Tag Archive for: FM1010

Six Years After Harvey, Bridge Still Blown Out at Colony Ridge

Two weeks short of Harvey’s sixth anniversary, FM1010, the main north/south artery between Huffman and Cleveland is still blown out due to excessive, uncontrolled runoff from Colony Ridge. Colony Ridge is the world’s largest trailer park and it’s just upstream near the East Fork San Jacinto in Liberty County. The productivity loss of local residents could easily have added up to half of a billion dollars by now.

Photos taken 8/12/23

I took all the photos below from a helicopter on Saturday, 8/12/23.

Blown out portion of FM1010, aka the Huffman-Cleveland Road and Plum Grove Road
The washout forces tens of thousands of nearby residents to take detour.

During rush hours, the backups on FM2090 from traffic trying to get to US59 can stretch miles because of failure to repair this bridge.

The washed out bridge lies at the end of this 2-mile Colony Ridge water cannon.
This Colony Ridge drainage ditch, like most others, does not have backslope interceptor swales to help control erosion or runoff.

Neither does this part of Colony Ridge have detention basins to help reduce the amount of runoff flowing into the East Fork San Jacinto.

Estimated Cost of Delays

I wonder if it’s even possible to accurately calculate the number of “people hours” lost to the senseless washout of the FM1010 bridge. But I will try.

For the sake of argument:

  • Assume 10,000 commuters are inconvenienced for an hour a day (half hour each way).
  • Multiply that times 365 days and then again by 6 years. You come close to 22 million hours.
  • Now multiply that times $25/hour.

Assuming these numbers are even in the ballpark, the washout could have cost local residents more than half of a billion dollars. Geez! How much can a twin culvert bridge and some blacktop cost?!

Expansion Accelerates Despite Access Issue

But that hasn’t stopped the Colony Ridge developer from expanding.

Colony Ridge now comprises more than 30 square miles. It has virtually doubled in size in the last two years. Landsat photo from 7/18/23 courtesy of Google Earth.

The development started around 2010. It now occupies 50% more land than Kingwood, which is now more than 50 years old.

The developer must be banking on a rapid increase in demand. He reportedly advertises in Mexico and Central America. The pitch: “Own your piece of America.”

Here’s what that looks like:

Note how the back yard is eroding into the drainage ditch. Photo courtesy of Chris Russo.

Long-Time Plum Grove Resident Worries about Evacuation During Storms

The long ditch above drains into Rocky Branch. According to a long-time Plum Grove resident, the stream was completely invisible from FM1010 “back in 2008 and 2011 even.” Then, he says, “Colony Ridge excavators and dozers showed up.” They widened and deepened the stream, but on the Colony Ridge side of the culverts only! 

According to the resident, FEMA engineers have told Plum Grove that an actual bridge is now required to convey all the water and survive any length of time. 

The resident vividly recalls Hurricane Rita approaching the Texas coastline in 2005 – before Colony Ridge. He said, “There was complete gridlock thru the City of Plum Grove as people from the Crosby and Beaumont areas were trying to evacuate inland. Plum Grove Road was bumper to bumper for 3 full days. Residents could not leave or get back home due to the gridlock thru our little city. How will THAT play out when the next Cat IV or V storm approaches us now that all the dense forests have been cleared?”

Good question!

Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/13/23

2175 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.

Controversial Colony Ridge Development Doubles in Size

The Colony Ridge development in Liberty County, aka the world’s largest trailer park, has more than doubled in size in the last 3 years. Measurements in Google Earth show that Colony Ridge, which started clearing land in 2012, has expanded from approximately 8,000 acres in 2019 to almost 20,000 acres today. To put that in perspective, Kingwood comprises approximately 14,000 acres and took more than 40 years to build out.

Colony Ridge started developing on the left (west). It is expanding east and north.

Growing Pains

But the rapid growth of Colony Ridge has not come without pain:

Consequences of Poor Construction Practices

As a result of such drainage issues and exposed soils, more sediment flows downstream than otherwise would. This contributed to sediment buildups on the San Jacinto East Fork (see below). Those, in turn, reduce conveyance and contribute to downstream flooding – unless the public continues to spend millions on dredging.

East Fork Mouth Bar after Imelda but before recent dredging. Average river depth had been reduced to three feet.

Still Not Following Best Practices

Aerial photos taken on 7/22/2022 with Ken Williams and Bill Callegari, two fellow members of the Harris County Community Flood Resilience Task Force, show the current state of the development and construction practices in Colony Ridge. Sadly, not much has improved. For instance, the developer still piles dirt on the edge of ditches without protecting them with silt fences.

Note long drainage ditch cutting diagonally through middle of frame. Developer has piled dirt next to it (middle left of frame) without protecting ditch with silt fencing.
Major ditch cutting through older section is sill not protected with back-slope interceptor swales or vegetation. Erosion is rampant.

Water shooting down the ditch above created a major headache during Harvey. See below.

FM 1010 Still Washed Out

Floodwater from the ditch washed out FM 1010. This major N/S thoroughfare still needs repair…five years later!

Break in FM 1010, aka Plum Grove Road forces residents to detour for miles.

Photos Showing New Development

Area developed last year is starting to fill in with new trailer homes already. Note absence of fire hydrants…still.
Looking east at area still under construction.
Looking E from NE corner of development. Another area semi-cleared but still unpaved.

If there’s good news in these photos, it is that the developer appears to be leaving more natural ground cover in the newest areas. Still, without vegetation on the sides of ditches, without better construction practices, excess sediment could continue washing into the Lake Houston Area for years to come.

Ever Widening Circles

These images support the need to harmonize and enforce higher drainage standards throughout the region. Without change two things will happen:

  • Downstream residents will continue to pay the price for egregious development practices upstream.
  • Someday, the people who buy these lots will also become flood victims of similar new developments even farther upstream.

Will we continue to repeat mistakes of the past in ever widening circles? Will we continue to sow the seeds of future flooding? Or will we wake up to the fact that we are all part of one giant community?

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/23/2022

1792 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.

Town Fighting for Survival Stonewalled By County, State Officials at Every Turn

In the last year, I have researched and written more than 50 posts that mentioned Colony Ridge, the controversial Liberty County development with suspect drainage practices. In the last six months, County and State officials have stonewalled requests for documents that could help prove or disprove Colony Ridge violations of the County’s own drainage regulations.

Lack of back-slope interceptor swales and drains means water from lots erodes ditches and sends sediment downstream. Liberty County drainage regulations require back-slope interceptor systems and grass. See Section M on page 100 of Liberty County Subdivision and Development Regulations. But lack of those measures has widened ditch more than 35 feet due to erosion in 6 years, according to Google Earth.

During that year, Wayne Dolcefino, an eminent investigative journalist with a long list of awards, also started investigating Colony Ridge. He, too, has been stonewalled.

Dolcefino Consulting is independently investigating on behalf of neighboring Plum Grove. Residents allege that water spilling out of Colony Ridge has repeatedly contributed to flooding their properties. They have been stonewalled.

Likewise, Colony Ridge drainage wiped out FM1010, a major access road to Plum Grove, because of uncontrolled drainage coming the ditch shown above.

Dolcefino and the City of Plum Grove have filed even more requests for information than I and received little. Today, Dolcefino launched another broadside to remind people that their elected representatives seem to be representing a developer instead of them. See his report below.

Dolcefino Stonewalled; Issues Press Release

The tiny Liberty County, Texas town of Plum Grove has been fighting to save itself from real estate developer Colony Ridge, and now the town is battling back with subpoenas for the records that will prove whether missing drainage records ever existed at all. 

One of those subpoenas was delivered to LandPlan Engineering—the engineering firm that allegedly prepared the plans for the sprawling Colony Ridge subdivision that caters to illegal immigrants with owner-financed lots that do not require government documents to prove identity. 

LandPlan has been asked to produce drainage records, but they have also been asked to show the information that they received about flooding events that have helped swamp Plum Grove properties and destroy the town’s roads. In other words, once Colony Ridge created a subdivision that flooded its neighbors, did anyone care?

The fact that drainage records were missing was uncovered by Dolcefino Consulting, who were hired by the town to investigate possible corruption involving the Liberty County officials who approved what is now becoming the biggest community in the entire county. 

“Good Ole’ Boy Protection Racket”

Liberty County has known for months the drainage records were missing and has ignored calls to force LandPlan and Colony Ridge developer Trey Harris to produce the records. An alleged investigation by the Liberty County Attorney Matt Poston has never been produced. Emails show that the county engineering firm LJA hasn’t pressed the issue either. 

“There is absolutely no excuse for Liberty County to have not forced the production of these records long ago,” said Wayne Dolcefino, President of Dolcefino Consulting. “The Liberty County Judge Jay Knight has proven his negligence, his absolute disdain for the people of Plum Grove, and the next time it floods, if animals or people die, the blood will be on his hands. That’s the bottom line. I bet he would care if it was his neighborhood.” 

The former county engineer Louis Bergman was also subpoenaed. When Bergman left his job with Liberty County, he left with many of the Colony Ridge development records. 

“Bergman should have been brought before a grand jury to detail his relationships with Colony Ridge and whether his recommendations to approve these neighborhoods were based on facts or good ole’ boy engineering,” Dolcefino said. 

Bergman is the father of the Liberty County District Attorney, who has ignored calls from Dolcefino Consulting. 

The flood dangers created by Colony Ridge have threatened the world-famous Ima Survivor Sanctuary in Plum Grove, prompting angry calls for action from hundreds of thousands of supporters across the globe. 

“Time is running out Judge Knight,” Dolcefino said. “When Plum Grove proves the truth—and the lawyers at Lloyd Gosselink will—the truth will come out.” 

The Plum Grove investigation has led to the filing of a criminal complaint by Dolcefino Consulting against the State Representative for Plum Grove Ernest Bailes. 

Bailes refused to provide phone records that were sought in the investigation of his relationship with developer Trey Harris. Bailes has refused to deny acceptance of any trips or private business from Harris. The San Jacinto Sheriff Greg Capers has refused to investigate Bailes. 

“This good ole’ boy protection racket would rather protect Representative Bailes than the public right to know,” Dolcefino said. “Since our reporting on San Jacinto County began, we have received some interesting tips. Stay tuned.”

I might add that for months I have been stonewalled, too. Not one of my inquiries about the county’s drainage investigation which was launched last January has even received an “I can’t comment about ongoing investigations”!

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/15/2021 based on a press release by Dolcefino Consulting

1416 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 655 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.

New Drone Shots Reveal Need for Better Flood Control in Liberty County

Since June, I’ve posted about problems in the Colony Ridge development in Liberty County. Among them: the washout of FM1010 where it crosses over Rocky Branch. Authorities have closed the busy road which provides access to Colony Ridge for three years, forcing tens of thousands of residents to seek alternate access routes, such as FM1485 and FM2090.

However, it’s difficult to see all the damage. So today I took a drone and captured some previously unseen details.

Colony Ridge drainage ditch leading to Rocky Branch contributed to washing out FM1010 at far end of ditch.

Lack of Functional Detention Capacity Likely Contributed to Washout

The damage is likely the result of inadequate, poorly engineered, or poorly maintained detention. Another contributing factor: a steep drop in elevation as water leaves the massive ditch (see above) in Colony Ridge and descends through a wooded area toward FM1010. That drop accelerated more water than should have been traveling down Rocky Branch, an East Fork San Jacinto tributary. As a result, floodwaters swept trees and other debris downstream.

One Thing Leads to Another

The debris:

  • Clogged culverts under the road…
  • Then, when the roadbed became a dam…
  • …Water churned through the roadbed next to the culverts…
  • …And deposited more “beaver dams” downstream…
  • …that, in turn, contributed to the flooding of surrounding homes.

Years of Neglect Still Ignored

Amazingly, no one in Liberty County corrected these problems after Harvey. As a result, many homes flooded again in 2019, during heavy downpours on May 7th and September 19th. The problems still have not been fixed. See the pictures below. I took them this afternoon.

Just yesterday, I had lunch with a couple who were considering moving to Liberty County because they were seeking a quieter lifestyle. I told them about this story. They are reconsidering.

FM1010 Washout at Rocky Branch has not been repaired for more than three years. Note flood debris clogged in culvert. Also note straps around logs!
“Beaver dam” just downstream from culverts is building up and up, contributing to additional flooding.

Not All Business is Good Business

Colony Ridge has grown into the world’s largest trailer park in less than a decade. It brought more than its fair share of problems:

A hard lesson for some people to learn is that not all business is good business. Lax enforcement of regulations allowed Colony Ridge to grow out of control. Now county commissioners have a nightmare on their hands, cannot fix their problems, and cannot enforce their own regulations.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/25/2020

1153 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.

Rapid Runoff from World’s Largest Trailer Park Wipes Out Plum Grove Road in Liberty County and More

Rapid runoff from Colony Ridge, perhaps the world’s largest trailer park, in Liberty County contributed to a washout of FM1010. Nearby residents in Plum Grove say it also contributed to the flooding of their homes. Moreover, erosion from the development has contributed to the buildup of sedimentation in the East Fork.

Nine years ago, this area was mostly forested wetlands. Today, it’s mostly mobil homes, many on barren lots, stretching mile after mile.

World’s Largest Trailer Park?

There is no definitive source ranking the size of trailer parks, but multiple references to Sun Valley in Nevada come up when you Google “world’s largest trailer park.” That development is one third the size of this one!

Nine years ago, Colony Ridge didn’t exist.

Satellite image from 2011. The land that would become Colony Ridge was covered with forests, wetlands and rice fields. Paper companies owned most of this land for decades and periodically harvested timber.
Colony Ridge today. This is just the southern section. Two more sections are out of frame on the north.

By the end of 2019, Colony Ridge had grown to cover approximately 10,000 acres and it’s still expanding. It has transformed the landscape massively, and it’s not clear whether the development has provided sufficient detention to keep runoff at its predevelopment rate. Judging by the frequency of flood damage to surrounding homes and roads since Colony Ridge was developed, many local residents believe the answer is no.

Documentation about the design and effectiveness of the drainage systems is hard to come by. Authorities in Liberty County have not returned emails or phone calls. And the information is not posted online.

Entire Population Growth of Liberty County in Last Decade

Colony Ridge alone can account for all of the population growth in Liberty County in the last decade. The U.S. Census Bureau officially estimates that Liberty County’s population grew from 75,000 to 88,000 between 2010 and 2019. Unofficially, one local politician estimates the population of Colony Ridge to be about 20,000. Firm numbers are difficult to come by because many residents are undocumented and uncounted.

Contributing to Flooding?

Thousands of acres of trailer homes with open-ditch drainage and no deed restrictions.
Typical landscape in Colony Ridge is highly susceptible to erosion and rapid runoff.

The lack of deed restrictions means many have not planted grass. That accelerates runoff.

Also consider that the developer created many of the lots by filling in wetlands and clearing trees that used to retain water in storms. The absence of wetlands and trees also accelerates runoff.

Wetlands drained by Colony Ridge from USGS National Wetlands Inventory.

Contributing to Road Blow Out

FM1010 lies in the path of a drainage ditch more than 2.5 miles long and 60 yards wide in places. It cuts like a butcher knife through the heart of Colony Ridge.

Satellite image shows massive erosion in straight-line drainage ditch that stretches for 2.5 miles toward Plum Grove Road, out of frame on the left.

The straight line nature of such ditches accelerates water and erosion even more. During Harvey, a combination of factors (population growth, lack of ground cover and deed restrictions, design of drainage, loss of forests and wetlands, impervious cover and extreme rainfall) all contributed to washing out FM1010. (See images below.)

Acceleration of runoff also shortens the time of accumulation during floods which heightens flood peaks.

Effect of Urbanization on Peak Stream Flows” by Dr. William Dupre, professor emeritus from the University of Houston.

One Person’s Dream Turns into Another’s Nightmare

The developer of Colony Ridge had an attractive vision for a niche market: to provide affordable plots of land without deed restrictions (at least in the early stages) to low-income families trying to escape the City. He marketed mainly to Hispanics who dreamed of owning their own land in America. The result may be a dream for some, but it’s turning into a nightmare for others.

A low-altitude shot looking west toward Plum Grove Road (concealed in tree line in distance).

Unintended Consequences or Foreseeable Tragedy

The giant ditch shown above leads directly to where FM1010 washed out. Along the way, there’s little to slow water down. The developer has installed twin culverts under a road that crosses the ditch. They may help. But judging by the results, they’re not working very well.

Cropped and enlarged from wide image above of Colony ditch.

From the bridge above, the elevation drops more than 27 feet in three quarters of a mile before stormwater goes into a strip of woods between FM1010 and the development. There, it gathered the momentum to blow out the road.

In the last part of its journey across Colony Ridge to the East Fork (left), water drops 27 feet with only a strip of woods to slow it down before it reaches the part of Plum Grove Road that washed out.
FM1010, Plum Grove Road has been impassible since Hurricane Harvey 1020 days ago.
Looking upstream toward Colony Ridge out of frame in the background (upper left)
Looking downstream toward the East Fork about 200 yards to the east.

Detours and Delays

More than 2.5 years after Harvey, this road has yet to be repaired.

The loss of FM1010 makes northbound traffic detour through Colony Ridge or up US59 and then back east. As a result, residents say that it can now take an hour during rush hour to go the five miles from US59 to Plum Grove on FM 2090. But that’s not the only problem.

Rapid Sedimentation Downstream

Downstream from Colony Ridge, we’re now getting rapid sand build ups on the East Fork, much like we have on the West Fork from sand mines. According to boaters, the area shown below was 18 feet deep before Imelda. The deepest point in the channel when this picture was taken last December was 3 feet.

Growing East Fork Mouth Bar

A massive development, such as Colony Ridge, without appropriate safeguards against erosion, contributes to this buildup. They certainly aren’t the only contributors. Sand mines that provided the aggregate for the roads in Colony Ridge have certainly helped.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/14/2020

1020 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 269 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.