Tag Archive for: Hazard Mitigation Plan

Houston Updating Hazard Mitigation, Emergency Plans

The City of Houston’s Office of Emergency Management is updating its Hazard Mitigation Plan and Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan. Hazard mitigation is about lessening the severity of future disasters. Emergency Management is about responding to disasters after they happen.

Hazard Mitigation Plan Still Needs Input

Public meetings for the Hazard Mitigation Plan Updates are complete, but you can still take an online survey through February 20.

The Hazard Mitigation Plan guides actions the City will take to reduce risk and impacts from disasters over the next five years and beyond. It also allows Houston to receive funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to reduce our community’s vulnerability to disasters.

The City’s goal is to prevent damage before it occurs, save lives, protect property, and limit the cost of recovery throughout Houston. The Hazard Mitigation Plan is important for our City to be safe and resilient.

Please take the survey. It will help the City understand our area’s priorities when mitigating hazards such as flooding. The online survey takes about only about five minutes to complete.

The Office of Emergency Management will release the draft plan in March 2023. The public comment period will extend through April. Then FEMA and the Texas Division of Emergency Management will review and approve it before the City Council adopts it. The plan should carry us through 2028.

Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan Meeting, Survey

The purpose of the Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan (CEMP) is to help prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters.

The CEMP helps the City provide services and support to residents before and after a disaster occurs.

One public meeting remains on February 23rd at 6PM. It will be at the CDC building at 3517 Irvington Boulevard, Houston, TX 77009. You can also attend virtually via FaceBook Live.

So help the City better prepare for disasters. The community meeting will provide a forum both to raise awareness and collect feedback from the community. Topics discussed during the meeting will include:

  • Emergency plan development
  • Mitigation actions resulting from a flood or hurricane
  • Evacuation routes, hubs and processes
  • How to stay involved and become better prepared.

For more information visit https://www.houstonoem.org/pages/plans-programs or call 713-884-4500.

While visiting the OEM website, make sure to sign up for emergency alerts. I did so after Harvey and have found the alerts very helpful on numerous occasions since then, including floods, tornados, hail- and windstorms.

Points to Emphasize

Two of my greatest concerns are evacuation routes and floodplain development. During Harvey, we saw how water came up quickly in the middle of the night without warning. This cut people off from emergency escape routes. All three major evacuation routes out of Kingwood (Hamblen, Kingwood Drive, and Northpark Drive) were impassable to many people.

Evacuation Route during Harvey
Hamblen Road during Harvey. Photo courtesy of Jim Balcom.
Harvey evacuation. Sally Geiss
Kingwood Drive and West Lake Houston Parkway during Harvey. Photo courtesy of Sally Geis.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/15/2023

1996 Days since Hurricane Harvey

“One of the Best Land Developers in Liberty County”

In 2016, one of the owners of the Colony Ridge Development in Liberty County tried to sue the former Mayor of Plum Grove for defamation. The developer alleged that the mayor bad-mouthed his development while making false statements. The judge ultimately dismissed the suit.

But as part of the lawsuit, Louis W. Bergman, III, PE, provided a glowing affidavit, lauding the development. Bergman served as the County Engineer and Flood Plain Administrator at the time. He also issued licenses and permits for Liberty County. In that regard, he reviewed all plat submittals for compliance with Texas statutes and Liberty County’s subdivision rules.

What a Difference Four Years Makes

Below are some quotes from Bergman’s affidavit. I took all the pictures from a helicopter on 12/7/2020 while flying over Colony Ridge. They show how quickly conditions have deteriorated there.

“In my experience, Colony Ridge has been one of the best land developers in Liberty County.”

Louis W. Bergman, III, PE in Paragraph 3

“Colony Ridge … complies with all applicable laws and regulations imposed on a land developer.”

Louis W. Bergman, III, PE in Paragraph 5

“I respect Colony Ridge Development … and their business because they have earned my respect by representing themselves with integrity and working to build quality developments.”

Louis W. Bergman, III, PE in Paragraph 15

“In my opinion, Colony Ridge Development has built some of the best infrastructure for residential neighborhoods in Liberty County and Colony Ridge Development’s lots do not create a health, safety, or welfare threat to Liberty County.”

Louis W. Bergman, III, PE in Paragraph 11

“I have heard [the former mayor of Plum Grove] make statements that Colony Ridge Development has violated environmental laws, such as regulations by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, and I disagree with these statements and believe they are false statements.”

Louis W. Bergman, III, PE in Paragraph 12
Merry Christmas from Colony Ridge

The TCEQ might disagree with Bergman on that last point. The TCEQ has an enforcement action against Colony Ridge. TCEQ’s investigation alleges their development practices may jeopardize human health. The TCEQ has also cited the development’s water and sewer supplier for lead in drinking water and sewage spills.

Strategic and Mitigation Plans Back Bergman Up

Liberty County’s own Strategic Plan cites the need to improve drainage infrastructure and building codes. But it doesn’t mention Colony Ridge by name.

Likewise for Liberty County’s Hazard Mitigation Plan. It discusses the need to improve a variety of safety issues such as drainage; street lighting; electrical service; communications infrastructure; high percentages of mobil and self-built homes; emergency access; and flooding … in every city in the county … all without mentioning Colony Ridge by name.

So maybe Bergman was right after all. Maybe this IS the best that Liberty County has to offer.

But I suspect the judge who dismissed the lawsuit, might take exception.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/21/2020

1211 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 459 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.

Liberty County Hazard Mitigation Plan Contains No Mention of Largest, Most Vulnerable Community in County

The Liberty County Hazard Mitigation Plan contains no mention of Colony Ridge, the largest and most vulnerable community in the entire county. Like Liberty County’s Strategic Plan, this is another example of shoot-yourself-in-the-foot planning. It, too, has Grand-Canyon-sized disconnects between intention and execution that could jeopardize thousands of lives.

Overlooked or Ignored?

Liberty County last updated its Hazard Mitigation Plan in 2017. Yet it contains no specific mention of Colony Ridge, a 12-13,000 acre development. At buildout, Colony Ridge projects it will cover 22,000 acres. By comparison, Kingwood occupies 14,000 acres.

The former Mayor of Plum Grove estimates more than 20,000 people currently call Colony Ridge home. Exact counts are difficult since many people are undocumented. But if the Mayor was correct, it would make Colony Ridge two times larger than the largest cities in the county. Plus…

Colony Ridge has extreme vulnerabilities caused by sub-standard drainage; poverty; language barriers; lack of street lighting and fire hydrants; poor electrical and communications infrastructure; a high percentage of mobil and self-built homes; poor access through flood-prone roads; and leaky sewage systems.

Such risk factors make residents especially vulnerable to floods, hurricanes, wildfires, tornadoes, and extreme temperatures. Moreover, poverty makes it harder for people to recover from such disasters.

Yet the plan does not contain one recommendation to address this high concentration of vulnerabilities in Colony Ridge. Even though the plan addresses vulnerabilities in much smaller areas, “the largest vulnerable population in the county” receives only one mention. That was as an unnamed area near Plum Grove. Plum Grove has a population of approximately 400-500 people compared to Colony Ridge’s 20,000.

It’s as though the people who live in Colony Ridge are invisible. For instance, the plan addresses two mobile homes in Dayton Lakes, but not the thousands in Colony Ridge.

Purpose of Plan

The purpose of Liberty County’s Hazard Mitigation Plan is to “reduce the loss of life and property within the county and lessen the negative impacts of natural disasters.” The plan addresses specific vulnerabilities in a dozen communities, but never the largest.

Part 7, which starts on Page 132, outlines several plan objectives.

Educational Programs Targeted to Government Officials

This section starts with the need to develop and implement educational programs for residents and government officials, that address, among other things, the need to improve existing local ordinances. That was a familiar theme from the Liberty County Strategic Plan (which also failed to mention Colony Ridge). The idea: better building codes can enhance survivability of structures during threats such as tornadoes, fires, hurricanes and floods.

But that idea hasn’t yet filtered down to Colony Ridge where the developer caters to a do-your-own-thing, follow-your-American-dream, build-it-yourself-on-weekends crowd. The results are predictably creative and eclectic. See below.

Colony Ridge D-I-Y housing. Photo taken 12/7/2020.
Typical neighborhood in Colony Ridge. Photo taken 12/7/2020. Note how cream-colored home (bottom left) has apparently fallen off its base.

Public/Private Collaboration to Minimize Hazards

A similar objective to the one above: Foster collaboration between public and private partners throughout the county to create and implement local ordinances and county-level programs that minimize hazards. Here are several common problems:

  • No evacuation routes marked.
  • No traffic-control signals along what would be evacuation routes.
  • Unlit streets at night
  • People walk on streets because there are no sidewalks.
  • Only a handful of fire hydrants in 13,000 acres where residents commonly start brush fires and overwhelm the volunteer Plum Grove fire department.
  • No school-zone warning lights or signs
  • No grocery stores for emergency supplies.
  • Missing street signs make emergency response difficult in many areas.

On a special note, as of 9PM tonight, the temperature has dropped into the 30s and reports of widespread power outages are pouring in from Colony Ridge due to poor electrical infrastructure that has not kept pace with the area’s growth.

Improve Drainage to Reduce Flooding and Erosion

Another goal: improve drainage throughout the county to reduce the impact of flooding and erosion on residents and structures.

FM1010 at Rocky Branch has gone un-repaired for the 3.5 years since Harvey. This road would be the major evacuation route for 20,000.

The Mitigation Plan was developed after Harvey and adopted by Liberty County Commissioner’s Court on October 9, 2018. But the Plan makes no mention of the repairing the washout above.

Create Drainage Ponds Throughout County

The plan calls for widening existing culverts and creating drainage ponds throughout the county. Yet for the entire 13,000 acres, Colony Ridge apparently has one functioning detention pond. A second pond seems to have largely silted in.

One of the few, if not the only functioning detention ponds in Colony Ridge. This is in Sante Fe Section 3 in the extreme southwestern corner of the development. Colony Ridge engineers claim such ponds would make flooding worse. See below.

Beat-The-Peak Analysis Applied to 22,000 Acres

LandPlan Engineering’s Hydraulic Analysis from March 2020 concludes on page 8 that “…detention would increase the overall peak release from [Sante Fe] Section 6 as well as those portions of upcoming Sections 7 and 8 discharging to the Luce Bayou.”

It’s hard to understand how detention ponds would increase the peak flow. The conclusion refers readers to two graphs in Appendix D. But neither mentions anything about detention assumptions such as volume or rate of release. This is yet another “beat the peak” claim which Liberty County Drainage Regulations don’t explicitly bar.

So the Hazard Mitigation Plan encourages detention ponds and the drainage regulations give developers financial incentives NOT to build them. Again, the Grand-Canyon-sized gap between intentions and execution.

As we have seen in Montgomery County, beat-the-peak claims don’t consider changes to upstream or downstream conditions. They rely on infrequently updated data that becomes increasingly out of date with the development of each new subdivision. And they encourage all developers to get their water to rivers ASAP in heavy rains, which is exactly the opposite of what you want people to do in floods.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/16/2020

1205 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 454 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.