Tag Archive for: CFPB

At Least Seven Investigations Launched into Colony Ridge

Today, Harris County joined the growing list of governmental agencies looking into Colony Ridge.

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) have already concluded their investigations and filed Federal lawsuits against the troubled developer.

On December 29, 2023, the New York Post reported that the Internal Revenue Service, Army Corps of Engineers, and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality have all launched their own Colony Ridge investigations. Word on the street has it that even more investigations by other Federal agencies are underway.

Then on January 5, 2024, the Daily Wire reported that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has opened an investigation into Colony Ridge.

Finally, just today (1/9/24), Harris County Commissioners Court discussed investigating the flooding, housing and environmental impacts of Colony Ridge on Harris County. The County Administrators Office and Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey agreed to discuss forming a task force. They would then return to Commissioners Court for final approval of their task force recommendations.

Thrust of Many Investigations Still Uncertain

However, with the exception of the DOJ and CFPB, the direction of many of these investigations remains unknown.

For instance, the EPA could be investigating any of several different allegations, including wetlands, endangered species, and pollution violations.

Colony Ridge, which has grown at least 50% larger than Manhattan in a decade, has filled in ponds and wetlands. While the Army Corps bears initial responsibility for investigating wetlands violations, ultimately the EPA reviews permit applications under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.

Recently, the developer has been pushing into wetlands near Tarkington Bayou. I took the three photos below during in October 2023 while flying over the bayou. Despite a punishing drought, you can still see evidence of ponding.

A University of Waterloo (Ontario) study found that small isolated wetlands that are full for only part of the year are often the first to be removed for development. They enjoy fewer legal protections due to their apparent isolation from jurisdictional waters.

However, the study found that they can be twice as effective in protecting downstream lake or river ecosystems than those directly connected to them. The study labeled them “pollution-catching powerhouses.” Their disconnectedness makes them more effective pollution traps.

Previously, I reported that the TCEQ found raw sewage leaking from a lift station and sewers in Colony Ridge. TCEQ estimated that 48,000 gallons escaped into the Lake Houston watershed, which supplies drinking water for two million people.

To report environmental violations to the EPA, see this page.

Another possibility: EPA may also be looking into whether Colony Ridge displaced any threatened or endangered species. Texas Parks and Wildlife and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service say twelve threatened and endangered species live in Liberty County. Some reportedly live in the Colony Ridge Area.

For More Information

Since 2020, I have created more than 75 posts about different aspects of Colony Ridge – from missing drainage studies to sewage spills, rivers of mud, and more. To see links to all the posts, visit this page.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/9/2024

2324 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Harris County To Reconsider Colony Ridge Impacts

On Tuesday, 1/9/24, Harris County Commissioners court will consider a motion by Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey, P.E. to monitor the potential flooding, housing, and environmental impacts of Colony Ridge on Harris County. (See Item 282 on the Agenda.)

Ramsey submitted a similar item for the 10/10/23 session of Commissioners Court. The Court took no action at that time, but agreed to revisit the issue. Now is that time. And the political landscape has changed.

How Tuesday’s Discussion Will Differ from October’s

The discussion on Tuesday will probably differ radically from October’s.

First, Tuesday’s agenda item is broader; it includes housing and environmental impacts, not just flooding.

Second, in October, the discussion quickly devolved into an argument about the credibility of media allegations that triggered a special session of the State Legislature. Among other things, the media allegations concerned illegal immigration. At the time, County Judge Lina Hidalgo characterized them as “conspiracy theories.” Things went downhill from there.

Ultimately, the State Legislature decided not to do anything about Colony Ridge except build a DPS substation there to beef up law enforcement.

But since then, things have changed.

DOJ/CFPB Lawsuit Changes Political Landscape

The U.S. Department of Justice and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau have filed a lawsuit against the developer for predatory lending practices targeted mainly at Hispanics.

The 45-page lawsuit alleges that the developer violated the:

  • Fair Housing Act
  • Consumer Financial Protection Act
  • Interstate Land Sales Full Disclosure Act
  • Equal Credit Opportunity Act

It also offers specific examples of alleged abuses, including:

  • Sky-high interest rates
  • Untrue statements in marketing materials
  • Omitting material facts
  • Failing to provide required accurate translations
  • Failing to report and disclose other required information
  • Marketing in Spanish but providing legal documents that buyers couldn’t understand in English
  • Foreclosing on properties multiple times

The inclusion of housing issues in Tuesday’s agenda may broaden the base of support for action re: Colony Ridge. Suddenly, we’re talking about people allegedly abusing Lina Hidalgo’s, Lesley Briones’ and Adrian Garcia’s core constituents. All three are Hispanic.

The lawsuit has already motivated LULAC (the League of United Latin American Citizens) to join the fight. The headline of this press release on their website says, “LULAC SUPPORTS FEDERAL ACTION IN MASSIVE REAL ESTATE FRAUD CASE THAT TARGETED LATINOS IN TEXAS.” As a result…

Commissioners may now see Colony Ridge as abusing immigrants, not helping them achieve the American Dream.

Plus, Colony Ridge is expanding into Harris County. That brings the issue much closer to home for Commissioners. We could soon be talking about how the Colony Ridge developer affects voters in Harris County, not voters in Liberty county.

Putting a Finer Point on Upstream Flooding Study

Even though Commissioner’s Court did not approve Ramsey’s Colony Ridge motion last October, the other commissioners didn’t totally ignore him. Commissioner Rodney Ellis also expressed concern about flooding issues originating outside Harris County.

On December 5, 2023, Commissioners Court approved a study of several watersheds including the East Fork San Jacinto River, which drains Colony Ridge. The purpose: to identify potential flood impacts due to unmitigated flows coming into Harris County from upstream counties and to evaluate the impacts of the increased flows on erosion and sedimentation issues.

If approved, Ramsey’s agenda item for next Tuesday, could put a much finer point on that. Instead of looking at flooding issues that originate in surrounding counties in general, it would specifically look at erosion issues originating in Colony Ridge. That could potentially lead to more legal action against Colony Ridge depending on what they find.

At a minimum, I hope it stimulates a discussion about two things:

In regard to the latter, I would point out that Harris and Liberty Counties have almost identical regulations for construction of drainage ditches. However, we get very different results.

The image on the right was taken over Colony Ridge. Such erosion contributes to the buildup of sediment that reduces the conveyance of rivers and streams, contributing to flooding.

For more information and issues relating to Colony Ridge, see this post.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/5/2024

2320 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.