Tag Archive for: drainage

Mavera Clearing More Land West of FM1314

The Pulte Homes Mavera development at FM 1314 and SH 242 comprises approximately 2000 acres. Contractors first focused on clearing the 865 acres east of FM 1314. Photos taken on 7/22/2022 show they’re now also focusing on the 1150 acres west of FM 1314. Significant clearing in this western portion has already occurred. But more remains.

Map of Mavera At Ultimate Buildout

Map excerpted from developer’s 5/29/2020 memo to Montgomery County engineers.

Photos From West to East

Looking west from middle of western portion of Mavera. SH 242 in background. Channel drains into Crystal Creek which drains into West Fork San Jacinto by sand mine ponds in upper left.
Looking south from same position. SH 242 cuts left to right through upper middle of frame. Ponds in background are sand mines bordering the San Jacinto West Fork.
Looking east from same position at drainage coming from eastern portion of same development in distant background.
Moving farther east toward FM 1314. Still looking east. SH 242 cuts diagonally from middle right toward upper left.
Intersection of FM 1314 (bottom) and SH 242 (right). Looking east toward first section cleared and drained.
Eastern-most section of Mavera. Looking NE.

Hydrologic Timing Used to Reduce Detention Requirements

While Mavera will provide some linear detention in the main channel along with some small ponds, it relies heavily on a hydrologic timing study to avoid building all the floodwater detention capacity normally associated with a development of this size.

Hydrologic timing studies attempt to show that a development can get stormwater to a river, such as the West Fork, before the peak of a flood arrives. The theory: if you aren’t adding to the peak, you don’t need as much detention.

However, Harris County discourages the use of hydrologic timing. It encourages developers to get their water to the river as fast as possible. If enough developments do that, it can shift the peak. Regardless, Montgomery County still allows it.

In a hundred-year (1% annual chance) flood, this development claims it will not add to the peak. And therefore, it will have no adverse impact downstream. Yet it alone sends more than 16,300 cubic feet per second downstream toward West Fork sand mines and the Humble/Kingwood Area. That represents about 10% of the water that came down the West Fork during Harvey at this location.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/2/2022

1799 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.

Mavera Wetlands Bite the Dust

Mavera, a 1700-acre new development in southern Montgomery County at FM1314 and US242 has finished clearing a large section of land northwest of the intersection and started pouring concrete. Signs welcome visitors to model homes. The area, once laced with wetlands now has a massive linear detention pond and uses FM1314 for outflow control.

Looking east just north of US242 on right from over FM1314. Note wet areas in foreground. They correspond to wetlands in map below.
Large green area immediately east of 1314 (diagonal) and north of US242 (bottom) correspond to wet areas in photo above. From US Fish and Wildlife Service National Wetlands Inventory Map

Areas west of FM1314 to Crystal Creek are also being cleared, but their current state of development is not quite as advanced.

Looking west from over FM1314 at area being cleared. This area has not changed much since January when I last posted about the development.

Likewise, an area east of FM1314 has expanded north, almost to Gulf Coast Road. Neither is its drainage fully developed.

Looking NE at current limit of development. Gulf Coast Road runs diagonally from left to right just beyond tree line.

Long, Linear Detention

The development relies on a wide linear detention basin – more than a mile long! And that’s only the part east of FM1314!

Looking east toward upstream end of detention basin.

Two smaller basins also exist. One is currently by a small park and recreation center.

Looking WSW. Note small retention pond and rec center in upper right.

In the photo above, also note the small swales that outline lots. Will some drainage go overland? Or is underground drainage just not connected to the detention basin yet?

Same spot. Lower elevation. Looking west from eastern portion of Mavera. I’m not seeing any drainpipes from storm sewers entering pond yet.
Note three new model homes near center of frame.

The Mavera website by Centex homes says the swimming pool at the rec center will open late this summer. Pulte will also build homes in Mavera.

Name Changes and a “Beat the Peak” Drainage Analysis

I previously posted about Mavera in January. Compare the pictures taken then.

The development seems to have undergone a series of name changes. The land was originally known as the Denbury Tract. Later, construction plans and a drainage analysis refer to it as Madera. But now, the builders are marketing it as Mavera.

Screen capture of cover sheet from drainage plan showing first two names of development.

The drainage plans for Mavera (aka Madera/Denbury tract) rely on a hydrologic timing assessment (see last line in screen capture above).

Harris County has tried to discourage neighboring counties from using such analyses. They encourage developers to get stormwater to streams and rivers faster rather than slower. The theory is that if you can beat the peak of a flood then you aren’t adding to it. But if everybody tries to “beat the peak,” eventually you shift the peak and flood downstream neighbors. For a full discussion of drainage issues, see my previous post.

The drainage analysis claims the development will have no downstream impact, but engineers didn’t study those areas. Nor did they study how new development upstream may have already shifted the peak of a flood.

Impact on FM1314?

Long linear detention schemes typically accelerate the flow of water. This one will rely on one culvert under FM1314 to hold back more than a mile of water collected from hundreds of acres. That will put a lot of pressure on FM1314 in a heavy storm.

Looking NW over FM1314. East is to the right. Water will flow west toward Crystal Creek out of frame to the left.

The roadway will act as a dam to detain water collected from almost all of the area shown in the photo below.

Looking east. Virtually all of the cleared area will drain through one culvert under FM1314. FM1314 runs left to right through the bottom of the frame. US242 is on right. Notice how channel is being widened, making culvert off-center. Did someone initially miscalculate or did plans change?

Let’s hope all that water doesn’t blow out the road like Colony Ridge drainage blew out FM1010 in Liberty County.

For Potential Home Buyers

FEMA mapped most of this area in a ten-year flood zone. For the sake of potential home buyers, let’s also hope the engineers got the drainage calculations right.

Potential homebuyers may also be interested in reading about the risks of building homes over wetlands.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/16/2022

1782 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.

Loophole Cuts RV Park Detention Pond Capacity Requirement in Half

When examining the floodwater detention pond capacity for the Kingwood Area’s first RV park at 1355 LAUREL SPRINGS LANE, it seemed impossibly low. The park will build a pond with 7.68 acre feet of stormwater detention. That’s more than the required 6.675 acre feet, but about half of what the City of Houston (COH) would require under new guidelines that went into effect within 90 days of the plan’s approval.

Because of that 90-day grandfathering loophole, the RV park will escape current City and County requirements for floodwater detention.

Current Regs Would Require 13 Acre-Feet of Detention Pond Capacity

Under today’s requirements, a 20.032-acre RV Park would require 13 acre-feet of detention pond capacity (20 acres x .65 = 13 acre feet). That’s because the COH 2021 infrastructure design manual makes properties larger than 20 acres follow HCFCD guidelines (see below).

New Harris County guidelines require a minimum rate of .65 acre-feet per acre.The RV Park is slightly larger than 20 acres.

This requirement is based on NOAA’s new, higher Atlas-14 rainfall probability tables adopted in the wake of Harvey.

COH 2021 Infrastructure Design Manual Defers to HCFCD Regs for Lots This Size

The City’s Infrastructure Design Manual imposed new criteria in July 2021 that would have required developments greater than 20 acres to follow the HCFCD standard for detention pond capacity. See screen capture below which bridges two pages.

Screen Capture excerpted from Pages 9-29 and 9-30 of COH 2021 Infrastructure Design Manual.

City’s 2020 Regulations Required Far Less Detention

However, the City’s 2021 standards also provided a 90-day grace period for plans initially submitted before July. That meant the City’s 2020 Infrastructure Design Manual applied. And those standards only required following HCFCD’s higher standards if the lot was larger than 50 acres – which this is not. It’s 20.032 acres. So the RV Park developer will get away with installing far less detention than current regs require.

Differences Between Old/New Versions of City/County Regs

Two primary differences exist between the City and County regs in 2020 and 2021.

The first is the basis for calculations. In both years:

  • The County bases required detention pond capacity on the total size of the site.
  • The City, except where it defers to HCFCD regs, bases detention pond capacity on the amount of impervious cover within the site.

The City also changed the minimum lot size required to follow HCFCD regulations between 2020 and 2021.

  • Sites larger than 50 acres had to follow HCFCD guidelines in 2020.
  • Sites larger than 20 acres had to follow HCFCD guidelines in 2021.

The 2020 requirements apply in this case because of when plans were first reviewed (January 2021). The 2020 Infrastructure Design Manual read as follows:

COH 2020 Infrastructure design manual requires 20- to 50-acre tracts to have detention volume (in acre feet) equal to half of the impervious cover.

Developer Applied Before Detention Pond Capacity Increased

Using that formula, the developer planned a detention pond that holds 7.68 acre feet of storm water detention, an acre foot more than required at the time the plans were first submitted, even though they were finally approved four months after the new regs went into effect. But that’s still far less than the 13 acre-feet required under today’s regulations.

Impervious Cover Calculations Need Further Review

I question whether the amount of impervious cover above is correct. That’s because the developer’s permit allows 182 RV spaces, but the plans show 226 – about a 24% increase. However, the impervious cover shown on the plans before and after the permit approval did not increase. That could also affect detention pond capacity requirements.

Timing, Impervious Cover Issues Raise Public Safety Questions

Assuming the impervious cover calculations above are correct, and that’s a big assumption, the developer is providing more than the minimum amount of required detention under 2020 requirements. But if they are not correct, the developer would be short.

And if the 2021 requirements applied, the developer would have to provide virtually twice as much detention.

A half-sized detention pond would require the RV Park to pump water into Lakewood Cove’s drainage system sooner and faster than with a larger pond. And under severe conditions, when Lakewood Cove’s drainage is already stressed, the extra water could over-stress it.

No Drainage Impact Analysis

I’ve requested a drainage impact analysis from the City for the RV Park on at least two occasions and have not received one. I therefore deduce that one does not exist. Such an analysis would quantify the impact on Lakewood Cove, Edgewater Park and surrounding roads.

Detail from most recent approved construction plan shows all water from detention pond going under Laurel Springs to Lakewood Cove storm sewer system toward homes below.
All the runoff from the 20 cleared acres will be funneled via a 24″ pipe toward the homes in the foreground.

Bottom Line: Park Will Provide Half of Today’s Detention Requirement

If this developer, LS RV Resort, LP, submitted plans today, it would have to provide almost twice as much detention pond capacity.

  • 2021 requirements call for .65 acre feet per acre times 20 total acres. That equals 13 acre feet of detention.
  • 2020 requirements call for .5 times the claimed 13.349 acres of impervious cover. That equals 6.675 acre feet of detention.

And we wonder how floods happen! Remember this the next time you see water rising toward your home.

I wonder if investors in the RV Park will be notified of the potential liability in a prospectus. Undersized detention ponds based on a similar grandfathering loophole in Montgomery County regulations became the central issue in lawsuits by hundreds of Elm Grove residents against Perry Homes, its subsidiaries and its contractors. The defendants recently settled those lawsuits.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/13/2021

1537 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.

Town Fighting for Survival Stonewalled By County, State Officials at Every Turn

In the last year, I have researched and written more than 50 posts that mentioned Colony Ridge, the controversial Liberty County development with suspect drainage practices. In the last six months, County and State officials have stonewalled requests for documents that could help prove or disprove Colony Ridge violations of the County’s own drainage regulations.

Lack of back-slope interceptor swales and drains means water from lots erodes ditches and sends sediment downstream. Liberty County drainage regulations require back-slope interceptor systems and grass. See Section M on page 100 of Liberty County Subdivision and Development Regulations. But lack of those measures has widened ditch more than 35 feet due to erosion in 6 years, according to Google Earth.

During that year, Wayne Dolcefino, an eminent investigative journalist with a long list of awards, also started investigating Colony Ridge. He, too, has been stonewalled.

Dolcefino Consulting is independently investigating on behalf of neighboring Plum Grove. Residents allege that water spilling out of Colony Ridge has repeatedly contributed to flooding their properties. They have been stonewalled.

Likewise, Colony Ridge drainage wiped out FM1010, a major access road to Plum Grove, because of uncontrolled drainage coming the ditch shown above.

Dolcefino and the City of Plum Grove have filed even more requests for information than I and received little. Today, Dolcefino launched another broadside to remind people that their elected representatives seem to be representing a developer instead of them. See his report below.

Dolcefino Stonewalled; Issues Press Release

The tiny Liberty County, Texas town of Plum Grove has been fighting to save itself from real estate developer Colony Ridge, and now the town is battling back with subpoenas for the records that will prove whether missing drainage records ever existed at all. 

One of those subpoenas was delivered to LandPlan Engineering—the engineering firm that allegedly prepared the plans for the sprawling Colony Ridge subdivision that caters to illegal immigrants with owner-financed lots that do not require government documents to prove identity. 

LandPlan has been asked to produce drainage records, but they have also been asked to show the information that they received about flooding events that have helped swamp Plum Grove properties and destroy the town’s roads. In other words, once Colony Ridge created a subdivision that flooded its neighbors, did anyone care?

The fact that drainage records were missing was uncovered by Dolcefino Consulting, who were hired by the town to investigate possible corruption involving the Liberty County officials who approved what is now becoming the biggest community in the entire county. 

“Good Ole’ Boy Protection Racket”

Liberty County has known for months the drainage records were missing and has ignored calls to force LandPlan and Colony Ridge developer Trey Harris to produce the records. An alleged investigation by the Liberty County Attorney Matt Poston has never been produced. Emails show that the county engineering firm LJA hasn’t pressed the issue either. 

“There is absolutely no excuse for Liberty County to have not forced the production of these records long ago,” said Wayne Dolcefino, President of Dolcefino Consulting. “The Liberty County Judge Jay Knight has proven his negligence, his absolute disdain for the people of Plum Grove, and the next time it floods, if animals or people die, the blood will be on his hands. That’s the bottom line. I bet he would care if it was his neighborhood.” 

The former county engineer Louis Bergman was also subpoenaed. When Bergman left his job with Liberty County, he left with many of the Colony Ridge development records. 

“Bergman should have been brought before a grand jury to detail his relationships with Colony Ridge and whether his recommendations to approve these neighborhoods were based on facts or good ole’ boy engineering,” Dolcefino said. 

Bergman is the father of the Liberty County District Attorney, who has ignored calls from Dolcefino Consulting. 

The flood dangers created by Colony Ridge have threatened the world-famous Ima Survivor Sanctuary in Plum Grove, prompting angry calls for action from hundreds of thousands of supporters across the globe. 

“Time is running out Judge Knight,” Dolcefino said. “When Plum Grove proves the truth—and the lawyers at Lloyd Gosselink will—the truth will come out.” 

The Plum Grove investigation has led to the filing of a criminal complaint by Dolcefino Consulting against the State Representative for Plum Grove Ernest Bailes. 

Bailes refused to provide phone records that were sought in the investigation of his relationship with developer Trey Harris. Bailes has refused to deny acceptance of any trips or private business from Harris. The San Jacinto Sheriff Greg Capers has refused to investigate Bailes. 

“This good ole’ boy protection racket would rather protect Representative Bailes than the public right to know,” Dolcefino said. “Since our reporting on San Jacinto County began, we have received some interesting tips. Stay tuned.”

I might add that for months I have been stonewalled, too. Not one of my inquiries about the county’s drainage investigation which was launched last January has even received an “I can’t comment about ongoing investigations”!

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/15/2021 based on a press release by Dolcefino Consulting

1416 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 655 since 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.

The MoCo/LJA Way: Build First; Work Out Drainage Details Later

LJA Engineers submitted a master drainage plan for the 2,200 acre Artavia development that Montgomery County approved. It has no detention ponds. And the drainage channels currently do not connect to the San Jacinto river. Even though LJA said they would connect to the river, the plans do not specify how, when or where. As you will see below.

Dead-end drainage. Currently, the Artavia drainage channel stops just short of the Liberty Materials Moorehead mine in the background. The San Jacinto River lies beyond the mine. This and all other aerial photos below were all taken March 6, 2020.

A Sand Mine Is Not the San Jacinto

The plans DO show the channel terminating in a sand mine between Artavia and the river. A spokesman for the sand mine said the developer is still trying to work out environmental and easement issues.

Aerial photos show the main channel stops about a 100+ yards short of LMI’s shipment facility. Meanwhile, during heavy rains, the dead-end drainage overflows onto surrounding properties. A spokesman for the mine claimed that the overflow flooded the mine last year and caused the dikes to break. He alleged that was the proximate cause for 56 million gallons of white sediment-laden water entering the West Fork.

Exhibit 2 of Artavia Drainage Impact Analysis from 9/20/2018 shows the project outfall in the middle of the LMI sandpit that borders Moorehead Road and the San Jacinto West Fork in Montgomery County.

The project manager for LJA did not return calls to explain their position on the dead-end drainage. And when asked for an explanation, the new Montgomery County Engineer (not the one who signed these plans) only referred me back to LJA.

Below are the drainage plans for Artavia, obtained by a Freedom of Information Act request to Montgomery County.

Several things have jumped out at me so far. LJA has not yet returned phone calls, so to me they remain…

Unaddressed Issues

Elevation Change Accelerates Flow

Elevation drops suddenly as you get near the river – 12 feet. That accelerates water flow and threatens the sand mine. As you can see above and below, the channel is like a firehose aimed at the mine. That mine has enough problems of its own. In the past, dike breaches have affected Lake Houston water quality; we don’t need more of that. The mine blames the breaches on water overflowing from the Artavia ditch.

Note how the water in this short section of Artavia’s drainage ditch does not even pond at one end and reaches halfway up the banks at the other. That shows the slope. The SJR West Fork is between the two sections of the mine in background.
Flow Rates Understated

LJA calculations appear to understate the volume and velocity of flow. They use a Manning’s coefficient of .035, a value associated with pasture/farmland or channels filled with stones and cobbles. The coefficient recommended for smooth channels is 0.022. The difference creates a 63% increase in velocity and a 60% increase in volume of flow. See for yourself. With no real way yet for the water to get to the river or under FM1314, that will cause water to pile up much faster.

Not too many cobbles and boulders in this channel. All sand and silt which is already blocking culverts.

LJA also uses pre-Atlas rainfall statistics in their calculations of 10-, 25- and 100-year peak flows. The new Montgomery County standard is 16.1 inches in 24 hours compared to the 12.17 that LJA used for the 24 hour, 100-year flood.

Did LJA use “good engineering practices” and model Atlas 14 to ensure that it actually contained the 100-yr, 24-hr storm? There’s an ethical issue here. Did they put public safety first? We don’t know because they didn’t say so in any of their documents.

No Mention of Wetlands

LJA never mentions wetlands in their analysis. However, the National Wetlands Inventory shows wetlands on Artavia property and other property Artavia drains through.

Wetlands on Artavia Property or property Artavia drainage would likely have to go through.
Threat to Pipeline

A pipeline crosses the Liberty Materials mine. High velocity flow through the mine could undermine and threaten that pipeline like it did at another Liberty mine and at the Triple PG mine on the East Fork.

Green line shows path of pipeline across across Liberty Materials Mine. White line shows current path of drainage ditch.
No Outlet

There’s no explanation for how Artavia will get water through the pit at the end of their ditch. They can not store Artavia’s runoff in the pit. Their pit is already filled to the brim with highly silty, turbid water. Another unauthorized discharge could affect water quality in Lake Houston...again!

Level of water in the pit that Artavia’s ditch would have to drain through. Pit is already overflowing. West Fork is in background. TCEQ measured suspended solids in pit’s water at 25X higher than river.
Threat to Mine

A representative for the mine owner says the mine owner doesn’t want more water in the pit. They can’t afford the cost from environmental or business perspectives. With the COVID-19 threat, construction activity is way down. So margins are slim. And they can’t afford to have water fill their deep pit where they dry mine.

“No Adverse Impact”

LJA claims the project will have no adverse impact on downstream properties. But it already has. Properties along Greenbaugh and in Oak Tree have flooded since Artavia started clearing land and filling in wetlands.

Oak Tree detention pond (behind camera) used to overflow into wetlands. Then Artavia started clearing and filling. Now water backs up into the 40+ homes in the small subdivision.

The Liberty Materials mine also alleges it was flooded by Artavia’s overflow, resulting in the discharge of 56 million gallons of silty water into the West Fork.

The day the West Fork turned white. TCEQ blamed LMI. LMI blamed Artavia.
Who Pays to Get Water Under FM1314?

LJA can only convey 68 cfs under FM1314. Meanwhile, TxDoT has not yet finished the design for a bridge. They hope to start bidding the job by the Fall of this year. Residents, not the developer, will pay for the improvement through the local municipal utility district.

Artavia ditch on north side of FM1314
Where water exits on the downstream side of FM1314
Channel downstream/south of FM1314.

LJA claims “The culvert crossings were designed to have capacity to convey 100-year storm events.” But they certainly aren’t doing that now.

Diverting Water From East to West Fork

The developer appears to be diverting water from the East Fork watershed to the West Fork watershed. See Section 1.4 and Exhibit One.

It would be harder to “beat the peak” to the East Fork. It’s 12 times farther away; water would take much longer to get there. So the diversion appears to be an attempt to avoid building detention ponds. But the diversion adds to flood volume in heavily populated West Fork areas where far more homes flooded during Hurricane Harvey.

Will LJA Figure It Out In Time?

For the sake of adjacent residents and businesses, let’s hope they figure these loose ends out before the next flood.

We heard of many of the same problems and promises on the Perry Homes Woodridge Village project north of Kingwood that LJA also engineered. Hundreds of homes flooded there twice last year.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/20/2020

934 Days after 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.

Woodridge Problems Still Piling Up for Porter Resident Chris Yates

Photo looking west toward Yates property just out of frame on right. Developer continues to build site up relative to neighbors – before installing drainage. This has created problems for Chris Yates and his neighbors in Porter.

Some more bad news surfaced today for the people whose drainage has been affected by Woodridge Village construction activity. Rebel Contractors has built up the level of Woodridge before installing drainage between Woodridge and neighbors. As a result, water has ponded in Porter yards for months and damaged their property. Then, to add insult to injury, about a week after finally erecting a long-awaited silt fence, Rebel Contractors covered it with dirt.

Woodridge: The Yates Family Curse

Chris Yates, who lives at 25395 Needham Road in Porter, sent me these pictures today. They show how construction activity has affected his property. First up: two BEFORE shots showing his happy family in front of the Woodridge site.

Yates’ daughter Amber in back yard before clearcutting began. Looking east. A small ditch ran through the tree line which forms the property line between Yates and Woodridge. Note the telephone lines at the top of the picture for reference in subsequent photos.
Yates with family in happier times. This was taken after construction began but before water started piling up. Note piles of dirt being stacked up on Woodridge property in background.
After clearcutting and grading of the Woodridge property in the background, water started collecting in Yates’ yard. This rain fell in March and remained there until Friday, May 31, when Yates pumped it out.

Contractor Should Have Maintained Positive Drainage at All Times

Page 6/Point 12 of the Woodridge Village Detention Plan states that, “Contractor shall maintain positive drainage from construction site at all times. Any damage to existing ditch system as the result of the contractor’s activities shall be repaired to existing or better conditions.” Oops! Neighbors up and down the western border of Woodridge have experienced stagnant water. Some have even experienced flooding.

Almost 4 Feet of Standing Water Before Any Drains Away

The Yates back yard on May 7. Their four-foot fence is barely visible in these two shots taken as water built up. It could not drain away according to Yates until the stormwater crested at a high point to the south between his home and Sherwood Trails..
This recent shot shows how the standing water killed Yates’ grass. Silty runoff ponded for two months.
Today, Yates pumped the water out to his street drain. It took him eight hours, pumping at 3,700 gallons per hour. While this kind of damage does not compare to the loss of a home, I’m sharing this story because it seems to illustrate the contractor’s disregard for the problems it causes neighbors.
Yates raises several animals on his property but has had to keep them caged for months because of the standing water.
Detention plans show that developer knew runoff was moving west to east toward development.
Page 12 of the Water, Sanigtary Sewer and Drainage Facilities & Paving Appurtenances Plan shows that developer was expecting to compensate for 10-aces of offside drainage from the Yates neighborhood, but didn’t start installing the storm drains for months, until well after three heavy May rains.
Looking north from Yates back yard along western boundary of Woodridge. Note the standing water between development and neighbors. The Woodridge side of the property (right) was elevated approximately 3 feet before drainage was installed. Photo taken 5/31/2019.
Plans show that this drain should eventually handle water that collects between Yates’ property and Woodridge. Question: Why wasn’t this installed before the Woodridge property was elevated? Said Yates who has years of construction experience, “Drainage is put in by elevation so this could have been put in before building up.” Photo taken 5/31/2019.

More Out-of-Sequence Construction?

Yates, whose father owned a clearing/grading business, worked in the family business when younger and said that on a site like this, they typically installed drainage first thing. The reason: ponding water slows down construction. “Even though it takes time, it saves time,” said Yates. “You can’t work when the site is wet. Construction on this site seems to be out of sequence.”

Yates also said that he had talked to the developer and learned they were six months behind schedule. One can only wonder whether the delayed installation of drainage had anything to do with the construction delays.

This sequencing complaint echoed the concerns of Elm Grove and North Kingwood Forest residents. They flooded, in part, because the developer clear cut the entire 268 acres before installing critical detention ponds.

The Silt Fence Saga: Part 2

This and detention ponds were not the only out-of-sequence construction that neighbors have suffered through. Silt fences should have been installed before clear cutting started. Instead, they were put up almost a year later.

Additionally, the developer finally installed silt fences last week. The developer was supposed to install them before clearcutting began. For months, residents complained about sand, silt and clay pouring out of the construction site into streets and storm drains. Then about a week or so ago, after a complaint to the TCEQ triggered an investigation, silt fences finally appeared. Now they are buried under dirt again.

1-2 Week old silt fence … buried under silt. Said Yates, “What’s the point of silt fences if you are piling dirt on top of them an on the other side of them?” Photo taken 5/31/2019.

Chris Yates must feel at this point as though he’s Rodney Dangerfield. “Can’t get no respect.” Let’s hope he and the hundreds of other families affected by Woodridge construction find some before this is all over.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/1/2019 with images courtesy of Chris and Tammy Yates of Porter

641 Days since Hurricane Harvey

All thoughts expressed in this post are 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.

Gretchen Dunlap-Smith’s Flood Experience: “You Sunk Us”

To date, most of the press coverage about the May 7th flood has focused on Elm Grove and North Kingwood Forest to the south of the new Woodridge Village development. However, the flood also affected many homes in Porter to the west of it. This is an interview with Gretchen Dunlap-Smith in Porter whose home was built in 1994. It flooded for the first time – after Woodridge Village started clearcutting and grading the land next to her, and wetlands disappeared.

USGS National Wetlands Inventory shows that government classified much of the northern section of Woodridge as wetlands (dark green overlays). Porter borders Woodridge Village to the west. Smith home located in white circle.

“This Area Never Flooded”

Rehak: Has this area ever flooded before?

Dunlap-Smith: This area never flooded.

Rehak: How far back does “never” go?

Dunlap-Smith: I grew up in the Kingwood area. My parents moved here in late 1976. We had 2.5 acres off of Hueni. My brother built this house in ‘94. So I’ve known this home since its inception. I saw it being built. One house at the end of the block did get water in it, but none of the other houses ever flooded. Ever!

Rehak: What do you think caused the flooding on May 7th?

Dunlap-Smith: (Pointing to bulldozers in the distance) The construction down there. That’s the only thing that’s changed. During Harvey, there was never any fear, threat, or worry in my mind that “I’m going to have water in my home.” Ever! During Harvey, during the Tax Day flood and all the stuff before that…never any concern. This (pointing to the construction again) changed the game.

We used to ride four wheelers on that property so I know there used to be a huge detention ditch and a huge pond. There used to be a natural creek down off of the end that went up to the wood line. From what I’ve been seeing and what I’ve been told, they backfilled all that in. The wetlands disappeared.

Note dirt pushed in ditch along western edge of Woodridge Village. Homes from the north end of this development in Porter all the way down to Mace and Joseph streets flooded, including Dunlap-Smith’s home on Flower Ridge.

Ditches No Longer Drain

Dunlap-Smith: Even now, the ditches don’t drain. Our ditches drained before. They never had standing water in them. You look at the ditches now and you will see green algae and moss growing in them. We never had that before. We could mow our ditches. They were dry, because the water drained. And now it doesn’t do that. 

Rehak: Where did the water go before? 

Dunlap-Smith: It went to the end of the road and flowed out.

Rehak: And now it’s getting to the end of the road and stopping?

Where drainage from Flower Ridge in Porter joins the new Woodridge Village in Porter.
Residents say water now stands so long in altered ditches that it grows algae.

Dunlap-Smith: Right. Now it’s backing up and flooding the street.

Rehak: Were you blocked in on May 7th?

Dunlap-Smith: We got out Tuesday night when the rain receded a little bit…for like 3 hours. The water went down enough to where I felt comfortable going through it with our Nissan Altima.

Ditches Became Invisible in Flood

Rehak: These ditches are kind of…deep.  If you didn’t know they were there…!!!

Dunlap-Smith: Yeah! You could really do some damage. Or worse, drown yourself in your car.

Photo by Gretchen Dunlap-Smith from May 7 of Flower Ridge in in Porter.

Rehak: How many homes in your subdivision were affected?

Dunlap-Smith: I don’t have a count. But I know that several homes flooded on our street and other streets in the subdivision.

Rehak: How high did the water get?

Dunlap-Smith: A couple inches in our house. Deeper in others.

Rehak: How much did you lose?

Saved by the Peaches!

Dunlap-Smith: Carpet. I was able to get some furniture up onto soup cans and big jars of peaches.

I put most of our furniture up on stuff like that. Hopefully, I may be able to salvage a couple rooms of carpet. Most of my house was tiled by my brother and sister. So the only rooms that had carpet were my living room and my three bedrooms.

Swamped utility room after the flood. Photo. by Gretchen Dunlap-Smith.

Rehak: Is there any concern that the water got under the tile?

Dunlap-Smith: I talked to a couple people about that. I have two dehumidifiers that have been going non-stop since the day after the flood. Those haven’t quit. I’m dumping them constantly. 

Cleaning Up the House Without Flood Insurance

Rehak: How long did it take the water to recede? When you came back the next day was it out?

Dunlap-Smith: It was out of the streets.

Rehak: How about the house?

Dunlap-Smith: No. The house…I had to pull every bit of carpet out. It had not receded.

Rehak: Did you have to squeegee it out?

Dunlap-Smith: That carpet was a soaking wet mess! You see that shop vac behind you? That’s a wet/dry shop vac.

Gretchen Dunlap-Smith tries to save her carpet by drying it on the bed of her truck.

You know, this isn’t a flood zone. When we bought the home, we weren’t required to have flood insurance. We called our agent after the flood and he said we weren’t covered, but we could get coverage for four or five hundred dollars per year. But it wouldn’t activate for 30 days.  

“You Sunk Us”

Dunlap-Smith: My neighbor told me that they were down there digging a ditch line, trying to open up the drainage again from the damage they had done. But you’ve already damaged natural drainage. You changed and affected how the flow goes. So I don’t care what you do now. You sunk us

Rehak: Their plan shows a huge detention pond up in the northwestern corner of this land that they clearcut. And then there’s a linear ditch running inside their property all the way down to the bottom.

Where N1 detention pond and drainage ditch should have been before flood. Excavation still had not started weeks after flood. This area used to be wetlands before the developer “improved” the drainage.

Dunlap-Smith: Right. But that ditch is not there. And if you look down Ivy Ridge, every home has trash in front because every one of them flooded.

Trash pile at end of Ivy Ridge. Looking east toward new development where drainage used to go.

“They Will Never Build on that Property”

The gentleman behind us, when he bought his house, told us there was an easement on that property. He was told they would never build on that property and not to worry. And here they are (pointing to construction).

Rehak: I’ve heard that same story from a dozen different people!

Dunlap-Smith: You get told something and you take it as gospel truth. And you run with it. You don’t check. You don’t research it. You just believe it because they’ve been honest up until now. Which is unfortunate.

Rehak: Do you have any idea what the financial loss is so far?

Counting Her Blessings, Minus the PTSD

Dunlap-Smith: Not really. Honestly, I counted my blessings. It could have been a lot worse. I saw what those people in Elm Grove were hit with. And my husband lost everything in the ’94 flood, including his whole family home. He lived right behind where Reeves furniture used to be on 59. It’s an antique store now. He lived on Treasure Lane. In ’89 there was a flood. They lost everything. But then the one in ’94 really did them in.

As far as the financial? I’m grateful. I know it could have been worse. But I know there’s been a huge emotional cost. It triggered PTSD in my husband.

Rehak: How?

Praying as the Water Rose

Dunlap-Smith: My husband is 6’4”. Not a little guy. He dwarfs me. Works for the Harris County Sherriff’s office. Takes down inmates every day. He’s not a timid guy.

When water was coming in the house, he sat down with his head in his hands and had tears. And I’ve never seen him cry.

We both were under stress. Water’s coming in our house. I have our dogs in a kennel. And I realized then…oh my gosh. The dogs are standing in water inside their kennels. So I moved them up. My husband and I were both getting a little snippy, which isn’t in our nature. There we were. Standing up to our ankles in water in the middle of our living room. He grabbed my hand and I grabbed his, and it’s like, “OK, right here. Right now. We’re praying. Stop. We have to see this for what it is not. It’s not as bad as it could be. And now he’s seeing that. 

That Sour Smell

Rehak: Are you going to have to pull out wallboard and electrical?

Dunlap-Smith: I don’t think so. That’s why I said, “I’m counting my blessings.”

Rehak: Floorboards?

Dunlap-Smith: (sighs heavily). Probably. After the first three or four days, I could smell the sour. There was a heavy sour smell. Not so much mildew, but sour.

May 15th was the deadline to dispute our taxes and ours went up like $10,000. So I’m disputing them. I fired off a letter. (She begins reciting complaints in the letter.) “Are we going to be in a flood plain now?” “Are we going to require flood insurance?” We’re not a high-income neighborhood. We don’t have money to throw at that stuff.

Rehak: What kind of assistance have you gotten from Montgomery County so far?

Dunlap-Smith: Nothing. (Pause) Absolutely nothing.

Too Poor to Repair, Too Proud to Ask for Help

Rehak: What would you like to get?

Dunlap-Smith: I would like to get those sticky floor tiles at cost or at a highly discounted rate. I don’t know. I would like to get a dehumidifier because they’re not doing squat about this or taking accountability. My husband and I don’t have credit cards that we can buy things with.

We bought two dehumidifiers out of our pocket. That was nearly 500 dollars. You’re living paycheck to paycheck and you want to fix your house back. My Aunt told me to call Red Cross. But I’m not going to take money out of somebody’s hands that I can see needs it more than I do.  I’m not going to do that.

Wants Developer to Restore Drainage

Rehak: Let me rephrase the question. In regard to your development, what would you like to see Montgomery County and the developer do?

Dunlap-Smith: For starters, come in and dig out the ditches. Maybe lower the streets to create more capacity for the water before it gets into our homes.

Rehak: And in regard to that new development going in over there?

Dunlap-Smith: I would love to see the County force the developer to create a true, correct drainage ditch.

Rehak: Do you think the county is even aware that you flooded?

Dunlap-Smith: No. They sent out a message on Twitter saying, “Contact us if you had any flooding.” I don’t think they have any clue. 

We had water backing up and leaking from our toilet. Our tub was filling up with this noxious looking water and a septic smell. It was brown. 

No, I don’t think the county knows that it happened in a place that it’s never happened before. The developer says they aren’t the culprit. But they changed the drainage. And they’ve gone too far to turn back.

Rehak: You can’t put back nature the way it was.

Dunlap-Smith: Agreed. I wish the county could force them to create drainage. This flooding will happen again if things stay as they are.

Reluctant to Water Plants

Rehak: How do you feel about your future here?

Note: As with other flood victims I have interviewed, curiously, Ms. Dunlap-Smith thinks in terms of tomorrow, not next year.

Dunlap-Smith: We have a little joke here. Every time I water my plants, it rains. For some people it’s washing their cars. But I told my husband this morning that, “I’m afraid to water my plants.” So … if that tells you anything.  (Laughing) I’d rather let the plants die.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/31/2019

640 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Contractor Not Executing All Requirements in Approved Woodridge Plans

A review of construction plans for detention ponds and other site work in the troubled Woodridge Village subdivision revealed several deficiencies in the contractor’s performance to date. These deficiencies contributed to the widespread flooding on May 7 in Elm Grove and North Kingwood Forest. They have also affected life in those and other neighboring communities for months.

The plans submitted by LJA Engineers for Job #2027-1100L are dated July, 2018. Both the City of Houston and Montgomery County approved them. The plans specify responsibilities for Rebel Contractors.

Deficiencies include, but are not limited to, inadequate detention, poor drainage, missing silt fencing, not displaying permits, failure to repair damage to streets, and lack of supervision.

Missing Silt Fencing

Let’s start with a pretty standard one: silt fencing. Their purpose is to control runoff that carries silt into streets and sewers. The objective: avoid clogged storm drains that can exacerbate flooding and require expensive remediation.

The law requires contractors to erect silt fencing BEFORE they even clear the land. The contractor completed clearcutting the land adjacent to Elm Grove last November. But when I visited the job site on May 9 of this year – six months later – I could see no silt fencing…anywhere.

Image taken on 5/9/19 at north end of Village Springs Drive in Elm Grove. Note lack of silt fencing and presence of clay and silt in street.

On May 16, one day after the LJA site inspection, I took this picture.

Silt fence installed AFTER flood.

Page 6, Point #5 says, “Contractor must inspect all structural controls at a minimum once every seven days and within 24 hours after a storm event that meets or exceeds .5 inches per 24 hour period.” Structural controls would include the silt fencing that wasn’t installed for 6 months.

Does it really make a difference? Look at the water quality in these two pictures taken by Jeff Miller in front of his home in Elm Grove.

Water in street in front of Jeff Miller’s house in Elm Grove during Harvey, BEFORE Rebel Contractors clearcut the area to the north.
Water in same street on May 7 after clearcutting adjacent area. No silt fences were installed.

Says Miller, the homeowner who took the pictures above, “Certainly in addition to suspended solids, there were also dissolved chemicals and biological materials (eg., diatoms) swept into Taylor Gully and our drinking water.” Miller is a retired project manager for a large pharmaceutical company and knows about the importance of avoiding contamination.

Missing or Inadequate Supervision

Several pages in the plans, including the cover page, specify that a professional engineer must monitor construction to ensure compliance with construction plans and specifications. If that person was doing his/her job, how could he/she possibly miss the lack of silt fencing…which is also specified on numerous pages? You should have to climb over it to get into the site!

Inadequate Drainage

Page 2, Column 1, Point #3 states, “Contractor shall be responsible for damages to existing water, wastewater, and storm drainage lines.” According to residents and maps available on the Montgomery County Appraisal District web site, the contractor filled in existing drainage before Elm Grove flooded; it never had before.

Also on Page 2, Column 1, Point #5 states, “Adequate drainage shall be maintained at all times during construction and any drainage ditch or structure disturbed during construction shall be restored to existing conditions or better.” Again, the contractor filled in existing drainage, did not restore it, and Elm Grove flooded. The contractor also worked on the site for six months without installing the main detention pond in the area to where all water was draining. After the flood, it took them only a day or so to excavate most of the pond. Why wait so long?

Here’s where it should have gone.

Detention pond in red circle just above flooded homes was not in place before flood. Yet all the drainage for 268 acres exited the site through here. See photos below.
Image taken on 5/12/19, five days after storm by Bob Rehak shows detention pond S2 has not yet been excavated.
Four days later, photo by Jeff Miller on 5/16/19 shows S2 pond being excavated. Pond still has not reached required depth of 15 feet. Representative of LJA Engineers did not recall seeing the excavation during their site inspection on May 15.

Street Damage

Page 2, Column 1, Point #8 states, “Any damage to any of the existing pavement and/or utilities must be repaired immediately. The contractor must notify the appropriate utility owner who will make the repairs at the contractor’s expense.” People in Porter have been complaining for months about how heavy construction traffic has crumbled their asphalt streets.

Heavy truck about to turn left into Webb Street construction entrance. Photo by Bob Rehak.
Damage to Web Street from construction traffic. Pile of dirt was dumped there by contractor. Photo by Bob Rehak.

Keeping Pipe Free of Dirt

Page 2, Column 1, Point #15 states, “All pipe and reinforcement steel shall be kept free of dirt and other debris. Any damage to the coating of the various materials must be repaired.” See image below. Nuff said.

Taken from Woodland Hills Drive on May 8, 2019

Maintaining Adequate and Positive Drainage at All Times

Page 2, Column 1, Point #16 says, “Contractor shall be responsible for maintaining adequate and positive drainage at all times during construction of proposed facilities.” If the adequate part was true, Edy Cogdill could not have shot this video of water pouring out of the construction site and flooding Village Springs Drive.

It is also unlikely that the high water rescue vehicle below would have been necessary on May 7.

Houston Fire Department High Water Rescue Truck during May 7 flood in Elm Grove.

No Traffic Controls

Page 2, Column 4, Point #1 under Traffic Notes states, “Contractor shall provide and install traffic control devices in conformance with Part VI of the Texas Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices.” No traffic control devices are installed anywhere around the site as of this writing, yet construction machinery barges right out into traffic, as this equipment did in front of me. With one way in and out of this neighborhood, residents complain that they have had to wait up to half an hour while large equipment gets stuck in ditches.

Residents complain that equipment frequently blocks traffic. I witnessed this personally.

Page 6, Point #10 says, “Contractor is responsible for cleaning mud and or dirt tracked onto existing streets, by his workman’s, contractor’s or suppliers’ vehicles. Street must be cleared within 24 hours of when the tracking occurs.” Above, I caught the contractor dumping dirt on the street, in a feeble attempt to shore up the shoulder to widen the turning radius. The contractor succeeded only in further destroying the street. He should have widened his own driveway instead.

Complying with Environmental Laws

Page 6, Point #3 states, “Contractor will be responsible for complying with all environmental laws.” One such law stipulates that the contractor isn’t supposed to let silty water leave the site; hence the discussion of silt fences above. Another states that they must post their Stormwater Pollution Prevention Permits at site entrances. I looked high and low for those without success for the week after the flood. Then suddenly on May 16, I saw this posted.

Photographed on May 16, 2019, this should have been posted from the start of construction.

Such notices enable residents to file complaints when they notice violations. Not posting the notice makes it difficult to know where to complain or about whom to complain. If you have seen other suspicious activities you wish to report, here’s all about Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plans. They’re supposed to be monitored by the TCEQ.

But in this case, the TCEQ turfed the investigation to LJA Engineering, which was paid by both the developer (to plan the site) and Montgomery County (to inspect permit compliance).

I could go on and on. (Actually, I’m just getting warmed up.) There are 26 pages of plans relating to the detention and drainage. Download them for yourself and let me know what else you find.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/23/2019 with help from Jeff Miller, Gretchen Dunlap-Smith and Abel Vera

632 Days after Hurricane Harvey