Tag Archive for: Grand Parkway

Kingland West Clearing 1,123 Acres at FM1010 and Grand Parkway, Using Old Flood Maps

Contractors have begun clearing more than 1,100 acres owned by CH-B Kingland, LLC, north of the newly opened Grand Parkway. Construction plans obtained from Harris County Flood Control District via a FOIA request indicate the developer will build single-family residences. But the documents also indicate that engineers are using pre- not post-Harvey floodplain maps and data. That could be tragic news for unknowledgeable home buyers as well as homeowners already in the area. I have interviewed people near here whose homes flooded twice in the last five years.

While the current maps date back to Tropical Storm Allison, they are still official. But why?

Background on Land and Developer

To date, the plans include four sections of a subdivision called “The Trails.” According to a drainage impact analysis submitted to obtain permits, The Trails will be part of a larger development called Kingland West.

Kingland West clearing
Land being cleared for The Trails, part of Kingland West.

Kingland West was once part of 8,000 acres owned by CH-B Kingland along the then-undeveloped northeastern section of the Grand Parkway. But CH-B Kingland sold 4,000 acres to neighboring Colony Ridge in 2016.

The remaining 4,000 acres span three counties: Montgomery, Harris and Liberty. According to Appraisal District maps in the three counties, CH-B Kingland still owns acreage on both sides of the Grand Parkway. The opening of Segment H of the Grand Parkway will likely help the value of CH-B’s remaining land skyrocket – despite the fact that wetlands pockmark the land.

Looking east along the Grand Parkway at additional land owned by CH-B Kingland not yet being developed. This is immediately east of Kingland West in Liberty County and not part of Kingland West construction plans.

A group called Castle Hill Partners appears on construction plans. Castle Hill Partners (CHP) is a private investment firm specializing in commercial development. The company provides turnkey investment, construction, loan servicing and property management services.

Effect on Flooding

Of Montgomery, Harris, and Liberty counties, Harris has the most stringent flood regulations. And according to a source close to the engineering company (Jones & Carter), Harris refused to permit the plans unless the engineering company followed Harris’ standards in all three counties. That part is good. The summary of floodwater detention below shows that the developer meets Harris County standards.

Screen capture from Kingland West construction plans.

The bad news: based on the engineer’s assurances, HCFCD did not check and verify all the engineer’s calculations.

Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan

Here is a summary of their Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan. It declares, in writing, that all outfall structures will be constructed in accordance with Harris County standards. The Plan also describes measures contractors should use to prevent sediment from escaping the site.

Using Old Sand Pit for Detention Basin

The developer apparently plans to use an old sand pit for floodwater detention. Compare the location on the map in the previous link with the satellite image below.

Location of sand pits matches location of detention pond in Kingland plans. Satellite photo from 12/21.

When I last photographed these pits in June 2020, they had mostly dry bottoms. But the image above shows they now have wet bottoms. I hope there’s enough room in the ponds to hold the required amount of floodwater.

Helicopter photo from 6/20, eighteen months ago. Note small ponds already holding water in pits. Water table is high because of proximity to San Jacinto East Fork.

Contractors will make more room for floodwater with additional excavation adjacent to the ponds. Here’s where the engineers plan to move fill from and to in Phase 1. But there’s still a big problem – the size of floodplains on the maps being used.

Built to Pre-Harvey, Pre-Colony-Ridge Floodplain Standards

As regular readers know, NOAA developed new rainfall probability statistics after Harvey. In the northern part of Harris County, they’re about 40% higher than pre-Harvey.

Unfortunately, the developer is using old flood maps and data developed after Tropical Storm Allison, not after Harvey.

See the disclaimer in the screen capture below. It appears in small type on virtually every page of the construction plans.

Screen capture from The Trails construction documents explains all calculations are based on old flood maps and pre-Harvey data.

Rosemary Fain and her husband who live just blocks south and east of Kingland West might disagree with that statement about “rare occasions.” Despite being farther from the East Fork than every Kingland West home will be, the Fains flooded twice recently from the East Fork, once during Harvey and again during Imelda. Water rose so high that it bridged out of the East Fork Watershed and started flowing into Luce Bayou – miles to the east!

I saw no reference to current floodplains or recent floods in the plans.

However, more than outdated rainfall-probability statistics affect flooding in this area. Just ask the people of Plum Grove, many of whom never flooded before Colony Ridge.

The sad fact is that the massive 20,000-acre Colony Ridge development in Liberty County, immediately east and north of Kingland, has increased and accelerated drainage. Colony Ridge has ALSO made the 2007 flood maps woefully out of date; the development started after the the old maps’ release – around 2012. Their out-of-control drainage blew out FM1010 less than 2 miles north of Kingland.

So why hasn’t MAAPnext released the new maps yet? They’re reportedly complete. More on that in a future post.

Posted by Bob Rehak on July 29, 2022

1795 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.

Grand Parkway Extension Opens Tomorrow

According to an article in the Bluebonnet News, two new segments of the Grand Parkway (aka State Highway 99) will open Thursday, May 19. They will connect US 59 in New Caney to I-10 in Baytown. And they will invite development of thousands of acres in Harris, Chambers and Liberty Counties.

About the Grand Parkway

The new segments will add 52.8 miles to the largest loop around Houston. That will make the Grand Parkway the largest city loop in the United States.

According to the Bluebonnet article, TxDoT will offer a two-day grace period for tolls. Tolls will begin at midnight on Saturday, May 21.

The first segment of the Grand Parkway opened in 1994 in Fort Bend County. Almost 30 years and $855 million later, Houston will have another 184 miles of tollway.

Colony Ridge, upper right by Plum Grove, is approximately as large as Kingwood, yet is unincorporated. For scale, Lake Houston Wilderness park in center is 5,000 acres.
Expansion area on east side of Colony Ridge. Photo taken on March 3, 2021.
Photo taken on January 1, 2021, looking NW where Grand Parkway turns from N/S to E/W. Colony Ridge is in upper right of frame.

Changing Demographics and Politics of Liberty County

According to the 2020 census, the largest (incorporated) cities in Liberty County are:

  • Dayton at 8,777
  • Liberty at 8,279
  • Cleveland at 7,471

The Census Bureau shows the county’s entire population in 2020 as 91,628.

In anticipation of the Grand Parkway, Colony Ridge has already attracted tens of thousands of residents, many undocumented. It now is rumored to be the largest settlement in Liberty County. In fact, it has grown so quickly, that it forced Liberty County to redistrict its precincts.

Tracking Future Development and Offsetting Drainage Changes

To avoid the flooding that often attends new developments, existing residents must monitor new plats and construction closely. Here are some tips on how to do that.

The City of Houston hosts a website called Plat Tracker Plats. It shows development applications and their current status.

Screen capture from Houston Plat Tracker Plats as of 5/17/22. Clicking on highlighted areas will give you more information about the project. Check this site often.

Note the huge developments planned or in progress to the east and north of Lake Houston near the new Grand Parkway. All of this development will have an impact on drainage. If past developments are any guide, the new developments will likely increase both the volume and speed of runoff. This area is also dotted with wetlands, especially near rivers, streams and bayous.

To offset these factors, counties usually require developers to install detention ponds. You can request plans from city or county engineers’ offices. Check to make sure they include floodwater detention basins. Then watch construction to ensure developers comply with those plans.

Remember the motto “Retain your rain.” If everyone retained enough stormwater so that post-development runoff did not exceed pre-development runoff, then people downstream would not flood.

State of Grand Parkway construction in February 2022. Looking N across FM1960. The farmlands surrounding the Grand Parkway could soon become new developments.

So, hold developers and your local elected representatives accountable. You have one chance to get this right.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/17/22

1723 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.

FM1485: What’s Wrong With This Picture?

I took this picture on May 26, 2021. It shows TxDOT construction of the new State Highway 99 (Grand Parkway) next to FM1485 in New Caney. The picture looks northeast toward Colony Ridge in Liberty County. The East Fork of the San Jacinto River flows under both bridges toward Lake Houston on the right.

Looking east toward Colony Ridge across FM1485 and the East Fork. Water flows left to right.

Note the huge backup of water trying to get under the FM1485 bridge. Also note how much taller and wider the new bridge is compared to the old one.

How Much Rainfall Caused This?

Here is rainfall for the month of May as measured by the Harris County Flood Control District Gage at this location.

The Harris County Flood Warning System shows that the largest rainfall for the month was 2.28 inches TWO days before the photo. But the ground was clearly saturated from steady, moderate rains the week before.

The gage upstream at FM2090 shows slightly more rain. It reported 14 inches for the month instead of 11, but it received exactly 2.28 inches on the same day this gage did. While 2+ inches in a day is substantial, few in this part of the world would consider it excessive – especially since it was spread out over 5 hours.

Likewise, according to Atlas-14 standards, the rain that fell in the week before would qualify as a 1- to 2-year rain – notable, but not historic.

Note the 7-day rainfall totals in columns 1 and 2.

Submerged 41 Times in 32 years

And after consulting Harris County Flood Control District records, I learned that FM1485 has gone under water 41 times since 1990 – an average of 1.32 times per year.

The East Fork came out of its banks and flooded this area twice in the week before the picture was taken.

Rainfall data, road flooding frequency and the photo all suggest that a 1- to 2-year rain is enough to flood FM1485.

What Should a Roadway over a Major River Withstand?

Yet the TxDOT standard suggests that such minor arterials and bridges over a major river crossing be built to withstand 25- to 50-year floods. Oops!

Obviously TxDOT built a much higher road and a much wider, taller bridge for its new highway. The new one is approximately five times wider than the old one. Construction standards for major highways could account for that. But so could TxDOT’s experience with FM1485.

So What’s Going on Here?

Why did TxDOT make the new bridge so much wider and taller?

  • Did TxDOT just get the engineering wrong on the old bridge?
  • Did bridge standards change over time?
  • Do state highways have higher standards than farm-to-market roads?
  • Did Atlas-14 increase the risk?
  • Did upstream development, such as Colony Ridge, alter the hydraulics of the watershed when the developer paved over wetlands and deforested thousands of acres while providing little detention-pond capacity?
  • Did the mischaracterization of soil types in Colony Ridge lead to more runoff than anticipated?
  • All of the above?
  • Some of the above?

Jeff Lindner, Harris County’s meteorologist, cautions that, “Water surface elevations depend on many variables…rainfall patterns, intensity, soil conditions, water level in the river when the rain started, ect. It is usually difficult to compare events as no two are exactly alike. You really need a hydrological analysis of the location to determine the amount of run-off from that site into the river per an amount of rainfall.”

Good luck with that! More than six months after the Liberty County Attorney launched an investigation into Colony Ridge drainage reports, we still are waiting for answers.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/15/2021

1415 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.

“The Developers Are Coming! The Developers Are Coming!”

Actually, the developers are already here and licking their chops over the extension of the Grand Parkway (SH 99).

My riff on Paul Revere’s famous line is not meant so much as a statement of impending doom as about the need for caution.

Certainly, there are many honorable developers who try to build high-quality communities for people without adversely affecting downstream residents. I don’t wish to malign a whole profession. Nor do I want to fail to acknowledge the many wonderful communities they have built in this area.

But there are also some developers who put profit before people. They try to cut corners wherever they can and hope that nobody will notice. Especially regarding flood control. It’s expensive and easy because most people don’t understand it.

Grand Parkway Coming Soon To Wetlands Near You

The construction of State Highway 99, aka the Grand Parkway, has opened up vast new areas on the outskirts of Houston to developers. Many of those areas consist of wetlands and forests.

TxDoT is currently prepping land for Section H of the Grand Parkway almost all the way to FM 1960 on the east from US59.
From USGS. Wetlands near the path of Grand Parkway extension. Compare with maps above and below.

Visible Difference in Development Density Where SH99 Completed

The map below shows permit applications in the north Houston area. Compare the density of projects around sections of the Grand Parkway that have already been completed (left) with the areas on the east where the concrete has not yet reached.

This map shows permit applications in the northeast Houston area, both within the City and its ETJ (extra territorial jurisdiction. The Colony Ridge development featured below is outside the ETJ (green area) in the upper right of the map above.

Developers have even more projects underway outside the City’s ETJ (not shown on the map above).

How Development Can Affect Flooding

Kingwood residents have seen how one developer can contribute to flooding hundreds of homes. Last year, Perry Homes clearcut 268 acres north of Elm Grove before installing detention ponds. Hundreds of Elm Grove homes then flooded on May 7 and again on September 19, during Tropical Storm Imelda.

Below are recent photos of a massive 10,000 acre development in Liberty County near Plum Grove. It is about to become a 15,000 development now, thanks in part to Grand Parkway access. And yet it has only one small traditional detention pond.

Detention ponds slow down the rate of runoff to compensate for the loss of trees, wetlands and ground cover that have been replaced by streets and rooftops.

Their goal: to prevent downstream flooding.

Colony Ridge Accounts for All Growth in Liberty County In Last Decade

Colony Ridge can account for all the growth in Liberty County in the last decade. Below are some photos of Colony Ridge and its expansion near Plum Grove. The approach of SH99 will make it more accessible and therefore more attractive (at least from one point of view).

All aerial photos below were taken on 6/126/2020.

Looking north across the Grand Parkway extension toward Colony Ridge in Liberty County near Plum Grove.
Just north of the Grand Parkway (upper left), you can see roads going in that will accommodate even more manufactured homes, aka trailer homes.
The developer puts in roads, ditches, water and sewer. Fire hydrants? Forget it.

Developer’s Marketing Strategy

The developer tries to pass as many costs along to lot buyers as he can to maximize profit. He targets Hispanics. Residents tell me that sometimes two or three families may live in one of the homes you see here.

Nobody knows the real population of Colony Ridge because many residents are reportedly undocumented and uncounted.

Site work before parking a home is the responsibility of site buyers, many of whom openly burn brush to clear their lots. Like the developer, they’re trying to cut costs.

Land of Fire and the Forgotten

Resident burning brush on his property last Sunday afternoon. Residents aren’t the only ones burning.
That smoke you see on the horizon is from dozens of brush fires set by the developer as he continues to clear land.
Here’s one still smoldering.
At this point, a major storm would bring the potential for uncontrolled erosion, just as it did in Woodridge Village in Montgomery County, above Elm Grove.
As dry as it has been lately, the developer is burning brush piles next to woodlands. That increases fire risk. The barren surface also accelerates runoff and erosion, increasing flood risk.
Note the haze and plums of smoke on the horizon and the vast expanse of exposed, packed dirt.
The smoke is coming from burning piles of brush, such as these. If a fire spread into surrounding woods, local volunteer fire departments would be overwhelmed.
No fire hydrants anywhere in sight.

If this were Houston, hydrants would be spaced at a minimum of every 500 feet. A firefighter told me that the spacing often depends of home values and population. Based on population alone, he believes this area should have hydrants.

One Small Detention Pond for 15,000 Acres

The developer has one detention pond (center) for the entire 15,000 acres. He relies on less efficient, in-ditch detention for additional capacity. Note the proximity to SH99 in the upper right.
There are no detention ponds anywhere in the new areas being cleared. This is reminiscent of Woodridge Village which contributed to the flooding of hundreds of homes in Elm Grove. But Woodridge was only 268 acres.
The developer relies on this and other drainage ditches to double as detention ponds in storms. But at the far end of this ditch…
…FM 1010 washed out during Harvey and destroyed one of the two major access roads into the development. The in-ditch detention failed. So has the county. The road has been out now for 1025 days, increasing the commute time for residents and the response time for firefighters.

Endless Loop of Construction and Destruction

State Highway 99 represents more than just a third loop around the City of Houston.

SH 99 will bring more developers and more people eager to escape downstream flooding issues.

Tapayer funded roads such as these create endless loops of construction and destruction. They are like a perpetual motion machine. Building one area floods another, causing people to move farther out and the cycle to repeat itself.

No one will admit it’s intentional, of course. The flooding is just a byproduct of greed. Cut a detention pond here. Substitute in-line detention there. Don’t bother planting grass to reduce erosion. Send your problems downstream. Let someone else worry about them.

One Chance

Do all developers think that way? Of course not. Many have principles and wonderful communities to show for them.

That notwithstanding, as one Splendora resident said, “They really only have one chance to get this right. If they screw this up, it will be almost impossible to fix and they will argue over who is going to pay for it for centuries.”

We are at that inflection point now.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/19/2020

1025 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.

Grand Parkway Construction Now Within 4.5 Miles of FM1960

Construction of State Highway 99, also known as the Grand Parkway, has turned south. It is now approximately 4.5 miles from FM1960, but more than 20 miles from reaching its goal of I-10. In the image below, taken on 6/16/2020, you can see it crossing the Luce Bayou Inter-Basin Transfer project and then heading through open farm land.

Looking southeast. Grand Parkway construction has now passed the Luce Bayou Inter-Basin Transfer Project.
Approximately 4.5 miles remains before construction reaches FM1960 to the south.

The Grand Parkway will open up vast areas in Montgomery, Harris and Liberty counties for development. All of that will put pressure on Lake Houston, shown in the lower left of the satellite image below (which was taken seven months ago.

Now, more than ever, it’s important for these counties to work together to reduce the risk of flooding for downstream residents in Houston, which is the economic center of the region.

Without a vital, safe center, growth in the entire region could falter.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/18/2020

1024 Days after Hurricane Harvey

Grand Parkway Will Open Vast New Upstream Areas to Development

TxDOT has recently cleared a vast swath of forest stretching 13 miles east of US59 to lay the groundwork for the next section of the Grand Parkway.

Almost 25X larger than 610 Loop

When complete, the Grand Parkway will form the third ring around Houston.

  • 610 formed the first ring. It has a perimeter of 37 miles and encompasses an area of 94 square miles.
  • Beltway 8 formed the second ring. It has a perimeter of 87 miles and encompasses an area of 535 square miles.
  • The Grand Parkway, when complete, will have a perimeter of 180 miles with an area of 2274 square miles.

That’s almost 25 times larger than the Loop 610 ring.

Map of Completed/Incomplete Segments

The TxDOT map below shows the completed (open) and incomplete (under construction) segments of the Grand Parkway (SH99).

More about Section H

Section H runs north and east of the Lake Houston area through sparsely populated areas that drain back toward Lake Houston. The major streams: White Oak Creek, Peach Creek, Caney Creek, San Jacinto East Fork and Luce Bayou.

Section H of the Grand Parkway (SH99). Construction began summer 2017 and should last through spring 2022. For a giant, poster-sized PDF showing street names, click here.

Recent Aerial Photos Show Status of Construction

Here’s a look at the status of construction between US59 and Plum Grove Road. All aerial photos taken March 6, 2020.

Looking east from Monday Hargrave road.
Looking east toward Plum Grove Road by the cement plant.
Looking east from over Plum Grove Road.
Looking southwest toward where the East Fork San Jacinto crosses under FM1485
Looking SW toward Redbud Drive (bottom right) across FM1485
Looking SW across Caney Creek. That water in the upper left is the northernmost pond of the Triple-PG sand mine.
Looking SW while over the intersection of Sullivan Road and Thelma Lane.
Looking SW toward East Community Drive from over the Martin Marietta New Caney Yard. That’s the 59 overpass in the far upper right.
Looking SW toward Loop 494 cutting under supports for new bridge.
Looking south down 494 from over the Grand Parkway. US59 cuts through the upper right of the frame.
Looking NE from SW corner of SH99 and US59. (This image taken Jan. 20, 2020.)

One Quarter of Loop Stretches Through 4 Counties

Combined, Segments H and I-1 will stretch 37.5-miles. It will be a controlled-access toll road with intermittent frontage roads from US 59 North (the Eastex Freeway) near New Caney to US 90 near Dayton to I-10 East (the East Freeway) near Mont Belvieu. This segment of the new road will stretch through four countries: Montgomery, Harris, Liberty, and Chambers.

Already, TxDOT is expanding the section between FM2100 and Huffman Cleveland Road to handle anticipated traffic. And it hasn’t even been built yet!

One of the avowed goals of this project: to foster economic development. It’s certainly going to do that. All those people who moved to Porter and New Caney for a rustic lifestyle on large lots nestled away in the woods, will soon see changes. Your new neighbor could be Perry Homes and the next Woodridge Village or Artavia.

For more information, see:

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/26/2020

940 Days since Hurricane Harvey

The Perfect, Perpetual Production-Consumption Cycle

The taxpayer-funded Grand Parkway (State Highway 99) extension will make many people happy. Proximity to transportation drives home-buying decisions. People eager to “get away from it all” will find the lure of saving 10 minutes on a longer commute irresistible. They will marvel at all the trees around them and speak with pride about their growing community in the forest.

Eastward expansion of SH99 from I-69.

It will also make the sand miners happy. It takes lots of sand to make concrete.

West Fork San Jacinto mine

Developers and homebuilders will take advantage of lax regulations in Montgomery County to boost their profitability.

Perry Homes’ Woodridge Village

And the flooding, caused by all the environmental destruction, means that downstream residents get to remodel their homes. Or move farther out to avoid future flooding. At which point the cycle will repeat itself in a few years.

Elm Grove Home below Perry’s Woodridge

From a marketing point of view, it’s a perfect, perpetual production-consumption cycle. How could you possibly improve it?

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/8/2019

831 Days after Hurricane Harvey and 79 Days after Imelda

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