been linked to flooding by the Army Corps of Engineers.

The Triple-P mine also receives very favorable treatment from the Montgomery County appraisal district. They tax most of it as though it were timberland.

Buzbee as Witness

If you are a sand miner, having Tony Buzbee witness this breach and the massive sedimentation it caused downstream is a nightmare scenario. Not only is Buzbee running for Mayor of Houston, he’s self-funding his campaign. That means he does not depend on TACA contributions. And worse (or better if you are a resident), he’s one of the top litigators in the world. In 2015, he was named Texas lawyer of the year. Kingwood residents can only hope he takes up this cause.

TCEQ Already Investigating

Upon returning home from the boat trip, I immediately notified Ramiro Garcia, head of Compliance and Enforcement for the TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) about the breach in the dike. Garcia says they have people already on the case. I hope they choose to yank this mine’s license and make it an example. At a minimum, I believe they should give the mine the maximum fine. My understanding is that the fine can run up to $25,000 per day. This kind of flagrant violation endangers the health of millions of people and deserves no less.

A water quality expert I talked to about breaches like this told me they spike chloride levels in Lake Houston. Chlorides, you may remember, caused the pipe corrosion in Flint, Michigan, that contributed to pipe corrosion, lead poisoning, a public health crisis and an erosion of trust in local government.

Revive Best Practices Legislation for Sand Mines

As a result of the problems created by sand mining in the San Jacinto River watershed, State Representative Dan Huberty sponsored a bill this year to establish best practices for the mines. HB 909 was referred to the Environmental Regulation Committee on 2/25. The committee heard testimony on 5/1. TACA testified AGAINST establishing and publishing best practices. HB909 has been bottled up in committee ever since.

Please use this breach to try to get the legislation out of committee. This is major. It affects the drinking water supply for 2 million people. I talked about the dangers of mining too close to rivers when I testified for HB909. These miners just don’t care. They think that their ability to make a profit is more important that your health. Please send a message to Austin. Refer the members of the Environmental Regulation Committee to this post and tell them this is what Rehak testified about on 5/1. Have them vote it out of committee. Let’s establish best practices for sand mining in Texas. While we still can.

Here are the members of the Environmental Regulation Committee.

  • J.M. Lozano (Chairman) (512) 463-0463
  • Ed Thompson (Vice Chair) (512) 463-0707
  • Cesar Blanco (512) 463-0622
  • Kyle Kacal (512) 463-0412
  • John Kuempel (512) 463-0602
  • Geanie Morrison (512) 463-0456
  • Ron Reynolds (512) 463-0494
  • John Turner (512) 463-0576
  • Erin Zwiener (512) 463-0647

Please call their office and ask them to vote HB 909 out of committee. Tell them this breach is the great example of why we need this bill. Breaches like this happen far too often. There are only ten days left in this session.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/18/19, with a big thank you to Josh Alberson and Tony Buzbee

627 Days since Hurricane Harvey

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