Tag Archive for: Figure Four Partners

Six TCEQ Investigations Lead to 13 Citations for Woodridge Village Developer and Contractors

Since flooding in Elm Grove and North Kingwood Forest last year, the TCEQ has completed half a dozen investigations of Woodridge Village with more in the works. Woodridge Village is the troubled Perry Homes development where contractors clearcut 268 acres while installing less than 25% of the required detention capacity.

The TCEQ has repeatedly charged Perry contractors and subsidiaries with stormwater pollution violations and unauthorized discharge of sediment. Below are results of six investigations that led to a total of 13 citations. Together the 449 pages of these investigations indicate a lax attitude toward regulations, repeated failures to comply, poor coordination among vendors, and lack of awareness of responsibilities.

Investigation 1571093 of Figure Four Partners in June 2019

On June 17 and 18, 2019, TCEQ investigators cited Figure Four Partners, LTD for “failure to prevent the unauthorized discharge of sediment-laden water from the construction site which could contribute to pollution in waters of the state of Texas.” (See Investigation 1571093 and attachments.)

Investigators found Figure Four failed to implement and maintain best management practices. They tracked the illegal discharge 2.5 miles down Taylor Gully. Where the stream entered woods, lack of access prevented tracking the discharge further.

TCEQ ordered the operator to install adequate sediment controls to minimize discharges from the site.

Investigation 1579654 of Rebel Contractors in June 2019

This was an investigation of Rebel Contractors, which had responsibility for the southern 80 acres of the site.

The TCEQ report starts by noting that two previous complaints about Rebel Contractors had been referred to Montgomery County for investigation.

In this investigation, TCEQ collected water samples upstream and adjacent to the development that were not impacted. They also collected samples above the outfall from the development and downstream of it that were.

They found that total suspended solids (TSS) in the non-impacted samples ranged from 29 to 45 milligrams/liter. The impacted samples, however, ranged from 245 to 620 milligrams per liter.

Investigators also looked at total dissolved solids (TDS). Non-impacted samples ranged from 128 to 158 milligrams per liter. Impacted samples ranged from 2053 to 2804 milligrams per liter.

Water from and below the site had significantly higher TSS and TDS.

Investigators allege Rebel failed to implement and maintain effective Best Management Practices. They cited Rebel for “failure to prevent the unauthorized discharge of sediment-laden water from the construction site which could contribute to pollution in waters of the state of Texas.” They also cited Rebel for failure to prepare a Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan. It took Rebel six weeks to prepare and submit the plan to the TCEQ.

(See Investigation 1579654 and attachments.)

Investigation 1604733 of Figure Four Partners in October 2019

On October 25, 2019, investigators returned to the site and found Figure Four had violations similar to June. They ordered Figure Four, once again, to install adequate sediment controls that minimized discharges from the site. (See Investigation 1604733 and attachments.) They ordered Figure Four to install adequate controls that reduced discharges.

Investigation 1579655 of Double Oak Construction in June 2019

Double Oak Construction is responsible for clearing and grubbing on the Woodridge site. In June, TCEQ conducted an investigation during which they collected the previously mentioned water samples. They cited Double Oak for failure to prevent unauthorized discharges of sediment-laden water and failure to prepare a Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan.

(See Investigation 1579655 and attachments.)

They also found that Double Oak could not identify where discharges went. They thought it was Galveston Bay.

By the end of August last year, Double Oak still had not submitted a Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan.

Investigation 1604738 of Rebel Contractors in October 2019

Second verse same as the first. Investigators found elevated levels of suspended and dissolves solids from the site relative to non-impacted areas. TCEQ alleges Rebel failed to implement and maintain Best Management Practices. They also allege discharge of pollutants, i.e., sediment-laden stormwater and failure to post a construction permit.

TCEQ ordered Rebel to control discharges and post a permit. It took Rebel 7 weeks to post the permit.

(See Investigation 1604738 and attachments.)

Investigation 1604741 of D&J Construction in October 2019

TCEQ cited D&J for failure to prepare a Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan and failure to include required information on their construction site notice.

(See Investigation 1604741 and attachments.)

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/1/2020

886 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 135 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.

What Went Wrong, Part V: How Woodridge Village “Soiled” Perry Homes’ Reputation

Before Perry Homes bought the ill-fated land now known as Woodridge Village, it hired a company called Terracon to sample soils and submit a geotechnical analysis. Their objective: to see whether the land was suitable for residential development. Perry also hired LJA Engineering to analyze drainage. However, it appears that LJA did not consider Terracon’s findings when it modeled runoff (see Section 1.4 of LJA’s report).

LJA also assumed that “sandy loam” covered the entire site when the National Resources Conservation Service soil database shows sandy loam covers only 60 percent. The Terracon report, however, never even mentions “sandy loam.”

Different Findings Could Have Skewed Runoff Analysis

Both the different characterizations of soils and their extent could have skewed the results of LJA’s runoff analysis.

LJA said the soil was “fine sandy loam,” everywhere, period. Terracon bored holes to 20 feet at four locations and found mostly clay-based soils. Terracon did, however, find “sandy silt” with “clay pockets” in the first foot of ONE of their borings.

According to the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), clay, sand and loam absorb rainfall at vastly different rates that can approach or even exceed 10X.

Source: Natural Resources Conservation Service, USDA

The NRCS site above does show “sandy loam” on 60% of Perry Homes’ property. However, the NRCS sampling technique usually involves a shovel. They appear to classify primarily surface soils (not surprising for the Department of AGRICULTURE).

That’s why NRCS clearly states that the infiltration rates above only apply to the first two inches of rain during an event. After that, the water may percolate down to another, less permeable layer of soil, such as the clay that Terracon found. At that point, fully saturated ground could force additional rainfall hitting the surface to pond or, if the land slopes, run off. That’s exactly what happened on May 7th and September 19th this year when Elm Grove flooded from Woodridge Village runoff.

According to NRCS, “Soil survey interpretations are rarely suitable for such onsite evaluations as homesites without further evaluations at the specific site.” 

But Terracon’s preliminary investigation sampled only four widely spaced spots at the perimeter of the property. None coincided with the locations of planned detention ponds, known wetlands, or streets. Only one even came close to a future home site. And the Montgomery County Engineer’s office has no record of Terracon performing additional work on the Woodridge site.

Also note that while NRCS shows sandy loam on 60% of the site, LJA assumes uniform distribution everywhere. That could also have skewed LJA’s computer modeling. NRCS showed that another 33% of the site (see below) contained soil consistent with wetlands. Wetlands don’t typically absorb water, often because of clay underlying them.

Wetland-Type Soils on ONE THIRD of Property “Overlooked”

A top geologist retired from one of the world’s largest oil companies sampled the soil at one of Terracon’s borehole sites shortly after the May 7th storm and confirmed Terracon’s findings as to surface soil type – mostly clay.

He also says, “The presence of clay close to the surface can cause water to pond and lead to the formation of wetlands wherever you find depressions in the land.” And in fact, the USGS National Wetlands Inventory shows extensive wetlands on the northern portion of the site.

USGS National Wetlands Inventory map of Perry Home’s site.

It’s not clear where LJA found its soil information; they don’t specify. But if it was from NRCS, they should have been alarmed by the presence of hydric topsoils on ONE THIRD of the property. Hydric soils are one of the defining ingredients of wetlands. Compare with map below, taken from the NRCS site. SosA and SouA are soil types typical of wetlands.

SosA, Sorter-Tarkington complex, 0 1 percent slopes {Hydric, with inclusions that are non-hydric} and SouA, Sorter-Urban land complex, 0 to 1 percent slopes {Hydric, with inclusions that are non-hydric} comprise approximately 29% and 3.6% of the site respectively.

Building homes over wetlands is dangerous because shifting soil can crack foundations. Wetlands also typically serve as collection points for water.

But LJA never mentions wetlands and the Terracon borehole sampling sites came nowhere near the wetlands on the property. Terracon spaced them widely around the perimeter as you can see from the site map with the red lines above.

Groundwater Levels Not Mentioned In LJA Drainage Analysis

LJA, had it read the Terracon report, might have also been concerned by the discovery of ground water at 15 feet, more than a half mile from Taylor Gully. At Taylor Gulley, contractors hit ground water at about 10 feet when excavating the S2 detention pond. But the pond was supposed to hold 15 feet of runoff. That means ground water reduced its capacity by a third. Even worse, a pond by N3 has had standing water near the ground SURFACE for months!

Note the man-made rectangular pond in the upper right. It has been that full since it first appeared in Google Earth satellite images almost a year ago. That’s not a good sign for another area designated to hold a major detention pond (N3).

That means these ponds will never be able to achieve their promised detention capacities with their current dimensions. There just isn’t enough depth. Engineers measure detention capacity from the top of any standing water, not the bottom of the pond.

More Curiosities Re: Testing and Reports

How strange that LJA’s drainage analysis never once mentions the words “water table” or “groundwater”! Especially when detention ponds are a central feature of the report and mentioned 42 times. LJA never mentions “retention” ponds once, although J. Carey Gray, the high-powered litigator representing Perry Homes, called the ponds that in his letter to the City. For the record, detention ponds have no permanent standing water; retention ponds do.

The first thing you notice about the Terracon report: the title says PRELIMINARY. Terracon also put “preliminary” at the top of every page. And repeated it 35 times within the report. Sometimes as many as three times in a single paragraph. Terracon also specifically recommended several followup tests. But if they were done, the Montgomery County Engineers office says it has no record of them.

Five Previous Developers Sold Site Rather than Develop It

At Thanksgiving Dinner yesterday, we had three engineers at the table. I posed the question, “Do you ever reach a point in projects when you say to yourself, “We shouldn’t do this,” as opposed to “How can we do this?”

The general consensus: There’s always a way to engineer a solution…if you don’t consider cost.

I wonder if that’s why five previous developers who owned this site didn’t do anything with it. They included Lennar, Kingwood 575, Reddy Partnership/Kingwood, Woodbridge 268, and Concourse Development.

It could be that they were just holding it and hoping to flip it at a higher price. Land generally appreciates faster than the rate of inflation. But it could also be that they investigated the cost of developing it more closely than Perry Homes did.

Below: the sales histories for the two major pieces of land that comprise Woodridge Village.

Source: Montgomery County Appraisal District
Source: Montgomery County Appraisal District

Of all the curiosities associated with this development, the sales history ranks near the top. Concourse held the property for less than a week before selling it to Perry Homes’ subsidiary, Figure Four Development LTD.

Perry Homes even commissioned and received Terracon’s Geotechnical report BEFORE Concourse bought the property. But that’s the subject for another post at another time. What was that about?

The important thing to note for now: When you’re selling dirt, it pays to know what kind of dirt you’re selling.

As Perry Homes Drags Out Court Case, It Could Incur More Liability

The once-proud Perry Homes is now buried under a mountain of law suits alleging that their actions flooded hundreds of homes…not once, but twice…in six months.

As Perry Homes drags these lawsuits out, Kathy Perry Britton could expose her father’s company to enough liability to bring it down. Can you imagine how a jury would react if Elm Grove flooded a third time when so many regulations have been flaunted? And when Perry has made no further attempt at mitigation since early August? I can.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/29/2019 with help from Jeff Miller

842 Days after Hurricane Harvey and 71 after Imelda

The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.

Army Corps to Investigate Potential Wetland Violations on Perry Homes’ Woodridge Village Site

The Army Corps of Engineers is investigating whether Perry Homes, its subsidiaries and contractors violated Section 404 of the federal Clean Water Act. The Corps has regulatory authority for any fill material dumped into waters of the U.S. Those include perennial tributaries and adjacent wetlands.

No Record of Request for Jurisdictional Determination

When developers encounter wetlands, normally they seek a jurisdictional determination from the Corps. They want to ensure they are not violating the Clean Water Act. However, neither Perry Homes nor their subsidiaries (PSWA and Figure Four Partners) apparently sought such a determination. Neither did LJA Engineering, according to Corps records.

In June, a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request filed with the Corps of Engineers turned up NO RECORDS of any such request for the Woodridge property. See below.

Army Corps response to June 5, 2019, request for records pertaining to a request for jurisdictional determination on Woodridge Village Wetlands.

The LJA Engineering Drainage Analysis never even mentions wetlands. Wetlands are highly protected because of their ability to filter and retain floodwater, among other things. This multipage article by the USGS describes all the functions of wetlands and legislation affecting them.

Elm Grove Director Requests Investigation

In October, 2019, Beth Guide, a director of the Elm Grove Homeowners Association, went a step further than my FOIA request. She asked the Corps to investigate the legality of the loss of Woodridge Village wetlands. On November 13, 2019, US Congressman Dan Crenshaw received a letter from the Corps stating that the Corps was, in fact, investigating Ms. Guide’s request.

Corps Seeking Access to Property

The Corps is currently contacting Perry Homes (or subsidiary, Figure Four Partners) for access to the site. The Corps characterized the investigation as “an open purported unauthorized activity investigation.”

Colonel Timothy R. Vail, the Corps’ District Commander said, “…we continue to gather all the facts to determine if there is a violation of any of our statutes and if so, determine what might be the appropriate resolution.”

Presence and Importance of Wetlands

Numerous residents near the property noted the wetlands in question. The wetlands also appear in the USGS National Wetlands Inventory.

From the USGS National Wetlands Inventory

For the full text of the letter from the Corps to Congressman Crenshaw, click here.

Ms. Guide believes loss of these wetlands played a role in three floods which struck Elm Grove on May 3, May 7 and September 19 of this year. Before the loss of the wetlands, none of the surrounding neighborhoods ever flooded, according to nearby neighbors. Some of them lived in their homes for more than 30 years.

Typically, wetland vegetation slows down runoff. On the other hand, clearcutting/filling wetlands accelerates runoff. This simple science experiment shows how.

Accelerating runoff reduces the time of accumulation for floodwaters. That means more water reaches ditches faster and at the same time; none is retained upstream. That, in turn, makes floods peak higher.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/16/2019

809 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 58 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.

Judge Sets July 2020 Trial Date in Flood Case

Judge Lauren Reeder of the 234th Judicial District Court has set the trial date in the Elm Grove/North Kingwood Forest flooding case for July 13, 2020.

Background of Case

On May 7th of this year, heavy rains fell on 268 acres that had been clear cut by subsidiaries of Perry Homes (PSWA, Inc. and Figure Four Partners LTD.) and their contractors. Contractors working on the new development, Woodridge Forest, had not yet installed detention ponds to control the runoff. Approximately 200 homes flooded during the rain event.

Video shows that much of the water flowed down streets near Taylor Gully instead of flowing into the gully itself at a controlled rate as it should have. The defendants blamed the flooding on God. But the hydrology report prepared by LJA Engineering showed that the detention ponds in the development should have held more than a foot of rain, far more than actually fell that day. One issue in the case may be whether the developer acted negligently by clearcutting so much acreage before installing adequate detention.

Schedule Between Now and Trial Date

The docket control order issued by Judge Reeder also lays out the general order of events in the case. On or before:

  • 12/16/2019, all parties to the case must be added and served, a legal process called “joinder.” Inviters this case, more than 200 individual plaintiffs are suing the defendants. Interestingly, the defendants do not yet include the parent company, Perry Homes, or LJA Engineering Inc., the company that designed the development and its detention systems.
  • 4/13/2020, all expert witnesses for parties seeking affirmative relief must be named.
  • 5/13/2020, all other expert witnesses must be named.
  • 6/12/2020, the court will hold a status conference to discuss discovery limitations and alternative dispute resolution (i.e., mediation). The discover period ends on 6/12. All pleadings, amendments and challenges to expert testimony must also be heard by this date.

On 6/29/20 at 1:30 pm, Judge Reeder has scheduled a docket call at which all parties to the case must be prepared to discuss every aspect of the case.

Judge Reeder also tentatively scheduled the trial for 7/13/2020.

To see the entire original docket order, click here.

Woodridge Village Construction Continues

Construction on the Woodridge Village development will continue during the pre-trial phase. This has some residents concerned. While the construction of detention ponds is encouraging, any flaws in the construction of the engineering plans will be set in concrete before the case goes to trial. If there are flaws, that could affect flooding for years to come.

Jeff Miller, an Elm Grove resident, reports that two more culverts have been added to Taylor Gulley where it bisects the northern and southern portions of Woodridge Village.

Video Courtesy of Jeff Miller. To play, click here.

Posted by Bob Rehak on July 25, 2019 with help from Bill Fowler and Jeff Miller

695 days after Hurricane Harvey

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

Key Woodridge Detention Pond Missing, Only Small Percent of Total Detention Developed Before Elm Grove Flooded

On the plans, LJA Engineers calls it S2 – the second detention pond in the southern portion of the new Woodridge development north of Elm Grove. Even though all drainage on the 268 clearcut acres slopes toward S2, the developer did not start building this crucial pond before the May 7 storm that flooded Elm Grove and North Kingwood Forest. The pond will ultimately hold 49.4 acre feet of water during a storm, but holds something less now because Rebel Contractors has not yet fully excavated it. Further, it appears that less than 10% of the site’s required detention was fully excavated when May storms struck.

Rebel Contractors Starts Expanding S2 After Flood

At the time of the May 7 flood, it appears that Rebel Contractors had not yet begun excavating the largest part of S2. I could see only a ditch connecting S1 with the large box culvert at the entry to Taylor Gully.

Photo taken on May 11, four days after Elm Grove Flood, shows extent of excavation for crucial S2 detention pond. Only this ditch connected S1 pond with Taylor Gully. Photo looks northeast, where giant pond should extend almost to tree line on both sides of image.

In the last seven days, however, Rebel has roughed out the pond. You can see it starting to assume its final shape, though it has not yet reached its final size or depth. See pictures below.

On Friday, May 24, I observed a steady parade of haulers moving earth from the future detention pond, S2. The contractor is using the excavated material to raise the height of streets and home pads elsewhere on the property in a process called “cut and fill.”

According to numerous residents that I have talked to, much of this area once consisted of wetlands. To develop such property, contractors use a process called “cut and fill.” They build up one area, by excavating another.

S2 pond in early stages of development. Plans show this should ultimately cover more than three acres and be 15 feet deep. Photo taken 5/25/19 looking west from Taylor Gully toward Woodland Hills Drive.
Plans for Woodridge Village show five detention ponds. Before the May 7 storm, it appears that only S1 was in place though even it was not finished. This raises the question, “Why did the developer focus on clearcutting the northern section before finishing crucial detention ponds on the southern section, where all the water from the north would flow?”

Only S1 Pond Fully Excavated at Time of Storm

Houston City Council Member Dave Martin investigating job site shortly after the May 7 flood on May 9. Shown here: The area that will become detention pond S1. It appeared to be the only semi-functioning detention pond on the entire 268 acres. This photo shows it almost fully excavated but not fully finished. Contractor will eventually slope right side to create more detention capacity and vegetate both sides to reduce erosion.

91% of Detention Capacity Not Completed at Time of Storm

Ultimately, the 268 acre site should hold five detention ponds with a total of 292.3 acre feet of storage. An acre foot would cover one acre to a depth of one foot. The bullet points below summarize the total storage of each pond in the map above.

  • N1 = 16.9 acre feet (not started)
  • N2 = 143.3 acre feet (started, but does not appear complete)
  • N3 = 56.4 acre feet (does not appear to be started)
  • S1 = 26.3 acre feet (mostly functioning, but not finished)
  • S2 = 49.4 acre feet (not exacted at time of May 7 storm)
  • Total = 292.3 acre feet
  • Not Started or Incomplete on May 7 = 91%
People in construction often use the term “substantially complete” to mean functional, but not fully finished.

The developer, Figure Four Partners, LTD, a subsidiary of Perry Homes and PSWA, Inc., issued a statement after the flood claiming that: “… many of the detention ponds are COMPLETE.” (Emphasis added.) Many appears to be 1 out of 5. And not even that one appeared complete. Complete, as their own engineer LJA pointed out, would have entailed sloping the sides and planting vegetation. See photo above; not even S1 was fully complete at the time of the flood.

The Figure Four Partners statement also claimed they had “improved drainage to the area that did not previously exist.” Residents say their contractor filled in existing streams on the property. Yet residents that did NOT flood during Harvey DID FLOOD after the so-called “improvements.”

How Detention Ponds Work

Detention ponds collect runoff during a heavy rain. Then they release it at a slow, controlled rate that drainage ditches like Taylor Gully can handle without flooding people downstream. That’s the theory anyway. They do this by restricting the outflow compared to inflow. However, to function, they have to be BUILT.

How Much Rain Detention Ponds Should Have Held vs How Much Fell

Had all five ponds been complete on May 7, the entire site should have detained 1.1 feet of rain, a little more than 13 inches. However, we received less than 8 inches.

Jeff Lindner, the Harris County meteorologist, issued a statement on May 13 summarizing the storm that flooded Elm Grove and North Kingwood Forest. In it, he said, “A 30-min rate of 2.9 inches was recorded at US 59 and the West Fork of the San Jacinto River and a 1 hour rate of 4.0 inches. A 6-hr rainfall rate of 7.9 inches was recorded at the East Fork of the San Jacinto River and FM 1485. Rainfall rates between the 15-min and 6-hr time periods on Tuesday afternoon and evening averaged between a 2-yr and 50-yr frequency over the extreme northeast portions of Harris into southeast Montgomery Counties.”

Questions Owners and Contractors Need to Answer

In the last four years, we received three so-called 500-year storms. Two happened in the spring.

  • Knowing that, why did Rebel Contractors wait six months after clearing to begin excavating S2, the detention pond adjacent to areas that flooded?
  • Why did Rebel grade the rest of the site to funnel water toward Elm Grove before detention was in place?
  • Did economics factors push Rebel Contractors to clearcut the entire site before constructing detention that could control the runoff?
  • Why did Rebel Contractors fill in existing drainage features that could have helped reduce flooding before starting work on S2?
  • Why did Figure Four Partners claim that many of the detention ponds were complete?
  • If Figure Four improved drainage, why did homes flood that never flooded before?
  • Silt fences were supposed to be put up before any land was cleared. However, they were not put up until AFTER the flood on May 7. Why?
  • The plans required an onsite engineer to ensure compliance with permit provisions. Who was that engineer? How could he/she have possibly missed glaring deficiencies?
  • Stormwater Pollution Prevention Permits were supposed to be posted at all job site entrances. They were not. Why? And why did the contractor put them up the day before LJA Engineers inspected the site for Montgomery County and the TCEQ?

I hope I live long enough to learn the answers! I hope officials care enough to look for the answers! Tens of thousands of Kingwood homes did NOT flood during the May 7th storm; 196 homes next to this development did. They deserve answers.

All thoughts 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.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/26/2019

635 Days after Hurricane Harvey