Tag Archive for: Liberty County

Montgomery, Liberty Counties Still Have Not Adopted Minimum Drainage Recommendations

After Hurricane Harvey, Harris County Engineering examined regulations throughout the region and recommended minimum drainage standards to reduce future flooding in the region’s cities and counties. Harris County even offered to pay the cost of inventorying existing standards and having an engineering firm draft recommended revisions. But almost 2000 days after Harvey, only half of the area’s cities and counties have taken action. Among those not acting: Montgomery and Liberty Counties. Here’s a breakdown of who has done what as of January 18, 2023, according to Harris County.

Already Upgraded

Twenty took Harris County up on its offer. They have already successfully updated their drainage regulations. They include:

  • Cities of
    • Baytown
    • Bellaire
    • Bunker Hill Village
    • Deer Park
    • El Lago
    • Friendswood
    • Galena Park
    • Hilshire Village
    • Houston
    • Humble
    • Jersey Village
    • Katy
    • La Porte
    • Pasadena
    • Piney Point Village
    • Seabrook
    • Southside Place
    • Taylor Lake Village
    • Tomball
  • Waller County

Considered Updates But Haven’t Acted

Twelve had requested and received an analysis, but had not yet implemented recommendations. They include:

  • Cities of:
    • Hedwig Village
    • Jacinto City
    • League City
    • Missouri City
    • Nassau Bay
    • Pearland
    • Shoreacres
    • South Houston
    • Spring Valley
    • Webster
    • West University
  • Fort Bend County

Not Acting

Eight have not updated ordinances and regulations. These include communities that did not respond to and those that refused Harris County’s offer. They include:

  • Cities:
    • Hunter’s Creek Village
    • Morgan’s Point
    • Stafford
    • Waller
  • Counties:
    • Brazoria
    • Galveston
    • Liberty
    • Montgomery

In fairness, Montgomery County did hire a firm in August 2022 to update/revise its drainage criteria manual and subdivision rules. The scope of work included examining some of the recommendations below made by Harris County. But work was expected to take at least a year.

Recommendations for Minimum Drainage Standards

The minimum drainage standards recommended by Harris County included:

  • Use Atlas 14 rainfall rates for sizing storm water conveyance and detention systems.
  • Require a minimum detention rate of 0.55 acre feet per acre for any new development on tracts one acre or larger. However, single-family residential structures and accessory buildings on existing lots would be exempt.
  • Prohibit the use of hydrographic timing as a substitute for detention on any project, unless it directly outfalls into Galveston Bay.
  • Require “no net fill” in the current mapped 500-year flood plain, except in areas identified as coastal zones only.
  • Require minimum Finished Floor Elevation (FFE) of new habitable structures be established at or waterproofed to the 500-year flood elevation as shown on the effective Flood Insurance Study.

I would add one more to the list:

  • No clearing or grading before environmental and drainage studies are completed, and during grading, measures are taken to protect neighbors from runoff.

This seems to be particularly troublesome issue for those surrounding new developments.

Self Interest

Harris County Engineering originally positioned adoption of the minimum drainage standards as a condition for receiving partnership money from the 2018 flood bond.

Clearly, not everyone sees that has a powerful incentive. Those outside Harris County likely see little benefit, especially since the Equity Prioritization Framework has delayed funding in those areas.

Perhaps Harris County should have emphasized how adoption of the minimum standards could help reduce flooding for ALL people in the region – including those within Montgomery and Liberty Counties.

During heavy rains in late January, I received dozens of reports of flooding in Montgomery and Liberty Counties. As growth in surrounding areas explodes, lax regulations are starting to inflict suffering on those area’s own citizens.

They should adopt higher standards for their own benefit, not just Harris County’s.

Photo taken January 30, 2023 along Harris/MoCo border near San Jacinto West Fork after 1.32 inches of rain.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/5/23

1986 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.

Harris County Commissioners Reaffirm Need for Minimum Drainage Standards in Region

On Tuesday, April 5, 2022, Harris County Commissioners Court reaffirmed the need for minimum drainage standards in the region. The program called “Fix Flooding First,” was started in 2020 by the Harris County Engineering Department. It is designed to help prevent flooding, not just fix it. The idea: to bring all municipalities and other counties that drain into Harris County to adopt minimum drainage standards.

Big Box Stores in Humble opposite Deerbrook Mall along US59 during Harvey. 130,000 cubic feet per second came downstream from Montgomery County which has declined to work with Harris County in adopting minimum flood regulations.

Altogether, the West Fork and East Forks of the San Jacinto with Peach and Caney Creeks, all of which drain through rapidly developing Montgomery County sent 300,000 cubic feet per second into the Lake Houston Area during Harvey.

To see how many square miles are being drained upstream from you, consult this map. Almost half of the watersheds in Harris County originate outside the county.

watersheds in Harris and surrounding counties
Watersheds in Harris and surrounding counties.

Seeking Agreement on Five Measures

Five minimum measures, recommended by the Office of the County Engineer and Harris County Flood Control District, include:

1. Use Atlas 14 rainfall rates for sizing storm water conveyance and detention systems.
2. Require a minimum detention rate of 0.55 acre-feet per acre of detention for any new development on tracts one acre or larger. A single-family residential structure and accessory building proposed on an existing lot is exempt from providing detention.
3. Prohibit the use of hydrograph timing as a substitute for detention on any project, unless it directly outfalls into Galveston Bay.
4. Require “no net fill” in the current mapped 500-year floodplain, except in areas identified as coastal zones only.
5. Require the minimum Finished Flood Elevation of new habitable structures be established at or waterproofed to the 500-year flood elevation as shown on the effective Flood Insurance Study.

Harris County Has Little Leverage

Harris County doesn’t have much leverage in this request. It can’t force neighbors to do anything. Compliance more or less depends on good will and a recognition that flooding in Houston and Harris County can affect the whole region negatively. Working together ultimately benefits everyone.

However, Harris County does have two small carrots. The County hired a consultant to review existing flood regulations in neighboring jurisdictions and make recommendations to bring them up to minimum standards. The county also can approve (or reject) partnership projects with those neighbors.

Mixed Results; No Change Since January

As of the start of this year, the program had met with mixed success.

  • 16 municipalities (including Houston, Humble) and Waller County had successfully upgraded their regulations.
  • 14 municipalities and Fort Bend County had completed the analysis of the regulations but not fully upgraded them yet.
  • 8 (four municipalities and four counties) did not respond to the offer of the analysis, refused it, or refused to participate.

As of last Tuesday, those results had not changed since January when I last reported on this program. The same municipalities and counties were in each category. Liberty and Montgomery Counties both fall into the last category (did not respond or refused).

Compliance list from January has not changed as of April 5, 2022.

Establish Precedent for Regional Cooperation Now

Harris County can spend billions on flood mitigation, but if upstream communities keep sending more water downstream, we may never see improvement. 

Ironically, all the upstream communities will be downstream from other developing communities in the future and may be in the same position that Harris is in today. It would be good to establish precedent for regional cooperation now that they could use themselves in the future.

Studies show that for every dollar spent on flood prevention, they can save five dollars on flood mitigation. That’s money that could go into improving the quality of services and infrastructure in communities….without forcing people through the trauma of flooding!

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/7/22

1682 Days since Hurricane Harvey

What Does “No Adverse Impact” Really Mean in Drainage Studies?

New developments in many jurisdictions must demonstrate “No Adverse Impact” (NAI) in drainage studies before they can get construction permits. City and county engineers want to know the development won’t harm others before they approve plans. But what does “No Adverse Impact” really mean? It depends on the jurisdiction.

Meaning Varies

Most jurisdictions require that new developments won’t add to flooding. In Montgomery County, for instance, developers do this by comparing runoff pre- and post-development. If engineers can show that post-development runoff does not exceed pre-development runoff, then they get their permit.

Such studies focus primarily on water surface elevations. But the Association of State Floodplain Managers (ASFPM) has a much broader definition.

In their book, No Adverse Impact means that actions of any community or property owner, public or private, “should not adversely impact the property and rights of others.” 

An adverse impact can be measured by an increase in flood stages, flood velocity, flows, the potential for erosion and sedimentation, degradation of water quality, or increased cost of public services. 


Definition Should Apply Beyond Floodplain

According to ASFPM, “No Adverse Impact” floodplain management extends beyond the floodplain to include managing development in the watersheds where floodwaters originate. NAI does not mean no development. It means that any adverse impact caused by a project must be mitigated, preferably as provided for in the community or watershed-based plan.

Here’s a presentation that covers NAI at a high level. Some key points include:

  • Flood losses are increasing by $6 billion annually. That’s because current policies promote intensification in high risk areas. They ignore changing conditions, undervalue natural floodplain functions, and often ignore adverse impacts.
  • Even if we perfectly implemented current standards, damage will increase.
  • Floodplains change due to filling.
  • Current regulations deal primarily with how to build in a floodplain vs. how to minimize future damages.
  • NAI actually broadens property rights by protecting those adversely impacted by others.
  • Trends in case law show that Act of God defenses have been greatly reduced due to ability to predict hazards events.
  • Hydraulic models facilitate proof of causation.
  • Use of sovereign immunity has been greatly reduced in lawsuits.
  • Communities are most likely to be held liable not when they deny a permit, but when they permit a development that causes damage to others.

Where to Find More Information About NAI

ASFPM has extensive information on the guidelines for “no adverse impact.”  They include NAI How-to Guides For…

This 108-page PDF from ASFPM sums it all up in one easy-to-download file.

Recent Case Study of Adverse Impact

Earlier this week, I toured Plum Grove to survey flood damage from the January 8/9 rains.

Between Saturday afternoon on 1/8 and Sunday morning on 1/9, Plum Grove received about 6.9 inches of rain.

NOAA’s Atlas-14 rainfall probabilities for this area show that’s about a 5-year rain.

atlas 14 rainfall probabilities
NOAA’s Atlas-14 Rainfall Probability standards for the Lake Houston Area.

But rising floodwaters cut off large parts of Plum Grove – including escape routes. The new elevated City Hall nearly flooded again even though it’s far above the 100-year floodplain.

Local residents and city officials attribute their flooding woes to largely unmitigated development in nearby Colony Ridge. The City is currently suing the developer.

Flooding two weeks ago was so bad that the Plum Grove Volunteer Fire Department sealed off roads and warned people to stay out. Currents were reportedly moving fast enough to sweep cars off roads.

Photo from evening of 1/8/2022 courtesy of Plum Grove VFD after about six inches of rain.

As far as I can tell, 2004 Liberty County Subdivision Rules do not require “no adverse impact” for new developments. However, they do stipulate that “All roads and streets shall be designed to convey a 10-year storm event and not more than 6″ of water over the road in a 100-year storm event.”

Looks like the engineers missed all of those targets! This is a good example of why all jurisdictions should specify No Adverse Impact in their drainage regulations.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/20/22

1605 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.

Silence: Liberty County, Colony Ridge, Landplan Engineering Remain Mute on Missing Documents

Wayne Dolcefino titles his latest video “The Sounds of Silence.” It’s about the Colony Ridge problems in Liberty County and the response of officials.

On December 26, 2020, I reported about missing drainage reports for the Colony Ridge development in Liberty County. The post also discussed the mischaracterization of soil types in the reports that did exist. The mischaracterization let the developer overestimate the infiltration of rain and thus underestimate runoff. That meant he needed fewer detention ponds and smaller ditches. And that, in turn, meant the developer could sell more lots. But then the flooding started. Coincidental?

Sounds of Silence

On January 4, 2021, Liberty County Attorney Matthew Poston launched an investigation.

But four months later, the documents are still missing. Without explanation.

Either they got lost or were never developed in the first place. And no one will defend or explain the soil sampling in the documents that were produced.

Neither will anyone talk about how large parts of Colony Ridge got approved by the County without the required engineering documents certifying “no negative effect” on drainage upstream or downstream from the development (see page 5). Note: Plum Grove Road has been washed out since Harvey and keeps getting worse. Neither will they talk about whether conditions at Colony Ridge comply with Liberty County regulations.

  • Jay Knight, the Liberty County Judge, won’t talk.
  • Greg Arthur, Liberty County Precinct 2 Commissioner, won’t talk.
  • David Douglass, the Liberty County Engineer, won’t talk.
  • Louis Bergman, the former Liberty County Engineer, won’t talk.
  • Trey Harris, the developer of Colony Ridge, won’t talk.
  • Earnest Bailes, Liberty County’s state rep won’t talk.
  • Phil Struble, CEO of Landplan Engineering, won’t talk.

Enter Wayne Dolcefino, Investigator Extraordinaire

Wayne Dolcefino, formerly one of the country’s foremost investigative journalists and now a private investigator for the Plum Grove City Council, picked up the scent of a coverup. And he’s running it to ground…all the way to the Liberty County Courthouse and the headquarters of Landplan Engineering in Kansas. Landplan served as the engineering company for the Colony Ridge developer.

Merry Christmas from Colony Ridge. Photographed December 7, 2020. On August 11, 2015, Trey Harris, Colony Ridge Developer, told Liberty County Commissioners he “would work with the County to assure his subdivisions were ones Liberty County could be proud of.” (See top Page 5).

Simon and Garfunkle’s 1965 hit The Sounds of Silence became the theme song for Dolcefino’s latest exposé. In the 13-minute video, Dolcefino asks officials difficult questions about persistent problems that have driven off half of tiny Plum Grove’s population in the last few years.

I never get tired of watching Dolcefino wave his microphone in front of people who walk away to avoid answering questions.

From Dolcefino’s latest video on Colony Ridge. Trey Harris turns his back to Dolcefino and walks away rather than answering questions.

For those who enjoy hard-hitting investigative journalism that speaks truth to power, this is a must-view video.

When it’s all over, you’ll ask yourself the biggest question of all: “Are these officials protecting the people who elected them or each other?”

We may soon find out. I interviewed Dolcefino this afternoon. He told me that his company, Dolcefino Consulting, is filing criminal complaints against State Representative Earnest Bailes and Commissioner Greg Arthur for failure to produce records requested under the Texas Public Information Act.

Keep your eye on this one. It has the potential to affect cozy relationships between developers and officials throughout the state.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/23/2021 based on a video by Wayne Dolcefino

1333 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.

Photo Essay: How “Backslope Interceptors” Reduce Erosion, Ditch Maintenance, Flood Risk

“Backslope interceptors” help prevent erosion that can clog drainage ditches and contribute to flooding. Most people have probably seen them, but never paid much attention to them. Nor do they understand can reduce ditch maintenance costs by lengthening maintenance intervals. This photo essay shows what a difference they can make. All three counties in the Lake Houston Area require them, but Liberty County doesn’t enforce its own regulations. So the visual differences are dramatic.

What Are They? How Do They Work?

We’ve all observed water flowing through drainage ditches. But how does it get into the ditch? Broadly speaking, it can get into the ditch by a) flowing down the banks or b) through pipes. Option A increases erosion. Option B decreases it. B also reduces flood risk and the long-term cost of ditch maintenance.

What is a backslope interceptor? Imagine a small ditch (or swale) parallel to but offset from the main ditch. The swale captures runoff and overland sheet flow before it gets to the main ditch. The swale then funnels the flow into pipes that run under the banks of the main ditch. Keeping large volumes of water off those banks reduces erosion which could otherwise quickly fill the ditch with dirt and reduce its carrying capacity. If erosion reduces carrying capacity enough, water can flood nearby homes and businesses. The illustration below shows how backslope interceptors work.

Real-Life Examples

On 3/3/2021, I flew over three counties: Harris, Montgomery and Liberty. The “with/without” photos below illustrate the difference that properly constructed backslope interceptors can make. I shot the first one over the new Artavia development in southern Montgomery County. Note how the backslope interceptors let the developer establish grass on the banks of the ditch despite construction still in progress.

Ditches WITH Backslope Interceptors
Artavia ditch in Montgomery County. Note series of backslope interceptors behind the maintenance roads that flank the ditch.
Drainage ditch in Atascocita in Harris County. Again, backslope interceptors let grass establish on the sides of ditches, reducing erosion.
Wider shot along same ditch.
Ditches WITHOUT Backslope Interceptors

The rest of these examples came from Colony Ridge in Liberty County.

Lack of backslope interceptors has led to severe erosion. Runoff goes straight down the banks of ditch and into the East Fork San Jacinto.
Close up of same Colony Ridge ditch.

Role in Establishing Grass

The next two photos show the role of backslope interceptors in establishing grass. By preventing bank erosion from sheet flow, the interceptors give grass time to establish and grow, reducing erosion even more.

Ditch in Artavia, a still-developing area in Montgomery County, where developer has recently hydromulched to establish grass.
Liberty County ditch in newly developing part of Colony Ridge, also recently hydromulched. Without backslope interceptors, hydromulch has washed into bottom of ditch and will eventually wash away, leading to more severe erosion.

How Enforcing Regulations Can Reduce Costs, Flooding

Ironically, Liberty County drainage regulations updated in 2019 require developers to install backslope interceptors and plant grass on the banks of drainage ditches.

Page 100 states: “Erosion Control: All drainage facilities must be designed and maintained in a manner which minimizes the potential for damage due to erosion. No bare earthen slopes will be allowed. [Emphasis added] Various slope treatments, including turf establishment, concrete slope paving, and rip- rap, are accepted. Flow velocities should be kept below permissible values for each type of slope treatment. Interceptor structures and backslope swale systems are required [Emphasis added] to prevent sheet flows from eroding the side slopes of open channels and detention facilities.”

Unfortunately, Liberty County does not enforce its own regulations.

When the developer eventually tries to turn Colony Ridge over to Liberty County, the county will inherit as massive maintenance burden because of non-compliance with these regulations. But even before then, the developer is creating rivers of mud that reduce the conveyance of ditches, and thus contribute to flooding nearby residents in Plum Grove.

This Colony Ridge drainage ditch in Liberty County is rapidly filling in. Residents use it for joy-riding in their ATVs, which further contributes to erosion.

The sediment also contributes to dredging and water purification costs for people downstream in Harris County.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/6/2021

1285 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 534 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.

Thousands of Acres in East Fork, Luce Bayou Watersheds to be Developed as Part of Kingland

Back in 2015, HHF and Land Advisors advertised 8,673 acres of timberland for sale that bracketed the State Highway 99 extension in Montgomery, Harris and Liberty Counties. They called the property “Kingland” and billed it as one of the largest undeveloped areas left in the Houston area – perfect for a masterplanned community.

Subsequently, CH B-Kingland LLC (the owner) sold 4,394 acres in Liberty County to Colony Ridge in 2016.

Colony Ridge has already started the process of clearing and developing most of their purchase, north and east of the new Grand Parkway (SH99). But ironically, Colony Ridge’s construction practices are sending rivers of mud down the once pristine river and bayous where Kingland could itself soon start developing also.

North of Lake Houston, South of Colony Ridge, Spanning 3 Counties

Here’s a 2017 map of the 4000+ acres remaining in Kingland after the partial sale to Colony Ridge.

From 2017 sales brochure by HHF and Land Advisors. Map shows remaining parts of Kingland not sold to Colony Ridge, the area to the north.

Here’s what the property looks like from the air in January.

From near the San Jacinto East Fork looking east. SH99 bisects property. Photo January 1, 2021
Reverse angle. Looking northwest across Kingland from where SH99 turns south. You can see part of Colony Ridge in the upper right.

Development Usually Follows Concrete

TXDoT says this section of the Grand Parkway should open sometime in the spring or summer of 2022. When it does, you can expect development in this area to accelerate rapidly.

Castle Hill Partners in Austin, the company that owns CH-B Kingland LLC, did not return phone calls re: its development plans. However, since tollway construction is moving from west to east, it would make sense to develop the western portions in Montgomery and Harris Counties before moving east into Liberty County.

Kingland’s 2017 sales brochure shows that almost half of the western section lies in Montgomery County along the San Jacinto East Fork. The remainder of the western section lies within Harris County. Both portions lie partially within the City of Houston’s Extra Territorial Jurisdiction.

Western section of Kingland shows a 41.3 acre detention pond, plus seven smaller ponds. But it’s unclear whether they will lie in the floodway or floodplain.

FEMA’s National Flood Hazard Layer Viewer shows the extent of the floodway and floodplains in that area.

Crosshatched area = floodway. Aqua = 100 year floodplain. Brown = 500 year.

Wetlands pockmark the entire area, too.

I interviewed a family in that small development south of Kingland property that straddles the Harris/Liberty County Line and discovered that they flooded from the East Fork during both Harvey and Imelda. They live more than 1.5 miles from the nearest mapped floodplain. However, that could soon change when the new post-Harvey flood maps are redrawn.

Anyone downstream on the East Fork or Luce needs to keep a close eye on this one. It has the potential to further alter the hydrology of the watershed.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/11/2021

1231 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 480 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 Launches Major Investigation into Colony Ridge Irregularities

Wayne Dolcefino announced this afternoon that Liberty County Judge Jay Knight has confirmed the county will launch a major investigation into the controversial Colony Ridge Development. Dolcefino is one of the country’s leading investigative journalists.

Flooding Concerns at Heart of Investigation

The massive housing development between the San Jacinto East Fork and Luce Bayou has sparked flooding concerns for tens of thousands of families both nearby in Plum Grove and downstream as far as Lake Houston.

The probe will focus on the accuracy of soil reports and drainage plans used to justify approval of the neighborhoods.

Wayne Dolcefino

Plum Grove hired Dolcefino to fight years of neglect by county officials as floods washed out roads and damaged most of the structures in the tiny town.

The investigation comes after a widening investigation by Dolcefino Consulting and one day after publication of a post in ReduceFlooding.com titled Flooding of the Fifth Kind: By Government Neglect.

“Right before the new year, two inches of rain in Colony Ridge produced flooding. Creeks in Plum Grove were full to the brim. That’s raising alarm bells,” said Dolcefino.

Pictures of flooded lots WITHIN Colony Ridge also raised alarms. They show that water is not soaking in or running off the way it should.

Flooded lot 24 hours after a 2 inches of rain in two days. Resident keeps throwing sand into the ponds, but it’s not helping much.
A newly developing portion of Colony Ridge.
Another newly developing portion of Colony Ridge. Much of the area has been carved out of wetlands. See USGS map below.
Note water surrounding the house.
New lot next to drainage ditch won’t even drain.
When water won’t soak in, people suffer.

Soil Types Are Key Issue

There is evidence to suggest that LandPlan Engineering mischaracterized the type of soil in its drainage plans for Colony Ridge. Their calculations assumed the soil had a high rate of infiltration when it actually had a low rate.

So instead of water soaking into the ground, it runs off. The presence of so many wetlands in Colony Ridge before development should have been a tipoff.

Most of the wetlands in Colony Ridge before development are gone now, but the problems remain. This USGS map shows where they were. Some areas just should not be developed.

By misrepresenting soil types, LandPlan Engineering understated the amount of detention and drainage capacity needed by 6X to 9X, according to TXDoT guidelines.

Had LandPlan properly represented the soil, Colony Ridge would have had to put in more detention ponds and widen ditches to prevent flooding. But that would have been costly for the developer.

Harris County Flood Control officials worry the drainage problems in Colony Ridge increase flood risk in Harris County. So do downstream residents. I talked to one in Harris County today who has flooded repeatedly since Colony Ridge started clearing land. She is disabled and can’t afford to move. Neither can she afford to stay.

Missing Reports Another Part of Investigation

Liberty County also admits that many of the drainage analysis reports – required by county ordinance – are missing. The county made the admission after Dolcefino Consulting filed formal requests to see the records used by former Liberty County engineer Louis Bergman to recommend approval of the large development.

Liberty County Attorney Matthew Poston confirmed to Dolcefino that 19 missing reports will be part of the investigation.

Hopefully, the investigation will also explain why virtually all the surviving reports are labeled “preliminary.” The county could not supply ReduceFlooding.com with any documents showing changes to or final approvals of the plans.

“We want to see what Bergman signed, and if the investigation proves claims about the soil are untrue that could be a big problem,” Dolcefino said. The former county engineer has refused comment.

His daughter is the new District Attorney for Liberty County. One can only hope that she recuses herself from any part of this investigation.

If damning evidence exists in reports the county DID supply, one can only imagine what’s in those the County can’t or won’t produce.

How the Other Half Lives

Colony Ridge developers “owner financed” many of the lots in the sprawling neighborhood, in part, because many residents do not have driver’s licenses and Social Security numbers. Nearly 97 percent of the foreclosures in Liberty County last year came from Colony Ridge.

Said Dolcefino, “This is the first step in holding Liberty County officials accountable before another neighborhood is approved. We need to know why these documents are missing, and we are going to get to the bottom of this one way or the other.” I second that.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/4/2020 based in part on information from Wayne Dolcefino

1224 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.

Flooding of the Fifth Kind: By Government Neglect

The National Weather Service distinguishes between four major types of flooding: coastal, riverine, street and sheet flow. After flying over Colony Ridge on New Year’s Day, I would add a fifth: flooding by government neglect.

Despite dire predictions for the New Year’s Eve storm, the Plum Grove/Colony Ridge area in Liberty County only got about two inches of rain. Yet I saw hundreds of flooded lots. They were all in a development that:

Those residents also live in a county that:

Worst of all, when residents asked for help from their elected Liberty County officials, those officials berated and rebuffed them. They refused even to acknowledge problems in Colony Ridge.

Where It Starts

Irregularities that most banks would catch as part of a title search and survey during the mortgage application process never get caught here.

That’s because the developer targets a vulnerable population more likely to use Western Union money orders than banks. He offers them owner financing with low down payments and interest rates five times higher than the market.

These un-savvy buyers are so desperate to own a piece of the American dream that they wind up mired in one nightmare after another. Many speak English as a second language if they speak it at all.

A Two-Inch Rain

Trade those SVUs in for swamp buggies. Here’s what much of the development looked like 24 hours after two inches of rain fell on New Year’s Eve.

Note how the drainage stops in the middle foreground. Also note how it’s not infiltrating like the engineers said it would.
Close up of home in first shot. At least the home didn’t flood although the four-wheeler and dining area did.
Even if an owner builds up one part of his/her lot, it can flood another.
Lot after lot flooded. Water would not sink in. The soils have a low rate of infiltration, not the high rate promised by LandPlan Engineering.
Totally flooded lot. Note how drainage stops to left of driveway.
Do-it-yourself repairs. But are they up to code?
Former wetlands?

Targeting the Vulnerable

Most of these people never complain. The areas in Mexico and Central America where many came from may have conditions far worse. So what you see here may be an improvement for them.

Still, one can’t wonder whether – in its zeal to grow – Liberty County has turned a blind eye to conditions that violate its own regulations as well as human dignity.

Are they turning the county into another Tegucigalpa for their developer buddy? And in doing so, are commissioners mortgaging the county’s future?

Conditions such as these will take generations to improve. In the meantime, the County’s residents are in for decades of pain due to government neglect. Not just in Colony Ridge, but in neighboring communities such as Plum Grove and others farther downstream.

This developer has permanently altered the hydrology of the watershed in a way that increases flood risk for everyone.

And the county has lowered its standards in a way that will likely discourage investment from quality developers.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/3/2021

1223 Days after Hurricane Harvey and 472 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.

Guess Which Way to Colony Ridge

This is the confluence of Caney Creek (left) and the San Jacinto East Fork (right) one day after a New Year’s Eve storm dumped two inches of rain on the area, including Plum Grove and Colony Ridge. The rain turned Colony Ridge, to the right, into a river of mud again.

Looking north at the confluence of Caney Creek and the San Jacinto East Fork (right). The sediment coming from Colony Ridge is a man-made disaster in the making. Photo taken 1/1/2021.

Where the Pollution Came From

Picture courtesy of Michael Shrader, Plum Grove Resident, of Maple Branch near his home on 12/31/2020 as rains ended. Colony Ridge drainage ditch in Camino Real subdivision enters into Maple Branch and then into East Fork.
Colony Ridge Drainage Ditch. Photo taken 1/1/2021. Note lack of sediment controls such as grass, backslope interceptor swales, and silt fences. TCEQ has previously cited the development for piling dirt next to ditches like this and for lack of sediment controls, but has done nothing about it.
See caption above.
And note how the piles of dirt on the left have almost completely eroded away. Photo 1/1/2021.

How Long?

TCEQ continues to be a toothless tiger. Liberty County Commissioners Court sees no problem and refuses to look at the evidence. The developer saves the money. Downstream residents continue to pay the price. Business as usual.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/2/2021 with thanks to Michael Schrader

1222 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 471 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.

“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.