Tag Archive for: City of Houston

Area Leaders Meet with GLO Commissioner Buckingham

Harris County and the Houston area are receiving $863 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) via the Texas General Land Office (GLO) for disaster relief and flood mitigation. So, on Thursday, April 25, 2024, GLO Commissioner Dr. Dawn Buckingham met with a group of Lake-Houston-Area leaders to discuss the area’s flood mitigation needs.

The meeting, arranged by State Representative Charles Cunningham, also included Director Tina Petersen of the Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD); Director Thao Costis of Harris County Community Services (CSD); Humble Mayor Norman Funderburk; and Dustin Hodges, Chief of Staff for City of Houston Council Member Fred Flickinger.

(L to R) Dustin Hodges; Tina Petersen; Thao Costis; Dr. Dawn Buckingham; Rep. Charles Cunningham; Norman Funderburk; Alice Rekeweg;  Scott Elmer, HCFCD; and Kathleen Jordan.

Projects Vie for Funding

As reported on 4/23, Buckingham was in Houston to discuss Disaster Relief and Mitigation projects totaling $863 million. But there are more deserving projects than money to fund them all. So Buckingham, her team, HCFCD and CSD met with area leaders to discuss needs.

The GLO administers the distribution of HUD funds in Texas. Among Lake Houston Area projects discussed for funding were:

  • Taylor Gully Channel Improvements ($25.5 Million)
  • Woodridge Stormwater Detention Basin – Compartment 1 ($13.3 Million)
  • Woodridge Stormwater Detention Basin – Compartment 2 ($17.5 Million)
  • Mercer Park Drainage Improvements ($5.3 Million)
  • Mercer Detention Basin ($15.4 Million)
  • Mercer Botanic Garden Restroom Improvements (0.6 Million)
  • New Humble Fire Station ($4.5 Million)

No commitments were made at the meeting, but the mood was positive and everyone left smiling.

Buckingham is still collecting information. She listened attentively, asked probing questions and left with a better understanding of the area’s needs.

Splitting the Woodridge Basin into two phases helps ensure that at least one compartment will get funded and provide enough mitigation to let the Taylor Gully Channel Improvements move forward.

Other Topics

Several other topics came up toward the end of the hour-long meeting. They included sedimentation, dredging, and the need for sand to nourish beaches along the Texas coast. The GLO needs sand to replace eroding beaches…and this area needs to remove sand collecting in streams and Lake Houston.

That raised the tantalizing possibility of collaboration for mutual benefit and solving two problems at once.

More news to follow.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/26/24

2432 Days since Hurricane Harvey

City Begins Tree Lane Bridge Repairs

This morning, City of Houston contractors began clearing access points for the Tree Lane Bridge repairs in Kingwood next to Bear Branch Elementary where more than 600 students attend classes.

The City announced the kickoff of the project on February 21, 2024, but work actually started today.

Photo on 4/9/2024. Step one: lumberjacks clearing access for Tree Lane bridge repair work.

Extent of Damage

This is actually the second round of repairs. The City made some rudimentary efforts in 2020 that ultimately proved ineffective. Four years later, erosion under the bridge is more extensive now than then.

I took all the pictures below on 4/7/24.

Tree Lane Bridge before start of Round 2 repairs. Collapse of East retaining wall.

The forensic report blames the damage on “failure of riprap.” Riprap is boulders placed in the stream designed to reduce erosion by slowing the flow of water, breaking it up, and providing a protective barrier.

However, the forensic analysis indicates that water flow in Bens Branch undermined the rip rap.

Soil beneath riprap can be eroded if the rock was just placed on top without any buffer between the layers such as a geotextile fabric or smaller riprap (crushed stone).

In this case, erosion removed more than a foot of soil behind the concrete walls, under the base, and under the existing riprap.

Tree Lane Bridge Before Start of Round 2 Repairs
Tree Lane Bridge before start of Round 2 repairs. Downcutting under bridge.

You can see from the exposed utilities that the creek has downcut. This downcutting extends several hundred feet upstream of the bridge. And that’s part of the problem. It allowed water to get behind and under the existing channel linings.

Headward erosion downstream on west side and exposed utilities.

Construction plans call for:

  • Removing all the existing material under the bridge and on the sides of the banks
  • Installing a new concrete channel (bottom and sides) that will maintain the flow line of the stream.
  • Repairing outfalls.

The engineer’s report claims the proposed U-shaped channel will hold the current side slopes of the bridge and allow for the drop in the flow line.

For More Information

See the Report of Findings, construction plans, and the City’s official Engage Houston web page.

For pictures of how the bridge looked after the last round of repairs, see this post from 3/31/2020.

For pictures of a flood responsible for much of the damage, see this post from 1/29/23.

A Silver Lining

The damage to the Tree Lane bridge has been so rapid, that it occurred twice within the time many Bear Branch students attended the adjacent elementary school. Perhaps it will inspire curiosity about flooding among some of these students, spur them to pursue engineering careers, and perhaps prevent such dangers in the future.

Safety Precaution

The City hopes to complete the Tree Lane bridge project sometime this summer, weather permitting. Please observe traffic warning signs, cones and flags for the duration. And keep curious children away from heavy equipment which will be maneuvering in tight spaces with limited visibility.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/9/2024 with help from Chris Bloch of the Bear Branch Trail Association

2415 Days since Hurricane Harvey

City Mobilizing for More West Fork Dredging

Mobilization for the next phase of San Jacinto West Fork dredging is underway. The City of Houston and its contractor DRC (a subsidiary of Callan Marine) are already staging equipment in two places on the West Fork.

The program, funded by FEMA, will remove an estimated 800,000 cubic yards of silt and sediment between the original location of the West Fork Mouth Bar and FM1960. The contractor will use primarily hydraulic dredging and the program will take approximately two years, according to District E City Council Member Fred Flickinger.

West Fork Dredging Project Dates Back to Dave Martin Era

Flickinger credits his predecessor, former Council Member Dave Martin, and Chief Recovery Officer Stephen Costello’s tireless efforts in protesting the initial amount proposed for dredging by FEMA back in 2019. FEMA’s initial proposal, based on a four-page, table-top study produced by the Army Corps, called for dredging 283,000 cubic yards.

Martin strongly disagreed with the Corps’ report and appealed it while the City produced its own 94-page technical report. It showed a much higher volume deposited by Harvey. Remember: Harvey funds could not be used to address sediment deposited before Harvey. The City report produced by Tetra Tech relied extensively on core samples. Tetra Tech proved that Harvey laid down the sand in the mouth bar and that the dredging volume should be closer to a million cubic yards.

In August 2020, FEMA and the Corps finally concurred with the City, after extensive discussions and a massive assist from U.S. Representative Dan Crenshaw. Crenshaw and others had been pushing FEMA for years for the additional dredging.

Current Status

The new West Fork dredging program should be ready to go within weeks. DRC is currently bringing in the equipment that they will need.

DRC plans to use primarily hydraulic dredging. They will attack the area between where the mouth bar was (south of Scenic Shores in Kings Point) and the FM1960 Bridge. See map below.

Map from City study showing area of focus.
Hydraulic dredge being assembled at old Army Corps mobilization site south of Forest Cove pool. Photo taken 4/1/24.
DRC is also starting to stockpile mechanical dredging equipment such as these pontoons on Berry Madden’s property south of River Grove Park (top center).

This is good news. The new West Fork dredging will help ensure that water doesn’t back up like it did before. It’s not a guarantee against flooding. Dredging is only one part of a multi-faceted mitigation program that also includes more upstream detention and new floodgates on the Lake Houston dam. More news on those topics to follow.

Posted by Bob Rehak

2407 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Houston’s Resilience and Climate Action Report Card

Houston’s Resilience and Climate Action report card for 2023 shows how much progress has been made in the last three years.

In 2020, three years after Hurricane Harvey, the City of Houston completed a comprehensive, and wide-ranging resilience plan. The latest report card also updates on the City’s Resilience efforts as well as its Climate efforts.

The two go far beyond flooding. Together, they attempt to institutionalize equity, resilience, and sustainability within all city functions including:

  • Equity and Opportunity
  • Mobility and Land Use
  • Buildings and Energy
  • Water
  • Disaster Management
  • Heat and Nature
  • Materials Management
  • Resilience Coordination

Houston’s Resilience and Climate Action report card includes a total of 297 specific actions. Eighty-four percent of the 201 actions in the resilience plan, and 72 percent of 96 actions in the climate plan are now complete or in progress. The graph below shows how they should play out in the next 25 years.

From Page 8 of the Year 3 Report

Flood Resilience

Flood resilience highlights included:

  • Sixteen green storm-water infrastructure projects were completed in 2022, bringing the total completed to 86 in three years.
  • The City kicked off a stormwater master planning effort to better analyze the performance of the City’s stormwater infrastructure, using updated rainfall data to identify and assess areas of the City with the greatest need for system improvements.
  • In 2023, The City and its partners broke ground on the first of four funded flood-mitigation infrastructure projects to reach the construction phase, the Inwood Forest Stormwater Detention Basin. North Canal Diversion Channel, Lake Houston Dam Gate Structure, and TIRZ 17 Regional Detention are the three other major flood mitigation projects in Houston funded by FEMA.

Other Resilience and Climate Achievements

Other resilience- and climate-related achievements in Houston’s Resilience and Climate Action report card included:

  • A 2020 greenhouse gas emissions inventory showed a 10% reduction from the 2014 baseline.
  • The City was awarded an A rating from the Carbon Disclosure Project once again in 2022.
  • Houston also achieved its Gold designation as a Leader in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) for Cities by the U.S. Green Building Council.
  • In 2022, the City and its partners planted more than 200,000 trees, bringing the total planted since 2019 to more than 1.4 million – or 31% of its 4.6 million tree goal by 2030.
  • Also in 2022, the Houston City Council approved the Nature Preserve Ordinance designed to protect 7,423 acres of natural habitat in City parks. These areas will help mitigate flooding, store carbon, reduce urban heat island effects, improve air and water quality, and provide educational opportunities for the public.
  • Twenty miles of high-comfort bike lanes were built in 2022 bringing the total miles to 406 out of a goal of 500 miles – 81% complete.
  • The City adopted a Municipal Building Decarbonization and Benchmarking policy in 2022 and finalized initial benchmarking in 2023.
  • Houston Airport System started engaging in an Airport Carbon Accreditation program and began documenting benchmarks.
  • Houston kicked off the Climate Resilience Measurement for Communities project in partnership with the Resilient Cities Network.
  • By the end of 2021, annual local solar generation in Houston increased to 148,030 MWh. Solar demand is growing exponentially. Solar permitting doubled between 2019 and 2021 and increased another 66% in 2022.
  • Between 2022 and 2023, purchases of Electric Vehicles more than tripled the number of EVs in the municipal fleet. The City is also increasing investment in publicly accessible charging stations.
  • The City signed an MOU with the Houston Community College to train 500,000 Houstonians in resilience.
  • The Houston Recycling Collaboration started collecting “all plastics,” including styrofoam, bags and films.

2024 Goals

Having read many reports like these, you quickly learn to distinguish things that happen on paper from things that happen on the ground.

Among exciting goals for 2024, four stood out in that regard.

  • The launch of a tree planting portal to coordinate community efforts.
  • Heat mitigation efforts
  • Green stormwater infrastructure and urban prairie plantings
  • Building pilot resilience hubs.

I don’t mean to shortchange other efforts. The City is also pursuing grants and partnerships which will be important down the road.

To see Houston’s Resilience and Climate Action report card, click here.

To learn more about the Mayor’s Office of Resilience and Sustainability, click here.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/22/24

2397 Days since Hurricane Harvey

First Concrete Poured for Northpark Drive Expansion

Earlier this week, contractors poured the first concrete for Northpark Drive expansion. It was for the first of several new outbound lanes at US59.

Looking north across Northpark. US59 on left. Note fresh concrete for first of new through- and turn lanes. 3/15/24.

Crews are doing both surface and subgrade work, moving back east towards Chick-Fil-A.

Stormwater Retention Basin Progress

Elsewhere along Northpark, excavation work continued on the south pond. The twin ponds will double as decorative ponds and stormwater detention basins to handle extra runoff from the wider roadway.

Looking N across south retention pond on Friday afternoon 3/15/24.

Also, in the south pond, Texas Wall & Landscape is continuing work on the retaining walls.

Setting forms for additional concrete in second retaining wall in South Pond
Crews were also bringing in fill to place behind the recently completed large retaining wall on the north pond.

What to Expect Next

According to the Lake Houston Redevelopment Authority website, crews will continue to work on drainage down the middle of Northpark and along the north side of the road, expecially between 59 and 494.

Looking E at construction of drainage and new outbound lanes along Northpark.

Entergy Power Lines Still Not Moved

Farther east, you can see that Entergy power lines still have not moved. The photo below shows where the bridge over the railroad tracks will go. In the bottom right corner, the roadway will expand to 10 lanes. Six will bridge over the tracks. And four (two on each side) will carry surface traffic turning north and south onto Loop 494.

However, Entergy’s power lines are in the way of the extra lanes.

Looking E along Northpark from over UP railroad tracks.

The big question at this point is when Entergy will move its power lines. It also has not yet begun moving its transformer near the Exxon Station at 59. Entergy ignored a City of Houston deadline to complete moving its lines by March 8. After another 8 days, the company has not yet even begun the work. Nor have they offered the public an explanation why.

Unfortunately, weather forecasters predict this hurricane season will be especially active. And one of the main purposes of this project is to provide an all-weather evacuation route for 78,000 Kingwood residents.

For More Information

For more information about the project including Phase I, visit the project pages of the LHRA/Tirz 10 website. Or see these posts on ReduceFlooding:

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/8/24

2391 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.

Entergy Ignores City Deadline to Move Northpark Power Lines

Today, Entergy missed yet another deadline in a long series of deadlines to move its power lines to make room for Northpark Drive expansion.

On February 6, the City of Houston sent a letter to Entergy, demanding that the company move its power lines out of the City’s right of way within 30 days. That would have given them until March 8 to comply. But as of today, March 9, 2024, not one of the poles had moved.

The City’s agent, Lake Houston Redevelopment Authority/TIRZ 10, first asked Entergy to move the poles four years ago. This is just another in a long line of disappointments that have delayed the Northpark Drive Expansion Project – driving up taxpayer costs, increasing flood risk, and snarling traffic.

Last month, Entergy refused to provide ReduceFlooding.com with a copy of its response to the City. And today, Entergy did not return a phone call explaining why the company ignored the City deadline.

Before/After Photos

Here’s how the north-side/west-bound expansion area near the UP tracks looked before the City sent its demand letter.

Entergy power poles in the way of Northpark expansion
Photo taken Jan. 13, 2024, before City sent letter to Entergy.

And here’s how the same area looked this morning. Not one pole has moved as a result of the City’s February 6 letter.

Photo taken around noon on March 9, more than 30 days after letter was sent. Nothing has moved.
Reverse angle. Looking E along Northpark at endless backups and poles still in original locations. Also taken March 9th.

As I took these photos Saturday near noon, traffic was backed up more than a mile!

Clash over Cash

In the past, Entergy asked for compensation to move its poles. But according to an LHRA spokesperson, compensation is not allowable under Texas law because the poles were in a City right of way and not covered by an easement. Thus, any payment would have constituted a “gift of public funds,” which the Texas Constitution prohibits

Entergy was, however, legally entitled to compensation for moving buried wires in an easement near the Exxon station at US59. Entergy had agreed to move them for $711,000 near Christmas last year. However…

Entergy still has not moved buried wires or a transformer near the Exxon station at US59.

…within days after the disagreement about payment for relocating the poles, Entergy’s asking price to move the underground wires mysteriously increased by half a million dollars. Simultaneously, their cost estimate went from line item to lump sum – without itemization. Since then, the asking price has increased another $200,000 without explanation.

Previous Communications with Entergy

City of Houston held Utility Coordination Meetings with Entergy on 10/8/20, 12/10/20, 01/14/21, 2/11/21, 3/11/21, 2/10/22, 3/10/22, and 4/14/22.

In addition, the City also emailed Entergy’s Utility Relocation consultant on 12/07/20, 06/21/21, 06/30/22, 07/22/22, 08/19/22, 09/20/22, 10/21/22, 01/11/23, 01/24/23, 03/03/23, 05/17/23, 07/19/23, 08/23/23, 10/16/23, 10/26/23, 12/01/23, and 12/13/24, 01/16/24.

I don’t care to speculate on the motives for Entergy’s lethargy. However, I’m pretty certain that if this goes to court, the entire project could be delayed years.

You can draw your own conclusions and point fingers where you will.

If there was ever any doubt, Entergy now knows that one of the main goals of Northpark Expansion is to provide an all-weather evacuation route for 78,000 Kingwood and Porter residents. Personally, I hate feeling like a pawn in Entergy’s game.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/9/24

2384 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.

TxDOT, LHRA Engage Kingwood at Northpark Phase II Meeting

On 3/7/24, TxDOT, the Lake Houston Redevelopment Authority/TIRZ10 and the City of Houston hosted an open house at the Kingwood Community Center to share detailed project plans at a Northpark Phase II Meeting. The informal “come-and-go-when-you want” style of the meeting gave authorities a chance to mingle with residents and solicit their feedback on plans.

Two hundred and forty-six people attended the Phase II meeting in person or virtually.

Objectives of Project

In addition to reducing traffic congestion, one of the main goals is to elevate Northpark Drive above the 100-year floodplain to create an all-weather evacuation route for area residents. Other goals include preparing for anticipated growth and improving pedestrian/bicycle safety.

Different Lanes for Different Pains

As with Phase I, roads will be elevated. Lanes will be both added and widened. Eleven-foot-wide lanes will expand to 12 feet. And 10-foot-wide sidewalks will be added, enabling bicyclists and pedestrians to pass each other easily.

Proposed improvements to Northpark Drive extend from 750 feet east of Russell Palmer Road to 800 feet east of Woodland Hills Drive, in Harris and Montgomery Counties. The project would include the reconstruction and widening of approximately one mile of Northpark Drive from a four-lane to a six-lane roadway.

TXDoT broke Phase II into three sections based on current lane configurations and traffic conditions.

  • Section A starts about halfway between Russell-Palmer and the Kingwood Diversion Ditch and goes up to the Ditch. “A” also includes the Woodland Hills/Northpark Drive Intersection.
  • Section B goes from the Ditch to the start of the Northpark Place Commercial Association.
  • Section C includes businesses inside Kingwood almost to Woodland Hills, where Section A restarts.

The three lanes would include two 12-foot-wide main lanes in each direction; left and right turning lanes; and 1-foot-wide outside/inside shoulders.

The area where the grassy median is today would be repurposed to use as turning lanes or additional travel lanes.

TxDOT

The wooden pylon sign that says “Kingwood” will go. However, according to Dee Price, KSA President, the serpentine wall that heralds “The Livable Forest” would remain after construction.

Reconstruction will also include new signals at the Woodland Hills Drive and Hidden Pines Drive intersections.

To reduce flooding, the project also includes new drainage features, such as open ditches, curb-and-gutter, and one stormwater-detention basin in a location yet to be determined.

See additional details about what will happen in each section in this presentation or these meeting handouts.

Still Time to Provide Public Comment

If you missed the meeting last night, you can still provide public input. Review the materials above and send your comments via:

  • Email to: hou-piowebmail@txdot.gov
  • Mail to:
    • TxDOT Houston District
    • Advanced Project Development Director
    • P.O.Box 1386
    • Houston, Texas 77251-1386

If you own a business along Northpark, don’t miss this preliminary schematic construction diagram that shows rights of way and more plan details.

Business owners especially need to understand how a change in traffic patterns could affect their businesses.

Construction is still several years away. The most likely start date: 2027. Between now and then, project managers will focus on environmental surveys, detailed design, and right-of-way acquisition.

Upcoming Schedule

LHRA has also provided a three-week look-ahead schedule to show you what will happen when.

Two important items on it include:

  • Starting on March 11, one lane will close on Russell Palmer during installation of the temporary signals.
  • The water line to Parkwood Baptist Church which held up construction has now been repaired. A crew will soon splice in the missing piece of culvert with a concrete sleeve to tie adjacent sections together.

For More Information

For more information about the project including Phase I, visit the project pages of the LHRA/Tirz 10 website. Or see these posts on ReduceFlooding:

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/8/24

2383 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Reminder: Northpark Phase II Input Meeting Thursday, 5-7 PM

TxDOT, the Lake Houston Redevelopment Authority (LHRA), City of Houston and Tax Increment Redevelopment Zone (TIRZ) 10 will solicit public comments at a Northpark Phase II Input Meeting, from 5-7PM Thursday, March 7 at the Kingwood Community Center.

A significant part of the effort to provide an all-weather evacuation route from Kingwood in the event of another superstorm, such as Hurricane Harvey.

Current Northpark Drive looking west toward 59. Major crossroad in center of frame is Woodland Hills Drive. Extent of project would go from bottom of frame to treeless area in distance.

Phase II will run from slightly west of the Kingwood Diversion Ditch to slightly east of Woodland Hills Drive. Part of the mile-long project falls in Montgomery County and part in Harris County. 

Purpose of Project

The purpose of the project is to address current and increasing traffic congestion. Utility and drainage features will also be upgraded.

And to improve safety for bicyclists and pedestrians, the project will include a new pedestrian underpass and 10-foot wide sidewalks that connect to the Kingwood trail system.

The TxDOT announcement provides a few of the details:

  • To improve commute times, the roadway will expand to three lanes in each direction and include turn lanes.
  • To improve safety, lane width will also increase.
  • The proposed reconstruction will include new signals at the Woodland Hills Drive and Hidden Pines Drive. 
  • To improve drainage and make Northpark passable in high water events so Kingwood residents have an all-weather evacuation route.

No Home Or Business Structures Expected to be Impacted at This Time

TxDOT does not anticipate impacting any home or business structures at this time. But strips of property that front on the roadway will need to be acquired. For additional details, see this TxDOT page or a schematic drawing on this LHRA page.

Meeting Details

LHRA and TxDOT will discuss plans for the next phase of the project. It will reach past Woodland Hills Drive. 

Thursday, March 7, 2024
from 5-7 p.m.
Kingwood Park Community Center
4102 Rustic Woods Dr.
Kingwood, TX 77345

Part of Northpark Phase II

The Northpark Expansion project will not only move traffic faster, it will create an all-weather evacuation route for 78,000 people in the Kingwood and Porter areas. During Harvey, other evacuation routes were cut off.

Pictures of Major Features

The pictures below show the way things exist now. Captions will describe the changes.

West is Up. Note Walgreens on south side of NP (top left) and Exxon on north side (top right). Three lanes of traffic will continue outbound and continue past bottom of frame inbound. Turning lanes widened and added.
Pedestrian underpass will be added between the Walmart Parking Lot (right) on the north and McDonalds/Executive Barber Shop (shown on the left). Road will be elevated as over other underpasses in Kingwood.

The underpass will improve safety for thousands of Kingwood Park High School, Kingwood Montessori, Creativity Shell, and Village Learning Center students.

Looking W along Northpark. Elevated roadway and new bridges over Bens Branch by St. Martha’s (upper right out of frame) will improve safety during high water events.

In addition, the road will be widened to at least three lanes, from US59 until approximately 1,000 feet east of Woodland Hills Drive.

Who Should Attend?

  • Any whose evacuation route was cut off during Harvey
  • Anyone who commutes along Northpark
  • Parents of Kingwood Park High School Students
  • Business owners in the Northpark Place Commercial Association
  • Anyone who flooded along Northpark, North Woodland Hills
  • Anyone who flooded downstream because of Bens Branch
  • Anyone who flooded along the Kingwood Diversion Ditch.

That’s because Northpark drainage is intricately connected with Diversion Ditch and Bens Branch Drainage.

Your input is vital to ensure the project remains consistent with your needs and community norms.

Please come. Speak now or forever hold your peace, as they say in wedding ceremonies. Many will to have to live with this project for the rest of their lives.

For More Information

For more information about the project including construction plans, visit the project pages of the LHRA/Tirz 10 website. Or see these posts on ReduceFlooding:

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/5/24

2380 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Entergy Escalates Battle with COH over Northpark

Entergy power poles sit on City of Houston (COH) rights-of-way. The company also runs underground wires in an easement near US59. Yet after years of discussion, the company still has not moved them to make room for the widening of Northpark Drive. Nor did the company comply with a request by the City to say how it would move them by a March 8th deadline.

The Northpark project is intended, in part, to create an all-weather evacuation route for 78,000 people who live in the Kingwood area. Rising floodwaters during Hurricane Harvey cut off escape routes along Hamblen Road, Kingwood Drive, and West Lake Houston Parkway.

Offending Entergy poles where Northpark will be widened for turn lanes next to the bridge over UP railroad tracks.

First Notified in 2020 and Still No Action

On 2/10/24, I detailed how Entergy was first notified about the project in 2020. Yet the company has moved nothing along Northpark to make room for construction. Groundbreaking for the project was last April and construction began last July.

So, COH put Entergy on notice. It wrote a letter, discussed in last week’s LHRA board meeting, that was dated 2/6/24. The letter requested Entergy to submit a proposed schedule and plan by last Friday detailing how it would relocate its facilities within 30 days.

That letter was dated 2/6/24, meaning the equipment should be moved and out of the way by 3/8/24.

Entergy Response Contained Only Hypothetical Schedule

ReduceFlooding.com has learned that Entergy replied to COH Public Works by last Friday as requested. But the reply did not indicate how they would move their equipment by 3/8/24. Nor did it address why Entergy could not meet the 30-day deadline or why the company has taken no action since 2020.

Instead the response suggested Entergy needed many more months, but committed to no firm deadline, according to a COH spokesperson.

Entergy and LHRA had already worked through potential conflicts with other utilities. So, resolving conflicts was not the issue.

I do not have a copy of the Entergy letter to reprint at this time; an Entergy spokesperson refused to provide it, citing potential legal concerns. As a result of the Entergy letter, LHRA has now asked to meet with the City Attorney.

Cost Escalation Possible

Continued delays are escalating the stakes. The Lake Houston Redevelopment Authority (LHRA), which is acting as an agent of the City, has costly contractual obligations to its contractors.

Given the rate of inflation, delays could also reduce the purchasing power of LHRA’s budget. In the last four years, inflation in the construction sector has totaled 15-20%. And this project costs more than $75 million. Yet the original budget included only $3 million for change orders.

A legal battle could take years to resolve. That could needlessly put lives at risk and inconvenience tens of thousands of people daily.

Entergy Motive, Next Steps Unclear

It’s not clear what Entergy – a $4 billion company in Texas alone – hopes to gain through continued delays.

In the past, Entergy asked for compensation to move its poles. But according to an LHRA spokesperson, compensation is not allowable under Texas law because the poles were in a City right of way and not covered by an easement. Thus, any payment would have constituted a “gift of public funds,” which the Texas Constitution prohibits.

Entergy was, however, legally entitled to compensation for moving buried wires in an easement near the Exxon station at US59. Entergy had agreed to move them for $711,000.

Then, within days after the disagreement about payment for relocating the poles, Entergy’s asking price to move the underground wires mysteriously increased by half a million dollars. Simultaneously, their cost estimate went from line item to lump sum – without itemization. Since then, the asking price has increased another $200,000 without explanation.

LHRA has asked to meet with the City Attorney to discuss options and next steps. More news to follow.

For More Information

For more information about the project including construction plans, visit the project pages of the LHRA/Tirz 10 website. Or see these posts on ReduceFlooding:

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/20/2024

2365 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.

Entergy in City’s Crosshairs, Northpark Lane Closures Announced

The Lake Houston Redevelopment Authority/TIRZ 10 (LHRA/TIRZ) Board Meeting on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024, focused almost exclusively on issues that have delayed the Northpark expansion project. LHRA/TIRZ also announced lane closures beginning Feb. 19, 2024.

One Source of Hold Ups Resolved, Another Remains

The Northpark expansion project is designed to move more traffic faster and to create an all-weather evacuation route for 78,000 Kingwood residents in the event of another major flood, such as Hurricane Harvey.

Two major hold ups have been:

  • Reaching right-of-way agreements with Union Pacific Railroad (UP)
  • Getting utilities, such as CenterPoint and Entergy, to move gas and electric lines.

As of this week, all railroad agreements have been resolved.

Approval of the agreements by the Houston City Council should be a formality.

And CenterPoint should complete the relocation of their gas lines within a week or two.

However, Entergy has not even started relocating its equipment. They were given notice four years ago to do so.

The board discussed the possibility of condemning an existing Entergy easement within the limits of Northpark Drive right of way, but ultimately decided to defer action for one more month. The outcome is inevitable. Entergy must move its equipment. But members hope to avoid the expense and delays of litigation involved in a condemnation proceeding.

It is unclear what Entergy hopes to gain through delays. In the meantime, it is jeopardizing its public image in the most densely populated part of its Texas service area.

Entergy Must Resolve Three Problems

Entergy has:

  • Utility poles it must move out of the City’s right of way.
  • A transformer next to the Exxon station at US59 on LHRA/TIRZ property.
  • Underground electricity lines that would be paved over in several places.

The existing wood poles between 494 and the Kingwood Diversion Ditch are in the City’s right-of-way. Entergy has sought reimbursement to move those, however, they are on City property and not entitled to reimbursement.

The transformer next to the Exxon station now sits on property purchased from Exxon by the LHRA/TIRZ.

Entergy wants 52 weeks and more than a million dollars to move this transformer in the Exxon parking lot at US59 and Northpark Drive.

Regarding the third item, utilities commonly run electricity lines under streets in urban environments. But Entergy apparently does not want that in this case and has not made arrangements to move the lines.

To resolve such conflicts, LHRA agreed to pay Entergy $711,000 in July last year. But then a consultant for Entergy demanded $1.462 million – doubling the costs. LHRA balked. The extra money wasn’t and isn’t in the budget. Neither were the cost increases itemized. Said another way, Entergy didn’t break down what caused the price increases.

Itemized Costs Being Demanded

To make sure Entergy is not folding in un-reimbursable costs such as relocating poles in rights of way with allowable relocation costs for the transformer, Ralph De Leon, project manager for LHRA, said he has requested itemized costs and a schedule of values for each part of the job from Entergy.

A schedule of values includes such things as material costs as well as labor costs. For instance, one line item might read, “X people at $Y/hr times Z hours.” He also wants to see that schedule signed and stamped by a licensed PE, whose license could be revoked for falsifying information.

Entergy First Notified in 2020

The LHRA Board reviewed a history of attempts to resolve the Entergy conflict issues. They included 22 meetings/discussions between October 2020 and January 2024.

  • October 2020: Began coordinating utility impacts with Entergy and other utility companies (at 60% design stage).  Held COH utility coordination meeting.
  • December 2020: Entergy reached out and asked if there were opportunities for relocation reimbursement.  Held COH utility coordination meeting.
  • January 2021: Held COH utility coordination meeting.
  • February 2021: Held COH utility coordination meeting.
  • March 2021: Held COH utility coordination meeting.
  • June 2021: Began discussions regarding the ground transformer near Exxon gas station.  M&S had preliminary plans prepared.
  • February 2022: Held COH utility coordination meeting.
  • March 2022: Held COH utility coordination meeting.
  • April 2022: Held COH utility coordination meeting.
  • July 2022: M&S determined that their preliminary plans were incorrect and had assumed overhead line relocations for crossing over Northpark Drive.
  • August 2022: M&S noted that their utilities were in an easement and would require reimbursement from LHRA.
  • September 2022: Additional correspondence regarding reimbursement for relocations.  Teams meeting with M&S to discuss relocations.
  • October 21, 2022: M&S provided a draft cost estimate via email.  Total estimated costs for the relocations were $1,218,000.
  • January 2023: Field meeting with M&S, AT&T and Exxon representative to discuss relocations on Exxon property. M&S provided easement documentation for their utilities and continued discussion about reimbursement.  Wade Carpenter (Entergy attorney) began involvement in the conversations.
  • February 2023: Entergy attorneys reviewing the matter internally.
  • March 3, 2023: M&S noted that utility relocations in easement (primarily west of Loop 494) would cost $710,000 and would be seeking reimbursements for these relocations.  For utility relocations east of Loop 494, those would cost approx. $500,000 and Entergy deemed these costs as non-reimbursable as they are not in easement.
  • May 17, 2023: M&S confirmed that relocation costs west or Loop 494 are reimbursable ($710,000) and relocation costs east of Loop 494 ($500,00) are non-reimbursable.
  • July 19, 2023: M&S provided draft agreement for relocations with relocation costs shown to be $711,186.26.
  • August 2023: Coordination with M&S on timeline of relocations.
  • October 2023: M&S noted that they are waiting for the go ahead to send plans to construction group.
  • December 2023: Coordination with M&S regarding fiber companies attached to their poles.  M&S provided an update relocation cost estimate with a new total being $1,462,135.57.
  • January 2024: Coordination with M&S on timeline of relocations.

M&S is an Entergy consultant.

30-Day Deadline Given on Feb. 6, 2024

On February 6, 2024, Carol Haddock, Director of Houston Public Works, sent Entergy a letter giving the company 30-days to move its property. The letter included a request to submit a timeline for the relocations by Feb. 16.

Haddock’s letter parallels one sent by LHRA/TIRZ10 on Nov. 9, 2020, which the City says suffices as proper legal notification. That’s because the LHRA/TIRZ10 is acting as an agent of the City.

The City’s position is that Entergy is not moving into the City’s footprint. But the city is getting bigger and expanding into Entergy’s footprint. It appears that the City has the upper hand at the moment.

Impact of Delays

De Leon believes the City’s letter will resolve enough issues to keep crews busy for now. Next up:

  • Continuing excavation of two stormwater detention ponds at US59 and Northpark
  • Placement of box culverts in the middle ditch
  • Creation of some temporary lanes on the north side of Northpark.

However, he admits that the Entergy delays have caused problems. Instead of following the optimal critical path, his contractors are hopscotching around to keep crews busy.

If Entergy continues to delay, he could face contractual penalties, including costly demobilization.

Lane Closure Announced

LHRA/TIRZ posted this announcement on its project website. It affects westbound traffic.

“Beginning February 19th, Lake Houston Redevelopment Authority’s (LHRA’s) contractor, Harper Brothers Construction will be closing the right two lanes of westbound traffic near the Northpark/I-69 intersection.  The first month of this closure will leave two westbound lanes open – the existing left turn lane and one through lane.  The next 3 months of the closure will switch traffic onto the newly constructed lanes while construction of the existing left turn lane and through lane are completed. Westbound traffic should expect delays and alternative routes are encouraged.  For this phase of work the contractor will be installing new storm sewer pipes and inlets along with new concrete roadway.”

Two westbound lane closures beginning Feb. 19 circled in red.

For More Information

For more information about the project including construction plans, visit the project pages of the LHRA/Tirz 10 website. Or see these posts on ReduceFlooding:

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/10/2024

2356 Days since Hurricane Harvey