Tag Archive for: Romerica

January Digest of Flood-Related News in Lake Houston Area

From construction developments to political developments, here’s your January digest of ten stories that could affect flooding or flood mitigation in the Lake Houston Area.

1. New Caney ISD High School #3

This site is located between Sorters-McClellan Road and US59 south of the HCA Kingwood Medical Center. New Caney ISD is building a new high school on the site of the old par 3 golf course behind the car dealerships that front US59. Construction crews are still pouring concrete for foundations and parking lots. Not much happened between flyovers on December 7 and January 1. But then, not much happens anywhere during the holidays. The two photos below show the progress. Construction of the detention pond is nearing completion. However, contractors still need to plant grass to reduce erosion before spring rains arrive.

New Caney ISD High School #3 site as of December 7, 2020
As of January 1, 2021.

New Caney ISD has not posted a project update since last September. Projected occupancy for the building is still Fall 2022.

2. Kingwood Cove Golf Course Redevelopment

I first talked about Ron Holley’s redevelopment of the Kingwood Cove (formerly Forest Cove) Golf Course in April last year. Since then Holley says he has been working with engineers, community groups and regulators to accommodate different interests.

Now, the development is back on the planning commission agenda for this Thursday. Holley is seeking approval of his latest General Plan and Plat. Neither show any detention ponds. The only place they could go would be in “Reserve C.” The General Plan shows that to be in the floodway and 100-year floodplain. Both could soon expand.

The West Fork floodway cuts through the southern part of Holley’s property.

The City raised an issue regarding compliance with regulations governing the re-plat of golf courses at the 12/17/2020 Planning Commission meeting. The City requested information relating to Local Government Code 212.0155.

That regulation requires, among other things, that:

  • Public notice of the re-plat be printed in newspapers
  • The Forest Cove Property Owners Association is notified
  • Residents have an opportunity to voice their opinions at public hearings
  • Owners of all properties within 200 feet of the new plat be notified in writing via US Mail.
  • If 20% of the owners object, the re-plat must win the approval of 3/5ths of the planning commission.
  • The developer proves there is adequate existing or planned infrastructure to support the new development.
  • The new subdivision will not adversely affect health, safety traffic, parking, drainage, water, sewer, or other utilities
  • The development will not have a materially adverse effect on existing single-family property values.
  • The new plat complies with all applicable land-use regulations and restrictive covenants and the City’s land-use policies.

That’s a lot to do over the holidays. So the general plan may need to be withdrawn and resubmitted after all the information has been produced. We should know more by Wednesday afternoon.

3. Dredging

Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin’s January newsletter stated that Disaster Recover Corporation has removed 385,000 cubic yards from the West Fork Mouth Bar out of an estimated total of 400,000 cubic yards.

Then he alluded to dredging another 260,000 cubic yards from the area north of the mouth bar.

He also alluded to a Second Phase: dredging the San Jacinto East Fork and other locations in Lake Houston.

Finally, Martin discussed maintenance dredging. “Additionally,” he says, “during Phase Two of the project, City of Houston, Harris County, HCFCD, SJRA, and Coastal Water Authority (CWA) will develop and execute a plan for the City of Houston or CWA to assume long-term dredging operations on Lake Houston. This effort will include determining funding for dredging operations in perpetuity.”

4. Appointments to SJRA Board

Governor Greg Abbott has appointed Wil Faubel and Rick Mora, M.D. and reappointed Kaaren Cambio to the San Jacinto River Authority Board of Directors. Their terms will expire on October 16, 2025. 

Kaaren Cambio of Kingwood is a field representative for United States Congressman Dan Crenshaw. She is a former member of Women’s Business Enterprise National Investment Recovery Association, Pipeline Contractors Association, and the Houston Pipeliners Association. Cambio received a Bachelor of Business Administration from San Diego State University.

Wil Faubel of Montgomery is President of Borets US Inc. He is a veteran and senior executive in the Oilfield Services industry with more than forty years of service. He has both domestic and international experience and is a lifelong member of the Society of Petroleum Engineers and a former board member of the Petroleum Equipment Suppliers Association. Faubel received a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Southern Methodist University.

Rick Mora, M.D. of The Woodlands is a partner at US Anesthesia Partners and Chief of Anesthesiology for Memorial Hermann Pinecoft Surgery Center. He has served as chair of the Montgomery County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and is a founding Board member of the non-profit, Los Doctores de The Woodlands. Mora received his MD from the University Of Illinois College Of Medicine.

5. Forest Cove Townhome Buyouts

Harris County Commissioner’s Court will vote today on an item to exercise eminent domain on seven townhomes in the Forest Cove complex. The entire complex was destroyed after Harvey and many owners simply walked away from their properties without leaving forwarding addresses. Flood Control has been unable to find the owners after years of trying. Several may have moved out of the country. Eminent domain on these last few properties will clear the way for demolition of the entire complex and restoration of the area to nature or park land.

The once proud and idyllic townhomes in Forest Cove next to West Fork.

6. Woodridge Village

The purchase of Woodridge Village from Perry Homes is not on today’s Commissioner’s Court Agenda. However, all energies are reportedly still positive. It’s just taking time to work out the complex three-way purchase arrangements.

7. Romerica

Houston PlatTracker shows that the Romerica people may have acquired more land. But so far, they have not returned to the planning commission for approval on the latest iteration of the developer’s plans. No news is good news in this case.

8. Lake Houston Spillway Improvement Project

The City is close to finalizing the Preliminary Engineering Plan. Sources say the benefit/cost ratio looks very positive. We may see the final recommendations this month.

Engineers have examined several alternatives to add more gates to the Lake Houston dam or to increase its spillway capacity.

9. Noxxe Cleanup

The Railroad Commission could start plugging wells, removing storage tanks, and cleaning up the abandoned Noxxe lease in Forest Cove soon. The project manager has submitted work orders for final approval.

Small part of Noxxe lease next to Forest Cove baseball fields.

10. Kings Harbor New Construction

New condos are going up in Kings Harbor faster than Flood Control can tear down the ones in Forest Cove down. And they’re even closer to the river!

See new concrete pads (left center) and new construction (right foreground).

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/5/2020

1125 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.

Development Watch List: Orchard Seeded Ranches From the Air

The Romerica high-rise project near the floodway of the San Jacinto West Fork was reborn recently as Orchard Seeded Ranches. Same property. Same developer. Undisclosed concept as of this date.

When the developer sought approval of their general plan from the City of Houston Planning Commission, the City deferred approval. Instead they asked the developer to consult with the City Engineer and Harris County Flood Control, before coming back to the commission.

Despite the location of the development in the floodplain and floodway of the West Fork, ironically, the City had only procedural comments on the plans. The comments had to do with things like the spacing and labelling of streets. Incredibly, they did not refer to potential flooding or wetlands issues.

Pending Regulation Changes Could Affect Development

However, regulation changes are pending. Harris County has made adoption of its Atlas-14-based stormwater design and floodplain standards a condition of participating in all flood bond projects. Those standards would require elevation of any homes built on the Romerica property. In practical terms, that means building on stilts. And that, in turn, means dollars.

Specifically, the County wants the City to change Article III: Standards for Flood Hazard Reduction in the Houston Code of Ordinances, Chapter 19 Floodplain (September 2018):

  • 19-33(a) Base Flood Elevation Requirements –Must also include a provision that no fill will be allowed to elevate structures proposed for the 100-year floodplain.  These structures must be on open foundations designed by a structural engineer.

Where Property Is

Here’s where the property is. It wraps around the Barrington, which was elevated significantly and still flooded during Harvey. It also wraps around River Grove Park Kingwood Country Club, and Deer Ridge Park.

Purple area represents proposed site of Romerica’s Orchard Seeded Ranches Development.

Large Concentration of Forested Wetlands

All aerial photos below were taken on 5/11/2020.

Looking southeast from the southwest corner of Romerica’s property. Hamblen Road enters the from on the middle right. That’s the San Jacinto West Fork cutting through the top of the frame.
Looking southeast while hovering over Woodland Hills Drive. The northern part of Romerica’s property lies between the front and back nines of the Kingwood Country Club Lake Course. That’s the Barrington on the right.
Those same trees serve as a nesting ground for hundreds of great egrets.
Looking southwest from near the entrance from Barrington. Deer Ridge Park wraps around the water tower.
Looking SE over Woodland Hills and the Barrington entrance. The property contains three artificial lakes, which I believe were excavated to elevate the Barrington. Note how high lake level/water table is. River Grove soccer fields are on right. Look closely and you can also see the Kingwood Diversion Ditch entering the park from the lower right.

From the ground, beneath the dense canopy of trees, you can see palmettos galore. Palmetto plants are an important biologic indicator of wetlands. They only grow where the ground is underwater at least part of the year.

Source: USGS National Wetlands Inventory. Blue areas = lake. Green = Forested Wetlands.

Role of Wetlands in Reducing Flooding

The EPA cites flood protection as one of the primary benefits of wetlands.

“Wetlands function as natural sponges that trap and slowly release surface water, rain, … and flood waters. Trees, root mats and other wetland vegetation also slow the speed of flood waters and distribute them more slowly over the floodplain. This combined water storage an braking action lowers flood heights and reduces erosion,” says the Agency.

They continue: “Wetlands within and downstream of urban areas are particularly valuable, counteracting the greatly increased rate and volume of surface- water runoff from pavement and buildings. The holding capacity of wetlands helps control floods… Preserving and restoring wetlands together with other water retention can often provide the level of flood control otherwise provided by expensive dredge operations and levees. The bottomland hardwood- riparian wetlands along the Mississippi River once stored at least 60 days of floodwater. Now they store only 12 days because most have been filled or drained.”

Reasons Romerica Application Previously Withdrawn

Last year, when Romerica tried to develop this area as condos and high rises, they ran into protests from US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Army Corps, environmental groups, and the Kingwood community. Major concerns included the filling of wetlands, nesting bald eagles, river migration, flood dangers to residents, and lack of evacuation routes.

Fence separating Romerica property from Hamblen road after Harvey.

All those concerns still exist. Romerica should take a cue from the Humble ISD. They’ve had two ag barns in this area. The District abandoned one (that was actually on Romerica property), moved to higher ground, is trying to abandon the second, and hopes to move to higher ground yet again.

As of this writing, Romerica has not yet reapplied to the City Planning Commission. Nor has the City adopted all of the County’s Atlas-14 regulations.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/27/2020

1002 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.

Planning Commission Concerns About Romerica Land Seem More Procedural than Flood-Related

Last week, the Houston Planning Commission deferred approval of the General Plan for Romerica’s Orchard Seeded Ranches in Kingwood. A City of Houston Planning and Development Department document obtained this afternoon suggests that concerns about the West Fork development may have been more procedural than flood-related.

Much of Romerica’s land lies between the Barrington in foreground and San Jacinto River in background. All 283 homes in Barrington flooded during Harvey.

Of the ten concerns listed in a letter to the permit applicant, only one had to do with flooding. And that came from Harris County Flood Control, not the City. Nine other concerns had to do with street spacing and layouts or labelling.

Half of Land in Floodway

Half of Orchard Seeded Ranches is in the floodway (below red line) of the San Jacinto West Fork.
Half of Orchard Seeded Ranches is in the floodway (below red line) of the San Jacinto West Fork. That line will shift north on new flood maps.

Half of the land lies in the floodway of the West Fork. The other half lies in the hundred-year floodplain. The development would be built on the same property that Romerica tried to get approved last year. The company wanted to build a series of high rises and 5,000 condominiums. That proposal drew a record 770 letters of protest to the Army Corps. Despite all that…

The Planning Commission document indicates that the City Engineer had no comments on the proposal.

Last week it appeared that the balance of power might be shifting at City Hall from developers to flood-weary residents. This week, it appears the other way around.

Only Harris County Flood Control Raises Serious Objections

Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) recommended deferral of any approvals until the master drainage plan for the development is reviewed. HCFCD also said, “This area has historically been prone to flooding with numerous home buyouts immediately to the west. The Flood Control District, City of Houston, Montgomery County, and San Jacinto River Authority are working on a planning study to reduce flood risk in this area.”

Those partners should complete the San Jacinto Regional Watershed Master Drainage Plan final report by September this year.

Part of that plan will include new flood surveys. They will likely show the floodway expanding to take in an even greater percentage of Romerica’s property.

Gear Up for Another Lengthy Fight

It should not take the developer much time to address City’s concerns. It’s unclear at this time whether the City will heed the HCFCD’s concerns.

As a result, this controversy could wind up back in the hands of the Army Corps and/or the US Fish and Wildlife Service again. Last year, the Fish and Wildlife Service wrote an uncharacteristically frank recommendation to the Corps, urging the Corps to deny Romerica’s permit. Their reasoning had to do with the value of wetlands on the property and the presence of American Bald Eagles, a protected species.

Bald eagle photographed adjacent to Romerica property in February, 2020.

In the meantime, the developer may realize that it still faces an uphill struggle even with City approval. Perhaps they will come to their senses and sell this land to a group or groups that wish to preserve it as green space for flood control and recreation.

Light pole near River Bend in North Shore as Harvey receded. Note the "wet marks" several feet up on pole. Photo by Jim Balcom.
Light pole by westernmost Romerica property as Harvey receded. Photo by Jim Balcom.

As if to underscore the value of that proposition, the Bayou City Initiative today announced a virtual meeting to discuss the difficulty of mass evacuations and sheltering during the hurricane season as the COVID crisis continues. Remember that most of this land was under 20+ feet of water during Harvey.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/5/2020

980 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Development Watchlist: Perry, Romerica, Colony Ridge and More

Here’s an update to last week’s watchlist. It includes seven Lake Houston Area developments – four from last week and three new.

Perry Homes’ Woodridge Village

On April 28, 2020, Harris County Commissioners approved the purchase of Woodridge Village from Perry Homes with two conditions: 1) that the City of Houston would defray half the cost by contributing $7mm worth of land that HCFCD needed for other flood control costs, 2) that the City would adopt new Atlas-14 rainfall statistics.

The next day, Houston Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin discussed the deal on a Facebook live “virtual lunch” with the Lake Houston Area Chamber. At about 26:20 into the video, he said that the stipulations had already been agreed to. He said the City had already identified 11 pieces of property, 6 of which were presented to the County during its consideration of the deal in executive session the previous night. He also said the City would divert water from Taylor Gully to the Kingwood Diversion Ditch and build a barrier between Elm Grove and Woodridge, while the county built a regional detention facility.

Perry contractors went back to work the next day before Martin spoke. They continued working all week. They worked near Mace in Porter, on N2 (the large detention pond in the middle of the western border), and N3 (another detention pond on the eastern border).

A reliable source who needs to remain anonymous told me that the work was at the request of Perry’s lawyers. The source said that Perry and its contractors were simply complying with their contract.

This week marks the anniversary of the first storm (May 7th) that landed Perry in hot water. And forecasters predict an above-average hurricane season, which starts in four weeks. The lawyers may have had that on their minds, too. As they say in legal circles, “The third time is the pen.” Woodridge contributed to flooding Elm Grove twice last year, in May and September.

Excavator working near Mace in Porter on April 29, 2020.

Romerica’s “Orchard Seeded Ranches”

This is the 331-acre project formerly known as the Heron’s Kingwood. It wound around the Barrington and River Grove Park. Romerica is now trying to develop the same land under a different name, “Orchard Seeded Ranches.”

However, on Thursday, 4/30/2020, the Houston Planning Commission deferred approval of the developer’s General Plan.

plat of orchard seeded ranches
General Plan of Orchard Seeded Ranches in Kingwood Texas

The Commission then asked the developer to consult with the City Engineer; the Planning and Development Department; and Harris County Flood Control before bringing further requests back to the Commission.

That should send a strong signal to the developer that rough waters lie ahead. Any proposal will likely be debated publicly when/if the developer returns.

The development is still listed in CoH’s PlatTracker. So we will continue to watch this one.

Holley’s Kingwood Cove Golf Course Redevelopment

A review of the City of Houston’s PlatTracker Plus Map indicates that Holley has not yet applied for any permits on the golf course in Forest Cove. City of Houston confirmed that via a FOIA request (Freedom of Information Act).

Note how golf course on left is unshaded. That indicates no activity with the Planning Commission. Compare that to the purple area on the right for Romerica’s property. That indicates approval of a General Plan is still pending.

A review of the Harris County Appraisal District website indicates a limited liability company in Pittsburgh, PA, actually owns the golf course.

Harris County Appraisal District info for property at 805 Hamblen, aka Kingwood Cove Golf Course.

It’s not unusual for developers to use other people’s money. I shall continue to watch this. Holley says his engineer is reworking plans based on input from people surrounding the course.

Ryko Property Near Confluence of Spring Creek and West Fork

This property is in Montgomery County and the City of Houston’s Extra Territorial Jurisdiction. The Montgomery County Engineers office says the company has not yet filed any plans that have been approved. The City of Houston PlatTracker Plus Map also shows the owner has not yet filed any applications.

US FWS Wetlands Map shows wetlands throughout the Ryko property between Spring Creek and the West Fork.

New Caney ISD High School #3

Dark green area in center between Sorters Rd. and 59 is future home of New Caney ISD High School #3.

The New Caney Independed School District plans to build a third high school south of the HCA Kingwood Medical Center and behind the car dealerships that front US59. I don’t know much more about this except that they plan to extend roads into the area that is now forest. High schools usually have large parking lots. And that means rapid drainage. It is unclear at this time whether MoCo will require detention ponds.

Northpark Woods

Looking northwest at Northpark Woods from over Sorters/McClellan Road. The drainage ditch on the left parallels Northpark Drive. Sand mines and the West Fork are in the background. Photo 4/21/2020.

This high-density development along the West Fork San Jacinto River in Montgomery County is now about one-third to one-half built. Construction continues.

The Colonies in Plum Grove

North of SH99 in Plum Grove and east of the East Fork in Liberty County, lies one of the largest developments in the Houston region without detention ponds.

In January of 2017, the Houston Chronicle wrote about how La Colonia was transforming Plum Grove. They interviewed local residents who lamented the loss of forests. ABC13 ran a story about the squalid living conditions. Yet the area continues to expand.

Formally known as Colony Ridge, some locals call it “The Colonies.” Colony Ridge bills itself as a “master-planned” community with six major subdivisions: Sante Fe, Camino Real, Grand San Jacinto, Rancho San Vincente, Montebello, and Bella Vista. Together they comprise 30,478 lots on approximately 10,000 acres at present. And they’re still growing!

The Colonies currently cover an area almost as large as Kingwood. Photo 4/21/2020.
Drainage empties into the East Fork San Jacinto. While flying over the area, I did not see one detention pond.
 Mobil homes make up most of the housing stock. Note open-ditch drainage.

Colony Ridge advertises itself as “an escape from the city, land on which to grow and build a home, no restrictions and easy credit.” Aerial photos reveal people scratching out hardscrabble lives on barren lots.

This is a blue collar neighborhood. The developer says his target market is poor Latino laborers. They see this as a step up from apartment living and a chance to own a part of the American dream.

But while flying over it, I did not see one detention pond.

As SH99, the Grand Parkway, pushes east from 59, this area will boom. Without better drainage regulations, Liberty County and Plum Grove will heap their drainage problems on those downstream.

FEMA’s National Flood Hazard Layer Viewer shows East Fork Flood Plains relative to Colony Ridge (right).

The good news is that Liberty County has joined with seven other counties to form a Southeast Texas Drainage District. The bad news is that Harris County is not one of the seven.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/3/2020

978 Days after Hurricane Harvey

Weekly Watch List: Perry, Romerica, Holley, Ryko

Those concerned about flooding in the Lake Houston Area should keep four potential developments on their watch lists. Here’s a brief update on each.

Perry Homes Woodridge Village

It’s back on the Harris County Commissioner’s Court Agenda again this week. Commissioners will discuss possible purchase of the 268 acres for a regional flood detention facility during an executive (closed) session on Tuesday.

Construction activity Tuesday, April 21, 2020 at Perry Homes’ Woodridge Village north of Elm Grove Village.

At the last meeting, Commissioners deferred action while staff investigated: A) whether the City of Houston would donate land to the Harris County Flood Control District to help defray the cost of several flood mitigation projects, and B) whether Montgomery County would adopt Atlas-14 rainfall statistics and close a loophole in its drainage regulations that allowed developers to avoid building detention ponds. Commissioners also discussed harmonizing City of Houston and Harris County flood plain regulations.

Perry’s original deadline for a County purchase was April 1, 2020. The company subsequently extended the deadline to May 15 to give the County time to explore the requests. Meanwhile Perry resumed and accelerated construction activity on the site. I counted 32 pieces of earthmoving equipment on my April 21st flyover. Since then, spotters have reported the arrival of additional equipment.

Woodridge Village contributed to Elm Grove flooding twice last year. According to Perry, a regional flood detention facility would reduce flood risk for approximately 800 homes.

The offer to sell while construction activity accelerates has many observers scratching their heads.

Precinct Four Commissioner Jack Cagle says he is “cautiously optimistic” that the sale will go through.

Romerica is Baaaa-aaaack

Last year, after the Army Corps withdrew Romerica’s application to develop 5,000 condos and 50-story high-rises in the floodplain of the San Jacinto, the company swore it would retool its application. Shortly after that, they fell off the radar. Romerica took down its many websites and its spokespeople did not return phone calls, but the company never sold the land.

Looking northwest across Romerica land. River Grove soccer fields are in upper left and Barrington is in upper right. San Jacinto West Fork in foreground. Harvey deposited the sand in the foreground which killed many trees.

Now, under the cover of Corona Virus, “they’re baaaa-aaaack.” But with a different name. Instead of The Heron’s Kingwood, they now call the development Orchard Seeded Ranches. I was reviewing the City of Houston’s PlatTracker website and noticed this item pop up on 4/20/2020.

Orchard Seeded Ranches2020-067604/20/2020General plan A-ConsentHarrisCityE;H4336H25100077339Humble ISD   KINGWOOD AREA3WOODLAND HILLS; HAMBLEN; KINGWOODGeneral Plan361.679600410470000014,0410470000028,0410470000143,0410470000144,0410470000145,0410470000161,0410470004001,0410470004007,0410470004012,0410470004016,0410470004017,0451270000001,0451270000005,0451270000006,0451270000012,0451270000018,0451270000026,0451270000029,045EIC SurveyingE.I.C. Surveying CompanyEmil Haddad281-955-2772Orchard Seeded Ranches

The location, Council district, acreage, street intersections, and applicant name all fit the previous application. Instead of Gregory Haddad, however, this time, it’s Emil Haddad.

The development name is a bit odd. But then, development names rarely have anything to do with reality. Look at Houston’s Heights. And what, after all, did the Heron’s have to do with 50-story high rises?

“Orchard Seeded Ranches” is in the very preliminary phases. Until we see a plat and construction drawings, we can’t know exactly what they plan. It could be 1200-square-foot gerbil ranches. Or it could be Times Square in the Floodway again.

The company does not yet have a web site up. Nor has the Army Corps/Galveston issued a Public Notice associated with a permit application. Kingwood residents should follow this one closely.

Anyone civic-minded groups want to make them an offer on the land? It really should remain wetlands and be dedicated to park land or forest that protects Kingwood from future flooding.

Forest Cove Golf Course and Ron Holley

Earlier this month, Lake Houston Area developer Ron Holley appeared on KPRC to discuss the re-development of the Kingwood Cove Golf Course in Forest Cove. Holley was in the process of revising his engineering plans to address neighbors concerns about flooding when I interviewed him. A Freedom of Information Act request to the City of Houston revealed that he had not yet filed any plans for the subdivision. PlatTracker confirms that. Holley’s name does not appear anywhere in the current six pages of new developments at various stages.

Regardless, Holley has a formidable record as a developer. You may remember that he successfully challenged the City over building in the floodway of the West Fork, before he sold his land east of River Grove Park to Romerica.

Ryko Between Spring Creek and West Fork

One of the largest undeveloped tracts of land remaining in the Lake Houston area lies northwest of the confluence of Spring Creek and the West Fork near US59. Wetlands cover much of the area. But it’s in Montgomery County. And you know what that means. No detention ponds may be required.

Looking southeast across Ryko land toward the US59 Bridge in background (center).

Pacific Indio Properties, Inc., a sister company of Ryko Development, owns more than 7,400 acres in the triangle below. To put that in perspective, that’s exactly half the size of Kingwood.

National Wetlands Inventory shows the site to be pockmarked with wetlands.

A Community Impact article from 2016 (before Harvey) says Ryko planned to build 7,000 homes in this area. Community Impact said at the time that the project had no timeline. Things may have changed since then, especially after Hurricane Harvey inundated the area.

A drainage analysis, soil survey, and environmental study usually come before plan submittal. And the Montgomery County Engineers office says no plans, studies, or surveys have yet been submitted for the property, though one source in Montgomery County believes the developer has had preliminary discussions with the county.

FEMA’s Flood Hazard Layer Viewer shows that virtually all of the land is in floodway or floodplain.

Ryko property lies in the floodways of both the West Fork and Spring Creek. Cross-hatched equals floodway, Aqua = 100 year floodplain, and Brown = 500 year floodplain.

Note that the floodplain map above is pre-Harvey. New floodplain maps using Atlas-14 data are likely to show an even grimmer picture when they become available in a year or two.

If the developer puts high-density homes on this property with no detention, people downstream can break out their scuba gear. All the more reason for The City of Houston, Harris County and Montgomery County to synchronize their flood plain regs.

That’s the roundup for my first weekly watch list. I hope this becomes a regular weekly feature. More news to follow the commissioner’s court meeting on Tuesday.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/25/2020

970 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.

Bald Eagle Sighted Over Romerica Property

Photo taken 2/12/2020 on West Fork San Jacinto from helicopter.

While photographing the West Fork from a helicopter Thursday, I saw something large from the corner of my eye. I looked up and was treated to a magnificent sight – a bald eagle in flight … right beside us. I quickly zoomed my lens out to 300mm and snagged this air-to-air shot.

We were in the vicinity of the Romerica property just downstream from River Grove Park. You may remember a year ago that two developers from Mexico wanted to build 500-foot high-rises right next to the river. The community rose up in protest. One of the biggest concerns: the effect on bald eagles nesting in the area.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service wrote a scathing letter urging the Corps to deny Romerica’s application to fill in wetlands.

After 770 more letters of protest to the Corps, the Corps withdrew Romerica’s permit application.

The company reserved the right to refile in the future. In the meantime, it appears that the eagle(s) living there have no intent to move.

The Herons Kingwood recently took down its website. However, the domain name is still registered. I have contacted the agent for the company to inquire about the project’s status. Emails have not yet been returned.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/13/2020

899 Days after Hurricane Harvey

The Biggest Stories of 2019

With 2019 almost behind us, we should look back to see what we accomplished on flood mitigation. Tomorrow, I’ll take a look at the stories that will likely define 2020.

Limited Dredging

In 2018, FEMA and the Army Corps announced that they would dredge 2.1 miles of the San Jacinto West Fork when they were given authority to dredge 8 miles. Questions immediately started to swirl about why they were not dredging all the way to Lake Houston. The answer was “part of the mouth bar was there before Harvey and we can only spend disaster relief funds on what Harvey deposited.”

The mouth bar as it existed shortly after Hurricane Harvey. Photo taken 9/14/2017.

After arguing for more than a year with the City about how much sediment FEMA deposited, the Corps finally decided to dredge 500,000 cubic yards from a 600 acre acre in front of the mouth bar. They finished on or about Labor Day. Then the dredging contractors waited several more weeks to see if there would be an additional assignment. There was not. They then departed in October.

Regardless, they left the biggest blockage in the river. Imelda washed a tremendous amount of sediment downriver. In mid-October, RD Kissling sent me a photo from his kayak. He as standing in water less than knee deep 700 yards south of the mouth bar. It’s important to understand that sand bars are like ice bergs. You only see the tip above water. Most of the bar exists below water. And much of this mouth bar remains to be removed.

We need to cut a channel through this area to the lake to restore conveyance of the river. If Harvey couldn’t blow this dune out of there, nothing will.

To learn more about this controversy, search this site using the key words “mouth bar.”

Flood Mitigation Legislation: A Big Win

No one budgets for disasters, such as Hurricane Harvey. So after the disaster, cities and counties had to scramble for grant money to even qualify for matching funds from the Federal government. More than two and a half years after the event, money is finally starting to trickle down to the areas that need it to implement flood mitigation projects. That’s thanks in large part to Senator Brandon Creighton who authored Senate Bill 7.

SB7 creates dedicated Texas Infrastructure and Texas Infrastructure Resiliency Funds for flood control planning and the funding of flood planning, mitigation, and infrastructure projects. The Texas Water Development Board is finalizing rules for the distribution of those funds right now. SB500, a supplemental appropriations bill, includes funding for SB7 and an amendment that would dedicate $30 million for dredging at the confluence of the San Jacinto and Lake Houston. State Representative Dan Huberty authored the amendment to SB500 that provides the $30 million.

For more information about legislation affecting this area, see the Legislation page of this web site or search using the key words “SB7” or “SB500.”

Sand Mining Legislation: One Small Gain, Some Big Losses

Activists statewide pushed for legislation to reign in the excesses of an out-of-control aggregate industry. Here in the Houston area, State Representative Dan Huberty introduced HB 907. It passed and doubles the penalties for not registering a sand mining operation. It also increases the frequency of inspection from every three years to two years and established a registry of active sand mines.

Picture of the West Fork of the San Jacinto the day it turned white (11/4/2019). The TCEQ later issued a notice of enforcement to the Liberty Materials mine upstream for dumping 56 million gallons of white goopy pollution into the West Fork. Water samples indicated 25 times the normal amount of suspended solids.

That was the only bill that the high powered lobbyists of TACA (the Texas Aggregate and Concrete Association) would allow to pass. That’s mostly because their members are already registered.

However, other important bills died in committee due to the lobbying power of TACA.

  • HB 908 would have provided for penalties up to $50,000 for water code violations and every-other-year inspections.
  • HB 909 would have created best management practices for sand mines.
  • HB 1671 would have extended water quality protections to the West Fork of the San Jacinto currently enjoyed by the John Graves District on the Brazos and attached penalties for non-compliance with best practices defined under HB909.
  • HB 2871. Would require sand mines and other aggregate production operations to acquire a reclamation permit and to file a performance bond ensuring reclamation.

For more information about sand mining in the Lake Houston area, see the Sand Mining page of this web site. You can also search on the key words “sand mining, TACA, Triple PG, TCEQ, breach, Liberty, and white water.”

High Rises Near the Floodway of the West Fork

Early in the year, two investors from Mexico announced plans to build a series of high rises surrounded by more than 5000 condos in the floodplains and wetlands near River Grove Park. Their company, Romerica, proposed to build the high rises on land that was deed restricted to single family residential development. They even proposed underground parking!

Artist’s conceptual drawing of a high-rise development called The Herons: Kingwood.

The tallest buildings would have been 500 feet and located on the edge of the current floodway. That floodway will almost certainly expand in light of new Atlas-14 rainfall data. The developers also announced a marina that would have held 640 40-foot boats and 200 jet skis. There were no evacuation routes that would have remained above water in the event of a flood.

A massive public outcry arose. More than 700 people and organizations filed letters of protest with the Army Corps, TCEQ and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. In the end, regulators showed good judgment and common sense. The Corps withdrew Romerica’s permit application.

The developer’s web site now says the project is on hold, pending improvements to the West Fork and Lake Houston.

For more information on this development, see the High Rises page of this web site or search for the key words “Romerica, high rises, eagle, or The Herons.”

The $2.5 Billion Flood Bond Equity Flap

When the wording for Harris County’s historic $2.5 billion flood bond offering was worked out in early 2018, leaders from the Humble/Kingwood area in Precinct 4 argued to include the notion of an equitable distribution of funds. Why? Historically the Flood Control District had focused more on projects in other parts of the county, especially Precinct 1, that Precinct 4.

Humble/Kingwood voters turned out in record numbers to support the bond. It passed. But when it came time to implement the projects, Commissioner Rodney Ellis from Precinct 1 tried to redefine equity to mean reparations for historical discrimination, i.e., slavery.

In one meeting after another, Ellis’ ringers showed up in commissioners court to complain about discrimination in the distribution of funds for buyouts, construction spending, and more. Yet in every category, Ellis’ precinct already had the lion’s share of funding.

This is an on-going controversy that affects everyone in the Lake Houston area. Ellis is looting transportation dollars from Precinct 4. You have to hand it to Ellis. Even if he doesn’t know what equity means, he knows how to work the system.

For more information on this topic, search this site using the key words “equity or Ellis.”

Proposition A

In 2010, voters managed to get a referendum on the ballot that would create a dedicated fund for drainage improvements. It passed by a narrow margin. Almost immediately, city officials started using the money it raised for other purposes.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court of Texas ruled that the language in the summary of the referendum on the ballot was misleading. It failed to disclose that the money would be raised through a new tax. So the Court ordered a revote.

In 2018, the Mayor “resold” the fee by saying, “If you want a lockbox around the money, vote FOR Proposition A. If you don’t want a lockbox around the money, vote AGAINST it.”

It was another artful dodge. There was nothing in the language of the bill to create a lockbox. The language in Prop A was almost identical to the original bill. But the funding formula was even looser!

Unaware voters once again approved the fee. And the Mayor continued to divert money from the fund. These diversions became a central element in the Mayoral campaign this year after thousands of people flooded in May and again during Imelda.

Nevertheless, the Mayor won re-election.

To learn more about this topic, search this site using the key word “Proposition A.”

10 New Gates for Lake Houston

The flood gates on Lake Conroe can release water 15 times faster than the gates on Lake Houston. During Harvey, that bottleneck contributed to the flooding of thousands of homes. A study showed that additional gates would have lowered the water level by almost two feet in the event of another Harvey. During smaller storms, the gates would also help pre-release water faster to create a buffer against possible flooding.

Lake Houston can shed water at 10,000 cubic feet per second. Lake Conroe can shed it at 150,000 cubic feet per second.

The City of Houston applied for a grant from FEMA and the Texas Division of Emergency Management to add ten new gates. FEMA approved the project. It’s happening in two phases. The first includes design and an environmental survey. The second includes construction. Each will take 18 months. We’re now six months into Phase One.

Details of dam improvement project.

For more information on this topic, search this site using the key word “gates.”

Temporary Seasonal Lowering of Lake Conroe

After Harvey, people in the Lake Houston area started pleading for more upstream detention, dredging and gates. Dredging started immediately. The project to add more gates to the Lake Houston spillway has also started. Upstream detention is still years way. The San Jacinto Watershed Study is only now beginning to identify possible locations.

To help provide Lake Houston area residents with an additional buffer against flooding while officials worked on these mitigation measures, the SJRA Board voted to lower the level of Lake Conroe seasonally and temporarily. One foot during the rainiest months in Spring and two feet during the peak of hurricane season.

Many lakefront property owners on Lake Conroe, however, claim the lowering hurts their property values and damages their bulkheads. Buses full of protesters showed up at the December SJRA Board meeting wearing red shirts that say, “Stop the Drop.” So many came that two busloads full of people had to be turned away.

Angry Lake Conroe residents showed up at the last SJRA board meeting in busloads.

Net: the policy to lower Lake Conroe temporarily is under assault. The SJRA will likely vote on whether to continue the policy in February. The SJRA will hold two additional meetings at the Lonestar Convention and Conference Center in January and February to give everyone who wants to provide input a chance to do so.

For more information on this topic, search this site using the key words “lake lowering.”

Flooding from Upstream Development

By far, the biggest and saddest story of the year had to be the flooding of Elm Grove Village, North Kingwood Forest, and even many homes in Porter. Not once, but twice this year. In each instance, runoff from Perry Homes’ newly clearcut 268-acre Woodridge Village development spilled over into surrounding streets and homes. Perry Homes filled in natural streams and wetlands without an Army Corps permit. And they still have not even installed 25% of the detention capacity required for an area that large.

The evacuation of Elm Grove after Perry Homes clearcut 268 adjoining acres.

They haven’t even finished the detention ponds they started, in direct violation of a promise to the City of Houston. In fact, Perry Homes has shown no interest in resolving the problems it created. They have scarcely done any work on this site since August. Meanwhile hundreds of residents live under the heightened threat of flooding.

This is another issue that will carry over into 2020.

For more information on this topic, search this site using the keywords “Perry Homes, Woodridge Village, Figure Four Development, PSWA, Elm Grove, Spurlock, cease and desist, detention, what went wrong, North Kingwood Forest, or drainage criteria.”

There’s your digest of the biggest stories of 2019. 2020 to follow.

Posted by Bob Rehak on December 19, 2019

842 Days after Hurricane Harvey and 92 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.

Zura Drone Videos Reveal Romerica Had Flooding Problems on May 7 Also

Yet more drone footage by local resident and videographer Jim Zura of Zura Productions revealed that Elm Grove and North Kingwood Forest weren’t the only areas with flooding problems on May 7, 2019. The low-lying Romerica land is in the floodway and floodplain of the San Jacinto West Fork. A large part of the property is also classified as wetlands.

Flood Follies

May continued the developers’ long standing tradition of flooding follies.

Both the TCEQ and US Fish & Wildlife Service complained about the flooding and wetlands when protesting Romerica’s permit application to build high rises in an old riverbed of the West Fork. Between February of 2018 and January of this year, the Romerica property flooded six times – once every other month. In April, Romerica requested an extension of the time allowed to respond to 727 protest letters. The Army Corps withdrew their application instead, but without prejudice. That means the developer may reapply at a future date.

Zura Videos Show Scope of Flooding Day After May 7

Zura filmed three short drone videos linked below. The first two from River Grove Park show the extent of Romerica’s flooding problems on May 7. The third shows street flooding on May 3 on much higher ground.

The first shows how deep the water was in River Grove’s popular boardwalk area. It also shows wetlands adjacent to Woodland Hills, near where Romerica wants to build a commercial and retail mall.

The second shows how much of the developer’s property was flooded after a four inch rain the night before.

The third video shows trucks trying to navigate down a residential street on much higher ground.

Romerica Reportedly Reapplying for Permit

Romerica has reportedly decided to reapply for a permit from the Army Corps. As they develop the required surveys and studies coming out of Round One, they have taken down many of the websites that previously caused them so many problems. For instance, they removed the site offering EB-5 visas to foreign investors through their American Vision program. However, I have screen captures of all the suspect websites.

Zura’s video underscores the folly of developing this property into anything other than a park. I hope Mr. Haddad and Mr. Covarrubias watch these videos closely.

The Producers Sequel called The Developers?

This is starting to feel like a remake of a Mel Brooks 1960s movie called The Producers. In the movie, a Broadway producer discovers that he can make a lot more money with a flop than a hit by overselling shares in the production, because no one will audit the books of a play presumed to have lost money. If I were developing the sequel, I would call it The Developers and base it on two foreign investors trying to recreate a suburban Atlantis for which they can also sell flood insurance backed by (you guessed it) the U.S. Government.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/11/2019

651 Days since Hurricane Harvey

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Urged Corps to Deny Romerica Permit

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Serivice (USFWS) has urged the Army Corps of Engineers to deny outright Romerica’s application to build high rises and a marina in the floodplain and floodway of the San Jacinto.

Bald eaglets photographed by Emily Murphy within a protection zone relative to most of the Romerica development. The USFWS criticized the Romerica application for an inadequate bald eagle survey.

From the date on the USFWS letter, February 28, it appears that USFWS arrived at its recommendation even before the close of the public comment period on March 1.

Read the full text of the five-page letter here or the summary below.

Summary of USFWS Concerns

The letter states that:

  • The applicant understated the likely impact on waters and wetlands resulting from fill material, raised buildings, infrastructure development and construction activities. They called the applicant’s proposal “misleading.”
  • USFWS expressed concerns about:
  • Bird strikes and mortalities associated with the high-rise buildings
  • The loss of highly functioning forested wetlands
  • Significant reduction in biological functions, particularly those related to fish and wildlife habitat
  • Water quality issues
  • A marina district built entirely within the floodway
  • The absence of appropriate stormwater management
  • Failure to fully disclose impacts on wetlands and surrounding properties
  • Inconsistencies in access road descriptions
  • Failure to fully disclose the project’s footprint impacts
  • Failure to provide an analysis of practicable alternatives to the proposed wetland and stream fill
  • Failure to demonstrate that the project meets the requirements of the EPA’s CWA 404(b)(1) guidelines
  • An incomplete compensatory mitigation plan
  • Improper assessment of the high level of functions of the onsite aquatic resources and surrounding upland habitats
  • An inadequate bald eagle survey
  • Disturbance and loss of bald eagle habitat.

Conclusion and Recommendation of USFWS

The USFWS recommended “permit denial due to the application’s deficiencies.”


I’m happy that a government agency validated the concerns of residents, especially the numerous deficiencies that became so glaringly obvious during the public comment period. Example: when I asked one of the engineers at the March 18th public meeting where all the fill would be put, he couldn’t tell me. It seemed like a simple, but important question. Turns out it was.

Jill Boullion, Executive Director of the Bayou Land Conservancy said, “The Bayou Land Conservancy is gratified that US Fish & Wildlife service has confirmed our opinion that the Romerica project site is ecologically rich and diverse.  It is, in its natural state, already providing the community immeasurable services. We believe the highest good for the community is to preserve this valuable resource, not develop it.” 

Romerica’s spokesperson, Leah Howard Manlove, contacted me earlier this week to say that the Romerica team would meet next week to discuss their options and a plan of action. At this point, Romerica has two options: answer all the questions and concerns raised during the public comment period or quietly let the project die.

Posted by Bob Rehak on May 10, 2019

619 Days since Hurricane Harvey

The thoughts expressed in this post represent my opinions on matters of public policy and are protected under the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP statute of the Great State of Texas.

There’s a Developer Born Every Minute!

This morning, local videographer Jim Zura took his drone down to River Grove Park and photographed the Romerica property flooding for the seventh time in 14 months. It proves that there’s a developer born every minute!

To see Jim Zura’s drone video, click here.

The history of this land involves half a dozen different developers, each with big dreams, determined to get rich in that promised land between buying low and selling high. Ultimately, though, they end up selling to another starry-eyed developer after reality sets in.

For the most recent owner, Romerica Investments, that reality includes waking up to find that your property was under 22 feet of water during Harvey and floods repeatedly.

Also, in the “Gee-what-were-they-thinking-department,” you would have to include the fact that FEMA will soon reclassify the property in the floodwaybefore Romerica can obtain a permit from the Army Corps.

At what point to you admit to yourself that there is no way out?

Investing $5 billion in a floodway that carries 240,000 cubic feet per second! That’s Brooklyn-Bridge smart. Expecting 15,000 condo buyers to wade into the wacky dream with you? It would be easier to sell high rises at the end of an airport runway.

Might be time to cut your losses, Mr. Haddad. Just sayin’. All those high priced consultants will be happy to keep selling you hope as long as you’re paying them.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/8/19

617 Days since Hurricane Harvey

The thoughts expressed in this post are my opinions on matters of public policy and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP statute of the Great State of Texas.