Tag Archive for: MoCo

New MoCo Commissioner Matt Gray Discusses Development, Drainage Plans with Kingwood Group

New Montgomery County Precinct 4 Commissioner Matt Gray addressed a breakfast meeting of the Kingwood Executive Group today. Gray, who comes from the oil-and-gas industry, has a background in managing large maintenance/construction projects. Just six months into his new job, he has wasted no time in applying that expertise to Montgomery County.

The no-nonsense, get-it-done commissioner emphasized both service to constituents and action.

Balancing Development and Drainage

EPA research suggests that highly urbanized areas can increase stormwater runoff by 45% while reducing infiltration by 50%. And Matt Gray’s precinct is rapidly becoming urbanized. He began his talk with some alarming statistics about growth in his Precinct 4 which borders the Lake Houston Area.

Entergy, a worldwide power provider which also services Montgomery County, says the average growth rate for its network is 1.7%. But during the last three years, MoCo Precinct 4 has had an average growth rate between 5% and 7%.

Montgomery County Precinct 4 Commissioner Matt Gray addresses Kingwood Executive Group
Matt Gray addressing Kingwood Executive Group on 7/12/23.

Entergy claims they have installed more meters in Precinct 4 than they have in the states of Mississippi and Arkansas combined.

Matt Gray, MoCo Precinct 4 Commissioner

All that development is happening upstream from the Lake Houston Area. Moreover, the rest of Montgomery County drains through Precinct 4. So, simultaneously managing growth and drainage have become two of Matt Gray’s key concerns.

Gray talked about working with engineers revising/updating the Montgomery County drainage criteria manual and subdivision rules. He affirmed the need for stormwater detention requirements that will protect not only his own residents but those downstream as well.

Another huge issue: siltation that affects both roadside ditches and local streams. Gray has mobilized crews to make sure water can drain efficiently.

Since assuming office in January, Gray has launched an aggressive effort to clear ditches of accumulated sediment.

Road Improvements, Evacuation Routes

Mindful that many people in both Harris and Montgomery Counties use his roads as evacuation routes, Gray also addressed at length road improvement projects in southeast Montgomery County.

He’s focusing on arterial improvements.

  • Crews are already widening Ford Road.
  • He’s working with TxDoT to improve access between Highway 99 and other major arteries.
  • Northpark Drive widening and the construction of a Loop 494/Railroad overpass should begin any day now.

Such projects will improve key evacuation routes during storms as well as the everyday quality of life for residents and commerce for business owners.

Other Priorities, Wish List

Gray’s other priorities include:

  • Cleanup and beautification
  • Repaving/restriping roads
  • Improving park maintenance
  • Mosquito control
  • Construction of a recycling center which would include the handling of old appliances

This presentation catalogs Gray’s impressive list of accomplishments during his first six months as well as his wish list for the future.

Gray in the tan blazer, front row, surrounded by members of the Kingwood Executive Group.

Importance of Working Together

An interesting side note that underscores the importance of working across the county line! The meeting room this morning flooded to the top of the photo above. It cost the Kingwood Country Club more than $50 million to renovate the facility after Harvey. The renovation took almost exactly two years.

The club was just one of 3,300 businesses in the Lake Houston Area that flooded in that storm, which also damaged 16,000 homes.

I’ve written several stories recently about cut-throat politicians pursuing self-interest. So, it’s refreshing to see someone in Gray’s position, willing to work across jurisdictional boundaries for the benefit of all. Good luck, Matt Gray.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/12/2023

2173 Days since Hurricane Harvey

MoCo Updating Drainage Criteria Manual, Subdivision Rules

Montgomery County (MoCo) Commissioners voted on 8/23/22 to update the County’s Drainage Criteria Manual and its Subdivision Rules and Regulations. Precinct 2 Commissioner Charlie Riley made the motion (item 16.C on the 8/23/22 Commissioners Court agenda).

Montgomery County Commissioners Court discusses new drainage and subdivision manuals in 8/23/22 meeting.

See the discussion in the MoCo Commissioner’s Court video. Select Item 16. The discussion starts at 3:12.

The previous Drainage Criteria Manual posted on the MoCo Engineer’s site is dated 1989, but appears to have some minor updates from 2019. The Subdivision Rules and Regulations for new developments date even further back, to 1984, although they too had new amendments and addenda incorporated in July, 2021.

MoCo hired Halff Associates to do the updating. Their fee: $302,000.

Welcome News

This is welcome news for people in northern Harris County. Drainage and engineering standards in MoCo have lagged those in Harris. That has created adverse downstream impacts even though developers may technically meet MoCo requirements. But the lower standards enable them to claim “no adverse impacts” when, in fact, there may sometimes be some.

Changes Could Reduce Flooding in MoCo and Harris Counties

Since Harvey, the Harris County Engineering Department and Flood Control District have worked to get surrounding counties to adopt five minimum drainage standards. They include:

Scope of Content Updates

The Scope of Work approved by MoCo Commissions last week shows that Halff will examine most, if not all, of these issues and more. The effort will evaluate and potentially update, at a minimum:

  • Hydrologic methodology (this includes hydrographic timing but is broader)
  • Detention sizing and outfall design
  • Open channel design frequency and requirements
  • Floodplain analysis.

Process for Updates

The scope of work also defines the process that Halff will follow. It includes:

  • Coordination with County engineering staff
  • Evaluation of existing manuals
  • Identifying dated criteria/information
  • Comparisons with neighboring counties practices (see below)
  • Revisions
  • Development of the new documentation
  • Stakeholder review and reporting
  • Presentation to Commissioners Court
  • Reporting approved changes to adjacent counties.

Work should take about a year.

Comparison with Regs in Other Entities

For the drainage Criteria Manual, Halff will compare criteria from TxDOT, Harris County, HCFCD, Waller County, Fort Bend County, and Brazoria County.

Halff will compare MoCo’s Subdivision Rules and Regulations to those in Harris, Waller, Fort Bend, and Walker Counties.

This is more good news for those in northern Harris County.

About Halff Associates

A source in the engineering community characterized Halff as a good company. He said, “The Montgomery County manual is in good hands….as long as they let Halff do the right things.”

Halff will work with the MoCo Engineer Jeff Johnson on the updates.

Subdivision Rules and Regulations

Neither the Scope of Work, nor Commissioners discussed specific recommendations for updates to Subdivision Rules and Regulations. But Commissioners did request an opportunity to discuss and review updates on both manuals before they came back to Commissioners Court for final approval.

Immediate Impact

One former MoCo employee said, “There is still the hurdle of the court adopting the updated standards. Expect a rush of drainage studies to be submitted in the next year so they can be grandfathered in.”

We saw this in the City of Houston (CoH), for instance, with the Laurel Springs RV Resort. The detention pond in that development is half the size required by new standards. CoH permitted it one day before the new standards went into effect.

Related News: MoCo Floodplain Administrator Office

At about 40 seconds into the video for Items 17 and 18 on the agenda, the Commissioners approved a motion to have Precinct 2 Commissioner Charlie Riley oversee MoCo’s Office of the Floodplain Administrator. Reasons for the change were not clear. Discussion happened in Executive Session.

All we have to go by is the outcome. And the outcome shows that MoCo is bringing the Office of the Floodplain Administrator – for the whole county – under the direct, political control of one precinct commissioner. Interesting.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/28/2022

1825 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.

Why You Build Detention Ponds First

A best practice in the construction industry is to build detention ponds before you clear all the land. In Elm Grove and North Kingwood Forest, we saw what can happen when you don’t. Contractors cleared 277-acres before installing sufficient detention pond capacity. The result: hundreds of homes flooded needlessly. Twice. And silt poured into Taylor Gully which had to be excavated at public expense.

Staging Construction, Temporary Seeding, Mulching Not Used to Reduce Sedimentation

Harris County Stormwater Quality Management Regulations discourage clearcutting large sites all at once. See section, Stormwater Pollution Prevention (SWPPP) During Construction. The text states, “The clearing, grubbing and scalping (mass clearing or grading) of excessively large areas of land at one time promotes erosion and sedimentation problems. On the areas where disturbance takes place the site designer should consider staging construction [emphasis added], temporary seeding and/or temporary mulching as a technique to reduce erosion. Staging construction involves stabilizing one part of the site before disturbing another [emphasis added].“

But those rules don’t apply in Montgomery County. So you often see developers trying to build detention ponds as they build (or even after they build) the rest of the site.

Case in Point: Preserve at Woodridge

Such is the case at the Preserve at Woodridge…which promises “resort-style amenities.”

Preserve at Woodridge on 5/22/22. Eighty-five of 131 rental homes now under construction. That’s two thirdsbefore the detention pond is built.

Plans show that more houses will go in on the right.

Meanwhile, compare the detention ponds below. One is a white, chalky mess with dirt still piled around the edges. The other: pretty clean. Of course, residents pay to keep it that way.

Preserve at Woodridge is in bottom left and Woodridge Forest is in upper part of frame. Notice the difference in the water color in the detention ponds.
Contractors have excavated additional dirt from the detention pond (mounded around edges and at left) to bring in clay to form a liner.

The sad part of this: downstream residents will pay the price. And because this is another development just north of the county line, that will be Kingwood. The last time, the developer pumped stormwater into the drainage ditch, the silt traveled miles down Ben’s Branch.

Why Bring In Clay?

I asked an expert in floodwater detention basin construction, why the developer would bring in clay? The answer: “To create a wet-bottom pond.” Developers sell those as residential amenities. I applaud that. But my point is this. Had they completed the detention pond first, it could have been growing grass to reduce sedimentation while they developed the rest of the property. That approach seemed to work well at the New Caney High School ISD West Fork High School.

The detention pond at the New Caney West Fork High School had already been mowed when they began pouring concrete. Photo from March 2021.

Lest you think I’m a MoCo basher, let me point out this. The detention pond above is also in MoCo.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/24/22

1729 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.

Northpark Drainage Ditch: Got ‘Er Done This Time!

This morning, I posted about what appeared to be a premature victory lap on the repair of the Northpark Drive drainage ditch with a plea to Git ‘Er Done. Well, this afternoon, Montgomery County Precinct 4 Commissioner James Metts and his drainage supervisor Mike McKay Got ‘Er Done.

Barely Enough Time to Take Photos

They must have had their ears close to the ground. By noon, I got a call from McKay. Within another hour, he had inspected the ditch and agreed it was a mess. Then by 2PM, he had trucks and backhoes onsite. And by 4PM, they were packing up and hauling away the last piles of dirt left in the ditch from last weekend’s repair effort.

It all happened so fast, I barely had time to get there to take photos. And it all happened before rush hour!

Photo submitted by reader of work on Thursday afternoon, 2/17/22. Backhoe scoops up dirt left behind that was in danger of slumping back into ditch during a heavy rain.
Traffic was slightly backed up, but it kept moving. It took about five minutes to get from 494 to the car wash at Russell-Palmer Road.
By the time I got my drone up, the last of the dirt was excavated
…and drivers were hauling it away.

He said they hauled more than 30 truckloads of dirt out of Northpark on Saturday night and Sunday morning before knocking off at around 2AM. The temp had dropped below freezing at that point.

Regular Maintenance Key to Reducing Flooding

McKay apologized for not returning my call earlier this week. He said he had a dental emergency that kept him out of the office until today.

Having worked near this area for more than 20 years, I watched Northpark go underwater with regularity – on average at least once or twice a year. Scary for an evacuation route!

I hope MoCo can improve the maintenance intervals on this ditch. Northpark and the areas around it have seen tremendous growth in recent years.

My thanks to Commissioner Metts and Mr. McKay for the heavy lifting on this one. And especially for their fast response! They got ‘er done this time!

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/17/22

1533 Days since Hurricane Harvey

MoCo Couple That Flooded 13 Times in 11 Years Finally Gets a Buyout

I first interviewed Tammy Gunnels and her husband Ronnie almost three years ago. They had flooded ten times at that point even though they weren’t in a flood zone. The Gunnels are devout people and prayed for a buyout. Friday, their prayers were answered. Here is the story of how their faith and persistence paid off in the long run. This interview also included Morgan Lumbley, the Disaster Recovery Manager for Montgomery County who guided the Gunnels through the application process. Ironically, the skies unleashed torrential rains just before the closing. But this time, everyone was smiling instead of worrying.

Ronnie Gunnels (left), Morgan Lumbley (middle), Tammy Gunnels (right) at Chicago Title in Montgomery for closing.

Early Frustration

Bob: You flooded 13 times in 11 years. Tell me how you finally got the buyout offer. 

Tammy: After Harvey, one of my cleaning clients who’s an attorney vowed to find a way to get us a buyout. She put me in touch with the Office of Emergency Management for Montgomery County. Initially, they told me there were no open programs available.

Tammy: That was in 2017. Then in May of 2019, we flooded twice – on May 3rd and again on May 7th. Once more, I contacted their office and went to commissioners meetings, begging for a buyout. But nothing happened. After we flooded a third time that year during Imelda, I called their office just to scream and holler and cry into the phone. But this time, Morgan answered. I told her our story and by the end of the conversation, she was crying and promising that she was going to do everything she could.

Patience Finally Pays Off

Bob: And she wrote a beautiful note.

Tammy: She put it on her computer where it stayed until today. It says, “No one before Miss Tammy. Number one priority.” Later, she called back and said, “Look, I’ve found a couple programs. Which do you want to go with?” I said, “I don’t care. The quickest. Just get us out of this house.” 

When Morgan Lumbley came to the Gunnels’ closing today, she brought the note she wrote during her first phone call with them.

Initially, we thought the buyout was going to be done in early 2020. But it kept dragging out. Red tape. Then COVID hit. That changed everything. I would email Morgan nights, weekends, whenever it rained, asking “When?” But never once did she get irritated or say, “I’m doing the best I can.” 

All throughout biblical scripture, it says we do not understand His ways or His timing or His plans. If we had been bought out before now, no way would we have gotten the offer we got. 

We got full current market value. We hoped the county would pay off the mortgage, which was about $60,000 but FEMA covered full market value…$250,000.

Bob: How did you find these programs, Morgan?

FEMA’s Flood Mitigation Assistance Program

Morgan: There are a couple funding programs for buyouts. The one we got the Gunnels in is FEMA’s Flood Mitigation Assistance Program. It is a “cycle funding” opportunity – available every year. But it’s a competitive grant. So, we have to fill out an application that names the homes you want to buy out – and their values – on the front end. The county collected data for “severe repetitive loss” homes. And when we won the grant, those were the people who got offers.

But buyouts are probably the slowest of all the mitigation processes. So, sometimes  people drop out before deals close. And when they do, that opens up room for others. 

Bob: Is that how Tammy and Ronnie got in?

Morgan: Yes. Tammy and Ronnie could also have qualified through a HUD program, but we focused on FEMA’s, because they had a current National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) policy. It was also based on their flood losses. They were considered a “severe repetitive loss.”

Active Flood Insurance Key to Buyout

Not counting our own personal funds, NFIP spent three quarters of a million on that property. They could have bought us out five times. 

Tammy Gunnels

Tammy: People said we should just walk away. But we literally had no place to go. When you flood, yeah, you get insurance. But the lien holder on your home gets the money. The lien holder releases it in increments so that you make the repairs. And they inspect the repairs before releasing the next payment. There IS no walking away. Most people don’t understand that. You don’t have money to go anywhere.

We had already drained Ronnie’s 401K and every bit of savings we had. We’re at the age that we’re supposed to be looking forward to retirement. But we don’t. I have nothing left from my kids from when they were growing up. The childhood memories – all those silly little pictures they make for you in birthday cards – I have none of that left. The floods took everything. This has aged us physically and mentally by years.

Ronnie and Tammy as they sign the last of the closing papers.

Ronnie: When we first got insurance, it was fairly cheap and then once we flooded, it skyrocketed. We were just going to handle the losses ourselves. But our neighbor said, “If you’re not insured, you can’t be on any buyout list. That woke us up. We said, “We’ve got to get back on insurance.”

The 13th Time is the Charm

Bob: So Morgan, put this in perspective for me. Flooding 13 times. Where does that rank?

Morgan: 13 is a lot.

Bob: Is it a record?

Morgan: Of those that have come across my desk, it definitely is! Five or six is pretty common, maybe even seven. But 13 is a lot. I think that’s what got me the most. To hear that someone has flooded that many times! 

Tammy: Morgan says she’s the low person on the totem pole, but she’s on a throne in my heart forever.

Home Will Be Demolished and Lot Turned to Green Space

Bob: What will Montgomery County do with the home you just bought?

Morgan: Demolish it. The land will be regraded and then it becomes green space to restore the natural flood function. Nothing else. Another residential structure cannot be built on that land. 

“I just want to be a normal person again!”

Bob: Tammy, where do you go with your life from here? 

Tammy: I don’t think we’ve even thought about it. For the last 13 years, we haven’t been able to plan anything.

Ronnie: We’re just hoping we don’t freak out every time it rains.

Tammy: I just want to go to sleep at night without pacing the floor, wondering when the next flood will hit, and whether the water will come in through the front door, the back door or the patio. I just want to be a normal person again.

Advice for Home Buyers: Research, Ask Right Questions

Bob: What advice would you give people looking for a home to buy?

Morgan: Research! Research is the biggest thing. Diligent research. Too many people take information at face value. They look at the seller’s disclosure. And it asks, “Has the home flooded?” But it doesn’t say when. And it doesn’t say how many times. And no one has to tell you that. Also, the damage amount is not indicated anywhere. And no one has to disclose that either.

If you’re looking at a house, go over to the neighbors. Knock on doors and ask, “Did you flood? Do you know if that house flooded? How high did the water get in your yard? Those are questions that you want to ask.

Ronnie: I’m guilty. I didn’t ask the right questions.

Morgan: A lot of people, when they go looking for their forever home, they’re looking at granite countertops. Is the backyard big enough for the kids? But the questions they really need to ask are, “Am I near a flood plain? Has this house been flooded? How many times? How high? Those kinds of things.”

Tammy: She is exactly right. EXACTLY.

Posted by Bob Rehak on October 1, 2021, based on an interview with Tammy and Ronnie Gunnels, and Morgan Lumbley

1494 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Two New MoCo Developments Will Total Almost 3,400 Acres, Have No Detention Ponds

Two new developments in Montgomery County, Audubon in Magnolia and Country Colony in Porter, will have no detention ponds. The two developments total almost 3,400 acres. During heavy rainfalls, they will dump their floodwater directly into local streams.

How Do They Get Away With That?

Sixteen months ago, on the second anniversary of Harvey, Montgomery County commissioners voted to leave open a loophole that lets developers avoid detention pond requirements. They said they would revisit the issue after the San Jacinto River Basin Study was completed. Even though partners shared study results with the public last August, MoCo commissioners have still not revisited the loophole called a “flood routing study,” also known as hydrograph timing.

The commissioners expressed concern in their 2019 meeting about placing economic hardships on developers. Residents complained about the economic hardships caused by flooding. The developers won.

Theory and Problems with Flood Routing Studies

The idea behind flood routing is simple. If you can show you can get your floodwater to the river faster than a flood’s peak arrives, theoretically, you’re not adding to the peak. Therefore, theoretically, you’re not making flooding worse.

However, engineers and hydrologists point out several flaws with this “beat the peak” theory.

  • Flood-routing studies don’t consider the cumulative effects of other developments.
  • They are almost always based on outdated hydrologic models.
  • They assume “ideal” storm conditions.

“If you start with a brand new hydrologic model,” said one county engineer, “the modeling a developer does could theoretically be accurate. But his/her runoff changes the model. That runoff rarely gets incorporated into the model that the next developer uses.” 

And, of course, if everybody rushes floodwater to a river during a flood, that’s the exact opposite of what you want. Holding water back in detention and retention ponds is the best way to reduce flooding.

The two new developments in MoCo exploit this routing-study loophole to avoid the cost of building detention ponds.

Audubon in Magnolia

The first, called Audubon Magnolia will contain 5,000 homes at buildout. It occupies 3,300 acres that drain into Mill Creek, Spring Creek and then the West Fork San Jacinto.

Here is the entire 186-page Drainage Impact Analysis for section one. It also shows project plans and location.

From Audubon’s drainage impact analysis. Note school being placed at edge of floodplain…before new floodplain maps are redrawn based on Atlas-14.

Section 3.1 of the Impact Analysis includes a description of the flood routing study and concludes, “Therefore, the increased flows are able to exit into Mill Creek before the flow from the bulk of the upper drainage basin arrives at the mouth of the stream.”

Correspondence with Montgomery County officials at the front of the document shows their concerns: use of pre-Atlas 14 data; impact on wetlands; building in floodplain; roughness co-efficients used to model speed of water over various terrains; and impact on water surface elevations.

Clearly, the floodplain administrator had major concerns about use of pre-Atlas 14 rainfall data. However, the developer was grandfathered based on the date of the original permit application.

Montgomery County’s new Atlas 14 standards increased the total for a 24-hour, hundred-year rain by 4 inches. The Flood Plain administrator encouraged the developer to model the higher rainfall totals and build to higher elevations. Why? To ensure the likelihood of compliance for those homes in the future.

These documents, dated 2019, are the latest available from Montgomery County. The county engineer’s office indicated that no detention ponds are being planned by the developer or demanded by the County.

Country Colony in Porter

The second development, Country Colony, lies just north of the Harris County/Montgomery County line at the end of West Lake Houston Parkway. Country Colony occupies approximately 80 acres immediately west of the Triple PG sand mine.

Note county line at southern edge of development. Also note how some of the lots are actually in the floodplain of White Oak Creek.
Country Colony. Taken December 7, 2020, looking east toward Triple PG Sand Mine in background.

No detention ponds here either! A big heads up to the people downstream in Walden Woods, Woodstream Forest and beyond.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/12/2020

1201 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.

MoCo Will Vote Tomorrow on Whether to Sue New Sand Mine in Carriage Hills

Montgomery County commissioners will vote Tuesday whether to sue a new sand mine on the west side of the San Jacinto West Fork. The mine is in a Conroe development called Carriage Hills.

Agenda Item and Text of Motion by County Attorney

Agenda Item

This link contains the full text of the motion that commissioners will vote on. Because this item is on the consent agenda, we won’t hear debate on it.

Page 1 of the document above says that, “… it appears that MBM Sand Company, LLC and Carl Hudspeth, individually and doing business as Skilled International, LLC have violated, is violating, or is threatening to violate Subchapter I of Chapter 16 of the Tex. Water Code, or one or more rules adopted by Montgomery County under said subchapter and has failed and refused to cease and desist as demanded by the Montgomery County Engineer and/or the Montgomery County Attorney.”

The county seeks both injunctive relief to remove illegal improvements and restore preexisting conditions. The county also seeks monetary fines totaling $100 for each act of violation and each day of violation.

Potential Permit Issues

The mine operator, named Skilled International, LLC.,  has aggregate and air quality permits from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). The property owner, MBM Sand Company, LLC, has a non-transferrable development permit issued in 2018 to excavate sand pit(s). Skilled International was founded in February 2019 as Cen-Tex Sand, but changed its name to Skilled International two weeks later. The transfer could be one potential issue.

It’s not immediately clear whether the MBM excavation permit allows Skilled to excavate.

No Specific Alleged Violations Listed

However, the motion does not spell out exactly what the violations are.

Subchapter I of Chapter 16 of the Texas Water Code deals with the regulations protecting public health and safety that the County must develop and enforce to participate in the National Flood Insurance Program. They include Montgomery County Flood Plain Management Regulations intended to discourage or otherwise restrict land development or occupancy in flood-prone areas.

The complaint, however, does not enumerate specific alleged violations.

Depending on alleged violations, the outcome of this could set a precedent for other sand mines operating on the West Fork.

Homeowners Have Additional Complaints

The mine also faces problems from local homeowners.

The mine is operating adjacent to a once-quiet neighborhood called Carriage Hills in Conroe. It is sending heavy trucks weighed down with sand up and down Carriage Hills Boulevard. Residents say the noise exceeds 85 decibels, the trucks have torn up roads, and they fear for their children’s safety.

OSHA says prolonged exposure to sounds exceeding 85 decibels could cause hearing loss without protection. Such exposures could result in huge fines.

The trucks, as many as 12 at a time, begin idling outside the plant gate at 6:30 a.m. and run up and down Carriage Hills Boulevard hundreds of times a day – by one count 600 times.

Residents are also exploring the Texas Nuisance Law. In 2016, the Supreme Court of Texas defined this more clearly in the case of Crosstex North Texas Pipeline L.P. v. Gardiner.  A nuisance is defined as “condition that substantially interferes with the use and enjoyment of land by causing unreasonable discomfort or annoyance to persons of ordinary sensibilities attempting to use and enjoy it.”  

They believe 600 dump trucks a day at intervals of 2 minutes or less, starting at 6:30 a.m. “substantially interferes” with their ability to enjoy their land and that it causes “unreasonable discomfort or annoyance.”

The operation will not end anytime soon without a restraining order. The company is just now removing the overburden, trying to get to frack sand.

Only Restraining Order Will Stop Operation Now

Homeowners believe the operation will likely devalue their properties.

They also worry about the safety risk to children given the high volume of industrial vehicles with tons of payload traveling at speeds that make them unable to stop to stop quickly on residential streets.

Residents Ask You to Sign Petition

To sign a petition supporting the residents of Carriage Hills, visit this link at Change.org.

Some of the residents plan to present the petition to commissioners tomorrow.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/23/2020

938 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.

The MoCo/LJA Way: Build First; Work Out Drainage Details Later

LJA Engineers submitted a master drainage plan for the 2,200 acre Artavia development that Montgomery County approved. It has no detention ponds. And the drainage channels currently do not connect to the San Jacinto river. Even though LJA said they would connect to the river, the plans do not specify how, when or where. As you will see below.

Dead-end drainage. Currently, the Artavia drainage channel stops just short of the Liberty Materials Moorehead mine in the background. The San Jacinto River lies beyond the mine. This and all other aerial photos below were all taken March 6, 2020.

A Sand Mine Is Not the San Jacinto

The plans DO show the channel terminating in a sand mine between Artavia and the river. A spokesman for the sand mine said the developer is still trying to work out environmental and easement issues.

Aerial photos show the main channel stops about a 100+ yards short of LMI’s shipment facility. Meanwhile, during heavy rains, the dead-end drainage overflows onto surrounding properties. A spokesman for the mine claimed that the overflow flooded the mine last year and caused the dikes to break. He alleged that was the proximate cause for 56 million gallons of white sediment-laden water entering the West Fork.

Exhibit 2 of Artavia Drainage Impact Analysis from 9/20/2018 shows the project outfall in the middle of the LMI sandpit that borders Moorehead Road and the San Jacinto West Fork in Montgomery County.

The project manager for LJA did not return calls to explain their position on the dead-end drainage. And when asked for an explanation, the new Montgomery County Engineer (not the one who signed these plans) only referred me back to LJA.

Below are the drainage plans for Artavia, obtained by a Freedom of Information Act request to Montgomery County.

Several things have jumped out at me so far. LJA has not yet returned phone calls, so to me they remain…

Unaddressed Issues

Elevation Change Accelerates Flow

Elevation drops suddenly as you get near the river – 12 feet. That accelerates water flow and threatens the sand mine. As you can see above and below, the channel is like a firehose aimed at the mine. That mine has enough problems of its own. In the past, dike breaches have affected Lake Houston water quality; we don’t need more of that. The mine blames the breaches on water overflowing from the Artavia ditch.

Note how the water in this short section of Artavia’s drainage ditch does not even pond at one end and reaches halfway up the banks at the other. That shows the slope. The SJR West Fork is between the two sections of the mine in background.
Flow Rates Understated

LJA calculations appear to understate the volume and velocity of flow. They use a Manning’s coefficient of .035, a value associated with pasture/farmland or channels filled with stones and cobbles. The coefficient recommended for smooth channels is 0.022. The difference creates a 63% increase in velocity and a 60% increase in volume of flow. See for yourself. With no real way yet for the water to get to the river or under FM1314, that will cause water to pile up much faster.

Not too many cobbles and boulders in this channel. All sand and silt which is already blocking culverts.

LJA also uses pre-Atlas rainfall statistics in their calculations of 10-, 25- and 100-year peak flows. The new Montgomery County standard is 16.1 inches in 24 hours compared to the 12.17 that LJA used for the 24 hour, 100-year flood.

Did LJA use “good engineering practices” and model Atlas 14 to ensure that it actually contained the 100-yr, 24-hr storm? There’s an ethical issue here. Did they put public safety first? We don’t know because they didn’t say so in any of their documents.

No Mention of Wetlands

LJA never mentions wetlands in their analysis. However, the National Wetlands Inventory shows wetlands on Artavia property and other property Artavia drains through.

Wetlands on Artavia Property or property Artavia drainage would likely have to go through.
Threat to Pipeline

A pipeline crosses the Liberty Materials mine. High velocity flow through the mine could undermine and threaten that pipeline like it did at another Liberty mine and at the Triple PG mine on the East Fork.

Green line shows path of pipeline across across Liberty Materials Mine. White line shows current path of drainage ditch.
No Outlet

There’s no explanation for how Artavia will get water through the pit at the end of their ditch. They can not store Artavia’s runoff in the pit. Their pit is already filled to the brim with highly silty, turbid water. Another unauthorized discharge could affect water quality in Lake Houston...again!

Level of water in the pit that Artavia’s ditch would have to drain through. Pit is already overflowing. West Fork is in background. TCEQ measured suspended solids in pit’s water at 25X higher than river.
Threat to Mine

A representative for the mine owner says the mine owner doesn’t want more water in the pit. They can’t afford the cost from environmental or business perspectives. With the COVID-19 threat, construction activity is way down. So margins are slim. And they can’t afford to have water fill their deep pit where they dry mine.

“No Adverse Impact”

LJA claims the project will have no adverse impact on downstream properties. But it already has. Properties along Greenbaugh and in Oak Tree have flooded since Artavia started clearing land and filling in wetlands.

Oak Tree detention pond (behind camera) used to overflow into wetlands. Then Artavia started clearing and filling. Now water backs up into the 40+ homes in the small subdivision.

The Liberty Materials mine also alleges it was flooded by Artavia’s overflow, resulting in the discharge of 56 million gallons of silty water into the West Fork.

The day the West Fork turned white. TCEQ blamed LMI. LMI blamed Artavia.
Who Pays to Get Water Under FM1314?

LJA can only convey 68 cfs under FM1314. Meanwhile, TxDoT has not yet finished the design for a bridge. They hope to start bidding the job by the Fall of this year. Residents, not the developer, will pay for the improvement through the local municipal utility district.

Artavia ditch on north side of FM1314
Where water exits on the downstream side of FM1314
Channel downstream/south of FM1314.

LJA claims “The culvert crossings were designed to have capacity to convey 100-year storm events.” But they certainly aren’t doing that now.

Diverting Water From East to West Fork

The developer appears to be diverting water from the East Fork watershed to the West Fork watershed. See Section 1.4 and Exhibit One.

It would be harder to “beat the peak” to the East Fork. It’s 12 times farther away; water would take much longer to get there. So the diversion appears to be an attempt to avoid building detention ponds. But the diversion adds to flood volume in heavily populated West Fork areas where far more homes flooded during Hurricane Harvey.

Will LJA Figure It Out In Time?

For the sake of adjacent residents and businesses, let’s hope they figure these loose ends out before the next flood.

We heard of many of the same problems and promises on the Perry Homes Woodridge Village project north of Kingwood that LJA also engineered. Hundreds of homes flooded there twice last year.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/20/2020

934 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.

MoCo Commissioners to Consider Resolution Opposing Lowering of Lake Conroe; Interferes with Recreation

Tuesday, January 14, Montgomery County Commissioners will consider a resolution to OPPOSE the continued seasonal lowering of Lake Conroe. The lowering provides a buffer against flooding for people on Lake Conroe, Lake Houston and communities between them during the rainiest period in the spring and the peak of hurricane season. It was designed primarily to help flood victims downstream of Lake Conroe until flood mitigation measures could be put in place.

But the lowering also represents an inconvenience for boaters on Lake Conroe. Further, they claim it potentially harms their home values. See the text of Precinct One Commissioner Mike Meador’s resolution below.

“Interferes with the Recreational Use of the Lake”

Text of Resolution to be considered by MoCo Commissioners on Tuesday, January 14.

What Interference is Really Like

Lake Conroe homeowners who claim their property values have been damaged by lowering the lake a foot or two should see what flood damage is really like.

A little fixer upper on the West Fork in Forest Cove. What an extra 80,000 cubic feet per second going through your living room will do.
Kingwood Village Estates, a senior complex, had to be evacuated. Twelve people later died – six from injuries sustained during the evacuation and six from the stress of losing their homes and everything they own. Residents ranged in age from 65-95.
This home was more than two miles from the West Fork and had to be gutted to the ceiling.
Six of nine buildings at Kingwood College were destroyed. Thousands of students had to be relocated for more than a year while the buildings were disinfected from sewage contamination.
Sand Creek home more than 2 miles from the San Jacinto West Fork during Harvey after Lake Conroe Release.
Evac photo along Hamblen Road the morning after the Lake Conroe release.
Union Pacific Railroad Bridge over West Fork knocked out for months.
US59 southbound lanes were undercut by scouring, partially the result of the Lake Conroe release. TxDoT spent $20 million and 11 months repairing them. During that entire time, the average commute increased an hour each day for people trying to cross the river in rush hour.
To play video, click here. 110 homes out of 250 in Kings Forest flooded. This video shows the trash piles days after Harvey. All of these homes were more than two miles from the West Fork. Thousands of other homes between these and the river had their recreational value destroyed.
River Grove Park was covered with more than 4 feet of sand. Most it closed for almost a year. Parts of it are still unusable including the boat dock, which is the only public ramp in Kingwood.

And then, consider Kingwood High School which flooded to the second floor. Four thousand students had to be bused to another high school an hour away for seven months. Students from the two schools shared the same building but in different shifts.

Kingwood High School after the Lake Conroe release.

How You Can Help

Send me your best Harvey pics. Use the Submissions page of this web site. Understand that you give ReduceFlooding.com the right to publish your images. Let’s show Commissioner Meador how the Lake Conroe release interfered with recreation in our community.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/10/2020, with grateful thanks for the contributions from dozens of residents too numerous to mention

864 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Another Treeless MoCo Development: 83 Acres of Idyllic Floodplains, Floodway and Wetlands Sandwiched between Railroad Tracks and a Sewage Treatment Plant

Where once 83 acres of dense trees, natural wetlands, flood plains, and floodways stood, now we have a massive gash in the landscape. Below: several pictures of the new MoCo development called Brooklyn Trails, all taken on 12/27/2019.

The grand entrance to Brooklyn Trails lies next the railroad tracks that parallel Loop 494.
Contractors moving dirt to fill in the low spots. Note the elevation difference between the road and the land to the right.
Those damp spots are the remnants of wetlands.
The almost lunar landscape of Brooklyn Trails. None of this dirt work was visible in an aerial photo taken on 9/21/2019. See last photo below.

Before Clearcutting

Note how dense the forests were on this property before the developer cleared them in 2018. This map also shows the extent of floodplains and floodways wrapping around the property.

Cross-hatched area = floodway of Bens Branch Tributary #1. Aqua = 1% annual chance floodplain. Brown = .02% annual chance floodplain. Tributary #2 of Bens Branch is shown at far left. Source: FEMA Flood Hazard Layer Viewer.

Another View of the Floodplains

This shows the proximity to two unnamed tributaries of Bens Branch.

Brooklyn Trails lies inside the U formed by Ben’s Branch Tributaries #1 and #2, approximately where the letter C is and to its right.

Sandwiched Between Railroad Tracks and a Sewage Plant

Downstream areas experienced increased flooding this year after clearcutting.

Brooklyn LTD clearcut this land in 2018. Was there a link to the unusual downstream flooding on Bens Branch experienced in 2019?

2/23/2019 satellite image from Google Earth

Riddled with Wetlands

From the US Fish and Wildlife Service National Inventory of Wetlands.

Replaced with High-Density Development

Despite all the pictures, maps and overlays, you still only have half the picture. Here’s what the developer intends to do with Section One of the property, the northern part above the bisecting road.

They intend to put 207 single-family residential homes on roughly 40 acres, along with streets with lofty names, such as Porter Mountain Drive and Cascade Mountain Drive.

A retention pond will go in the floodplain and, it appears, the floodway on the southern section of land. Plans for the rest of the southern section have not yet been released.

First half of section one. Extention in next image below lines up along the “matchline” indicated at right.
Second half of section one. Again, it lines up with matchline for first diagram. A neighbor who wishes to remain anonymous says work on the detention pond was not finished as of early December of 2019, about a year after land was first cleared.

Convoluted Trail of Ownership

Three partners formed Brooklyn Trails, LTD in the months following Hurricane Harvey. The Texas Secretary of State shows it to be one of almost two dozen real estate ventures owned by a company called Camcorp Management Inc.

The name Jenni Trapolino at 10410 Windermere Lakes Blvd. Houston, TX 77065 USA, appears as president, Vice President, registered agent, assistant manager, member, director or general partner of 23 of those. One is Benchmark Acquisitions, the company that bought the land from Hendricks and then resold it to Brooklyn Trails.

The names Mark Tolleffsrud and Scott Bauer show as other VPs of Campcorp Management at the same address. However, neither of those names is affiliated with any other business entities in Texas, according to the Texas SOS Direct database.

Ms. Trapolino must be quite the real-estate mogul, even though she reportedly is trying to retire. Searching on variations of her name yields additional companies and partnerships. Under Jennie or Jennie R Trapolino, Texas SoS Direct shows 29 related entities. Her name also shows up as VP of land acquisition for Legend Homes and Academy Development. Legend Homes has the same corporate address as most of Ms. Trapolino’s other interests on Windermere Lakes.

Interesting Timing: One Week After Harvey

Interesting that Benchmark Acquisitions bought the property from Hendricks less than a week after Harvey.

Two weeks later, Jennie Trapolino filed a certificate of formation for the Brooklyn Trails limited partnership, listing Lauren C. Sullivan, the President of Legend Homes as the registered agent.

Were they looking to pick up a bargain on flooded property? If so…

Price Per Acre Five Times Higher than Woodridge

Compared to the nearby Perry Homes’ Woodridge Village property, Brooklyn Trails overpaid. Perry paid roughly a million dollars for 268 acres. That’s roughly $3,731 per acre.

Assuming the MCAD market value shown above reflects the purchase price, Trapolino paid $19,771 per acre.

That’s 5X more! Granted you’re closer to US59. But you still have to contend with floodways, floodplains, railroad horns, a sewage treatment plant, and homes built over soggy wetlands. Hope springs eternal. I guess if you’re in the development business, pessimism just isn’t in your gene pool.

Timing of Detention Vs. Flooding

In Woodridge Village, Perry Homes clearcut the entire site before starting excavation work on development. That proved to be a costly miscalculation when Elm Grove Flooded twice this year.

Likewise, Brooklyn Trails clearcut this property in 2018, but only recently started dirt work. A neighbor who wishes to remain anonymous shared pictures showing that the detention pond still was not complete a year later. Could there be a relationship between that and downstream flooding along Northpark Drive and Ben’s Branch in May and September? The photo below was taken AFTER Imelda.

Clearcutting all the land before installing detention may have contributed to flooding in both locations. This is a practice that Montgomery County should prohibit.

Traces of wetlands still remained on Brooklyn Trails Section One as of 9/21/2019 when I took this aerial photo.

There’s much more to talk about with this development. For instance, as with Woodridge Village, Brooklyn Trails appeared to be playing a game of beat the clock. By filing for permits when they did, they ensured that the detention pond did not have to comply with the new NOAA Atlas 14 rainfall norms. And as with Woodridge Village, that means any detention built here will fall 40% short of the real need. That’s something else MoCo should prohibit. It’s like licensing planes that you know will crash.

Stay tuned in coming weeks for more on Brooklyn Trails.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/28/2019

851 Days after Hurricane Harvey and 100 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.