Tag Archive for: regional flood control

Harris County Commissioners Approve Negotiation of Earnest Money Contract for Woodridge Village

Harris County Commissioners Court just approved a motion authorizing negotiation of an earnest money contract with Figure Four Partners, Ltd. (Item 14G on today’s agenda). The contract will lock in the purchase price of 267.35 acres in Montgomery County for the Woodridge Village stormwater detention basin. The amount: $14,019,316 – $5,100,770 below the appraised value.

However, this is not yet a decision to purchase the property.

Conditions Must Still Be Met Before Purchase

The City of Houston still must meet certain conditions and commitments before the actual purchase comes up for a vote. Within 120 days, the City must:

  • Enter into an inter-local agreement with the County to purchase the property.
  • Contribute half the purchase price in cash or land
  • Agree to share equally in the cost of development and maintenance
  • Adopt Atlas 14 and update fill mitigation requirements at least as stringent as the County’s.

Ellis Tried to Add More Conditions

In at least five previous meetings, Precinct One Commissioner Rodney Ellis successfully delayed the vote by adding new conditions to the motion.

True to form, he tried again today. He wanted to use the purchase as leverage to get the City to adopt his “equity” guidelines. Those guidelines rank flood bond projects in his district above those in others.

Harris County Precinct One Commissioner Rodney Ellis

Garcia Also Wanted to Add New Condition

Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia also wanted to add a new condition. He wanted to get the City to give Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) a place on the City’s planning commission. At this point in the meeting, it looked like the motion could die again.

However, Houston Mayor Pro Tem DAVE MARTIN assured Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia that he would fight to get HCFCD a place on the Planning Commission. Garcia then decided to vote for the motion. Earlier this month, the two jointly requested the Planning Commission to consider higher flood mitigation standards in their planning decisions.

How Vote Went Down

Garcia emphasized that he didn’t like the Woodridge Village motion per se, but that he trusted Martin to get the County a seat on the planning commission. Thus, he would vote for the Woodridge earnest money proposal.

Veteran observers of Commissioners Court say this was the first time Ellis, Hidalgo and Garcia contemplated splitting their vote. Previously, they have always voted as a block.

Commissioners Jack Cagle and Steve Radack had already voted for the motion. When Garcia flipped, Ellis and Judge Lina Hidalgo read the handwriting on the wall. They also voted for the Woodridge earnest money contract at that point. The final vote: 5-0.

What Comes Next

At this point, final language of the Inter-Local Agreement with the City must be hammered out in the next 120 days. The City must also agree to the conditions listed above by:

  • Identifying land worth half the purchase price
  • Contributing assets or cash equal to half the purchase and development costs
  • Updating certain regulations affecting flood plain development

It also seems to me that the County must develop plans for Woodridge so that it can estimate costs and how much the City will have to contribute.

Finally, Perry Homes and its subsidiary, Figure Four Partners, must agree to all the conditions and sign the earnest money contract.

There is still a long road ahead for this deal. But today was a great step forward. At least we’re on the road now, thanks in large part to Commissioner Jack Cagle and Houston Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin who refused to let this deal die.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 9/15/2020

1113 Days after Hurricane Harvey and 362 since Imelda

New Presentations on Barker-Addicks Upstream Case and State of Regional Flood Mitigation

On February 19, the Bayou City Initiative hosted presentations by Charles Irvine of Irvine & Connor, PLLC and Professor Jim Blackburn of Rice University. Irvine was the Court-appointed, Co-lead Counsel for the Addicks-Barker “Upstream” case. Blackburn is co-director of the Severe Storm Prevention, Education and Evacuation from Disaster (SSPEED) Center at Rice and a faculty scholar at the Baker Institute – just two of many distinctions.

The oral explanations that accompanied each of these presentations provided much of the interest. But even without those, they are still understandable and compelling. Let me attempt to fill in some of the gap.

Barker-Addicks Upstream Case: What Corps Knew and Did

Irvine focused mainly on what the Army Corps knew about flooding potential upstream of the reservoirs and what they consciously permitted to happen through inaction. His presentation is packed with memos and reports dating back to 1973.

In a landmark ruling last December, the judge ruled that the US Government and Army Corps were liable in all 13 test cases for a “taking” private property for public use without just compensation.” That language comes from the Fifth Amendment of the US Constitution.

The Barker-Addicks cases have been divided into upstream and downstream groups because of their different characteristics. On February 19, 2020, Judge Loren A. Smith dismissed all the downstream cases outright. According to the Houston Chronicle, he said that property owners had no right to sue the government for inundating their land in what he called a “2000-year storm.”

Both of these cases set potential precedent for people in the Lake Houston area. The downstream cases contain some circumstances that parallel SJRA actions during Harvey.

The upstream cases contain elements that apply to future flooding now that the SJRA has consciously chosen to balance upstream boating, property and commercial interests with downstream safety.

All in all, it’s an interesting read. The last slide in Irvine’s presentation shows him and co-counsel standing in front of a wall with a quote from Abraham Lincoln. The quote says, “It is as much the duty of government to render prompt justice against itself, in favor of citizens, as it is to administer the same, between private individuals.”

Charles Irvine is third from left.

State of Region and Prescriptions for Future

Blackburns presentation can roughly be broken into two parts: what has been done since Harvey and what still needs to be done to protect us in the future.

Regular readers will recognize many past projects from the archives of ReduceFlooding.com although Blackburn’s purview is admittedly wider than mine. I focus mainly on the Lake Houston Area; Blackburn focuses on the region.

Blackburn, however, makes many prescriptions to reduce future flooding re:

  • Development in flood plains
  • Acknowledging climate change
  • Impacts to low-income and minority areas
  • A black-mold public-health crisis
  • Location of hazardous waste sites
  • Cancer clusters
  • Allocation of public funds
  • Design of freeways that flood
  • Tunneling as a mitigation alternative
  • Flood alert systems
  • Ike-Dike Options and more
Jim Blackburn’s biggest worry.

Blackburn does not shy from controversy. But it’s not necessary to agree with each of his observations. It is necessary to discuss them if we are going to move beyond the thinking that keeps us mired in the past.

To download both presentations, click here.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/26/2020 with thanks to Charles Irvine, Jim Blackburn and the Bayou City Initiative

911 Days after Hurricane Harvey

Flood Insurance: Two Types

I have a friend who is fond of saying, “If rain falls on your roof, you need flood insurance.” Here are two telling statistics from the final Harvey report issued by Harris County Flood Control that dramatize that point. But there’s more than one type of flood insurance.

In Harvey, Two-Thirds of Flood Victims Had No Insurance

Of the 154,170 estimated homes flooded across Harris County from Harvey, only 36% had active flood insurance policies in place.

Of those 154,170 homes flooded, 105, 340 were outside the mapped 1% (100-yr) floodplain – 68%.

From these two statistics, you can tell that people thought being outside a mapped flood zone meant SAFETY. You can also see how tragically wrong they were.

Virtually ALL Humble Area Retired Teachers Have Flood Insurance

Monday morning I gave a talk to the Humble Area Retired Teachers Association (HARTA). There were probably 150-200 teachers in the room. I asked for a show of hands to see how many had flood insurance. Virtually every hand went up. Given the aforementioned statistics, this SHOCKED me.

There are two possibilities.

  • People learned a lesson from Harvey and Imelda.
  • The teachers in the room were smart!

I’m sure it’s a combination of both in this case. Teachers tend to be fast learners. But it was such a pleasant surprise. They set a great example for everyone!

FEMA needs to study HARTA to find out how to market flood insurance to the rest of the world.

Static Maps in a Changing World

How could the flood maps during Harvey have been so far off? It was a combination of things.

Of course, Harvey was a far larger-than-normal storm – the biggest ever to hit the continental US.

Second, flood maps are a stationary snapshot in time. They assume nothing changes.

But we also know that things DO change:

  • The river changes every time it floods.
  • There has been massive development upstream from us in Montgomery County in the last two decades.
  • Conroe has been one of the fastest growing cities in America.
  • That development increases runoff, shortens the time of accumulation for floodwaters, and causes higher flood peaks.

The one thing that hasn’t changed: Montgomery County flood maps. The County has not updated the data behind them since the 1980s. Parts of the county remain unmapped. And the County does not even employ a surveyor, according to an inside source.

Radical Example of Impact of Upstream Development

Uncontrolled upstream development can totally change the game. Here’s a personal example.

Back in 1980, I bought a home on Spring Creek in the Dallas area. It was built two feet above the hundred year flood plain. The next year, developers built the 250-acre Collin Creek Mall upstream from me in Plano. The creek behind my house started flooding on minor rains of less than a half inch. A three city commission between Garland, Richardson and Plano asked the Army Corps to investigate.

The Corps found that I was now 10 feet BELOW the 100-year flood plain instead of two feet ABOVE it. A 12-foot delta!

That’s how radically and quickly things can change from upstream development as the people in Elm Grove discovered.

Elm Grove’s Game Changer: Woodridge Village or what some now callVillage of the Damned

New Flood Maps Being Developed

NOAA’s new Atlas-14 Rainfall statistics for this area are causing flood maps to be redrawn. The statistics reflect about 40% more rain for a 100-year flood. That means flood zones will expand.

When released in the next year or two, the new maps will open a lot of eyes for people who have not yet purchased flood insurance.

Net: If you don’t have flood insurance, get it.

Another Type of Flood Insurance

That brings us to another type of flood insurance not covered by FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program. It’s the kind of insurance that comes from situational awareness and community engagement.

The more aware we are of the causes of flooding…

The more engaged we are as citizens…

The more we insist that developers follow best practices…

…the safer we become.

NFIP insurance will partially reimburse you if you flood. But awareness and activism may keep you from flooding in the first place. We need both types of insurance. One without the other is a recipe for disaster.

We should not assume that some benevolent government agency in Montgomery County is watching over new development, protecting us. They are not. Period. They have other priorities and protecting downstream residents is rarely one of them. Even though Harris County is redrawing its flood maps, Montgomery County is not. That will make MoCo’s even MORE OUTDATED. That’s why we need vigilant, involved citizens.

Need Regional Flood Control

And even more, that’s why we need regional flood control, much as we have regional groundwater control. With groundwater withdrawals, one conservation district must get its plans approved by neighboring districts. Wouldn’t it be beautiful if we had a similar arrangement for flood control?

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/11/2020

896 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.