Tag Archive for: lawsuit

Redistricting Lawsuit Dismissed by Ellis-Backed Judge

A lawsuit by Harris County Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey, Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle and their supporters that sought to overturn a redistricting plan devised by Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis has been dismissed by an Ellis-backed judge, Dedra Davis.

How Ellis-3 Redistricting plan affects Lake Houston Area
In the Ellis-3 Redistricting plan, almost all of the Lake Houston Area including Kingwood, Humble, Atascocita, Huffman and Crosby will change from Precinct 4 to Precinct 3. Tom Ramsey will remain the Commissioner of Precinct 3, and will not be up for re-election in 2022.

Details of Redistricting Plan

The Ellis redistricting plan swapped the numbers of Precincts 3 and 4. It also redrew the boundaries of Precincts 3 and 4 so that Ramsey’s home and Cagle’s home changed precincts. The Ellis plan has two immediate effects.

  • It forces Cagle and Ramsey, both Republicans, to run in each others’ precincts because commissioners must live in the precincts they represent.
  • The number swap will deny voters in the new precinct 3 the right to vote for commissioner in the next election. That’s because only even-numbered precincts will vote in the next election cycle for commissioners. So the Lake Houston Area will not be able to vote for commissioners next year as it normally would have.

In addition, the plan redraws boundaries of the new Precinct 4 so that it becomes more Democratic. That jeopardizes Cagle’s chances of re-election and could shift the balance of power in Commissioners Court. Four Democrats could create a super-majority, enabling them to raise taxes at will.

A supermajority could also have far reaching consequences for flood mitigation by enabling Democrats to shift funds between watersheds as Adrian Garcia already tried to do.

TRO Denied, Then Lawsuit Dismissed on Plea to Jurisdiction

The plaintiffs sought a temporary restraining order (TRO) to block preparations for redistricting until the lawsuit could be resolved.

Judge Brittanye Morris (acting as an ancillary judge for Davis) denied the TRO on November 29 without explanation.

Hidalgo then filed a Plea to the Jurisdiction on December 13. In it, she pled that:

  • Plaintiffs lacked standing to bring the claims
  • She enjoyed sovereign (governmental) immunity
  • Plaintiffs did not plead a constitutionally valid claim
  • She was acting within her powers.

Yesterday, December 22, 2021, Judge Dedra Davis of the 270th District Court upheld Hidalgo’s plea to the jurisdiction and dismissed the lawsuit.

Judge Davis, who was supported in her election bid by Rodney Ellis, a key player in this drama, did not recuse herself. Nor did she cite any reasons for dismissing the case in her terse ruling.

Rodney Ellis and Judge Dedra Davis
Rodney Ellis and Judge Dedra Davis during her election bid.

Stage Set for Appeal

A spokesperson for Commissioner Jack Cagle’s office responded that the plaintiffs intend to file an appeal. However, because of the holidays, no other details were immediately available.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/23/2021

1577 Days since Hurricane Harvey

SJRA Began Spring Seasonal Release on April 1

The San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA) began slowly releasing water yesterday afternoon to lower the level of Lake Conroe to 200 feet per the temporary seasonal release policy adopted more than a year ago. When the seasonal release began, the lake stood at 201.01 feet – its normal target level. By noon today, the level stood at 200.94 feet.

Screen capture of SJRA dashboard as of 4:50PM yesterday.

Community Impact claims the release started at 4:20PM on 4/1/2020.

These pictures show the release.

Start of SJRA spring release. What 450 cubic feet per second looks like.
The slow release is designed to help protect downstream interests.
Looking back toward Lake Conroe.

Lake Lowering Policy by the Numbers

In the spring, SJRA lowers the lake one foot, starting April 1 and begins recapturing water on June 1.

In the summer and fall, it’s a little more complicated. On August 1, SJRA releases water again to reduce the lake level back to 200. Beginning Sept. 1, they take the water down another six inches. But the City of Houston may call for it to be lowered another six inches (to 199) if a named storm is predicted in the Gulf.

Statistically, the peak of hurricane season is September 10. The lake-lowering policy builds additional capacity to absorb heavy rains that could threaten the dam, and help prevent massive releases that cause downstream flooding.

Upstream/Downstream Differences of Opinion

Downstream residents love the policy. They saw their communities destroyed during Harvey when the SJRA started releasing 80,000 cubic feet per second. Many Lake Conroe residents who flooded during Harvey also love the policy.

But some Lake Conroe residents feel inconvenienced and persuaded the Lake Conroe Association to file a lawsuit requesting a temporary restraining order to stop the lake lowering. A Montgomery County judge scheduled arguments in the lawsuit for April 16th, two weeks from now.

One resident who joined the suit claims the lower lake levels forced her to repair her bulkhead at a cost of $2000. And a bait shop owner claims he was driven out of business in 2018 when people couldn’t get their boats in the water.

But pictures taken during last year’s lowering show plenty of boaters having plenty of fun despite the lower level. Evaporation often takes the lake down partway to the target level anyway. So, the SJRA may only need to release inches rather than feet to reach its target level – especially in late summer.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/2/2021

1312 days after 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.

Colony Ridge Developer Sues Critics For More Than Million Dollars Based on Questionable Allegations

(Updated 2/2/2021 at 8PM) In the “lawsuits-are-stranger-than-fiction department,” Colony Ridge developer Trey Harris has filed yet another lawsuit against the Plum Grove City Council and Plum Grove’s former Mayor Leann Walker. This time, Harris wants more than a million dollars. Among other things, the suit alleges that by hiring Wayne Dolcefino, they attempted to smear Harris. But in the next sentence, Harris trumpets “Their smear tactic was not successful.” So where was the damage?

More Questionable Allegations

Dig a little deeper and you’ll find several more equally questionable allegations. For instance, he alleges that elected officials acting in their official capacity can be sued as private citizens. To support this assertion, Harris alleges that council members had personal vendettas against him when they tried to defend residents from road damage, flooding and more.

Harris also alleges that:

  • The City Council doesn’t represent the public’s interest. Yet Colony Ridge issues have been front and center in multiple elections during the last decade.
  • Harris is a citizen of Plum Grove although he reportedly lives in Huntsville.
  • Defendants “trespassed” on his property, presumably by driving on a public road.
  • The Council refused Harris’ offer to help repair roads when, in fact, they accepted his $25,000.
  • Stopping road damage and flooding has “nothing to do with what is in the best interest of the public.”
  • Defendants do not like Harris.

Geez! When does a City Council have an obligation to like someone who they believe has destroyed the homes, roads and safety of City residents?

History of Disputes with Multiple Parties Contradicts Vendetta Claim

A long history of legal and political disputes between Colony Ridge and Plum Grove under different councils and mayors contradicts Harris’ claim that current criticisms are “personal vendettas.”

Harris previously sued Walker and lost in 2015. The judge ordered Harris to pay Walker’s legal fees. Harris also sued the City, which was under a different mayor at the time, and reportedly settled.

Numerous Plum Grove residents have complained about Colony Ridge to Liberty County officials for years. Resident’s concerns have included destruction of wetlands, inadequate detention pond capacity, damage to roads, public safety issues, violation of county regulations, plat irregularities and more.

Downstream residents in neighboring counties have also expressed concerns about flooding and road damage related to Colony Ridge construction practices.

TCEQ has repeatedly investigated Colony Ridge contractors and found multiple sewage leaks and substandard construction practices that jeopardize human health. Erosion caused by piling dirt next to ditches has clogged Plum Grove creeks with sediment and contributed to repeated flooding.

Colony Ridge Drainage Ditch Photographed on January 1, 2021, months after the TCEQ warned that such practices could adversely affect human health.
Sediment coming down the East Fork (right) from Colony Ridge on Jan. 1, 2021.

Rumor also has it that the Army Corps in Galveston has an open investigation into wetland mitigation issues in Colony Ridge.

Finally, last year, Plum Grove sued Colony Ridge to get the developer to repair roads his trucks have damaged. Could Harris’ recent suit simply be a countersuit designed to intimidate Plum Grove into dropping its suit? Possibly. But there’s something else going on, too.

Enter Wayne Dolcefino, Investigative Journalist

Having found no way to get Liberty County to enforce its own regulations in Colony Ridge, last October, Walker and the City Council hired Wayne Dolcefino, one of the country’s leading investigative journalists. They hired him to help shine a light on problems there. And for the first time ever, Liberty County started paying attention.

In January, Dolcefino’s reports forced Liberty County officials to investigate irregularities related to engineering reports that may have been falsified and alleged violations of County drainage/development regulations.

A short while later, Harris filed his latest lawsuit.

Intimidating People into Silence

Harris seeks more than a million dollars from the tiny city of Plum Grove. On Page 4 of the suit, Harris alleges, “This action [the hiring of Dolcefino] was not taken with the public’s best interest in mind. It was taken as a calculated and vindictive action in an attempt to harm Plaintiff.” But in the very next sentence, Harris also claims, “Their smear tactic was not successful.” So if he wasn’t damaged, why is he suing? To intimidate people into silence?

I’m not a lawyer and this is not legal advice, but the State’s Anti-SLAPP statute (AKA, the Texas Citizens Participation Act) may help Walker and the council members as individuals without governmental immunity. The act protects free speech on matters of public concern. If a legal claim is dismissed under the Texas Anti-SLAPP statute, the Court must award attorneys’ fees and may sanction plaintiffs from bringing improper lawsuits in the future.

But like the boxer he was, Harris has come out swinging. Things will soon get interesting.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/1/2021 and updated on 2/2

1252 Days after Hurricane Harvey and 490 Days 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.

Based on new information obtained on 2/2/2021, mention of the Texas Municipal League paying for legal costs was deleted.

Plum Grove Sues Colony Ridge Developer Over Floodwater, Sewage Leaks

The City of Plum Grove on the San Jacinto East Fork has sued the developer of Colony Ridge over alleged breaches of an agreement that governs development in the City’s extra territorial jurisdiction. Colony Ridge is the world’s largest trailer park. Specifically, the City claims that Colony Ridge:

  • Allowed stormwater runoff from the development to flood the City
  • Failed to contain sewage that overflowed into neighborhoods and waterways

The City wants the developer to fix the problems and live up to the terms of their agreement (see Exhibit 1, Page 15). Plum Grove’s lawsuit cites several instances of both flooding and sewage spills. Only some have previously been covered in ReduceFlooding.com posts.

Parallels with Elm Grove Lawsuit against Woodridge Village Developer

This lawsuit has many parallels with a lawsuit by Elm Grove Village homeowners in Kingwood. They are suing Perry Homes, its subsidiaries and contractors for flooding hundreds of homes last year. Similarities include:

  • Neighboring homeowners vs. a developer that…
  • Clearcut land
  • Filled in wetlands
  • Without allegedly installing adequate detention or drainage

More than $1 Million in Damage to City Hall, Roads and Other Property

Plum Grove seeks damages for Colony Ridge’s “repeated and serious damage to City-owned or maintained buildings, roadways and other property.” The City claims more than $1 million in damages to date. But the City is not seeking compensation for damages. It wants the developer to fix the problems that are causing repeated flooding and sewage spills.

Causes of Action

Lawyers for Plum Grove cite several “causes of action” to support their claims and damages:

  • Breach of Contract
  • Negligence
  • Private Nuisance
  • Violation of Texas Water Code § 11.086
  • Trespass

“The fundamental breach of the Agreement arises from the fact that Defendant has paved over wetland area and/or diverted the flow of surface water without construction of adequate drainage or detention facilities. Because of developments by Defendant without conforming to applicable drainage standards and regulations, Plum Grove and the surrounding area are now experiencing significant flooding after major rainfall events,” says the lawsuit on pages 6 and 7.

Wetlands that used to exist on Colony Ridge Property. Source: USGS National Wetlands Inventory.
From Liberty County Stormwater Regulations. Plum Grove’s agreement with the developer specified that the developer had to comply with these regulations.

A defendant’s actions rise to the level of negligence under Texas law if 1) the defendant “owed a duty” to plaintiffs (had an obligation); 2) the defendant breached that duty; and 3) the breach caused the plaintiff’s damages.


Private nuisance is a condition that substantially interferes with the use and enjoyment of land by causing unreasonable discomfort or annoyance. In that regard, the suit mentions both flooding and the repeated overflow of sewage into creeks, ditches and property.

Water Code Violation

The Texas Water Code, Chapter 11.086, prohibits a person from diverting the natural flow of surface water in a manner that damages the property of another.

“Because of the increased stormwater runoff from Defendant’s developments during significant rain events like Hurricane Harvey, Tropical Storm Imelda, and the May 7, 2019 storm,” says the suit, “City Hall was flooded, City-owned/maintained roads, and residential areas have been inundated and City-owned/maintained bridges and culverts have experienced significant damage. Defendant’s actions constitute the wrongful diversion of surface water onto City property.”

Plum Grove residents allege that Colony Ridge cleared forests, filled in wetlands and re-routed runoff without adequate detention. And as a result, flood risk has increased within tiny Plum Grove which has only several hundred residents left. Many have been driven off already.


The most interesting legal theory is that the stormwater “trespassed” on neighbor’s property. A defendant commits “trespass to real property,” claims the suit, “where there is an unauthorized entry upon the land of another, and may occur when one enters—or causes something to enter—another’s property.”

Problems Became Apparent in 2015

Further, the suit alleges that Colony ridge was aware of drainage violations since at least 2015 (Page 7). Finally, it alleges that had Colony Ridge followed County regulations and standards as required by the agreement with Plum Grove, that flooding and its impact on the City and nearby properties would have been significantly reduced.

Long-Time Resident Verifies City Claims

Resident Michael Shrader says that his property never flooded before Colony Ridge started clearing land upstream from his home on Maple Branch. He has lived in Plum Grove since 1987 and weathered huge storms in 1994 and 2001 (Tropical Storm Allison) without flooding. “The extreme flooding in my yard and home during more recent storms,” said Shrader, “was clearly a result of the Camino Real Colonia’s stormwater run-off that’s all directed to the head of Maple Branch that then runs behind my back yard. Colony Ridge is the only major change to the landscape since I’ve lived here. All the wetlands that were there are now gone!”

Area the way it existed in 2011, before Colony Ridge
Same area in 2019. Colony Ridge is still expanding today. See area at right.
Shrader’s house as water was still rising during Harvey. Shrader says it eventually got up to the windows in the foreground.

Maria Acevedo, another local land owner and activist has seen firsthand the construction practices at Colony Ridge. “Their lack of Best Management Practices has sent silt downstream. That silt as clogged drains and ditches, causing water to back up and overflow. The TCEQ has documented these practices. The longer such abuses continue, the more pushback this developer will get from Plum Grove residents and also residents of Colony Ridge.”

“We are not going away until they comply with the law.”

Maria Acevedo

More on that TCEQ report tomorrow. It’s 184 pages long and deserves its own post.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/15/2020

1143 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 392 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 Carriage Hills Sand Mine Halts Operations For Now

On March 24, Montgomery County Commissioners approved a resolution that allowed the County Attorney to sue a new Carriage Hills sand mine operating on the West Fork of the San Jacinto. The text of the lawsuit was vague as to actual violations. But on Monday, March 30, B.D. Griffin, the Montgomery County Attorney supplied more details about the complaint. He also discussed the status of the suit, what the mine is doing, and likely long-term outcomes. 

Operator Violated Floodplain Permit

According to Griffin, counties in Texas have few tools to regulate land use. However, floodplain regulations are one of them. Montgomery County alleges that the Carriage Hills sand mine operator, Skilled International, was in violation of the floodplain permit issued to MBM Sand Company, the landowner. 

Griffin says there were two main issues. First, MBM obtained the permit, but it was not transferrable to Skilled. Second, Skilled is operating in the floodway of the San Jacinto West Fork. The MBM permit allowed floodplain operations, but not floodway. 

Therefore, according to Griffin, they operated where they should not have. Floodway operations are subject to more regulations and more stringent regulations than floodplain operations. “They were operating outside the boundaries of their permit,” said Griffin. “That’s why we sought the authority to file suit against them. They were in violation of their floodplain permit.”

Mine Closes Voluntarily Until It Gets Proper Permit

The County, however, did not actually have to file the suit against the Carriage Hills sand mine. “They have complied voluntarily and shut down the sand pit operations until they get their approvals to operate in the special flood hazard area,” said Griffin.

He further stated that, “If you fail to enforce your regulations, then you jeopardize the county’s participation in the national flood insurance program. That’s major. But we try to enforce the regulations anyway because it’s the right thing to do. We’re not after fines necessarily, but we do have that ability if necessary.”

“The operator also told us in writing that they will cease operations until they get the proper permits,” said Griffin. Three officials from Montgomery County checked and found that the mine has, in fact, ceased operations.

What Mine Must Do to Comply

Basically, they need to show where they are operating. If it’s in the floodway, there are more regulation than if they are just in the flood plain. They need to show that they’re not increasing the base flood elevation and that there are no adverse impacts to adjoining properties. AND they have to have it all certified by engineers in order to get their permit.”

That means the engineer will need to conduct an H&H (Hydrologic and Hydraulic) study for the floodway portion of the mine’s permit. “They need that to show that they won’t raise the base flood elevation and that they won’t adversely impact adjoining properties.”

Truck Traffic Will Likely Return When Permits Obtained

While the threat of a County suit has eliminated all the truck traffic through Carriage Hills for now, in the long run, things may not change much. Griffin says, “You have to understand. Land use regulation by a county is fairly limited in Texas. We don’t have the powers of a municipality and we don’t have the powers of the State.”

Griffin continued, “So, we can only regulate land use with very limited means. One of those is floodplain regulations. The other is subdivision regulations. So, what we look to and require, is often not the same as what an adjoining landowner may want.”

We want compliance with our permitting process and with the actual regulations themselves. The Carriage Hills sand mine can’t increase water on adjoining property and they can’t raise the base flood elevation. Those are the two big ones,” said Griffin.

Regarding the heavy truck traffic on residential roads, Griffin says, “It’s a public road. Unfortunately, we can’t do much. The state can issue overload permits and they have the right to run on our roads. We can’t do anything about it. There’s a limit as to what the county can do. And, you know, we are in a fast-growing county. As population density increases, we can get more of these problems. There’s not always a win-win solution. But if we take some actions like this, it makes people think about being good corporate neighbors.”

Up to 600 trucks per day were disturbing these quiet residential streets in Carriage Hills, a Conroe subdivision near the West Fork San Jacinto.

Threat of County Lawsuit Remains

Skilled International, the mine’s operator has not given a timetable for compliance yet. But Griffin says they have hired a consultant who is working directly with the County Engineers office. In the meantime, they have agreed to suspend operations until they get their proper permits.

Says Griffin, “We have the lawsuit prepared to be filed. As long as they cease operations, we won’t file a lawsuit. If we see them starting up the operations again and there’s no permit, we will file the suit.”

The complaint approved by Commissioners required remediation for any dirt Skilled International may have brought into the Carriage Hills sand mine. Griffin says, “If they ultimately do NOT get a permit, we will require them to remove anything they may have brought into the floodway.”

This could prove substantial. New draft FEMA floodplain maps show the floodway has expanded. The new floodway now takes in the vast majority of the area being mined.

Approximate location of Carriage Hills sand mine
Black oval shows approximate location of new Carriage Hills sand mine relative to the new draft FEMA flood plain maps. The vast majority of the mine is within the floodway represented by the red crosshatched area.

It is unclear whether the County Engineer and Attorney will apply the new floodplain map when considering the mine’s permit or use the old map.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/31/2020

945 Days after Hurricane Harvey

Montgomery County Commissioners Vote to Sue New Sand Mine Near Carriage Hills

In a rare move, Montgomery County Commissioner’s Court voted today to let the County Attorney sue a new sand mine. The mine property is owned by MBM Sand Company, LLC and operated by Skilled International near a Conroe subdivision named Carriage Hills.

General location of new sand mine, south of Conroe, west of I-45 and West Fork, and east of Carriage Hills subdivision.

40 Minute Session with One Spectator

Likely due to the corona virus scare, only one spectator showed up to the Commissioners Court meeting, Paul Crowson. Crowson reported that the motion carried. He also said the entire meeting lasted only 40 minutes.

Minutes and video of the meeting still have not been posted. Crowson says he queried Montgomery County Attorney BD Griffin for details about the suit and Giffin replied only with “No comment.”

The Montgomery County District Clerk has not yet listed any documents relating to the suit. So we still don’t know exactly what the County’s complaints are, only that they related to the Section I of Chapter 16 of the Texas Water Code and the Montgomery County Flood Plain Regulations.

I wonder if the decision by Commissioners to allow the County Attorney to sue will actually result in a lawsuit. With permission to sue now in hand, the District Attorney may use that as a tool to get the defendant(s) to remediate whatever damage he/they have done. Either way, that’s good news.

A New Day for MoCo Sand Miners?

Regardless, this signals somewhat of a sea change for Montgomery County. The County passes out tax breaks to sand miners like Halloween candy, even though they violate State Controller guidelines.

More news to follow as it becomes available.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/25/2020

939 Days since Hurricane Harvey