Tag Archive for: Floodplain

New Development on Townsend in Humble Almost Finished Clearing

Developers have virtually finished clearing approximately 70 acres on Townsend Blvd. West in Humble. The land is immediately north of Sam’s Club and east of Walmart and Aldine ISD’s Jones Middle School. The image below from Google Earth shows the location of the land and the extent of clearing as of last April. At that time, about a quarter of the property had not been cleared. See red oval.

Trees in red oval are now gone. See pictures below.

The two photos below show the land in the red oval as of 9/24/22.

Looking west at newly cleared area toward Townsend and Aldine ISD’s Jones Middle School.
Looking East toward Costco (upper left) and Deerbrook Mall (upper right).

Two Large Detention Basins Already Built

Since my original post on this property, the developers have also built two large stormwater detention basins that comprise most of the eastern boundary.

Two large detention basins sit between the development to the east and the land that developers will build on.
A second basin lies between the larger one above and the drainage ditch to the north.

The basins are a bit hard to see in photograph above because everything is so monochromatic. But if you look closely, you can see backslope interceptor swales around them and drainpipes that lead down to the bottom of the basins. The purpose: to prevent erosion on the sides of the basins that could accelerate siltation in drainage ditches and reduce their conveyance. Such swales represent a best practice.

Leaving the stand of trees on the left above also represents a best practice. Why? The land slopes toward the trees. Had a heavy rain hit the site before the basins were built, the trees would have intercepted runoff and prevented silt from entering the ditch in the background by the power lines.

Three residential developers appear to own all parcels that comprise this cleared area. They include Hannover Estates, Townsen Landing LLC, and Headway Estates LTD. A three-year-old article in Community Impact quoting Saratoga Homes suggests that 357 single-family homes and townhomes are planned for this location.

Here’s what the site looked like in April 2022.

Near Floodplain

The site is near the commercial center of northeast Harris County. But unfortunately, it’s also near the floodplain of the San Jacinto West Fork and Spring Creek. So flood risk is high. And will be going higher.

From FEMA’s National Flood Hazard Layer Viewer. Red oval indicates location of development.

Note the dates on the map above. One portion is 2014 and the other 2007. Both predate Harvey and NOAA’s new Atlas 14 rainfall statistics. These floodplains could soon expand and take in portions of the new development.

Harris County Flood Control (HCFCD) has submitted preliminary flood maps to FEMA for review. FEMA could release the preliminary maps as early as next year. Preliminary guidance from HCFCD is that floodplains will likely expand by 50%.

If that happens, these developers could be caught between rising interest rates and widening floodplains. That will squeeze profits. I talked to one developer last week who is choosing to retire now rather than ride out another recession.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 9/24/22

1852 Days since Hurricane Harvey

New MoCo Development Being Built on Wetlands in 10-Year Flood Zone

At least part of Madera, a new 1,700-acre development in Montgomery County that straddles FM1314 immediately north of SH242, is being built on wetlands and is in a 10-year flood zone.

US Fish & Wildlife Map Shows Wetlands Dot Development

Magera Wetlands
From US Fish & Wildlife Service National Wetlands Inventory. Madera will stretch past the left/right edges of this picture north of SH242 (the east/west highway near bottom.) FM1314 bisects picture from N to S in middle.

FEMA’s Base Flood Elevation Viewer Shows Flood Risk

From FEMA’s Base Flood Elevation Viewer. Extent of 100-year flood zone shown on left. 10-year flood zone shown on right.

Note that this survey shows only about a quarter of Madera (see below). The survey stops abruptly on the western margin. So, it is hard to say with certainty how bad flooding is throughout the rest of the site.

Yellow outline shows approximate outline of FEMA BFE survey shown above within Madera tract (black/white outline).

Option to See Depth of 100-Year Flood Waters

Also note that the purple area shows only the extent of 100- and 10-year floods. However, within the FEMA BFE viewer, you also have the option to select a layer that illustrates the depth of 100-year floodwaters. See below. (FEMA does not offer the option to show the depth of 10-year floods.)

FEMA BFE viewer
FEMA’s estimated Base Flood Elevation Viewer showing extent of 100-year flood on left and depth on right.

Limitations of BFE Viewer

Of course, FEMA shows “estimated conditions” before developers bring in fill and alter drainage. But notice how a pre-existing development near Madera would fare in the same 100-year flood. You can see the close up below just above SH242 near the right edge of the image above.

FEMA shows that most homes in this development are still in the flood zone and would still flood to a depth of 1-2 feet in a hundred-year flood.

The street leading out of the development to SH242 could be under more than FIVE FEET of water in places!

FEMA Base flood Elevation Viewer

FEMA’s “Estimated Base Flood Elevation” is “The estimated elevation of flood water during the 1% annual chance storm event.” Structures below the estimated water surface elevation may experience flooding.” A 1%-annual-chance flood is also known as a 100-year flood. FEMA defines properties with a 1% annual chance of flooding as having “high flood risk” and says they have a 26% chance of flooding during the life of a 30-year mortgage.

Purposes of BFE Viewer

The agency developed its Base Flood Elevation viewer with several purposes in mind. To:

  • Inform personal risk decisions related to the purchase of flood insurance and coverage levels.
  • Inform local and individual building and construction approaches.
  • Prepare local risk assessments, Hazard Mitigation Plans, Land Use Plans, etc.
  • Provide information for “Letter of Map Amendment” (LOMA) submittals.

A LOMA lets the developer of a subdivision change the depiction of how flooding affects his/her subdivision. It’s the key to offering up-to-date risk assessments.

Full BFE Reports Available

FEMA also lets you download or print full BFE reports that give more specific estimates of flood depth at exact points, not just within a wide area.

FEMA’s BFE Viewer also gives you the option to print out a detailed flood-risk report by clicking on a point.

At the point shown above, you could expect 4.2 feet of water above the land surface in a 1%-chance flood. For the full report, click here.

Here’s what that point looked like last Saturday (1/22/22) from the air.

Madera will eliminate wetlands but claims it will have no adverse impact.
Madera development today at FM1314 and SH242, the point shown in BFE report above.

Cross-check this area on the maps above for wetlands and swamps! Then you can see why it’s so soupy.

BFE, Fill Not Mentioned in Drainage Analysis or Construction Plans

Text searches of Madera’s construction and drainage plans showed no references to “BFE” or “base flood.”

It seems unlikely that a “cut and fill” operation could excavate enough dirt from Madera’s drainage channel (dotted blue line with red parallel lines) and detention ponds to raise the whole site out the hundred-year flood zone. Five feet is a lot of fill for a 1700 acre site.

To raise a site this large, contractors would likely have to bring in fill from outside the property. But a text search from the word “fill” did not turn up any exact matches either.

So maybe they’re just planning to create the world’s biggest drain and hope to carry water off before it can reach homes.

However, a summary of the Madera master drainage plan notes…

“Coordination with MCED [Montgomery County Engineering Department] and adjacent property owners is recommended … on the potential need for inundation easements.”

Revised Channel Alignment Memo, 2/19/21, Page 11

Still, engineers for the development claim it will have “No adverse impact.”

To review Montgomery County regulations regarding flood zones and drainage, see the documents under the “Construction Regs in Flood Hazard Areas” tab on my reports page. You’ll see plenty of opportunities for improvement.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/27/22

1612 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.

How to Find and Verify Flood-Related Information: Part II

This is Part II in a series about how to find and verify flood-related information. Yesterday’s post focused on finding good information about flood vulnerabilities. This second part will focus on reviewing developers’ plans. The second can compound the first.

The very first sentence of the Texas Water Code § 11.086 begins with a warning not to flood your neighbors. It says, “No person may divert or impound the natural flow of surface waters in this state, or permit a diversion or impounding by him to continue, in a manner that damages the property of another by the overflow of the water diverted or impounded.”

The second sentence declares that a person injured by diverted water may sue to recover damages. Of course, at that point the damage has already been done. Lawsuits are expensive and take years. And the defendant, usually a developer, will always point to plans prepared by a professional engineer and approved by a government body. Suing them will require expert witnesses. And the defendant will likely claim that you wouldn’t have flooded except for an Act of God.

Lawsuits are tall, expensive mountains to climb. So concerned residents near new developments are better off closely scrutinizing plans before they’re built and closely monitoring construction to ensure developers follow the plans.

You can’t stop development. But you can ensure developers play by the rules.

But how do you find and verify their plans?

Need to Find and Verify Info

If you notice a large piece of property for sale near you, monitor it closely. Check with the listing agent. Also check Houston’s Plat Tracker website. It’s updated before every meeting of the Planning Commission and shows items on their agenda. Houston also maintains a map-based website that shows projects in various stages of approval throughout the City and its extra-territorial jurisdiction.

Leap into action if you find a potential cause for concern near you. The next step is to obtain the development’s plans, the drainage impact analysis and soil tests. The developer must prove “no adverse impact” to people and properties downstream.

How you obtain those plans and studies depends on the development’s location. If inside a municipality, check with your city council representative. If you live outside a municipality, your best starting point will probably be your county engineer or precinct commissioner.

The plans are public information and must be provided in response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Requests.

Signed, Stamped, Approved and So Obviously Wrong

In every case I reviewed during the last four years where someone flooded because of a new development, something jumped out of the plans that should have raised concerns for reviewers, but didn’t.

For instance, after Colony Ridge engineers apparently mischaracterized soil types, Plum Grove flooded repeatedly. The engineer said soils would let more water soak in than actually could. That meant the developer didn’t have to build as many detention ponds and could sell more lots. But it also contributed to flooding homes downstream.

Another example, the engineers for Woodridge Village claimed there were no floodplains on the property when there were. The property just hadn’t been surveyed yet.

In those cases, multiple other issues surfaced after close review. Wetlands that had been ignored. Substandard construction of detention ditches that led to severe erosion. Failure to implement stormwater quality controls. Failure to follow plans. Ignoring Atlas-14 requirements that led to undersizing detention ponds by 40%. And more.

In another development, I spotted safety issues related to river migration that had been ignored. Underground parking next to the floodway of the San Jacinto River. Failure to consider flood evacuation.

Concerned citizens must learn how to obtain and review such plans for potential problems or hire a consulting engineer.

Here are some things I’ve learned to look for.

Soil Tests

Are they accurate? Were the samples taken at representative points? Or did they conveniently ignore wetlands? Permeability of the soils will affect the amount of detention needed. The level of the water table could affect the amount of detention provided.

  • Highly permeable soils like sand have a high rate of infiltration and will let developers get away with less detention. Clay-based soils will require more. One engineer told me, “Soils like Colony Ridge reported don’t exist in the State of Texas.”
  • If plans call for a ten-foot deep detention pond, but the soil test encounters a shallower water table, that will compromise the pond’s capacity. Capacity should be calculated from the top of standing water, not the bottom of the pond. If the pond is already half full, that half shouldn’t count.

You can check the soils that a developer reports against the USDA national soil database.

Floodplain Issues

Floodplain maps in Harris County are currently being revised. That may not be the case in surrounding counties. The lack of updated flood maps endangers current residents, by letting developers build to old and ineffective standards.

Developers often try to beat the implementation of new requirements. This happened in the case of Woodridge Village. It’s also happening in the case of the Laurel Springs RV Park and Northpark South along Sorters-McClellan Road. The entrance to the Northpark development sits in a bowl. A quick check of the elevation profile on the USGS National Map confirmed that. During Harvey, local residents tell me that not even high-water rescue vehicles could get through that intersection. Put the Cajun Navy on standby now.

Wetland Issues

Filling wetlands requires an Army Corps permit for some, but not all wetlands. Whether they fall under the Corps’ jurisdiction depends on how far up in the branching structure of a watershed they are. Those near the main stem are jurisdictional. Three levels up may not be.

The US Fish and Wildlife service has thoroughly documented wetlands in this area. Check their National Wetlands Database and appeal to the Corps if you find a problem. At a minimum, the developer may be forced to buy mitigation credits somewhere nearby, which could help reduce flooding.

Drainage Issues

Is a new development’s detention pond capacity adequate? Is it based on the right percentage of impermeable cover? If the pond(s) fill up, where will the water go?

Calculating detention capacity requires math skills most people don’t have. But you can check the basis for the calculations. Are plans based on new Atlas-14 requirements? Are plans meeting current Houston and Harris County requirements?

Current City of Houston and Harris County Requirements for Detention Pond Capacity

In the case of the RV park, the developer will provide roughly half the current capacity requirement thanks to a grandfather clause in the regs. You can find construction guidelines for Houston, Harris County, MoCo and Liberty County on the Reports Page under the Construction tab.

Also see where they’re routing excess water in case of an overflow.

In the case of the Laurel Springs RV Park, the developer said they would route the water to a detention pond near Hamblen and Laurel Springs in anything greater than a two year rain. See below.

Screen Capture from Laurel Springs RV Resort Drainage Impact Report shows that in anything greater than a 2-year rain, overflow water will could threaten homes in Lakewood Cove.
RV Park Site Outlined in White. Overflow described above would presumably follow red path.
Laurel Springs RV Park as of 11/29/21. Detention pond will go in foreground, but overflow will go into pond at top of frame according to text above.

Missing Details from Drainage Impact Analysis

I have requested additional details three times from the City but still have not received them. I suspect they may not exist. All other plan requests have been filled.

So what happens when the Lakewood Cove detention pond fills up? Or gets covered up in a flood? Overflow from the RV park will contribute to flooding someone downstream.

The developer also said excess capacity would get to the Lakewood Cove pond by overland sheet flow. That could threaten homes on the southwest corner of Lakewood Cove – visible in the middle of shot above.

But a City engineer reviewing the plans said overflow would follow the railroad tracks on the western side of the RV park. Hmmmm. Two engineers – one who developed the plans and another who approved them – 180 degrees apart. What’s a concerned citizen to do?

If the engineers who develop and review such plans were always right, no one would ever flood. But we do. So always find and verify those plans.

To see the first part of this series, click here.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/29/2021

1553 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.

Planning Commission Concerns About Romerica Land Seem More Procedural than Flood-Related

Last week, the Houston Planning Commission deferred approval of the General Plan for Romerica’s Orchard Seeded Ranches in Kingwood. A City of Houston Planning and Development Department document obtained this afternoon suggests that concerns about the West Fork development may have been more procedural than flood-related.

Much of Romerica’s land lies between the Barrington in foreground and San Jacinto River in background. All 283 homes in Barrington flooded during Harvey.

Of the ten concerns listed in a letter to the permit applicant, only one had to do with flooding. And that came from Harris County Flood Control, not the City. Nine other concerns had to do with street spacing and layouts or labelling.

Half of Land in Floodway

Half of Orchard Seeded Ranches is in the floodway (below red line) of the San Jacinto West Fork.
Half of Orchard Seeded Ranches is in the floodway (below red line) of the San Jacinto West Fork. That line will shift north on new flood maps.

Half of the land lies in the floodway of the West Fork. The other half lies in the hundred-year floodplain. The development would be built on the same property that Romerica tried to get approved last year. The company wanted to build a series of high rises and 5,000 condominiums. That proposal drew a record 770 letters of protest to the Army Corps. Despite all that…

The Planning Commission document indicates that the City Engineer had no comments on the proposal.

Last week it appeared that the balance of power might be shifting at City Hall from developers to flood-weary residents. This week, it appears the other way around.

Only Harris County Flood Control Raises Serious Objections

Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) recommended deferral of any approvals until the master drainage plan for the development is reviewed. HCFCD also said, “This area has historically been prone to flooding with numerous home buyouts immediately to the west. The Flood Control District, City of Houston, Montgomery County, and San Jacinto River Authority are working on a planning study to reduce flood risk in this area.”

Those partners should complete the San Jacinto Regional Watershed Master Drainage Plan final report by September this year.

Part of that plan will include new flood surveys. They will likely show the floodway expanding to take in an even greater percentage of Romerica’s property.

Gear Up for Another Lengthy Fight

It should not take the developer much time to address City’s concerns. It’s unclear at this time whether the City will heed the HCFCD’s concerns.

As a result, this controversy could wind up back in the hands of the Army Corps and/or the US Fish and Wildlife Service again. Last year, the Fish and Wildlife Service wrote an uncharacteristically frank recommendation to the Corps, urging the Corps to deny Romerica’s permit. Their reasoning had to do with the value of wetlands on the property and the presence of American Bald Eagles, a protected species.

Bald eagle photographed adjacent to Romerica property in February, 2020.

In the meantime, the developer may realize that it still faces an uphill struggle even with City approval. Perhaps they will come to their senses and sell this land to a group or groups that wish to preserve it as green space for flood control and recreation.

Light pole near River Bend in North Shore as Harvey receded. Note the "wet marks" several feet up on pole. Photo by Jim Balcom.
Light pole by westernmost Romerica property as Harvey receded. Photo by Jim Balcom.

As if to underscore the value of that proposition, the Bayou City Initiative today announced a virtual meeting to discuss the difficulty of mass evacuations and sheltering during the hurricane season as the COVID crisis continues. Remember that most of this land was under 20+ feet of water during Harvey.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/5/2020

980 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Liberty Materials Mine Carved Out of Many Wetlands

The Liberty Materials Mine in Conroe on the West Fork of the San Jacinto was cited last month for allegedly discharging 56 million gallons of wastewater loaded with up to 25 times the normal amount of sediment. When we look at the issue of sediment in the river and how it affects flooding, such breaches contribute to the problem. But it’s not just what such sand mines discharge. It’s also about what the wetlands they were carved from don’t hold back any more.

Before there was a Liberty Materials in Conroe, the area they now occupy contained many densely forested wetlands. Now there is nothing to slow down the water during heavy rains. Much more sand and sediment are exposed. And the wetlands are no longer there to filter it. It’s a double whammy. We get it coming and going.

Green areas mapped as wetlands in USGS National Wetlands Inventory. See descriptions below.

Before Liberty, Abundant Wetlands

Visually, it appears that wetlands once covered roughly half the area of this mine. But what was actually there?

US Geological Survey (USGS) and US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) use a five character alpha-numeric code to classify wetlands. Liberty Materials operates in areas that were classified as PFO1A and PEM1A.

P stands for the class: Palustrine. Palustrine wetlands include any inland wetland that lacks flowing water. The word palustrine comes from the Latin word palus or marsh. Wetlands within this category include inland marshes, swamps and floodplains covered by vegetation.

The second two letters in each case stand for the subclass: FOrested or EMergent. Forested means it had broad-leaved, deciduous trees or shrubs taller than 6 meters. Emergent means it had aquatic plants.

These were areas that could store large volumes of water during floods. Plus, they had vegetation that could suck it up.

Trees Soak Up Water, Too

Trees can soak up 50 to 300 gallons of water in a day depending on their size, age and type. They send it back into the atmosphere; let’s use 100 gallons as a conservative average and do some simple math to calculate their contribution to flood reduction.

It’s difficult to estimate the number of trees per acre; it depends on the factors mentioned above plus more. But some people use 500 trees per acre as a good average for estimating purposes.

The Liberty sand mine complex comprises more than a thousand acres. That’s 500,000 trees each soaking up 100 gallons of water per day. Or 50 million gallons of water per day.

That’s about the same amount that the TCEQ estimates the Liberty Mine discharged downstream in one breach.

Personally, I’d rather have the trees and wetlands than white water and a river that’s so silted up it contributes to flooding.

Influence of Wetlands on Flooding

Imagine a sand box that’s 1.5 miles wide and 2.5 miles long. Here’s what it looked like the day after the peak of Hurricane Harvey.

Image from 8/30/2017 of Liberty Mine one day after the peak of Harvey.

And here’s why. Note how closely the extend of flooding matches the extent of the flood plains. Like almost all mines on the West Fork, this one lies substantially within the floodway and floodplain.

Cross-hatched = floodway; aqua = 100 year; tan = 500 year floodplain.

Is Liberty’s Luck Running Low?

If these people had the strongest dikes in the world, maybe you could cut them some slack. But they don’t. They breach repeatedly.

About a month after allegedly discharging 56 million gallons of process wastewater into the West Fork, the only thing holding back another discharge at the Liberty Mine is a couple feet of sand. Photo taken on 12/3/2019.

We need sand, but not at the expense of floods and the environment. Maybe it’s time for TACA to run some of its members out of Texas. That do-good routine they stage in Austin every other year could be in jeopardy with members like Liberty. See below.

11/4/2019. The Day the West Fork Turned White. Confluence of Spring Creek and West Fork. TCEQ alleges that Liberty Mines discharged 56 million gallons of white waste water into the West Fork.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12.5.2019

828 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.

What Went Wrong, Part IV: Perry Homes Develops Flood Plain That Wasn’t

Chapter 9 of the Montgomery County Drainage Criteria Manual discusses development in flood plains. Perry Homes and LJA Engineering somehow “overlooked” many of the points in this chapter. A flood plain ran through the property, but FEMA had not yet mapped it. LJA used that as an excuse to claim none existed.

Notice how flood plain mapping stops at county line. Perry Homes has the undeveloped property along and above the county line. Color code: Cross-hatched = floodway; aqua = hundred year flood plain; brown = 500-year flood plain. Source: MoCo Maps

Unfortunately, physical boundaries of flood plains do not observe political boundaries. Taylor Gully bisects this property, if you look at the flood maps, it magically defies flooding on the MoCo side of the county line.

Montgomery County Regulations Affecting Flood Plains

Below are guidelines from the Montgomery County Drainage Criteria Manual that Perry Homes would have had to follow had the property been mapped.

From Section 9.1.1 Floodplain Regulations:

“No fill or encroachment is permitted within the 100-year floodway which will impair its ability to discharge the 100-year peak flow rate except where the effect on flood heights has been fully offset by stream improvements.” [Emphasis added.]

“Placement of fill material within the floodplain requires a permit from the County Drainage Administrator. Appropriate fill compaction data and hydrologic and hydraulic data are required before a permit will be issued.”

From Section 9.1.2 Floodplain Development Guidelines and Procedures

“Construction within the floodway is limited to structures which will not obstruct the 100-year flood flow unless fully offsetting conveyance capacity is provided.”

  • “The existing designated 100-year floodplain and floodway should be plotted on a map of the proposed development.”
  • “The effect of the proposed development and the encroachment into the flood plain area should be incorporated into the hydraulic model and the resulting flood plain determined.”
  • “Careful consideration should be given to providing an accurate modeling of effective flow areas taking into account the expansion and contraction of the flow.”
  • “Once it has been determined that the proposed improvements adequately offset the encroachment, a revised floodway for the stream must be computed and delineated.”
From Section 9.2 Downstream Impact Analysis

“Pursuant to the official policy for Montgomery County, development will not be allowed in a manner which will increase the frequency or severity of flooding in areas that are currently subject to flooding or which will cause areas to flood which were not previously subject to flooding.”

What LJA Said About Perry Homes’ Project

On Page 1-2 of its Drainage Analysis, LJA Engineering explicitly states, “As shown on Exhibit 3, the proposed development is outside the 100-year floodplain.”

Phyllis Mbewe, P.e., CFM, LJA Project Manager – Hydrology and Hydraulics
LJA Exhibit 3 shows the floodplain stopping at the county line. LJA also did its best to make the .2 percent risk area blend into the area of minimal flood risk. This visually minimizes the amount of floodplain bordering MoCo, so the abrupt stoppage at the county line becomes less visible. Source: LJA.

Ms. Mbewe then states in her conclusion, “Based on these findings, the proposed development of the 268-acre tract creates no adverse drainage impacts for events up to and including the 100-year event.” [Emphasis added.]

What Does “No Adverse Impact” Really Mean?

People often twist the definition of terms you think are self evident. Especially in legal, technical, and political contexts.

To me, “No Adverse Impact” should mean, “Downstream people who didn’t flood before won’t flood after development.” That’s what section 9.2 states explicitly.

But when I talked to a flood professional, I got a different answer. To that person, “no adverse impact” meant, “the amount of water flowing across the property did not increase after development.” Much narrower! And seemingly contradictory to the spirit of 9.2.

“Floodplain” Definition Shocked Me

But that person’s definition of floodplain really shocked me. To me, floodplain means “the area adjacent to a stream that fills with floodwater after a very heavy rain.” But the professional told me I was WRONG. To the professional, a floodplain was “an area on a map that FEMA designated a floodplain for insurance purposes.”

In that person’s mind, because FEMA had never mapped the area in question, a floodplain did NOT EXIST. Whether or not the area flooded!

To me, that’s like saying an apple is something you see in a Kroger’s flyer, not something you eat. We’re talking about the difference between a symbol of something and the reality of it.

This discussion proved once again that words and phrases have different meanings that depend on the social context of usage.

In the minimum compliance environment of Montgomery County, LJA and Perry Homes argued that there was no floodplain. They found someone in the county engineer’s office who agreed with them…or was told to agree with them.

FYI, the official FEMA definition says, “Any land area susceptible to being inundated by floodwaters from any source.”

Consequences of Overly Narrow Definition

So did Elm Grove flood because Perry Homes, LJA and Montgomery County did not enforce the floodplain regs in section 9.2 of the Drainage Criteria Manual?

  • They certainly did not offset peak flows with stream improvements.
  • They did not plot the REAL-WORLD floodway and floodplain on a map of the proposed development (see above).
  • LJA did not incorporate encroachment into the floodplain in its hydraulic modeling, because they denied a floodplain existed.
  • Neither did LJA provide “an accurate modeling of effective flow areas taking into account the expansion and contraction of the flow.”
  • Finally, LJA did not compute, revise and delineate the floodway for the stream.

Had they done all these things, perhaps people would have seen that downstream homes that had never flooded were now subject to greater flood risk. But that’s really something for the jury to decide. And it would require FEMA to model the floodplain after the fact.

But like the narrow definition of floodplain, this whole discussion symbolizes a bigger problem.

How Do You Fix a Permissive, Minimum-Compliance Environment?

LJA had an obligation to its client and a higher one to the public that it ignored in my opinion.

Perry Homes could have demanded honest answers from its engineers, not the ones they wanted to hear.

FEMA could label areas like Woodridge Village “UNMAPPED”. This would send a signal to potential home buyers if sellers tell them they’re NOT in a floodplain. That might make developers think twice.

Home buyers need to demand integrity in this process. They need to ask better questions. They need to learn more about flooding.

But at the end of the day, Montgomery County Commissioners must define the kind of future they want. Do they want constant flooding? Or not. Because right now, they’re competing with other areas for new development on the basis of willful blindness and self-serving definitions.

Thirty years down the road, when it’s too late to fix the infrastructure problems they ignore today, MOCO residents will be paying the price. Some, who have flooded repeatedly, might argue they already are.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/26/2019 with help from Jeff Miller

820 Days after Harvey and 69 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.

Public Notice: Army Corps and TCEQ Soliciting Comments on High-Rise Development Near River Grove Park

Romerica Investments, LLC has applied for a permit to develop wetlands, flood plain, and floodway in the area around Barrington and River Grove Park in Kingwood. Rumored for years, many residents, including me, assumed the project died after Harvey. After all, who would be crazy enough to build high-rises in the path of 250,000 cfs? But as they say in horror movies, “It’s baaaa-aaack.” The proposed development includes: a marina/resort district, a commercial district, a residential district, and roadway expansion.

Here’s a link to a video that describes the architect’s vision for the development. It was posted to Vimeo in February of this year. Note the sky-blue waters of the San Jacinto. (This is what you get when a developer in Mexico uses an architect in Rome.) See more specifics below.

Location of Romerica’s proposed development.
The major pieces of Romerica’s proposed Kingwood development. For details see below.

River and Floodway Alterations

The applicant proposes to construct a new navigation channel on the West Fork to the south of the proposed marina and expand the existing channel on the east for better connectivity between the proposed marina and the West Fork San Jacinto River. 

Features of Proposed Resort District

The applicant proposes to develop the 25 acres north of the proposed marina into a resort district. The resort district will consist of a resort hotel, commercial, and residential space. The applicant proposes to construct:

  • Five towers within the resort district at a height of 90 feet for the western hotel parcel
  • Residential condominium towers at a height of 260 feet, and at a height of 500 feet (50 stories) for the eastern hotel and condominium parcel. 
  • Fill material would be used to raise the elevation of the resort district 12 feet from 45 to 57 feet to raise the proposed structures above the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) 100-year floodplain of the West Fork San Jacinto River.  

Features of Proposed Commercial District

In a 47 acre commercial district, the applicant proposes to construct:

  • Retail, residential, and office space.
  • Three towers ranging in height from 230 to 400 feet for the retail offices and residential condominium towers.
  • Additional mid-rise residential and retail spreads at a height of 70 feet. 
  • Fill material would raise the elevation of the commercial district from 45 feet to 57 feet over base flood elevation and raise the proposed structures over the FEMA 100-year floodplain of the West Fork San Jacinto. 
  • Parking garages with two below grade levels and concealed above grade levels to increase the footprint density. 
  • A 19.25-acre lake (from an existing 16.25-acre lake) to create a smaller marina area for personal watercraft parking.
  • A 125-foot wide channel between the 80-acre marina and the 19.25-acre marina and the marina/resort district and the commercial district. 

Features of Proposed Residential District

The 64-acre residential district would include:

  • Condominium structures, 65-feet high, on pier and beam foundations with elevated first floor parking and four stories.
  • They would use fill to elevate them to 58.5 feet, which is above the FEMA 100-year floodplain of the West Fork San Jacinto River. 
  • 25-story condominiums with parking garages.
  • Nearly 2 miles of 41 foot wide roadways with bridges over canals and streams.

Expansion of Woodland Hills Drive

The applicant also plans to bring in more than 1700 cubic yards of fill to raise and expand Woodland Hills Drive. Woodland Hills would become four lanes all the way to Hamblen.

Wetlands Mitigation: Somewhere Else

To compensate for all the fill they are bringing into the floodplain and wetlands, they would purchase mitigation credits from outside the Kingwood area. Basically this means that all of this development would be filling in local floodplains and floodway without commensurate local compensation. Said another way, it would constrict the flow of the West Fork during floods.

To review the complete text of the public notice, click here.

To review the proposed plans, locations and schematics, click here.

Comments are used to determine the need for a public hearing and to determine the overall public interest of the proposed activity. For accuracy and completeness of the record, all data in support of or in opposition to the proposed work should be submitted in writing. Concerns should contain sufficient detail to furnish a clear understanding of the reasons for support or opposition. Prior to the close of the public comment period on January 29, the Corps’ District Engineer will determine whether sufficient cause exists to hold a public hearing.

If no comments are received by that date, it will be considered that there are 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 

Rehak’s Concerns

  1. If not removed, the mouth bar will back flood water up into this area during major floods.
  2. I thought Friendswood deed restrictions limited the height of commercial structures to 3 stories. When I built my commercial property, that was the limit. It was also a major point of contention during the construction of the new Emergency Hospital at 59 north of Kingwood Drive. I wonder how they’re getting around that. All these high rise buildings in the middle of a residential area will significantly change the character of the community. Most residents bought into Kingwood because of those deed restrictions.
  3. Filling in our floodplain with mitigation credits purchased from somewhere else will significantly alter floodplain characteristics here. When KSA explored building a dog park in River Grove Park, the City engineer told us that the width of the fence posts could not reduce flood conveyance by .000001%. The maximum allowable was 0%.
  4. Boat navigation on the West Fork has been if-fy for decades and getting worse due to sediment washed downstream from sand mines. Dredging may improve a two-mile stretch, but until the mouth bar is removed, boats will have a difficult time navigating beyond that. The Army Corps is having to dredge its way up and down the river. Any marina likely could not survive the kinds of floods we had in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Other structures would also likely be damaged.
  5. If damaged in a future flood like Harvey, who would have pockets deep enough to repair these huge structures? Few would want to inhabit them. The one office building on Hamblen has flooded repeatedly in the 35 years I have lived here. It’s not just repairing water damage this close to the river; Harvey deposited 5 feet of sand in River Grove Park. How do you clean all of that sand out of a luxury resort?
  6. The paving and filling of all this wetland will increase and accelerate runoff that endangers downstream properties.
  7. It appears that no environmental impact study has been filed.
  8. All of the floodplain calculations are based on old surveys which are currently being revised. Before these buildings could even be built, floodplain maps will be redrawn. Remember, USGS reclassified Harvey flooding at Highway 99 as a 42-year storm. The area where many of these buildings would be built has been under three feet of water at least four times this year.
  9. I’m not an engineer, but will the soil support structures this large?
  10. It already can take a half hour to get in and out of Kingwood at rush hour. This high density development could add thousands of additional cars when residents have indicated they do not want to widen Kingwood Drive or Hamblen Road. The information provided to date makes no mention of traffic loads.

Having said all that, the architects renderings look gorgeous. If they could solve those concerns, the development might be an asset to the community.

Please send your feelings, pro or con, to the address above.

These are my opinions on matters of public policy protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP statutes of the great state of Texas.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/29/2018

487 Days since Hurricane Harvey