Today, Harris County Commissioners Court unanimously approved an interlocal agreement with the City of Houston concerning the purchase of Woodridge Village from Perry Homes. On December 9, the City of Houston approved the same interlocal agreement. Today’s approval by the County brings both sides closer to a deal. But several details still remain to be worked out before closing the sale.
Remaining Details to Work Out Before Closing
Approval by both the City and County does NOT mean the purchase is automatically a done deal. Multiple surveys and appraisals must still be completed.
Any real-estate purchase is complicated, but this one is especially so because it involves three parties. Two of them want to split up the property and use it in different ways. They also want to pay for it in different ways.
As part of the deal, the City wants to purchase 77 acres out of the total 268 acres for itself to use as a wastewater treatment facility. The City wants to pay cash for that.
The remainder of the property, 191 acres, will be jointly owned, developed, operated and maintained by the City and Flood Control.
Flood Control’s agreement with the City says that the City will pay for its half of jointly owned acreage by donating other property that Flood Control can use to reduce the cost of other mitigation projects.
The County’s separate purchase agreement with Figure Four gives the County until approximately March 1 to close the deal.
At Stake: Future of Elm Grove and North Kingwood Forest
County Judge Lina Hidalgo kicked off the discussion by stating she favored the proposal. Among her reasons:
Flood reduction in the Kingwood Area
Land that the County would get for other flood mitigation projects, especially along Halls and Greens Bayous.
Updating of the City’s drainage regulations to meet Atlas 14 requirements, even in the City’s ETJ
Russ Poppe, executive director of HCFCD noted that Perry had sunk $24 million into buying and clearing the property, and excavating detention ponds on it. He also said the property appraised at $19 million and that the County’s share of acquisition would be $5 million.
Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia said that he initially had “grave concerns” about the acquisition but that Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin’s work had allayed them.
Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis raised concerns about the County getting stuck with the land if the City backed out of the deal.
But Robert Soard of the County Attorney’s office reassured him that if the City did not deliver, the deal was off BEFORE the County had to write a check.
Russ Poppe reassured everyone that when all conditions of the interlocal agreement were met, the commissioners would get a chance to approve the money before the deal was final.
In the end, the four commissioners and Judge Hidalgo all voted FOR the interlocal agreement. Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle thanked them all on behalf of 600 flood victims.
Video of the debate has not yet been posted.
Posted by Bob Rehak on December 15, 2020
1204 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 453 since Imelda
https://i0.wp.com/reduceflooding.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/VillageSprings1.jpg?fit=900%2C1200&ssl=11200900adminadmin2020-12-15 15:28:302020-12-15 15:49:55Harris County Approves Interlocal Agreement with City Concerning Woodridge Village
Today, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released the findings of its investigation into the wetlands on Perry Homes’ Woodridge Village property. The Corps said that the wetlands do NOT fall under its jurisdiction. Therefore, there was no violation of Section 404 of the Clean Water Act when Perry wiped out wetlands without first seeking the Corps’ permission.
Congressman Dan Crenshaw’s office released this text of an email the Corps sent to them today.
Text of Corps Email to Congressman Crenshaw
“This e-mail is in response to your request (on the behalf of Congressman Crenshaw) to be updated on our investigation into activities on the Figure Four properties located in Porter, Montgomery County, Texas. (Investigation file SWG-2019-00745).” [Editor’s note: Figure Four is the development arm of Perry Homes.]
“As discussed on the phone earlier today, the Corps of Engineers has finalized our investigation into this matter and did NOT find a violation of Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (Section 404).”
“We did confirm the presence of uplands and wetlands on the tract. Some of the wetlands had fill material placed into them. Based on the facts associated with this specific location and per federal regulation these wetlands were determined to “isolated.” They lacked any known nexus to interstate commerce. As such, they are not “waters of the United States” and are not subject to federal jurisdiction under Section 404. In accordance with federal regulation the jurisdictional status (determination) of these wetlands was coordinated with the Environmental Protection Agency prior to finalizing.”
“The property owner has been notified of the federal government’s findings and the investigation closed.”
Wetlands Question Now Moot from Legal Point of View
Perry later claimed that it had hired a private consultant to determine whether the wetlands were jurisdictional. However, to my knowledge, Perry never publicly released the results of the survey. Today’s ruling by the Corps makes that whole controversy moot.
Regardless of the Corps’ rulings on the jurisdictional question, the fact remains that the Corps found wetlands on the property and they found Perry Homes had attempted to fill them in.
Wetlands Question Still Explosive from Business Point of View
Let’s see how well that worked out for Perry and its subsidiaries.
How Perry Could Exit Without a Loss, Mitigate Flooding, Limit Long-Term Liability
A Houston Chronicle article quotes Houston Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin as saying that Perry quoted a price for the land that covered their acquisition cost PLUS the labor they have into it. That led Harris County to ask CoH to share the cost.
When CoH refused, Perry dropped the price to $14 million (the alleged purchase price) from $23 million, according to Community Impact newspaper. The Montgomery County Appraisal District values the land at only a little more than $1 million.
It will be very hard for Perry to sell the land and even harder to develop it. So why doesn’t Perry just donate the land to Harris County Flood Control to help them mitigate flooding?
According to a national real estate tax expert that I talked to, Perry could then write off the value of the land PLUS the value of the labor they have in it. For a billion dollar company, the tax deduction could easily EQUAL or come close to the price they are currently asking for the land.
It would also:
Give Perry a chance to recoup some shred of its once proud image.
Let Harris County Flood Control move forward quickly with a detention project that could truly mitigate flooding.
Help protect Perry from additional future flooding claims.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/10/2020
924 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 173 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.
https://i0.wp.com/reduceflooding.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/20200306-RJR_0101.jpg?fit=1200%2C592&ssl=15921200adminadmin2020-03-10 17:59:432020-03-11 06:45:57Army Corps Finds Wetlands on Perry Homes Woodridge Village Property Did Not Fall Under Corps’ Jurisdiction; What Next?
After the flood, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) received multiple complaints about alleged SWPPP (stormwater pollution prevention plan) violations on the site. TCEQ referred them to Montgomery County for investigation. Montgomery County then referred them to LJA Engineering, which coincidentally also represented the Woodridge developer. But more on the apparent conflict later.
Timeline of Investigation
Between May 8 and May 10, 2019, LJA Engineers received five complaints for investigation.
On or about May 11, 2019, Rebel Contractors began installing safeguards and posting permits that should have been in place months before the flood.
LJA conducted its investigation on May 15, 2019.
LJA submitted its findings to Montgomery County on May 16. The report showed several deficiencies, but many more had been corrected shortly before the LJA inspection.
On June 5, 2019, LJA reinspected the site and found that all corrective actions requested on 5/15/2019 had been completed.
On July 8th, an email between LJA and the TCEQ indicated that the contractor was now in compliance and that Montgomery County considered all the complaints resolved.
The following photos were attached to the email containing the report above. They give the impression that the vast majority of silt fencing had been in place and that all the permits were posted. I could see no fencing and no permits when I visited the site immediately after the flood.
As proof of compliance, LJA submitted these two before/after photo sequences. Neither sequence corresponded to the photos from May 15 where the inspector noted deficiencies. These “before” photos bear a different date: May 23. The second report above never mentions an inspection on May 23.
Conflict of Interest?
Both the developer and Montgomery County hired LJA Engineering independently:
Subsidiaries of Perry Homes (Figure Four Partners and PSWA) hired LJA to design the site and its detention ponds. AND…
Montgomery County hired LJA to investigate complaints about multiple construction sites throughout the county.
Copies of the SWPPP plans still have not been made public to see if other irregularities exist. LJA Engineering has not returned phone calls.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/10/2019
680 Days after Hurricane Harvey
All thoughts expressed in this post represent my opinions on matters of public interest 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 contractor also failed to repair a culvert running next to North Kingwood Forest. Engineers warned that the damaged culvert had to be replaced.
Finally the engineers may have mischaracterized the soil in modeling assumptions. They classified soil as sandy loam instead of clay. That could have skewed a key factor in runoff models by 2X to 3X.
Parts of Porter Also Flooded That Were Not in Any Recognized Flood Zone
LJA’s letter also shows that residents who flooded in Porter on the western edge of the new Woodridge development were NOT in either 100-year or 500-year flood zones. This supports the claims of Porter flood victims, such as Gretchen Dunlap-Smith. They say they never flooded before. They also claim that Rebel Contractors pushed dirt up against the western edge of the development while filling in natural drainage and wetlands. These actions likely constrained drainage on May 7th, before the contractor began installing storm sewers, drainage ditches and detention ponds in that area.
Flood Plain Maps Show What Developer’s Team Knew Before Permit Granted
Section 1.5 of LJA’s letter to Montgomery County states, “The project site is shown on FEMA Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) panel 48339C0750H for Montgomery County, Texas and Incorporated Areas, revised August 18, 2014. The area just across the county boundary from the project site is shown on FIRM panel 48201C0305L for Harris County, Texas and Incorporated Areas, revised June 18, 2007.” On Page 51, the letter shows existing floodplains on the map below.
Clearcutting of the S2 detention pond area finished last November according to Nancy Vera of Elm Grove. However, only detention pond S1 and the flow-restricting box culvert next to Vera’s house had been substantially completed by May 7. Neither N1, nor the drainage ditch connecting it with N2 were excavated on May 7th; they still have not been excavated.
LJA Engineering’s models assumed all the detention ponds are in and functioning, but we know they were not at the time of the flood. Instead of installing drainage first, the contractor focused on clearcutting and grading the northern section of land which exacerbated flooding on the southern section.
Drain Pipe Should Have Been Replaced
Page 3-1 of the LJA Letter mentions, “…an existing 36-inch-diameter x 290-foot HDPE culvert in Taylor Gully at the downstream end of the project. The upstream end of the culvert is within Montgomery County and the downstream end is within Harris County. Because of its poor structural condition, this culvert needs to be replaced.”
Judging by the poor condition of the pipe after the May 7th flood and the lack of disturbed soil around it, I feel it’s safe to say that it wasn’t replaced at the time of the flood.
Modeling May Have Included Faulty Assumption About Soil
Major factors affecting the runoff coefficient for a watershed are land use, slope, and soil type. We know the contractor increased the runoff rate when it clearcut the forest and altered the slope of land. But I had not previously focused on how the engineers characterized the soil type, which affects water infiltration.
Sandy soils absorb more rain, generally reducing runoff.
Soils with more clay absorb less rain, generally increasing runoff.
In modeling runoff and flooding potential for Woodridge Village and downstream areas, LJA Engineers used the Army Corps’ Hydrologic Modeling System (HEC-HMS). Page 216 of the user guide for that program states that, “The sand percentage accounts for the effect of infiltration and surface runoff properties on hydrograph generation. Zero percent indicates essentially all-clay soils with characteristically low infiltration rates. Conversely, 100 percent indicates essentially all-sandy soils with characteristically high infiltration rates.”
BrighthubEngineering.com estimates infiltration rates in inches per hour for different types of soil. They show the rate for clay-based soils to average one-third to one-half the rate for sandy loam. That means…
The characterization of the soil could have skewed this component of LJA’s modeling by 2X to 3X. Certainly, that merits further investigation and verification of LJA Engineering’s results before contractors begin pouring concrete.
New Discoveries Argue for Independent Engineering Investigation
All of these observations argue for an independent investigation into the engineering of and construction practices on this site. They raise serious questions about the accuracy of LJA’s conclusions and whether their plans will protect downstream residents from future flooding.
Let’s pray that Montgomery County and the City of Houston commission a forensic investigation into the causes of this flooding. That’s the only way we’ll be able to prevent similar flooding in the future. By the time these issues work their way through the court system, contractors will have built homes and streets that could forever alter downstream flood potential. Harris County and the Federal government could be stuck with hundreds of buyouts costing tens of millions of dollars. A second opinion might save a lot of heartbreak, misery, and tax dollars. Better safe than sorry.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/2/2019
642 Days since Hurricane Harvey
The thoughts in this post represent 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.
https://i0.wp.com/reduceflooding.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Flood-Impact-on-EG.jpg?fit=1500%2C998&ssl=19981500adminadmin2019-06-02 22:50:562019-06-02 22:51:06Even More Discoveries Demand Independent Investigation into Causes of Flooding Around Woodridge Village
The third wave of lawsuits filed by Webster and Spurlock against defendants Figure Four Partners, LTD; PSWA, Inc.; and Rebel Contractors, Inc. brings the total of plaintiffs they represent to more than 200.
This is not a class action suit. Each plaintiff suffered different amounts of damage. It is a series of individual lawsuits. Here is the first wave of plaintiffs, the second, the third and the basis for the claims.
The lawsuits allege negligence, negligence per se, gross negligence, nuisance, and violation of Section 11.086 of the Texas Water Code. Plaintiffs seek exemplary damages and a permanent injunction among other things.
District court record searches indicate that no other law firm has yet filed suit against these defendants for the Elm Grove and NKF flooding. However, they may. At least two other law firms have held meetings with residents.
A new term is floating around: rainxiety. That’s the anxiety flood victims feel whenever rain is forecast. Dozens of residents have told me that they sweat, their hearts race, and they begin to panic whenever it rains. One even begins humming Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Who’ll Stop the Rain?” That should become the theme song for Elm Grove and North Kingwood Forest.
“Still the rain kept pourin’, Fallin’ on my ears. And I wonder, Still I wonder Who’ll stop the rain.” By John Fogarty
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 US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP statute of the Great State of Texas.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/29/2019 with help from Jeff Miller
638 Days since Hurricane Harvey
https://i0.wp.com/reduceflooding.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/ElmGroveFlood_01_11.jpg?fit=1500%2C1000&ssl=110001500adminadmin2019-05-29 20:19:172019-05-31 07:07:02More than 40 Additional Plaintiffs Join Webster, Spurlock Lawsuits Against Woodridge Developers and Contractor for May 7th Flooding
In the statement, Figure Four denied any responsibility for the flooding and blamed it on an act of God. Further, they invoked the shield of government approval, saying their plans were approved by the City of Houston and Montgomery County.
“While our hearts go out to the homeowners that recently flooded in the Elm Grove Subdivision, the flooding there this week had absolutely nothing to do with the Figure Four and Perry Homes project nearby.”
“As virtually every media outlet in the region has reported this week, and Harris County Flood Control meteorologist Jeff Lindner confirmed, Tuesday’s rainfalls at times matched the intensity of Hurricane Harvey. The Houston Chronicle reported that “The rainfall was particularly severe in suburban areas such as Kingwood …”
“Though our project is still in the land clearing stage, many of the detention ponds are complete – providing improved drainage to the area that did not previously exist. Additionally, the drainage study and construction plans for the Figure Four project were completed by LJA Engineering, an experienced and highly respected firm and approved by the County. All City and County permits were obtained and all applicable building codes have been followed.
“Several questions have been asked about a concrete structure on the project. This structure is the outfall control device and part of the permitted and approved drainage plan. The outfall control device functioned as designed on Tuesday night. Similar to the detention ponds, the outflow control structure improved drainage in the area.”
– End of Statement –
Flaws in Argument
At the risk of clarifying the obvious, I would point out that:
Elm Grove didn’t flood during Harvey.
The improved drainage did not work as well as the previous natural drainage, which the developer filled in.
LJA and co-defendants Woodlands Land Development, L.P. and The Howard Hughes Corporation, pled for abatement of the case, claiming that the plaintiffs failed to provide them with sixty-day advance written notice of the claims. The judge then abated the case on 4/22/19.
Difference Between Woodlands and Elm Grove Cases
The Woodlands and Elm Grove situations are similar in that they both involved extreme weather events and flood damage. However, there are also some major differences. In the Woodlands case, plaintiffs occupied the land developed by the defendants. In Elm Grove, neighboring land owners were damaged during development of adjoining property.
Also, in the Woodlands case, plaintiffs alleged that the property had flooded in 1994, that defendants knew it, and that they failed to raise the property high enough to prevent flooding during Harvey. However, Elm Grove did not flood either in 1994 or during Harvey. It flooded only after clear cutting and the beginning of earthwork on the Figure Four Partner’s property.
It will be interesting to see whether any lawsuits emerge from those damaged in Elm Grove.
In the Figure Four Statement, you can see how the company is already setting up themes for their legal defense if necessary. LJA Engineering invoked the same themes during its defense of the Woodlands allegations.
In Other Developments Saturday…
Yesterday was filled with new developments and discoveries:
Elm Grove held a public meeting with a law firm to inform flooded residents of their legal rights.
Many residents of Porter came to the meeting to complain of drainage issues on the northern and western sides of the project.
It became clear that another 175-acre parcel of land was a part of the project. That parcel has also been clear cut, but no drainage “improvements” were visible.
No other precautions were visible to prevent runoff of silt such as berms, sand bags, or silt fences.
Water was ponding on neighbors’ property.
No stormwater pollution prevention permits were posted at any of the entrances to the job site that I could see. That in itself may be a violation of state regulations.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo still had not visited Kingwood or declared a disaster. Such a declaration would make residents available for assistance from government agencies.
Additional Parcel Triples Clear-Cut Acreage
Saturday, Porter residents called to my attention the fact that Figure Four Partners was also developing an even larger tract of land not visible from Kingwood.
This link shows a plat of the northern 175 acres, which Figure Four Partners called “Woodridge Village Section 3.” For those who are interested in contacting the developer or engineering company, the plat shows their addresses and phone numbers.
Thoughts expressed in this post represent my opinions on matters of public policy. They are protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP statute of the great state of Texas.
https://i0.wp.com/reduceflooding.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/ElmGroveFlood_01_15.jpg?fit=1500%2C1000&ssl=110001500adminadmin2019-05-12 03:07:222019-05-12 04:28:56Figure Four Partners Denies All Responsibility for Elm Grove Flooding; Blames God