Tag Archive for: construction

HCFCD Spending Slows; More Went to Buyouts than Flood Reduction

Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) released its November report on Flood-Bond progress to Commissioners Court yesterday. The report covered through October 2022. I had two major take-aways:

  • The slowdown in bond spending continues. HCFCD initiated no new construction projects during the month of October.
  • HCFCD spent more money on buyouts than flood reduction.

The major announcement: the District advertised bids for the construction of a stormwater detention basin in Inwood Forest. The project encompasses property owned by the City of Houston located both east and west of Antoine where Vogel Creek outfalls into White Oak Bayou (the old Inwood Forest Golf Course). It will eventually have a total of 12 interconnected compartments.

Funding of this project comes from the 2018 Bond, FEMA and the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM). HCFCD hopes construction will begin in winter 2022-23. But let’s look at what has happened, instead of what will.


Since the last update, HCFCD:

  • Awarded NO construction projects
  • Awarded 9 non-construction agreements totaling $33 million
  • Paid $1.2 million for professional services.
  • Completed 28 home buyouts valued at approximately $5 million
  • Spent a total of $9.9 million since the last update.

Those last two bullet points mean…

HCFCD spent more on buyouts than flood reduction in the month of October.

HCFCD uses some buyouts for right-of-way (ROW) acquisition to build detention ponds or widen channels. But many buyouts simply avoid repetitive losses. The latest update does not specify which category October buyouts fell into.

Schedule performance indicators (the SPI index) for the month remained at .95 – behind schedule. HCFCD says the bond program is 23.8% completed – an increase of 0.3% from the previous month. That’s at 50 months out of a planned 120 month program or 41.6% of the way into the bond program.

Where the Money Has Gone

Only three projects out of 181 in the Bond changed stages. One went into preliminary engineering and two went from preliminary engineering into right-of-way acquisition. All are in the Cedar Bayou watershed.

The map below shows where $1.14 billion spent to date has gone.

In table form, that looks like this. I provided three months of data so you can see whether the needle is moving in your watershed. Five watersheds received no money in October.

Spending changes by watershed for the last three months.

Spending Trend Still Down

Last month I wrote about this downward trend in bond spending at a time when it should be increasing. Notice the trend in recent months:

  • July spending was $66.4 million.
  • August spending was $20.7 million.
  • September spending was only $8.1 million.
  • October’s $9.9 million was only slightly better than September.

Project Phasing Influences Spending Rates

Projects typically go through phases that comprise different percentages of the total budget. In flood control, upfront spending on studies typically comprises only 13% of the total. The big spending – 79% – happens for right-of-way acquisition and construction. Looking back at all phases of all projects since 2000…

Right-of-Way Acquisition and Construction account for almost four out of every five dollars spent by HCFCD.

Here’s how the breakdown looks:

HCFCD spending by project stage since 2000
Data compiled from FOIA Request

HCFCD typically spends six times more on Rights-of-Way and Construction, than upfront Feasibility Studies, Preliminary Engineering Reviews and Design.

More than four years into the bond, many projects should be entering the more expensive phases. So you would expect spending to increase. And July totals reflected that. But then a precipitous decline set in.

At the current spend rate, it would take 32 years to complete the bond, not 6.

Why the Slowdown?

HCFCD has not yet explained the slowdown except to say that, during the course of major programs like the Flood Bond, sometimes you hit lulls between major projects. But this slowdown has persisted for three months. No construction projects started last month. And Inwood-Forest stormwater-detention-basin construction likely won’t start for several more months.

At this point, explanations are in order. Last month, I suggested several:

Management Turnover – HCFCD recently lost its top three leaders who architected the Flood Bond: Russ PoppeMatt Zeve, and Alan Black.

Less Experienced Management – Poppe was replaced by an academic who formerly managed the Subsidence District which has a budget one-thousandth the size of the 2018 flood bond.

More Layers of Management – There’s now a whole new department – County Administration – between Flood Control and Commissioners Court.

Delays in Other Departments – Community Services has failed to submit a plan for how to spend $750 million allocated to Harris County for flood mitigation by the Texas General Land Office and HUD.

Drawdown of Flood Resilience Trust Funds – The County is already running out of money in the Flood Resilience Trust Fund – a backup to keep projects moving in case grants, such as the $750 million, were delayed.

Yesterday HCFCD recommended pursuing a grant for Greens Bayou that would consume the current balance in the Flood Resilience Trust.

Bottom line: County Judge Lina Hidalgo needs to provide an explanation for the slowdown. This affects all Harris County residents, not just those in particular watersheds.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/30/2022

1919 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.

Contractors Almost Finished with Framing New KMS, Starting on Roof

While far from complete, Humble ISD contractors have made steady progress with the construction of the new Kingwood Middle School (KMS), despite heavy and steady rains in May, June and July. Back in late March, I reported that steel was going up. Since then, the contractors have finished erecting steel on 80-90% of the new KMS building.

I took all the photos below on 7/10/2021.

Overview of campus, looking south. Woodland Hills Blvd on right. The white area in the foreground appears to be roofing.

The new KMS is being built on the site of the old athletic fields. When complete, the old school will be demolished and the athletic fields will be relocated there.

A prominent feature of the new construction is a temporary detention pond (foreground) to reduce flood risk for neighbors. Looking NNW. Note the concrete slab between the detention pond and the crane, where contractors have not yet started erecting steel.
The new building will be much taller and “airier” than the old one which had solid brick walls over most of the exterior.
Portions will be 3-stories tall, letting more students learn on a smaller footprint.
Looking north across old KMS campus toward new construction shows the variation in the respective footprints.

When demolition of the old KMS has finished, the temporary detention pond will reportedly turn into a permanent one near the location of the semi-circular drop off zone above.

Humble ISD expects the school to open for the 2022 school year. For more information about the plans for the building, see the District’s web site. Find updates on other new construction from the 2018 bond here.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/10/21

1411 Days since Hurricane Harvey

TCEQ Blasts Colony Ridge, Says Construction Practices Could Adversely Affect Human Health

A seven-month-long TCEQ investigation of Colony Ridge construction practices resulted in a 184-page report that confirmed allegations of erosion and silt flowing uncontrolled into ditches and streams. The investigation resulted in a “notice of enforcement.”

TCEQ Alleges Permit Violations Affecting Human Health

TCEQ found the Colony Ridge developer in violation of its Construction General Permit for failure to install even minimum controls such as silt fences and vegetative buffer strips.

As a result, the report says the developer failed to prevent discharges that “contribute to a violation of water quality standards” and that have “a reasonable likelihood of adversely affecting human health or the environment.”

Investigators found unstabilized and unprotected drainage channels connecting 3,678.69 acres of disturbed land to unprotected streams and creeks. Sediment now almost completely fills some of those streams. They lead to Luce Bayou and and the East Fork San Jacinto River, which empty into Lake Houston, the source of drinking water for 2 million people.

Lack of Construction Best Management Practices

Colony Ridge’s Construction General Permit does not authorize discharges into Texas surface waters. Yet investigators found:

  • Drainage ditches with unstabilized soil on their sides
  • A drainage ditch with completely destabilized sides
  • Sediment deposition in multiple creeks
  • One creek channel almost completely filled by sediment
  • Culverts blocked with sediment
  • A washed out road
  • Water samples with elevated levels of dissolved and suspended solids as high as 1370 milligrams/liter (suspended) and 6360 (solid)…
  • ...All tied to inadequate or non-existent best management practices

See photos below.

Self-Reports in Stark Contrast to TCEQ Report

In contrast, the construction superintendent’s own inspection checklists (pages 51-78) rated virtually all erosion-prevention measures that the company did employ as “acceptable.” However, he also indicated that the company did not use most common protective measures, such as vegetation, sod, silt fences and detention basins; claiming they were “not applicable.” His report on 2/19/20 contained a note indicating the construction site “Looks good.” His last weekly report before the complaint that triggered the investigation found no “action items.”

Get the Picture

Pages 139 to 159 of the report (Attachment 13) and pages 167-171 (attachment 17) show photographs of almost five dozen violations that contradict the construction manager’s reports.

Below is a sampling of ten photos from the report. The TCEQ investigator took them all on 6/16/2020. He also provided the captions. Page numbers refer to the full TCEQ report.

Downstream view of Rocky Branch Creek. Washed out road in background. Photo 2 out of 57. Page 141.
Destabilized banks along Long Branch Creek and sediment deposition in creek channel. Note: the creek channel almost completely filled in by sediment. Photo 17 of 57. Page 146.
Unstabilized drainage channels in Section 7 that are tied into Long Branch Creek. Photo 20 of 57. Page 147.
Area surrounding Long Branch Creek destabilized with no BMPs installed around the creek. Note unstabilized sediment piles next to the creek. Photo 30 of 57, Page 151.
Area surrounding Long Branch Creek destabilized with no BMPs installed around the creek. Note unstabilized sediment piles next to the creek. Photo 32 of 57, Page 151.
Sediment and debris in cement culvert that allows Long Branch Creek to flow underneath Section 5 entrance road. Photo 40 of 57. Page 154.
Sediment and debris in cement culvert that allows Long Branch Creek to flow underneath Section 5 entrance road. Photo 41 of 57. Page 154.
Inadequate BMPs in drainage ditch that leads to Long Branch Creek. Note: Undercut silt fence. Photo 44 of 57, page 155.
Sediment deposition in unnamed creek channel right before Long Branch Creek. Note sediment line on cree. Sediment line is demarcated by pocket knife in red circle. Photo 48 of 57. Page 156.
Sediment in a drainage ditch that is tied into an unnamed creek. Note over-capacitated silt fence. Photo 53 of 57. Page 158.

Personal Observations Corroborate Report

Based on personal observations, I don’t think the investigator exaggerated. On the contrary, he may not have captured the full scope the hazards. Some can only be seen from the air. As luck would have it, I flew a helicopter over Colony Ridge on the same day the investigator captured his photos. Here are two from the air and one from the ground.

Washed out ditches abounded.
The developer was clearing more land before previously developed areas could be stabilized.
Silt fence being propped up to allow raw sewage to flow underneath it into Luce Bayou, which empties into Lake Houston.

Other Strangeness

Colony Ridge hired Merit Professional Services in Flower Mound, a Dallas/Fort Worth suburb. Merit obtains stormwater pollution prevention permits and also provides stormwater inspection services. However, according to the complainant in this case, Merit claimed they only provided the permit, but not inspection services. Lack of local oversight may have been a large part of the problem.

Page 182 of the TCEQ report contains an August 12, 2020, memo from Landplan Engineering to the investigator. It states that, “Going forward, Colony has switched to Double Oak since they are headquartered in the Houston Area.” Double Oak provides the same services and then some. Their website shows they offer construction, erosion control and stormwater management.

Ironically, Double Oak Construction is a defendant in the Elm Grove lawsuits against Perry Homes and its contractors on the Woodridge Village project in Montgomery County. That case involves many of the same issues involved in both the TCEQ report and the City of Plum Grove’s lawsuit against the developer of Colony Ridge. The report does not mention exactly when Double Oak started working for Colony Ridge.

For the full TCEQ report, click here. Caution: large download, 28 megs, 184 pages.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/16/2020

1144 Days after Hurricane Harvey and 393 After 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.

Fine Print: Montgomery County Engineer Disclaimed Responsibility for Impact of Woodridge on Upstream and Downstream Drainage

A close reading of the Woodridge Village Section One plat shows that the Montgomery County engineer disclaimed any responsibility for the impact of Woodridge Village both upstream and downstream, in fact, anywhere in the watershed. At the same time, the county engineer certified that the plans developed by LJA Engineering met all the requirements of Montgomery County Commissioners. See below.

Enlargement from first page of plat for Woodridge Village.

Gaps in Regulations

On May 7th, at least 196 homes flooded downstream of Woodridge Village. Many other homes in Porter also flooded on the upstream side of the subdivision.

This raises the question of whether Montgomery County floodplain regulations are sufficient to protect neighboring residents.

To complicate matters, the flooding happened before construction of several detention ponds – despite the fact that the land near the area that flooded had been clearcut for more than six months. However…

According to Montgomery County’s Floodplain Administrator, County regulations look only at pre- and post-construction runoff rates. They do not address anything that happens during construction.

Montgomery County has no regulations that dictate the sequence of construction. For instance, could building detention ponds on one section of land before clearcutting another have reduced flood risk and averted disaster?

Need for More Consistency to Protect Neighbors

I have previously posted about the differences in floodplain building regulations in various jurisdictions. These differences cause confusion for residents and property owners. They may feel protected when builders ten feet away on the other side of a county or city line play by an entirely different set of rules.

These gaps in regulation provide a good example of why the State of Texas should step in and bring some uniformity to guidelines. We need sensible regulations that enable growth without endangering downstream residents.

The thoughts in this post represent my opinions on matters of public policy and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP statute of the great State of Texas.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/24/2019

664 Days since Hurricane Harvey