Tag Archive for: high rises

Full Text of SWCA’s Request for Romerica Extension and Army Corps’ Withdrawal of High-Rise Permit Application

Last Christmas, the Army Corps issued a public notice about Romerica Investment’s permit application to build a high rise development in the floodplain and floodway of the San Jacinto West Fork. Almost immediately, people and groups began writing protest letters. By the end of the public comment period, the Army Corps had received 727. That didn’t include letters from other government agencies such as the TCEQ and US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Computer rendering showing proposed high-rises in an area soon to be reclassified as the floodway of the San Jacinto.

Record Number of Protest Letters

The number of protest letters set an Army Corps record. Due to the large number of responses, SWCA, Romerica’s environmental consultant, requested a suspension of the permit. Instead, the Army Corps withdrew the application without prejudice and invited Romerica to resubmit a new application at a later date.

Status: Start Over

SWCA expressed concern about starting the process over again. But according to Janet Botello, because of the large number of comments and the fact that much of the survey work will need to be redone, a new public notice and another public review are almost a certainty.

I finally received a return phone call from Leah Manlove Howard of Manlove Marketing and Communications. Ms. Howard acts as Romerica’s spokesperson. She said that Romerica and its team of consultants were meeting this week to determine whether they wanted to climb that mountain again. I do not yet have an answer to that question.

Full Text of Letters

Under the Freedom of Information Act, I requested both SWCA’s request to the Corps and the Corps’ response to the developer.

People familiar with Corps processes tell me that the Corps rarely rejects an application outright. However, regulations can and do occasionally make it so hard to receive approval that applicants give up. Romerica is the fourth or fifth developer to try to develop this land. It has been sold and resold numerous times, but never developed, in part, because of the history of flooding and difficulty of permitting.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/16/2019

626 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Interview with Corps’ Chief of Evaluation: What’s Next for Romerica?

After receiving 727 public comments, Kingwood Marina developer, Romerica Investments, LLC, asked Corps regulators on April 24, to “temporarily suspend an Individual Permit Application (SWG-2016-00384).”

Romercia’s environmental consultants said in a letter to Corps regulators, they made the request based on the large volume of comments provided by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) on March 28.

The request acknowledged, “It will take several months to conduct the surveys and studies needed to respond fully to these comments.” 

Interview withCorps’ Chief of Evaluation Branch

Last week, I spoke with Janet Botello, Chief of the Evaluation Branch of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers/Galveston District. We talked about what comes next for Romerica after its permit application for the proposed high-rise development in Kingwood was withdrawn by the Corps. Bottom line: if they reapply, we would likely have another public comment period.

In this satellite image taken on 2/23/19, you can see the West Fork San Jacinto at the bottom, River Grove Park at the left, Kingwood Country Club on the right and the Barrington at the top. Romerica hopes to build multiple 25-50 high rises between the little lake in the center and the golf course fairways below the Barrington.

Difference: Suspension vs. Withdrawal

Rehak: “Romerica requested a suspension of their permit application. The Army Corps withdrew it. What’s the difference? Is there any legal significance?”

Botello: “The correct wording in this case is “withdrawal.” There IS a legal difference. There is a provision within our regulations for suspending a permit. But that only occurs when a permit has actually been issued. In this case, the permit was not issued; there was only an application. We never made a final decision. So the pending application was withdrawn.”

Another Public Comment Period Likely

Rehak: “If they reapply, would there be another public comment period during the evaluation of new application?”

Botello: “I am comfortable in saying that there probably will be another public comment period based on the number of public interest factors and concerns that were raised and potential changes that could occur. But we won’t know for sure until we get the revised packet of information.”

Rehak: “How frequently does this happen?”

Botello: “It’s common. If a significant number of comments are raised during the public comment period and applicants aren’t prepared to address them within 30 days, we withdraw it. Then they go back and try to answer the concerns that were raised or revise their plans. Conversely, if they can answer and fully address concerns within 30 days, we keep evaluating the permit and we go ahead with the next step. If not, we withdraw it and give them time on their own to address the public concerns.”

Next Steps If Romerica Reapplies

Rehak: “What will be the next steps if Romerica reapplies?”

Botello: “First, we will evaluate the new submittal internally for a review of the Corps’ concerns. Then we will draft a public notice for public review – to gather public concerns. Then typically, we gather up the comments and concerns raised after that 30-day period, and forward them again to the applicant. They will have to respond within 30 days and then we will gather their responses and determine what steps are appropriate.”

Where We Are At

Romerica has not returned phone calls to discuss their intentions. If other agencies had concerns as serious as the TCEQ’s, this project could die quietly. If Romerica reapplies, which they have said they will do, the developer will likely have to significantly revise plans, and start over with a lengthy permitting process including a new public comment period.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/6/2019

615 Days since Hurricane Harvey

TCEQ Lists Water-Quality Concerns About Romerica High-Rise Permit

Last week, SWCA, Romerica’s environmental consultant, requested more time to respond to concerns about the proposed high-rise development in Kingwood. On April 30, the Corps withdrew Romerica’s permit application. The Corps suggested that Romerica resubmit a new application once they worked out issues with the first submittal.

Eight Pages of Concerns

All along, Kingwood residents have expressed skepticism about the suitability of this project for the Kingwood location. Turns out the 727 residents and groups that submitted protest letters weren’t the only ones with questions.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s (TCEQ’s) letter to the Corps expresses eight pages of concerns. Keep in mind that it was dated March 1. So the developer had it for TWO MONTHS. Also remember! TCEQ was reviewing ONLY water-quality issues posed by the development.

Full Text of Letter

Reading the TCEQ letter makes one realize how deficient the original application must have been. Here is the complete text for those who want all the detail.

Summary of Key Points

For everyone else, I have summarized the main concerns below.

  1. Title 30, Texas Administrative Code (TAC), Chapter 279.ll(c)(l), states that “No discharge shall be certified if there is a practicable alternative to the proposed discharge which would have less adverse impact on the aquatic ecosystem, … ” “Please have the applicant clarify the purpose and need for the project, as portions of the proposed project are not aquatic-dependent.”
  2. From the public notice, the applicant states that “they have avoided and minimized environmental impacts by configuring the location of the proposed structures and reducing the size of the lakes within each district.” “This statement does not detail how and where wetland and stream impacts were avoided or minimized. Please have the applicant explain how and where impacts to stream and wetland resources were minimized and avoided.”
  3. “The applicant proposes to develop a mitigation site or purchase credits but says nothing more…The compensatory mitigation plan must include the objectives, site selection, the site protection instrument, baseline information, how the compensatory mitigation will provide required compensation for unavoidable impacts to aquatic resources, a mitigation work plan, maintenance plan, ecological performance standards, monitoring requirements, long-term management plan, adaptive management plan, financial assurances, and other information per the mitigation rule requirements.”
  4. “During the site visit, the resource agencies and the applicant’s representative noticed several streams that were not accounted for in the impacts tables. Please have the applicant incorporate the additional streams and revise the total amount of project impacts accordingly.”
  5. “There are several impacts within the commercial district that appear to be unaccounted for or are unidentified. Please have the applicant revise the impacts table to account for all resources that will be converted.”
  6. “Please have the applicant determine if project specific locations (PSLs) such as borrow, stockpiling, staging, and equipment parking areas associated with the project will impact wetlands. These PSL impacts should be included in the accounting of total project impacts.”
  7. “Several wetlands within the proposed project boundary will be hydrologically disconnected from the current floodplain. Please have the applicant revise the impacts tables to include wetland and stream resources that will be affected secondarily by the proposed project and address the cumulative effect of each district on the interconnectedness of the onsite wetlands.”
  8. “Please have the applicant explain in detail what measures will be taken to avoid groundwater and surface water contamination from construction activities.”
  9. “Please have the applicant provide a hydraulic analysis of the site to account for current site conditions, projected increased impervious surface runoff, as well as drainage patterns for the site, and describe how water quality on and off the project site will be protected from impacts such as erosion.”
  10. “Stormwater drainage from residential and commercial lots should be routed away from the West Fork San Jacinto River, the marina, and stream resources onsite. Stormwater should be redirected and routed to stormwater treatment features before entering the aforementioned resources. Please have the applicant provide details on how the replacement of lost onsite water quality functions will be addressed.”

Other Issues Outlined in Letter

  1. How an expanded Woodland Hills Drive would affect stream crossings
  2. The purpose and design of the so-called “water-quality ponds”
  3. The design of channels and marinas; their connectivity to the San Jacinto; and their impact on water quality
  4. The impact of boat channels on water-oxygen levels
  5. Channels that cross wetland habitat
  6. Box culverts instead of bridges
  7. Channel widths (100-foot wide for a channel 4-feet deep)
  8. Channels crossing property Romerica doesn’t own
  9. Slope of channels
  10. Diversion of stormwater from roads and parking lots away from channels
  11. Dead-end channels
  12. How domestic wastewater will be collected and treated
  13. Dissolved oxygen monitoring and reporting
  14. Applicants characterization of stream types (intermittent vs. perennial); requests “an accurate assessment.”
  15. Conservation easements on the property. (21.90 acres of wetlands are covered by a conservation easement located within the residential and commercial portions of the proposed development. “Please have the applicant verify that the conservation easement will be protected from potential development and ensure the preserved wetlands will not be impacted, directly or indirectly, from the construction of the proposed project.”

Start Over?

There may be no good answers to some of these questions and concerns. SWCA, CivilTech and Romerica must be re-evaluating the impact of these questions on the economics of their project.

This isn’t the type of stuff you need another week to figure out. These questions will make the developers rethink their commitment to the entire project.

Finding answers will likely involve a redesign of the project and that could cost more than the land itself.

Keep in mind that water quality was just one of 20 different areas that the Corps is evaluating.

TCEQ Didn’t Have Enough Info to Make Decision

I asked Peter Schaefer, a team leader within the TCEQ Water Quality Assessment Section, whether the TCEQ had made a recommendation to the Corps on this project. He said “No.”

The reason: “Because TCEQ did not receive a response to our comment letter, and the applicant had not begun the process of working with us and the Corps to address the concerns raised in the letter, TCEQ was not in a position to make a decision on the project,” said Schaeffer. Hence the detailed requests for more information.

Schaefer added, “A typical 404/401 permitting process would normally take several months, if not a year or more, for the applicant to address comments from TCEQ, Corps, resource agencies, and the public. Because of the magnitude and nature of this project, it would likely have required much more time, coordination, discussion, project revision(s), and perhaps additional public notice(s) to get to the point where the Corps was prepared to complete a Decision Document.”

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/1/2019

610 Days since Hurricane Harvey

High-Rise Permit Application Withdrawn by Corps

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Galveston District announced today that it has withdrawn Romerica’s permit application. Romerica had applied to deposit fill in the floodplain of the San Jacinto River for their proposed high-rise development in Kingwood.

Artists rendering of several towers near the proposed marina with the Barrington in the background.

Romerica Could Not Meet Deadline

In a letter dated April 24, SWCA, Romerica’s environmental consultant, requested a “suspension” of the permit application. They said they needed more time to answer issues raised in 727 letters of protest. SWCA also said they would have to conduct additional surveys and field work requiring more than the 30 days allowed for them to respond. The official deadline for filing responses was April 27.

Withdrawal “Without Prejudice”

Instead of suspending the permit, the Corps “withdrew it without prejudice.” The Corps invited SWCA and Romerica to reapply at some future time when they had completed answers to the issues raised by concerned residents and environmental groups.

The Corps’ letter is dated today, April 30. For the full text, click here.

Romerica Not Available for Comment

Leah Howard of Manlove Marketing and Communications, Romerica’s official point of contact for the application, was not available for comment at press time. However, a third party who talked to her earlier in the day said that their team wanted “to do a good and complete job with citizens’ questions, and that 30 days just wasn’t enough time.”

Another third party source quoted her as saying, “Due to Harvey, Romerica will complete several new studies and surveys for due diligence which will shed more light on the larger issue Lake Houston faces. After completion of the necessary work, Romerica and the USACE will reactivate the permit and more information will be provided at that time.”

Issues Still to Be Clarified

It is unclear at this time whether a new application would obligate Romerica to go through an additional public comment period. However the letter sent from the Corps to the developer states, “Resultant project modifications may require additional coordination.”

While many questions remain, today’s letter DOES answer one. Romerica did NOT meet the Corps’ deadline for filing responses to citizen complaints. For a history of the controversy surrounding this development, see the High Rises page.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/30/2019

609 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Zura Productions Posts Interview with High-Rise Developer and Q&A From Public Meeting

Jim Zura has posted three videos he shot at Romerica’s public meeting in the Kingwood Community Center on March 18, 2019. The first covers questions I asked Gabriel Haddad, one of Romerica’s two principles, before the meeting officially started. The next two cover questions and answers asked by community members after the formal presentations by Romerica and its suppliers.

Additional Videos to Follow

Zura says additional video will follow. He does national quality work from his base right here in Kingwood. Zura volunteered his services to the community on this project out of concern for the impact the development could have on the community. Please note: Zura fought a high level of ambient crowd noise to obtain these videos. While they won’t win an Emmy for sound quality, they very adequately capture the responses and promises made to the community regarding this controversial development.

The first video is me going one-on-one with Romerica developer Gabriel Haddad.

Rehak (left) interviewing Haddad (right) at the Kingwood Community Center Public Meeting. That’s Dianne Lansden of the Lake Houston Area Grass Roots Flood Prevention Initiative in the background.

Click here to see the Rehak-Haddad discussion on vimeo.com. It should open up in a new tab.

After presentations by Romerica and its associates, the audience got a chance to ask questions from the floor. Below is the first thirty minutes of the Q&A session.

See the Herons Meeting Kingwood Q&A Part 1 of 2 on vimeo.com.

The last part of the Q&A session runs for another 20 minutes.

See the Herons Meeting Kingwood Q&A Part 2 of 2 on vimeo.com.

Summary: Rehak Interview with Haddad

I ask Mr. Haddad how his development will generate $135 million in tax revenues and point out that that’s more than the rest of Kingwood combined contributes to the City of Houston or Harris County. He responds that that’s only if it’s all built out. I ask, “How likely is that?” He responds: “Not very.” Mr. Haddad then goes on to describe why and blames sedimentation in the river.

Other topics we discussed included:

  • How he plans to get around the deed restrictions by Friendswood
  • Long-range plans if he can’t get a permit
  • Evacuation in the event of a flood
  • Noise
  • School district overcrowding
  • His maze of companies
  • Changing architectural firms in mid-stream, no pun intended

Mr. Haddad answers one or two questions somewhat directly, pivots on others, and claims they’re still working out details on the rest.

Audience Q&A: Part 1

Audience Q&A went for a total of 50 minutes. Unfortunately, some people turned questions into rants. Other people shouted questions from the floor that were not picked up by the microphone. So I’m not going to attempt to transcribe the entire session, but will provide time codes for the questions I could understand. That way you can fast forward to specific segments that may interest you. All time codes are approximate:

  • 0:00 Concern about impact on land adjacent to the Romerica development
  • 2:00 Concern about flooding and how it will be mitigated
  • 3:15 Statement by lady who says she wants “Livable Forest,” not high-rises.
  • 3:45 Are you not worried about building high-rises at ground zero for the worst natural disaster in U.S. history?
  • 6:45 How are you getting around single-family residential deed restrictions?
  • 8:45 Who do you expect to invest and what kind of businesses do you expect to attract? Concerned about inaccessibility of location. Says they will find other locations more attractive. (No response from developer.)
  • 10:20. Gentleman asks for vote from floor about who approves/disapproves of development.
  • 13:50 Lady observes that every home that flooded had surveys done assuring the owners that it would not. What makes your development different?
  • 15:00 Have you engaged hydrologists and do you have money set aside to restore the property if the development fails.
  • 17:30 Lady doesn’t like comparison to Woodlands. Says she moved here because it wasn’t so commercial.
  • 18:20 Concern about lack of plans for traffic and noise mitigation.
  • 22:20 Are you willing to pay for dredging?
  • 24:15 How are you going to evacuate people from a dead-end road? Are you going to elevate Woodland Hills Drive?

Audience Q&A: Part 2

The same caveats apply here:

  • 0:00 Concerns about loss of view and quiet?
  • 2:50 Will you listen to and respect the will of the community?
  • 3:30 Will ALL construction be postponed until solution is found for flooding? How will new flood maps and watershed study affect your plans? What’s the time frame for your development? (Hint: Answer: We will not do anything until there is a flooding solution.)
  • 9:10 What is the source of your funding?
  • 12:15 Do you have backup and failsafe plans?
  • 13:15 How will you address flood levels that get worse with time?

Next Steps

As in my interview questions, sometimes the answers were direct and sometimes they weren’t. Sometimes, they just let people rant and didn’t answer at all. By the time Romerica wrapped everything up, most of the audience had left and they were turning out the lights.

Since the meeting, they have had more than a month to address the concerns that more than 700 people and groups submitted in protest letters to the Army Corps.

Now the Corps needs to sift through all their responses and make sure they addressed valid concerns. You can expect plans to change. Romerica has already posted online that they are planning to elevate the entire development another six to ten feet. That will likely involve more fill and stimulate more concerns about flooding.

Thoughts expressed in this post represent my opinions on matters of public interest. They are protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP statute of the great State of Texas.

Posted by Bob Rehak on April 28, 2019

607 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Emily Murphy Photographs Active Eagle Nest Next to Romerica Property

Kingwood photographer and kayaker Emily Murphy has done it again. With her eagle eye, she spotted yet another eagle’s nest. This one is east of the stream that divides the Kingwood Country Club from Romerica property.

This nest clearly has two eaglets in it. Here you can see them both.

Two eaglets in nest on Kingwood Country Club Property immediately adjacent to the property where Romerica wants to build its high-rise marina. Photo by Emily Murphy.

It usually takes 10-12 weeks for bald eagles to leave the nest. However, fledglings then often stay around learning from their parents and honing their flying and feeding skills for another 1-2 months. Their heads gradually turn white over a period of up to five years.

Eaglet tests its wings on the edge of the nest. Photograph courtesy of Emily Murphy.

Emily got out of her kayak to examine the area below the nest. She found droppings and bones, both clear signs of feeding in the nest.

Bone below eagle’s nest on golf course. If anyone recognizes what type of bone this is, please contact me through this web site.Photograph courtesy of Emily Murphy.

Romerica’s Wish Comes True

The Romerica developers said they hoped someone would find eagles near their property at their March 18 meeting at the Kingwood Community Center; they got their wish. Now we will see how sincere they were.

Eagles can live up to 30 years and often return to the same nest year after year. They even build multiple nests in the same area, like the one Emily photographed from the river a couple weeks ago ON the Romerica property.

Please note: this is even closer than the nest I photographed in January. Texas Parks and Wildlife defines bald eagle habitat protection zones spreading outward from the nest. They prohibit certain construction activities within defined distances. Almost the entire Romerica property would fall within some kind of protection zone around this nest.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/10/19

589 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Next Countdown Clock Starts Ticking for Romerica’s High-Rise Development in Kingwood

The Galveston District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Regulatory Branch announced today public comments were forwarded to Romerica Investments, LLC, regarding permit application SWG-2016-00384 for a project in Kingwood, Texas.

Poster of Commercial District displayed by Romerica at Kingwood Public Meeting on 3/18/2019

Thirty Days from March 28

“We appreciate the time and effort of those concerned to meet the extended deadline,” said Elizabeth Shelton, a USACE Galveston District Regulatory project manager. “We have forwarded the public notice comments received to the applicant for response by letter dated 28 March 2019.  The applicant has 30 days from the date of the letter to respond to the comments received.”

That means Romerica has until April 27 to respond to the hundreds of letters written by concerned residents and environmental groups. At this point, that means they have 24 days left to respond.

Discharge of Fill into Wetlands and Streams

Shelton said the Corps Regulatory Division’s role, in this permit application, is to evaluate, under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, the proposed activity, the discharge of fill material into waters of the U.S., and the compliance of this proposed activity with other Federal laws, as applicable.

“The Division is evaluating the discharge of 68,323 cubic yards of fill material into 42.35 acres of wetlands and an estimated 285 cubic yards of fill material into 771 linear feet of streams adjacent to the West Fork of the San Jacinto River,” said Shelton.

The initial close of comment period was January 29. Corps Regulatory Division officials made the decision to allow for 30 additional days which extended the comment period to March 1. 

The notice can be viewed at: https://www.swg.usace.army.mil/Media/Public-Notices/Article/1722068/swg-2016-00384-romerica-investments-llc-west-fork-of-the-san-jacinto-river-harr/

Romerica At BizCom

Romerica will be giving a brief presentation at the Lake Houston Area Chamber of Commerce BizCom meeting, on Thursday, April 4th, , 11 a.m., at Kingwood Park High School. Ms. Leah Manlove Howard, CMC, Chief Strategy Officer, VP and Program Chair of the American Advertisers Federation – Houston; and Michelle Hundley, President & CEO, Stratus Consulting will deliver the Heron Project Update, according to the Chamber.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/3/2019

582 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Emily Murphy Photographs Inactive Bald Eagle Nest on Romerica Property from River; Active Nests Likely in Vicinity

Correction: Since posting this story two hours ago, I have spoken with an enforcement officer from US Fish & Wildlife Service. He investigated this particular nest and found no droppings or fish bones around the base of the tree. He said you would expect that if the nest was active. He also said the tree was dead, likely a victim of all the sand deposited by Hurricane Harvey along the river. Finally, he said that bald eagles often establish multiple nests in an area and sometimes switch between them. This nest may have been abandoned when the tree began to die after Harvey. The eagle in the photo may have been revisiting it because it was a good perch for fishing. So I have edited the story to remove all mentions of “apparently active.”

Emily Murphy took the shot below on 3/27/19 from her kayak on the West Fork. It clearly shows a bald eagle and a very large nest.

Bald Eagle and Nest on Romerica Property. Romerica hopes to build a series of high rises within 750 feet of this nest.
Bald Eagle and Nest on Romerica Property. Romerica hopes to build a series of high rises within 750 feet of this nest.

Ironically, I photographed what appears to be the same nest from the river on January 31, 2019 while on a ride-along with HPD Lake Patrol. My shot appears closer than Murphy’s because I took it with a 1000mm super-telephoto lens.

Photo taken by Bob Rehak on 1/31/19 from West Fork of San Jacinto with 1000mm lens. Note the similarity of the bark stripped from tree opposite the nest. GPS coordinates are embedded in the JPEG and virtually identical to Murphy’s.
Location of nest pinpointed and circled below.

The Balcom family, which lives near the river at the western (left) edge of the satellite image above, photographed a pair of bald eagles on their property in December.

Pair of bald eagles outside Balcom residence on River Bend, one mile west of nest site. Photo by Melissa and Jim Balcom.

Boaters, Please Report Sightings

Boaters, please help. Let me know through the contact page on this web site if you see activity in this area. If you see a nest – active or not – do not approach it or disturb the birds in any way. It’s illegal. See below. And do not enter Romerica’s property. That’s trespassing.

Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act

Although no longer an endangered species, bald eagles are still protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (16 U.S.C. 668-668d) is a United States federal statute.) The statute protects two species of eagle. According to Wikipedia, the bald eagle was chosen as a national emblem of the United States by the Continental Congress of 1782 and was given legal protection by the Bald Eagle Protection Act of 1940. This act was expanded to include the golden eagle in 1962.[1] 

Since the original Act, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act has been amended several times. It currently prohibits anyone, without a permit issued by the Secretary of the Interior, from “taking” bald eagles. Taking is described to include their parts, nests, or eggs, molesting or disturbing the birds. The Act provides criminal penalties for persons who “take, possess, sell, purchase, barter, offer to sell, purchase or barter, transport, export or import, at any time or any manner, any bald eagle … [or any golden eagle], alive or dead, or any part, nest, or egg thereof.”[2]

Purpose of Protection Act

The purpose of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection act is to protect bald and golden eagles from disturbance, abuse, and interference with their lifestyle. That includes sheltering, breeding, feeding, and nesting.[3] 

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/28/2019

576 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Stilts Not Always Answer, Evac Not Always Possible For High Rises Near Floodway

Last Monday, Gabriel Haddad, the Romerica developer who wants to put up 25-50 story high rises and 5,000 condos near the floodway of the West Fork, told a packed audience at the Kingwood Community Center that he would construct his buildings on stilts.

Of course, he also wants to put 150,000 cubic yards of fill in wetlands and streams which is why he’s applying for the Army Corps permit. But put that aside for the moment.

Catching Debris and Creating Backwater

Stilts may be the best answer when building near floodways. They can reduce the net impact on flooding compared to fill. However, they still have their drawbacks…as these pictures show. For instance, stilts, stairs and anything below a building will catch debris being washed downstream and back water up.

Debris washed downstream and caught on Balcom property
Debris washed downstream caught on stairs. Photo by Melissa Balcom.
All the trees caught in the bridge supports for the old 59 bridge reportedly formed a “dam” during Harvey that backed water up into Humble businesses. Ask Humble Mayor Merle Aaron about his feelings on the subject.
Debris caught under bridges during Harvey. Photos by David Seitzinger.
Stilts didn’t help thousands of homes on the Bolivar Peninsula during Hurricane Ike. They have to be high enough to elevate the home above the flood. More than a 100 people died on Bolivar who failed to evacuate before Ike. They thought their elevated homes would keep them safe.

Evacuation Routes Flooded

The next three pictures show one of the planned evacuation routes, Hamblen Road. As you can see, connecting Woodland Hills to Hamblen might help with normal traffic, but it would not help at all during a flood.

Hamblen Road during the Tax Day Flood of 2016. Photo by Melissa Balcom. Note height of street lights.
Hamblen Road during the Memorial Day flood of 2016. “This is when we thought things were as bad as they would ever get!” said Melissa Balcom who lives between Hamblen and the West Fork of the San Jacinto.
Same area on Hamblen during Harvey. Compare street lights in the background. The brick wall on the left is completely submerged.

“The water is actually even deeper than it appears because those street lights are on a hill that lines the side of Hamblen,” said Melissa Balcom, who took these photos. “The water is so deep you can’t even see the white brick fence that lines Hamblen.  It completely covers it!  That’s one of the reasons why making Hamblen a cut through street is so ridiculous.”

Horror Movie in the Making

When I asked Mr. Haddad how he planned to evacuate 15,000 people by boat if there were ever another midnight release from the Conroe dam without warning, he said that people could shelter in place.

Imagine being in a high rise…in August, when the water comes up, the power goes out, the toilets overflow, the AC fails, the humidity hits 99%, and you can’t open the windows. That may be a Navy Seal’s idea of luxury living, but not mine. I’ll pass, thank you!

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/24/2019

572 Days since Hurricane Harvey

They Took Questions from the Floor After All

Romerica packed the house with perhaps 800 to 1000 people. Both large rooms of the community center were standing room only. Contrary to pre-meeting guidance, the Romerica developer and his team DID take questions from the floor. The meeting lasted more than three hours.

Gabriel M. Haddad was not what I expected. He was disarming and appeared to answer questions candidly even when they were hostile. He seemed cautious and reasonable.

However, nothing I heard tonight changed my mind about the development. I had some questions answered. Some answers raised more questions. Many questions remain unanswered. And there were many contradictions and surprises. This will require sleep, food, and thorough review of my notes before I can make sense of it.

Please check back tomorrow for a rundown of the entire meeting.

Posted by Bob Rehak on March 18, 2019

566 Days since Hurricane Harvey