Tag Archive for: easement

Text of Ben’s Branch Agreement Between Bear Branch Trail Association, Friendswood and HCFCD

Rumors of a Ben’s Branch agreement between Bear Branch Trail Association, Friendswood and Harris County Flood Control District have circulated for weeks. On Wednesday, November 13, 2019, the deal became official when Diane Trautman, the Harris County Clerk, recorded the easement. Here is exactly what the easement does and doesn’t allow the various parties to do along Ben’s Branch.

Ben’s Branch below St. Martha’s Catholic School is characterized by hairpin turns and trees growing right down to and into the stream.

49-Page Ben’s Branch Easement Finally Signed

The easement is like a contract that spells out the rights, obligations and limitations of each party.

Here is the complete text of the 49-page document. Below is a summary.

Bear Branch Trail Association Rights and Obligations

This is an agreement between three parties that modifies the original deed of gift between Friendswood and the Bear Branch Trail Association (BBTA).


  • Gives Harris County Flood Control the right to operate in an area 100 feet wide, 50 feet on either side of the creek’s centerline.
  • Retains the right to maintain and operate existing trails, bridges, low water crossings.
  • May construct, install, maintain and operate new trails in the easement area as long as they don’t obstruct water flow, cause erosion or hinder HCFCD’s “de-snagging” efforts. De-snagging is the removal of trees that have fallen or are falling into the creek.
  • Must share plans for new trails, bridges, etc. with HCFCD and HCFCD must approve them before any construction begins.
  • Acknowledges that HCFCD equipment may damage trails and agrees not to hold HCFCD liable for repairs.
  • Remains solely responsible for the safe condition and maintenance within the easement area and for repairs to any damage.
This low water crossing north of Bear Branch Elementary may not be removed according to the terms of the easement. Some observers have noted trees “spearing” into the narrow culverts and backing water up. But HCFCD cuts trees into small enough sections to let them pass through such openings.

Harris County Flood Control Rights and Obligations

HCFCD may:

  • Perform de-snagging operations related to flood control and drainage.
  • Clear, cut, drop, stack and stockpile trees, shrubs, vines, and vegetation for the sole purpose of flood control.
  • Grade and stabilize banks to protect against erosion and maintain drainage.
  • Plant grass, or use rip rap or man-made materials to reduce bank erosion.
Trees constantly fall into Ben’s Branch because of bank erosion. When floating trees catch on other trees or roots during floods in the narrow channel, they can form “beaver dams” that back water up into adjoining streets, homes and businesses.

HCFCD can/will NOT:

  • Widen, deepen, enlarge, straighten or smooth the channel in such a way as to increase channel capacity.
  • Maintain or repair trails or bridges, but may repair erosion that threatens them.

HCFCD has no responsibility to repair or replace storm sewer outfalls or to repair erosion around them.

Friendswood Agrees to All of Above Plus…

Friendswood agrees to all of the above. Friendswood also agrees that the terms of the easement will not trigger the automatic reversion of ownership from BBTA to Friendswood that the original deed of gift specified.


John Hammond of Friendswood signed the easement on Monday, November 11, 2019.

Kathryn Palmer, president of BBTA signed it on Tuesday, November 12, 2019.

Diane Trautman, the Harris County Clerk signed and recorded it on November 13, 2019.

Roadblocks to Flood Control Maintenance Now Removed

This means that Flood Control can now begin de-snagging and other maintenance activities within 50 feet of either side of Ben’s Branch. The area affected lies between Woodland Hills Drive and Kingwood Drive.

Geographic Limitations

North Park, Woodland Hills, Kingwood Drive and West Lake Houston Parkway define the boundaries of BBTA.

Other community and commercial associations control the creek outside of those boundaries. But those areas are already channelized and maintained by HCFCD for the most part.

Note: Those who don’t live within these boundaries may be confused by the names. Ben’s Branch is the name of the creek that runs through Bear Branch Village, Kings Forest and Hunters Ridge. The Bear Branch Trail Association overlaps all three of the community associations, but technically has nothing to do with them. BBTA is solely responsible for the greenbelts and greenbelt trails. It has nothing to do with swimming pools or deed restrictions. This can differ in other parts of Kingwood.

Compromise Between Natural Aesthetics and Flood-Risk Reduction

Everyone should realize that this easement represents a compromise. Any loss of natural aesthetics is the price of reducing flood risk to their neighbors. The three parties worked on this for more than a year.

Parts of the greenbelt will be thinned out, but you shouldn’t see wholesale widening of the creek into a massive channel. As a consequence, people who live along the creek should realize that this doesn’t offer the highest degree of flood protection. But it does help protect both greenbelts and property owners much more than before.

St. Martha Catholic School, Kids In Action, and homes on either side of the creek that flooded should be optimistic about this agreement.

The densely forested nature of the preserve along each side of the creek will look less dense. However…

The Ben’s Branch greenbelt is a minimum of 300 feet wide. In most places, it’s 400-600 feet wide. And in some places, it measures as much as 800 feet wide. This agreement affects only 100-feet.

Thus, two-thirds to seven-eighths of the natural area will remain the way it looks now. That sounds like a reasonable price to pay for helping to protect neighbors and property values in the entire neighborhood.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/17/2019

810 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 59 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.

Q&A with HCFCD on Ben’s Branch Flooding Issues

After St. Martha’s Catholic School and Kids in Action almost flooded on a two inch rain earlier this week, I asked Harris County Flood Control a series of questions about Ben’s Branch. The questions covered a variety of topics. They included the Kingwood Drainage Assessment; flood mitigation alternatives along the creek; preservation of natural amenities; a maintenance agreement with Friendswood and Bear Branch Trail Association; timing for all of the above; and more.

St. Martha’s school on Tuesday after two inches of rain

Harris County Flood Control District continues to be a paragon of openness and transparency. Below: detailed answers to the questions people have been asking.

Q. Ben’s Branch is included in the Kingwood Drainage Assessment. When will that study be complete?

A. Our consultant is scheduled to submit the Draft Feasibility Report for HCFCD review in May 2020. We plan to hold a public meeting by early 2020 to present preliminary results and then a second meeting to present final results and recommendations for future actions.

Q. Will the consultant report findings on creeks “as they go” (one by one) or deliver one summary report at the end? (The concern: that they could sit on recommendations for months that might prevent flooding in the interim.)

A. We do not envision the alternative analysis to be completed on a creek by creek basis, but we are working to identify some initial projects that could be recommended for implementation prior to completion of the report.

This assessment is to determine level of service and make recommendations for projects to move into preliminary engineering once this assessment has concluded. Some projects might require partnerships to implement.

Q. I understand that you are close to reaching a maintenance agreement with Friendswood for the natural portion of Ben’s Branch between North Park and Kingwood Drive. Can you send me a copy of the proposed maintenance agreement or, as a backup, summarize the key features?

We are seeking an easement from the Bear Branch Trail Association, with a waiver from Friendswood Development Company, to perform desnag activities for stormwater conveyance purposes on the portion of Bens Branch between Woodland Hills and Kingwood Drive where we currently have no property rights; that is, from approximately 1,500 feet downstream of Woodland Hills to approximately 3,000 feet upstream of Kingwood Drive. Please go to the Interactive Maps of Kingwood Assessment Area on our website and look at the fuchsia line along Bens Branch on the “Channel Right-of-Way in the Kingwood Area” map.

We will share the easement language once it has been finalized.

Q. How long have you been working on this easement?

Since October 24, 2018.

Q. How will this easement differ from your normal easements?

We are obtaining this easement to perform desnag activities to allow the free flow of stormwater. For information about our desnag operations, please visit our website https://www.hcfcd.org/hurricane-harvey/kingwood-information/hcfcd-vegetation-management-activities/.

When Friendswood Development Company granted fee ownership of this portion of Bens Branch to the Bear Branch Trail Association, they retained certain rights and set specific restrictions on the property that would make it impossible for HCFCD to perform its necessary flood control responsibilities.

This agreement is different because the Friendswood Development Company wants to restrict HCFCD’s rights to “widen, deepen, enlarge, straighten, or smooth the channel in such a way as to increase channel capacity.” 

HCFCD has been working to negotiate the right to enter this property and complete channel maintenance operations for drainage purposes, while still maintaining the aesthetics that are important to both the Friendswood Development Company and the Bear Branch Trail Association. HCFCD will request the right to review plans for future improvements placed within the channel (e.g., bridges and low water crossings).

HCFCD cannot allow activities that could increase the risk of flooding where we spend public dollars.

Q. What were Friendswood’s concerns?

They wanted no alteration of the channel geometry and to retain the ability to add trails, bridges, and other structures without obtaining permits from HCFCD.

Q. Will the maintenance described in the agreement be enough to restore conveyance of Ben’s Branch so that it doesn’t flood surrounding homes and businesses?

We plan to perform desnag operations to remove obstructions so that stormwater can be conveyed efficiently.  HCFCD can’t guarantee that flooding won’t occur in surrounding homes and businesses.  HCFCD can selectively remove vegetation along the banks and other debris in the channel to increase the capacity of the channel to convey stormwater downstream.

Q. What will it take to avoid flooding? Said another way, what obstacles do you face in restoring conveyance?

Before we can perform these activities, we need to have property rights and the ability to safely access the site.

Q. What would Harris County Flood Control prescribe for Ben’s Branch to protect people from flooding?

We have not formally begun our process to identify alternatives; however, we expect to explore these alternatives for the Bens Branch channel:

  • Expanding the Kingwood diversion ditch from 150 feet to approximately 300 to use more of the right of way. Because the Kingwood diversion channel diverts water from the Montgomery County portion of the upper Bens Branch watershed, and there appears to be available capacity in the diversion channel, we will look into whether diverting more flow down the diversion channel would result in reduced flows along Bens Branch. Please note that we anticipate that this option would require a stormwater detention basin along the lower limits of the diversion channel.
  • Effectiveness of building stormwater detention basins in the upper Bens Branch watershed (Montgomery County side). This will only be feasible if large undeveloped tracts are identified for possible future basins.
  • Evaluation of channel conveyance improvement needs along the entirety of Bens Branch. Some improvements may need to be considered on portions of the channel within which HCFCD has no legal authority to work.  If this is the case, HCFCD would coordinate with the property owners to determine what improvements could be completed.

Q. Are there compromises that would provide protection from flooding without destruction of the natural amenities which residents also value? I realize this may involve a discussion of degrees of protection.

As part of this study, HCFCD will be identifying alternatives to provide 100-year level of protection within the channels, using the rainfall rates from the newly adopted Atlas 14. These alternatives will identify the magnitude of improvements necessary to handle approximately 18 inches of rainfall runoff in a 24 hour period.

There are times that flood risk reduction competes with natural and public amenities; when that occurs, HCFCD works to minimize impacts to natural amenities. Once alternatives are identified, Kingwood Area residents will have a chance to voice their opinions and concerns with our alternatives. Please note that at some point it might become necessary for the Kingwood community to decide between higher levels of flood protection and maintenance of existing amenities.

Q. Do you have any idea yet why St. Martha’s and Kids in Action almost flooded on a one year rain? What has changed in your opinion?

We do not have any formal findings as to the potential causes for the excessive ponding along Bens Branch near the Kids in Action / St. Martha’s area. The intensity of the rainfall contributed to the ponding; inlets are typically designed to handle approximately 1” per hour, and when the rainfall intensity exceeds this, there is ponding in streets and parking lots.

It also appears that there may be a downstream blockage since extremely slow velocities were seen in the water in this area and there are much lower water surface elevations in the Bens Branch channel sections further downstream. HCFCD has contacted the Bear Branch Trail Association to ask them to assess their channel and remove any blockages.  

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/1/2019 with help from Beth Walters of HCFCD

794 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 43 since Imelda