Colorado-based Century Land Holdings of Texas, LLC has started clearing land for Northpark South in Porter along the West Fork of the San Jacinto River at the west end of Northpark Drive.
Documents from the Houston Planning Commission, USGS, and FEMA; eyewitness accounts from nearby residents and flood professionals; and aerial photos indicate:
- Most of the area is in floodplains defined decades ago and not updated since.
- The entire area – and then some – went underwater during Harvey.
- The entrance to the property near Northpark Drive and Sorters-McClellan Road sits in a bowl that rescue trucks could not get through during Harvey. That would make evacuation difficult in the event of another large flood.
- Wetlands dot the property.
- Abandoned sand mines may pose safety threats.
The same developer just completed a sister development called Northpark Woods across a drainage channel from this one. But so far, the gutsy developer has avoided any consequences for its risky gamble thanks in large part to a multi-year drought and interminable delays at FEMA releasing the new post-Harvey flood maps.
All Underwater During Harvey
Eyewitness accounts and damage reports indicate that Harvey floodwaters stretched about a third of a mile east of Sorters-McClellan to Northpark and Kingwood Place Drive. That’s on the high side of Sorters-McClellan; the new development will be on the low side.
Floodwaters in this area stopped at about 83 feet above sea level. However, the entrance to the new subdivision is at 75 feet, according to the USGS National Map. That means the water was an estimated 8 feet deep at the entrance.
One long-time resident in the area said, “The intersection of Sorters and Northpark sits in a bowl. It was not passable by Montgomery County Precinct 4 constables in an Army deuce and a half [used for high-water rescue]. Water from the river came right up past that intersection and continued up Northpark to just past the intersection of Kingwood Place Dr.”
Also on the high side of Sorters-McClellan, six of nine buildings at nearby Kingwood College flooded during Harvey. Restoration cost: $60 million!
Documents obtained from the Houston Planning Commission indicate that RG Miller is the engineer of record for Northpark South.
Bordering River and Sand Mines
During Harvey, 160,000 cubic feet per second rampaged down the West Fork behind this property.
Here’s what they hope to build on this property.
Current Floodplains Will Soon Expand
Most of the property already sits in floodway or floodplains. But the FEMA map below has not yet been updated to reflect new knowledge gained as a result of Memorial Day, Tax Day, Harvey and Imelda floods.
In fact, the 2014 date on the map below is misleading. It reflects an update of the base map, but the data that determines the extent of floodplains has not been updated since the 1980s, according to an expert familiar with Montgomery County flood maps.
FEMA and Harris County Flood Control have warned people that when new “post-Harvey” flood maps are released in the next year or two, floodplains will expand 50-100%. The floodway (striped area above) will likely expand into the 100-year floodplain (aqua). In turn, the 100-year will expand into the 500-year (tan). And the 500-year floodplain will extend past any of the colored areas.
That’s consistent with eyewitness accounts. And that could potentially put the entire property in floodplains.
Taking Advantage of Map-Update Window
The developer seems to be taking advantage of a window between post-Harvey flood surveys and release of the new maps.
I’m sure the developer’s lawyers would argue that they are complying with all current, applicable laws. But an ethical question arises. Will the new development expose unsuspecting homebuyers to greater-than-expected risk?
If so, why aren’t officials pushing to update maps and floodplain regs faster?
Certainly not all are. But many flood professionals worry about that.
Next to 5-Square Miles of Sand Mines
The new development sits next to the largest sand-mining complex on the San Jacinto West Fork. Sand mines in this area occupy almost five square miles. However, not all the mines are active. But they still show signs of heavy sediment pollution.
Will routing drainage from Northpark South through these sand mines pose a safety risk for people downstream?
Will it be safe for kids to play or fish near these steep-sided pits?
Floodplain Development Called New Form of Redlining
This is an example of why the population of Texas floodplains is greater than the populations of 30 entire states. Yep. Thirty entire states have populations smaller than that of Texas floodplains.
One former floodplain administrator, who requested to remain anonymous, characterized these types of developments as a new form of redlining.
Owner financing often accompanies floodplain developments. Such financing can bypass many flood-risk detection procedures that accompany traditional bank financing.
Then, when floods come, the people who can least afford to repair homes suffer the most and longest. Neighborhoods decay faster. And that makes it harder for people to recover their investments.
Years later, the public is left holding the bag. We are asked to fund expensive flood-mitigation projects that would not be necessary had the developer built in a safer area.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/11/2023
2265 Days since Hurricane Harvey
The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.