Tag Archive for: FEMA

AP Story Highlights Efforts to Streamline Buyout Process

According to an Associated Press (AP) story published this weekend, “A recent study for the National Institute of Building Sciences found that society as a whole saves $7 in avoided costs for every $1 spent through federally funded grants to acquire or demolish flood-prone buildings.” 

Idea Behind Buyouts

Buyouts are a strategy used by FEMA to avoid multiple payouts from the National Flood Insurance Program for properties that flood over and over again. At some point, it becomes cheaper to buy the home and tear it down than to fix it repeatedly. However, buyouts can take years to process and they are always voluntary. Moreover, even if a homeowner decides not to sell, the government continues to underwrite his/her insurance.

The AP story by David A. Lieb cited the case of Mosby, Mo. Residents there flooded three times in six weeks in 2015. Many quickly signed up for buyouts, but are still waiting for offers years later.

With 7/1 savings, one wonders why it takes government so long to acquire these homes? Buyout experts that I talked to say that one of the keys to successfully negotiating a buyout is making people offers BEFORE they rebuild their homes. That observation argues for the need to streamline the buyout process, not drag it out for years.

Attempt to Streamline Buyouts

The AP story quotes U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. His committee has jurisdiction over FEMA. He questions why “….[we] keep selling them (flooded homeowners) insurance and building in the same place?”

The article continues: “DeFazio wants to expand and revamp a buyout process that he describes as inefficient and irrational. He’s backing a proposed pilot project that would give homeowners a break on their flood insurance premiums, as long as they agree in advance to a buyout that would turn their property into green space if their homes are substantially damaged by a flood.”

What 240,000 cubic feet of water per second does to a dream home with a river view. Next building is scheduled for demolition on June 3.

Status of Forest Cove Townhome Buyouts on Marina Drive

The buyout process from Harvey is just getting started in some parts of Texas. Harris County Flood Control has already bought out many homes in the Forest Cove area. “We’ve purchased three entire buildings. One has been demolished and two more are in process,” said James Wade of the Flood Control District.  “We have about 65% of the units along Marina Drive purchased and are working through the remaining units.”

But over in Liberty County, officials have just started the buyout process. Buyouts require cooperation between the federal government which funds them, and city or county officials which negotiate them. Therefore, the success of buyout programs often depends on the interest level of cities and counties.

Buyout Success Often Depends on City or County

Counties that aggressively pursue buyout dollars from the federal government can offer residents an option that other counties can’t or don’t.

While most of the Marina Drive townhomes in Forest Cove are structurally unsound and therefore uninhabitable, residents elsewhere, such as Tammy Gunnels in unincorporated Montgomery County, have clamored for buyouts with no luck for years. With the May 7th rains, her home has flooded now 11 times in 10 years.

I applaud Representative DeFazio’s attempt to reform the buyout system. It seems like one of those rare instances when the humane thing to do is also the most cost-effective thing to do.

Turning Problems into Natural Retention and Recreation

A more efficient buyout process will also help rejuvenate and beautify neighborhoods. In the case of Forest Cove, the City of Houston Parks Board and Harris County Precinct Four are already working together to build a greenbelt trail. The trail would connect the County’s new Edgewater Park, under development at Hamblen and US59 with Kingwood’s trail system. That could also open up the entire Spring Creek greenbelt system to Kingwood and Forest Cove hikers and bikers. I can’t wait!

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/28/19

638 days since Hurricane Harvey

Houston Council Member Dave Martin Issues Mouth Bar Update

Houston City Council Member Dave Martin announced today that the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) has authorized the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to remove sand and siltation from the Lake Houston mouth bar.  

History of Project

In 2018, USACE first began removing debris deposited during Hurricane Harvey from the San Jacinto River under FEMA Mission Assignment (DR 4332). The assignment directed USACE to restore the river to pre-Harvey conditions.

DR 4332 has removed debris from three out of four identified sections of the San Jacinto River. Contractors should finish the last segment (shown in blue below) in May.

Original segments identified by USACE. The orange and green segments are complete. The blue segment should be finished with another week or so. And the purple segment is the one yet to be done – including the mouth bar.

FEMA did not approve the fourth section, in the original scope of work for DR 4332.  Last month, the City of Houston filed an application for mouth bar removal as well as an additional dredge material disposal site. FEMA and USACE have been reviewing it since then, according to Council Member Martin.

The State of Texas, the City of Houston, as well as multiple stakeholders from the Lake Houston area, requested FEMA to expedite authorization of a Mission Assignment for debris removal and dredging of the mouth bar while the equipment is still in the river. The hope: to save taxpayers the cost of a second mobilization effort. Mobilization for the first assignment cost approximately $18 million.

FEMA Issues Directive of Mission Assignment

At a meeting last week in Austin, FEMA issued a directive of Mission Assignment to USACE for dredging of the mouth bar at the confluence of the San Jacinto River and Lake Houston.

The City requested removal of 1.4 million cubic yards of sediment. It is unclear at this time how much FEMA will fund, exactly where it will be stored, and whether matching funds will come from other sources. FEMA, TDEM, City of Houston, and USACE are still working to determine the amount of silt deposited by Hurricane Harvey.

Dredging of Final Segment To Begin Within 30 Days

 Martin hopes the calculation will be finalized next week, and expects dredging to begin within 30 days. 

The Great Lakes Dredge is still docked at the USACE Command Post while it awaits FEMA and USACE to finalize mouth bar dredging details with the City and State.

Kudos to Mission Team

In his press release, Martin issued “a huge thank you to our federal partners Congressman Dan Crenshaw, Field Representative for Congressman Crenshaw, Kaaren Cambio, Congressman Kevin Brady, Senator Ted Cruz, and Senator John Cornyn for their support as they have all been meeting regularly with FEMA and discussing this project.”

“This is a huge project for our area,” said Martin, “and it would not be possible without the on-going support and push from Governor Greg Abbott and Chief Nim Kidd, Texas Department of Emergency Management (TDEM), as well as Mayor Sylvester Turner and Stephen Costello, Chief Recovery Officer – City of Houston.” 

Martin also gave additional thanks to Jenna Armstrong and Mark Mitchell from the Lake Houston Area Chamber of Commerce for coordinating a letter writing campaign.

Breathing a Bit Easier Tonight

During floods earlier this year, I noticed a ten foot difference at times at gauges on either side of the mouth bar. It is acting like a dam behind the dam.

With the start of Hurricane season on June 1, residents of Kingwood and Humble will breathe a little easier tonight. Hopefully, the Corps and its contractors will be able to at least dredge a channel through the mouth bar area before the peak of the Atlantic season from mid-August through September.

The SJRA has agreed to continue lowering Lake Conroe during that period by 2 feet versus its normal level as an additional buffer against flooding.

My thanks to Council Member Dave Martin for pushing this project so tirelessly, and to Kaaren Cambio and Mark Micheletti for leading to effort to lower Lake Conroe again this year. Neither effort has been easy. Finally, kudos also to Tim Garfield and R.D. Kissling, two local retired geologists for their efforts in helping people understand the dangers posed by the mouth bar.

Posted by Bob Rehak on April 26, 2019

605 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Army Corps Releases New Video of West Fork Dredging Highlights

Two minute video that looks back on the Emergency West Fork Dredging Project. Project should be completed within the next three weeks.

Last week I reported that Great Lakes finished dredging its segment of the San Jacinto West Fork. Their dredge is currently docked, but is not yet undergoing demobilization.

Callan Marine, a subcontractor to Great Lakes on the job is still hard at work clearing the Kings Harbor area. Over the next 30 days, the Army Corps forecasts that Callan will remove an additional 125,000 cubic yards of material from the West Fork,” said Alton Meyer, Corps Project Manager.

Callan Marine Dredge still hard at work in Kings Harbor area.

Unless FEMA, Army Corps, City of Houston, Harris County and State of Texas can strike a deal to remove the giant sand bar at the mouth of the West Fork, demobilization will begin in early May, roughly two weeks from now. For now, Great Lakes is standing by, waiting for that decision.

Dredging Highlights To Date

The video above shows some of the highlights of the current project. The Army Corps produced it.

As of April 11, 2019, the Corps and contractors had removed 652 tons of woody debris and 1,547,000 cubic yards of sand from the river.

The Corps estimates that by the completion date, 720 tons of woody debris and 1,684,000 cubic yards of sand will be removed from this 2-mile stretch of the San Jacinto.

The project began September 20, 2018, and should finish by the end of May, 2019.

Mouth-Bar Considerations

Planners now need to determine whether to extend the project by dredging the mouth bar. That would keep the crew and equipment working. And that could save, at least in theory, approximately $18 million in remobilization fees compared to pulling out now and coming back later.

Planners are evaluating:

  • How much sediment Harvey deposited in the mouth bar area
  • The cost to remove it
  • Where to place it.

All three variables affect each other. That makes costing the alternatives complex. For instance, the further upriver you pump the sand, the higher the cost for any given volume. That’s because you need additional pipeline, booster pumps, fuel, pontoons and crew.

Of the three variables, decidingwhere to place the sediment is the most time consuming. By Federal law, permitting the placement site requires two mandatory 30-day public-comment periods.

Great Lakes’ early finish pressured planners to evaluate Placement Area #2 (south of Kingwood College on Sorters Road) as an alternative placement area. Because it is already permitted, it would not require the lengthy public comment periods. And because the land owner is selling the sediment placed there, it is not filling up as quickly as Placement Area #1.

Thus, it may be technically possible to keep the equipment working and save remobilization fees – if FEMA can make a decision quickly enough.

A third possibility: using a combination of two placement areas, as in the current project.

While FEMA and the Corps weigh their options and costs, Great Lakes is repairing its equipment and inspecting pipeline. Mouth-bar dredging already has support of the City of Houston, Harris County and the State.

A decision could come in the next week or two.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/15/19

594 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Great Lakes Finishes Dredging Early; Accelerates Need for Mouth Bar Decision

Last month, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers predicted that dredging could take until early May. They allowed another month for de-mobilization. However, one of the two dredgers on the job, Great Lakes, finished this week. Their early finish could affect a series of decisions on the mouth bar.

Sand Bar blocking the West Fork of the San Jacinto where it enters Lake Houston. The City estimates that 1.4 million cubic yards of sediment was deposited in this area during Harvey.

Early Finish, New Possibilities

The early finish could let mouth-bar dredging start sooner. However, it also could put pressure on the Corps to consider options not in play a week ago.

At the end of March, the City of Houston submitted an application to FEMA to fund mouth bar dredging. The purpose: remove 1.4 million cubic yards of sediment from the giant sand bar at the mouth of the San Jacinto West Fork. Separately, the City also submitted a permit application to the Army Corps to store the dredging spoils on property in Humble, across from Kingwood’s River Grove Park.

Officials hoped that decisions could be made on both requests before the dredgers began demobilizing. That could save up to $18 million in re-mobilization fees. From a taxpayer-savings point of view, it’s more economical to keep the dredgers dredging than organize a second separate project.

However, Great Lake’s early finish is forcing everyone from Galveston to Houston to Austin to Washington to scramble.

Great Lakes’ dredge is back at the dock at the Corps’ command site in Humble.

New Possibilities

As of this afternoon, the Army Corps said it was still reviewing the storage application permit to use the property in Humble. The permit review plus site prep, if approved, could take months though.

This raised the question of a backup site and the obvious one in my mind is one the Corps is already using – Placement Area #2 (PA2) on Sorters Road south of Kingwood College.

But that would require a much longer run, additional booster pumps, more pipe, and most likely…the larger, more powerful dredge that just finished.

Experts tell me that it is technically feasible to pump the sand all the way from the mouth bar to PA2 – IF the sand mine operator would allow it.

Evaluating Alternatives

Will the higher cost of the longer run eat up any savings that come from avoiding a second mobilization? The Corps has not yet had time to explore all possibilities and run the numbers, but it’s good to know another possibility may exist…

  • …if FEMA acts right away
  • …if the Humble property runs into problems
  • …if the Corps needs to move quickly to take advantage of the larger dredge.

To help keep all options open, officials throughout Texas at every level have leaped into action.

Crenshaw and Brady Urge Quick Action

This morning, representatives from Congressman Dan Crenshaw’s office met with FEMA. Both Crenshaw and Congressman Kevin Brady sent a letter to FEMA three days ago, underscoring the need for quick action on the grant request.

City, State Pushing, Too

City officials have scrambled also. Dave Martin, Houston City Council Member said, “I’ve been in communication all day, and had multiple conversations with Great Lakes; Congressman Dan Crenshaw’s office; Chief Nim Kidd of the Texas Division of Emergency Management; Stephen Costello, the City’s Chief Recover Officer, and more.” Reportedly, even Governor Abbott got involved at one point.

According to Martin, “Our #1 goal is a Mission Assignment.”

Still Time to Save Re-mobilization Costs

Martin added,”Nothing is being disassembled, yet. They are not removing any pipe yet. They are taking advantage of this down time to check the pipe’s condition so that it can be replaced if necessary. I’m guardedly optimistic at this time.”

One experienced dredger explained that pipe can wear out. Coarse sand, he said, can be very abrasive, especially with steel pipe.

So for the time being, dredgers are performing necessary maintenance and inspections. That could take days or weeks. However, it probably will not keep them here months. Bottom line: the clock is ticking … louder now than before.

Contractors can’t tolerate downtime indefinitely. How long they decide to wait will most likely depend on the certainty of future work. That depends on FEMA and how quickly it acts.

Update on Funding

FEMA has not yet committed any funding. Stephen Costello has said in the past that the amount they fund will depend on their assessment of the City’s assessment. The two sides need to agree on how much mouth-bar sediment came from Harvey.

Separately in Austin, SB500, a supplemental appropriations bill, has been approved unanimously by both the House and Senate. It includes an amendment from State Representative Dan Huberty that includes $30 million for dredging the mouth bar. That money could help form the local match for FEMA. Next step for SB500: conference committee and the governor’s desk.

Mayor Sylvester Turner has committed $18 million from the City, according to City Council Member Martin. And the County committed $10 million in last year’s flood bond.

Keep in mind though that we must also budget for dredging beyond the mouth bar. We need East Fork, remainder of the West Fork, and maintenance dredging.

All the pieces are falling into place. Keep your fingers crossed and your eyes on FEMA. This is a high-stakes, political drama for the Lake Houston area!

Posted by Bob Rehak on April 12, 2019

591 Days since Hurricane Harvey

More Video Near Site of Proposed New High-Rise Development

Jim Zura of Zura Productions filmed this video of rescue efforts on August 29th, 2017, during Harvey at the northern most (highest) end of the proposed new high-rise development in Kingwood.

He filmed the video at the intersection of Woodland Hills and Seven Oaks. For those not familiar with the neighborhood, it’s four blocks north of the Barrington entrance. The Barrington lies mostly in the 500-year floodplain (see FEMA map below). Zura says the people you see in the video are mostly residents of the Barrington being evacuated.

Proposed Development Area Already Vacated by Humble ISD

The site of the new development is on the left of this video and far lower than Barrington, which was built up with fill in the early Nineties. In fact, it contained Humble ISD’s first ag barn which flooded so frequently that the school district moved the ag facility to higher ground at Deer Ridge Park. Now the school district is moving the operation again – to even higher ground in Porter.

The proposed development would add fill to much of this low lying area and even fill in some wetlands. The developer would fill areas both north and south of the Barrington. Read details here and view the plans.

Zura video shot to the left of Plan View A, near northern portion of proposed development. 
The Barrington splits the development in half.

Relationship of Proposed Development to Flood Zones

Below, you can see the area of the proposed new development within this screen capture from FEMA’s flood hazard layer viewer. The Barrington lies within the bean shaped oval in the center. Brown areas represent the 500-year flood plain. Aqua areas represent 100-year flood plain. And cross-hatched areas represent the floodway of the river (main current during floods).

The blue box above the word Marina represents a “Letter of Map Revision (LOMR). The developer plans on building the marina and several high rises within that blue box. Such revisions are often granted when residents can prove that they have raised a foundation above the 100-year flood plain. The purpose: to lower flood insurance rates for people who would otherwise be IN the 100-year flood plain.

A History of Flooding

Most of the Barrington sits in the 500-year flood plain yet still flooded in 1994, Allison and Harvey. It nearly flooded in the Memorial Day weekend flood of 2016. See this other YouTube video by BYUCougarFan99. The videographer says it was shot in the southern part of Barrington. It appears to look east and south, toward Kingwood country club and the southern part of the proposed development.

Drone footage of 2016 Memorial Day Weekend Flood shot from the Barrington.

This article from the website Swamplot describes the development in detail with 3-D renderings. Note the heading: Livable Lake.

The Army Corps Wants Your Comments

The Army Corps’ public notice states that they are seeking comments on the proposed development. If they receive no comments before January 29, they will assume that residents have no objections. Comments and requests for additional information should reference USACE file number, SWG-2016-00384, and should be submitted to: 

  • Evaluation Branch, North Unit 
  • Regulatory Division, CESWG-RD-E 
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 
  • P.O. Box 1229 
  • Galveston, Texas 77553-1229 
  • 409-766-3869 Phone 
  • 409-766-6301 Fax 
  • swg_public_notice@usace.army.mil 

The deadline is January 29, 2019.

Posted by Bob Rehak on January 1, 2019

490 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Ted Cruz Throws His Weight Behind Mouth-Bar Campaign with Letter to FEMA

The mouth bar. Sand, in part from the mines, has almost totally blocked the West Fork where it meets Lake Houston. Before/after measurements show that as much as ten feet was deposited in this area during Harvey (five below water/five above).

Ted Cruz has written a letter to FEMA asking for the agency’s help in removing the giant sand bar at the mouth of the San Jacinto River.  In the letter, he calls the mouth bar a danger to property and lives.

Here is the text of his press release:

Sen. Cruz Pens Letter to FEMA Administrator Urging Additional Action on San Jacinto River

‘IN ORDER TO PREVENT FUTURE FLOODING OF PROPERTY AND SAVE LIVES, I URGE YOU TO AMEND THE PROJECT WORKSHEET TO INCLUDE THE WEST FORK MOUTH BAR IN THE SCOPE OF THE PROJECT’
December 3, 2018

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) last week penned a letter to FEMA Administrator Brock Long urging him to amend the scope of the existing FEMA dredging project on the San Jacinto River near Kingwood to include the mouth bar located on the West Fork of the river. Over 1,600 homes flooded in the area during Hurricane Harvey. The mouth bar, which is the biggest blockage in the river that feeds into Lake Houston, was made significantly worse by Harvey.

“In order to prevent future flooding of property and save lives, I urge you to amend the project worksheet to include the West Fork mouth bar in the scope of the project,” Sen. Cruz wrote. “Without such an amendment, surrounding residents are at risk of future flooding and FEMA is missing a key opportunity to leverage its current assets, help the state better prepare for future disasters, and reduce the federal cost of future disasters.”

Read the full letter here and below:

November 28, 2018

The Honorable William B. Long
Federal Emergency Management Agency
500 C Street, South West
Washington, D.C. 20472

Dear Administrator Long:

Over the last year, with the assistance of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Texas has made enormous strides in recovering and rebuilding from the devastation of Hurricane Harvey (DR-4332). As the recovery process continues, it is important to ensure that FEMA fully leverages its assets and funding to reduce the taxpayer cost of future disasters and help the state better prepare for future weather events.

One project in particular where this can be accomplished is the emergency dredging of the West Fork of the San Jacinto River—an area where Hurricane Harvey flooded 1,621 homes. The San Jacinto River Dredging Project (W9126G18B0019) is a DR-4332 FEMA Mission Assignment that directs the United States Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps) to return the river to pre-event conditions. Specifically, this is a debris removal assignment, which includes sediment, with an estimated cost of $61 million.

Although the Army Corps recently began dredging operations on the West Fork of the river, the scope of the project does not include the delta or “mouth bar” that formed in the river and was made significantly worse by Hurricane Harvey. In order to prevent future flooding of property and threat to human life, FEMA should amend the project worksheet so that the scope of the project includes dredging the West Fork mouth bar and surrounding shoal sediments.

Under Section 403 of the Stafford Act, “Federal agencies may . . . provide assistance to meeting immediate threats to life and property resulting from a major disaster,” which includes such activities as debris removal.

The mouth bar on the West Fork is currently constraining in-bank flow conveyance capacity, and local officials have referred to it as “the largest blockage on the river.” The Army Corps confirmed this analysis in a May 2018 Army Corps Value Engineering Study which indicated that “[t]he water [in the river] then slows as it reaches the upper end of Lake Houston dumping its suspended sediments into a delta. The accretion of this delta creates a dam like feature which then increasingly slows water and accretes the delta, compounding the problem.”

The sediment deposited into the river from Hurricane Harvey exacerbated the accretion of the mouth bar. If the West Fork mouth bar is not addressed to restore flow conveyance capacity, then the next rain event will likely result in both public and private property damage from flood waters rising out of the river’s banks. Even a small rain event in March created more flooding than expected as a result of the sediment constraints from Hurricane Harvey.

In order to prevent future flooding of property and save lives, I urge you to amend the project worksheet to include the West Fork mouth bar in the scope of the project. Without such an amendment, surrounding residents are at risk of future flooding and FEMA is missing a key opportunity to leverage its current assets, help the state better prepare for future disasters, and reduce the federal cost of future disasters.

Thank you for your efforts on behalf of the people of Texas and for your prompt consideration of my request.

Sincerely,

–––––

This is great news for Humble and Kingwood residents. It comes hot on the heels of a similar letter written earlier by Congressman Ted Poe to the head of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Perhaps now we will get some action. Let’s pray for a Christmas  miracle.

Kudos to Houston City Council member Dave Martin for setting up a meeting between area residents and Senator Cruz’ staff at which residents helped explain the issues.

Posted on December 4, 2018 by Bob Rehak

462 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Additional Dredging on the Horizon in 2019

Reprinted verbatim from Council Member Dave Martin’s announcement:

The “Mouth Bar,” a giant sand bar that blocks the West Fork of the San Jacinto, backing the river up into Kingwood and Humble. Water depth is generally 1-3 feet around this bar. Max channel depth in places is just 5 feet.

Houston, TX – Council Member Martin would like to make District E residents aware that the City of Houston continues to make progress towards Harvey Recovery with both state and federal agencies. Over the last fifteen months Council Member Martin has been working diligently with Chief Resiliency Officer Stephen Costello, Mayor Sylvester Turner, Governor Abbott, Chief Nim Kidd, as well as the offices of Senator Ted Cruz and Senator John Cornyn towards several initiatives that would have a positive impact on the Lake Houston Area.

Most recently the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) has completed the bathymetry study of the West Fork of the San Jacinto River for the City of Houston. Data from this study has been given to the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) to determine the amount of sediment that resulted from Hurricane Harvey. This information is useful because this study identifies underwater topography allowing the City to understand where the additional sediment brought in by Hurricane Harvey has been deposited in the river and lake as well as changes in depth.

The TWDB continues to survey the entire lake for the Coastal Water Authority (CWA), the agency that contracts with the City for management of the Lake Houston Spillway Dam. The schedule for the TWDB to complete their survey of Lake Houston is Summer 2019. In addition to conducting a bathymetric study the City of Houston is currently reviewing data collected by the ACOE during a recent Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) study which uses light in the form of pulsing lasers to measure the distance from the water’s surface to the bottom of the river and lake. Capacity losses due to sedimentation in the lake as well as East and West Forks of the San Jacinto River will be determined using the LIDAR data along with the completed bathymetric study once the TWDB has completed their survey and report.

The LIDAR study allows the City to map changes in shoreline as well as make digital elevation models. It is this data that is assisting the City and ACOE in determining the amount of sediment that needs to be removed from locations along the West Fork of the San Jacinto River like the “mouthbar” that is located just south of the Deerwood Country Club. The LIDAR Study results will also be used by the Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) for the creation of new flood insurance rate maps because of the changing rainfall patterns published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The flood insurance map study will utilize updated LIDAR surveys of the entire county and will take several years to complete, however HCFCD is already hiring consultants to assist with this work.

On October 11, 2018, Council Member Martin met with Governor Abbott’s Executive Staff, TDEM, FEMA, and ACOE in Austin where a lengthy discussion was had about the amount of sediment deposit that will still remain in the San Jacinto River after the current emergency dredging project is completed. The current emergency dredging contract is not scheduled to be complete until the end of April 2019. At this meeting the City’s consultant estimated that after the completion of the existing dredging project that there will be approximately 500,000 cubic yards of additional sediment that needs to be removed from the river known in the community as the “mouthbar”.

This estimate however was based on a comparison between the LIDAR study completed by the ACOE this year and a bathymetric study completed by the TWDB in 2011. The important takeaway from this meeting in October is that FEMA agreed that the additional sediment qualifies as Harvey debris however, the estimate of 500,000 cubic yards was not a true amount directly associated with Hurricane Harvey. The City does not have survey data that is immediately pre and post-Harvey which would provide us a true amount of residual sediment that is a direct result of Hurricane Harvey. The City is currently waiting on the ACOE to complete its analysis of the City’s data.

At the meeting in Austin the ACOE indicated that an additional disposal site would be needed in order to remove the additional material. As a result the City of Houston has been proactive in identifying a site, thanks to the assistance of a local landowner that has property on the south side of the West Fork of the San Jacinto. The land owner has retained an environmental consultant to determine any possible wetland issues that may prevent use of the property for disposal. As of right now it appears the property is a viable site and a formal permit was filed with the ACOE this week.

In summary, the process to have the “mouthbar” removed from the West Fork of the San Jacinto River has been an arduous one. All parties from local, state, and federal agencies have been working together to accurately define the area needed for additional removal so that capacity can be restored to the river and reduce the effects of future flooding. The removal of the “mouthbar” cannot begin until the existing emergency dredging along the West Fork of the San Jacinto River is completed. Since this is a reality the City is doing all that it can to be proactive in securing land as well as permits for the “mouthbar’s” removal once the existing project is completed by the ACOE in April. This will allow the ACOE to keep equipment and crews in place without the need for demobilization and remobilization, saving roughly $18 million.

In observance of Thanksgiving the District E office will be closed Thursday, November 21 and Friday, November 22. The District E team will return to the office on Monday, November 26. Council Member Martin would like to wish all District E residents a safe and happy Thanksgiving holiday. For more information regarding this release, please contact Council Member Martin’s office at (832) 393-3008or via email at districte@houstontx.gov.

-end-

By Dave Martin’s Office on 11/21/2018

449 Days Since Hurricane Harvey

New Difference Map Confirms Buildup of West Fork Sediment Around Mouth Bar, Underscores Need for Removal

A new “difference map” published by the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) shows the rapid build up of sediment in the West Fork of the San Jacinto River where it meets Lake Houston. Difference maps show changes in sediment levels over time.

When Stephen Costello, Chief Resiliency Officer for the City of Houston, presented this map at the Kingwood Town Hall Meeting on October 9, it was to describe three potential phases of West Fork dredging..

Having had several days to review and discuss this map, several other things became clear. See the map and legend below.

West Fork Difference Map. Brown/red/orange/yellow/green areas represent decreases in sediment since last survey. Blue, violet, pink and white represent increases.

Conclusion #1:

The worst sediment buildup in the West Fork is near the mouth…exactly where retired Lake-Houston-area  geologists Tim Garfield and RD Kissling said it was when they raised the alarm about the mouth bar month’s ago.

Conclusion #2:

The problem is much worse than even they suspected. This clearly shows the extent of the West Fork’s mouth bar.  Like an iceberg, the part you see above water is only a small part of the bigger picture.  Vast new sediment deposits extend down to FM1960.

Conclusion #3:

Even Harvey-strength currents could not cut through the mouth bar. Therefore, smaller floods won’t be able to either.

Conclusion #4:

The mouth bar creates a sediment dam in the river that will exacerbate flooding. If the mouth bar area is not dredged, it will cause higher-than-normal flooding on smaller-than-normal rainfall.

Google Earth shows that the area between the mouth bar and FM1960 comprises 1700 acres. According to the difference map, this area received an average of approximately 2 feet of sediment. This means the channel and lake lost 3400 acre feet of capacity in this area.

Conclusion #5:

The mouth bar must be removed immediately. It and adjacent shoal areas get higher with every passing day and storm as water becomes shallower. If the mouth bar is left in place, it will slow the river, causing the area upstream (that is now being dredged) to fill more rapidly than normal with sediment.

Difference Map Proves Mouth Bar Must Go NOW

The mouth-bar area was the focus of the Corps’ survey efforts. They have known for months that it is the major problem. As they stated in Galveston at a meeting I attended, it is the primary driver for backwater and upstream flooding. Their value engineering report also states that in the event of another heavy rainfall, there is a “near certain likelihood” that wide-spread flooding will occur impacting even more homes than before Harvey, due to the river’s inability to pass high volumes of water. See Page 2 for the words engineers almost never use without cause.

We’ve been lucky so far this hurricane season. But minor floods earlier this year on March 28/29 and July 4 proved how serious this problem is. Had the City not lowered the level of Lake Houston for July 4, homes almost certainly would have flooded according to Houston City Council Member Dave Martin.

This Week’s Holdups

At a meeting in Austin last week, the City, Army Corps, FEMA, County and State of Texas all agreed in principle that the mouth bar needs to be removed. Further, if it can be added to the current dredging project, taxpayers can likely save $17 million or more in mobilization fees for a second, separate project at a later date.

Only two hurdles remain: a disposal site for the dredged material and an environmental survey.

A large disposal site is already under review that is much closer to the area of concern than either of the two current sites.

The proposed disposal site’s proximity could save taxpayers tens of millions of dollars more.

However, the environmental survey could delay the project beyond April when current dredging is expected to finish. If so, that could also increase flood risk.

Trees on the mouth bar initially led the Corps to exclude the bar from dredging for two reasons: one was environmental, the other legal. According to the Stafford Act, the enabling legislation for FEMA, FEMA funds cannot be spent to fix things that existed before Harvey. The existence of the trees proved that at least part of the mouth bar existed before Harvey.

The “Mouth Bar.” Note the trees on the right end.

Let’s Get Real

If the trees on the island raise an environmental concern, leave the part of the island that existed pre-Harvey. Dredge the channel and other parts of the island first.

This area includes 3-5+ft of Harvey derived sediment which should qualify for FEMA disaster recovery funds under the Stafford Act based on the new TWDB map.

The longer we wait to dredge this island, the more vegetation will grow on it, the more resistant to erosion it will be, and the more expensive it will be to dredge.

Are the Army Corps and FEMA trying to save an invasive species that USDA wants to eradicate?

Close examination from a boat showed the trees in question to be Chinese tallow trees, an invasive species that the USDA has been trying to eradicate from here to Florida. It’s actually poisonous to local animals. If this tree costs taxpayers tens of millions of dollars in delays and opportunity costs, it will become the new poster child for government waste and folly…especially if Humble, Kingwood and Atascocita flood in the meantime. This is one delay I certainly wouldn’t want my name associated with. That’s the wrong way to go down in history.

This tree on the mouth bar which initially caused the Army Corps to exclude the bar from dredging is a Chinese tallow, an invasive species which the USDA is trying to eradicate. Note the heart-shaped, aspen-like leaves – the tell-tale identifier.

Posted by Bob Rehak on October 14, 2018

411 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Harvey Time Capsule: Marina Drive in Forest Cove

It’s been more than a year since Hurricane Harvey. Much of Houston has improved remarkably since then. But one neighborhood near the San Jacinto West Fork seems frozen in time: Marina Drive in Forest Cove. It’s the land that Solid Waste forgot.

Forest Cove Townhomes destroyed by Harvey and swallowed by sand. Photograph from 9/14/17, two weeks after Harvey. Not much has changed since then. 

Featured in FEMA Video Filmed Last Month

When FEMA came to Houston last month to shoot a video about Harvey, they asked ReduceFlooding.com for location recommendations. They wanted a place that told the story of the storm. It took me about a nanosecond to recommend the apartments/townhomes on Marina Drive.

Forest Cove Townhomes destroyed by Harvey. This and following photos taken a year later on September 28, 2018.

The Forest Cove Property Owners Association has fixed up the community swimming pool. But everything around it still triggers memories of the terror that night in August, 2017, when Harvey dealt the final death blow to these ill-fated townhomes.

Forest Cove Townhomes now targets for vandals, looters and squatters.

Ravaged by Numerous Floods, but Killed by Harvey

The townhomes had been ravaged by previous floods, but Harvey was different. Three residents I talked to told me the water reached 17-23 feet high – well up into the second story. To put that in perspective, joists in the garage level are set at 11 feet.

You can see holes chopped in roofs where thieves stole roof-mounted AC condensers. One building appears to have been swept off its foundation. Bedsheets spray-painted with “FEMA HELP” still flutter from second story balconies. Sand clogs the streets and storm drains. Five foot high dunes cover fences and shoreline. Trash litters the parking lots. Graffiti and mold cover what’s left of the homes. An old oil pumper supports vines. Oil storage tanks sit twisted and lonely, off kilter. Not one person still lives there. The homes are uninhabitable.

Forest Cove Townhome destroyed by Harvey. Area is now a target for graffiti artists. 

More Marina Drive Townhomes destroyed by Harvey. In addition to the trash in the parking lot, note the hole chopped in the roof to rescue people in the middle of the photo.

Reportedly, these properties are being bought out by FEMA and Harris County Flood Control to reduce future flood risk. Some offers have already been made according to Glen Allison, a member of the Homeowners Association. Allison also said that “Three units were swept away. Two more completely collapsed. There was tremendous structural damage throughout.”

Someday the area may be turned into parkland. The county has been trying to buy this land and convert it into a linear park since 1994 – almost 25 years ago. Not much has happened since then. The last section in a document from Harris County Flood Control titled 2018 Federal Briefing: Unprecedented Opportunity discusses progress of various buyout programs going back 29 years.

 

Excerpt from HCFCD map showing historical buyout programs in Forest Cove.

FEMA and HCFCD completed voluntary buyout programs in 1994 (pink), 1998 (blue), 2005 (yellow) and 2008 (lavender).  However, as of this spring, they were still trying to complete buyouts from 2014 and 2016 (see table below, also from 2018 Federal Briefing referenced above).

Forest Cove properties were part of the 2014 and 2016 buyout programs that were still not completed at the time of Harvey and HCFCD’s Federal Briefing last spring.

Maybe this time! Meanwhile, someone please call for a trash pickup.

Posted by Bob Rehak on October 7, 2018

404 Days since Hurricane Harvey

How County Bond Funds Could Leverage Additional Dollars

Early voting for the $2.5 billion Harris County Flood Bond Referendum begins August 8. If approved,  the County could leverage that money to increase the amount available for flood mitigation. Matching funds from FEMA, HUD, the State, and other sources are available. These grants usually operate on a 75/25 or 90/10 basis, returning $3 to $9 for every dollar put up.

Local Dollars Leverage Matching Funds

If voters approve the $2.5 billion referendum, the bond funds could potentially bring in billions of additional dollars. Here is how funding for Flood Control District projects works. (For a printable PDF, click here.)

Partnership Matching Funds Available for Harris County Flood Control District Projects

Bond money can be used as “seed money” for some types of projects. It qualifies us to receive additional money in the form of grants from other partners such as the Federal Government, State, Coastal Water Authority or the City.

Federal dollars for Harvey flood mitigation efforts are available now, but may go elsewhere if we don’t act. Every city along the Gulf Coast is competing for available matching funds.

Partnership Projects: More Leverage but Less Control

Even though you may not be able to follow all the ins and outs of the diagram above, you should be able to see that many opportunities exist to extend the impact of our own dollars. That’s the good news. The downside is that when you start spending other people’s money, they want to have a say in how you spend it. It’s important that we understand risks as we move forward. To get more money, we must give up some control.

Q: How will projects in the bond proposal be selected and prioritized?

A: Harris County Commissioners Court directed Flood Control District staff to develop list of projects. This is not an exact list of projects that must be or will be built with bond proceeds. It represents a list of projects that would meet the goal of the bond election, which is to both assist with recovery after previous flooding events (including Harvey) and to make our county more resilient for the future.

High on the priority list are construction-ready projects with federal funding partners (such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency) that give the County “the most bang for its flood control buck.”

Q: Can the bond money be used for purposes other than flood risk reduction?

A: No. Under Texas law, bond funds in this election could only be used for the purpose approved by the voters. Bond funds will not be used to fund additional staff positions at the Harris County Flood Control District.

Q: Do bond proceeds have to be used for the specific projects recommended by the Flood Control District?

A: No. Voters will be asked to authorize bonds for flood damage reduction projects, but specific projects may be added to the list of potential projects in the future or projects on the list could be modified based upon public input.

However, officials can only spend bond money on projects supported by the Bond Language. Voters will not be voting on a specific project list, only on the language in the proposal.

Freeing Up Budget to Improve Maintenance

Maintenance is NOT in the bond proposal. Nevertheless, the bond could still improve maintenance in a roundabout way. Here’s how. About half of the Flood Control District’s current $120 million per year budget goes to capital expenditures. If approved, the bond would free up about $60 million currently focused on construction projects.

The other $60 million in the Flood Control District’s budget is devoted to Maintenance and Operations. It is roughly divided as follows: $30 million for salaries and overhead; $10 million for mowing; and $20 million for maintenance.

That $20 million currently devoted to maintaining ditches, bayous and streams, if added to the $60 million that is freed up, would make $80 million that could be devoted to improving maintenance. That means the District’s maintenance budget could quadruple.

Yea or Nay?

On balance, I like how the bond is shaping up and I trust the people in charge of it. I wish that the $50 million allocated for a dredging partnership project was a dedicated $50 million. Then, if the bond proposal passes, we might be able to get the Army Corps to extend the scope of their current dredging to include the giant sand bar at the mouth of the West Fork. Addressing that issue as a change order to the current contract could save years, save dollars, and reduce risk immediately.

Posted on June 23, 2018, by Bob Rehak

328 Days since Hurricane Harvey