Tag Archive for: SWPPP

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.

Laurel Springs RV Resort Turns Into Giant Mud Bath

After a 2 inch rain on 3/22/22, the construction site at the Laurel Springs RV Resort turned into a giant mud bath, now being pumped into the Lakewood Cove storm sewer system. The whole point of the Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan approved by the TCEQ is to prevent that.

Is This Part of A Bigger Marketing Plan?

Large ponds of muddy water covered the site from north to south and east to west, a tribute to the drainage still not installed after five months of site work. It makes one wonder whether the contractor’s tardiness is part of a marketing ploy.

Do they plan to market this RV resort as a mud bath/spa? Will they offer a special pit for ladies’ mud wrestling on WWF nights? Do they plan to turn part of the site into an all-weather ATV track? Will they rent this place out to kindergarten class reunions? Or will this be a practice range for politicians who want to learn how to sling mud? There’s just no telling. The secretive owners still have not divulged their marketing plans with the local residents.

Pictures Taken After 2″ Rain

Regardless, they have conspired with Mother Nature to create a world-class mud bath, as the pictures below show. I took the pictures below the morning after the gage at the West Fork and 59 recorded a two-inch rain.

Looking north toward entrance on right.
The ponds above the detention pond.
Let’s bring in some more mud. Note dirt piles at top of frame.
ATV terrain, northern part of site.
There’s nothing like mud to slow down work on a construction site. That’s why this must be intentional. Ooops. What happened to those silt fences on the west?
The creative approach to construction.
Even though they’ve installed a drain, they still haven’t installed pumps.

They started pumping this pond into the Lakewood Cove storm sewer system today. So much for keeping mud out of the sewers. That’s a major part of the Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan approved by the TCEQ.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/23/2022

1667 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.

TCEQ Says RV Resort Discharge Not Allowed by Permit

The TCEQ says discharges of sediment-laden stormwater are not allowed across public or private property under the terms of its Construction General Permit.

Two weeks ago, I photographed contractors at the Laurel Springs RV Resort construction site discharging silty stormwater from its detention pond into the wetlands and cypress ponds of Harris County’s Precinct 4 Edgewater Park.

stormwater runoff discharge
Photographed on Saturday, January 29. Laurel Springs RV Resort dug a trench through the southern wall of its undersized detention pond to discharge silty stormwater onto public property at top of frame.

Not long after that, I photographed them laying pipe in the trench to create a permanent conduit for stormwater into the park.

Response From Texas Commission on Environmental Quality

So, I emailed the photos to people at the TCEQ responsible for water quality, Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plans, and Construction General Permits. I asked if their permit allowed them to discharge silty stormwater into Edgewater Park. The short answer: NO.

Earl Lott, Director of the Water Quality Division of the TCEQ wrote back a lengthy email. In it, he concluded…

“…[their] general permit does not give the permittee the right to use private or public property for conveyance of stormwater and certain non-stormwater discharges…”

Earl Lott, Director, TCEQ, Office of Water

CGP Covers Activities During Construction, SWP3 Prior to Construction

Mr. Lott also noted that “Large construction site operators must comply with the conditions of the stormwater Construction General Permit (CGP) TXR150000 under the Texas Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (TPDES) Program. The CGP requires construction operators to control pollutants in stormwater during construction activities. Construction site primary operators that disturb greater than one acre of land are required to develop a Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan (SWP3) and implement best management practices (BMPs) prior to construction activities beginning.” [Emphasis added.]

“As part of the SWP3,” Lott continued, “a description of BMPs used to prevent and reduce pollution in stormwater must be included and the BMPs must be inspected and evaluated to determine the effectiveness of controlling stormwater leaving the property.”

“The SWP3 must include a description of any sediment control practices used to remove eroded soils from stormwater runoff, such as a sedimentation basin. These controls must minimize sediment discharges from the site,” said Lott. [Emphasis added.]

So what did the Laurel Springs RV Resort’s SWP3 and Permit obligate them to do? For the full text of this 162 page document, click here. (14 Meg Download). The first have of this document includes the SWP3. The second includes the permit to discharge under the Texas Pollution Discharge Elimination System. There are many redundancies between the two. I’ll cover the SWP3 today and the Permit another day.

Concerns About SWPPP Plan

I want to make it clear that Mr. Lott’s comments related only to discharges of stormwater into Edgewater Park. However, after reading the RV Resort’s SWP3 and Permit, I have personal concerns listed below. The TCEQ may or may not share them. The TCEQ has up to 60 days from the date of an initial complaint to file a full report.

Based on my observations, contractor performance does not match contractor promises in the SWP3 in many cases. Also, several key elements of the plan were left blank. And some claims were just plain false, misleading or erroneous.

Below is a list of my concerns. You may find others.

  1. The plan is undated and appears never to have been revised even though it should have been.
  2. Clearing started in October. As Lott said, the contractor should have put pollution prevention measures in place before construction, but didn’t.
  3. Page 15 – The discussion of runoff coefficients is misleading. If sand comprised the top 18 inches of soil, water would not still be ponding on the site. We’ve had less than an inch of rain in the last 20 days. It would appear that the contractor overstated the potential for water to infiltration.
  4. Pages 16 and 17 – Construction schedule left blank.
  5. Page 18 – Says locations of support activities are included, but blanks not filled in.
  6. Page 18 – Says no wetlands have been found near site when adjoining property is full of them.
  7. Page 18 – Can’t see where they planned temporary erosion control measures during construction. Until yesterday, they had no silt fencing along the southern property line and still have no along the western property line.
  8. Page 18 – No source listed for fill materials. They have used Sprint Sand & Clay. But Sprint’s contract prohibits them placing fill in the 500-year flood plain. I have photographed the contractor spreading Sprint fill into the 500-year area.
  9. Page 22 – Contractor lists the size of the site as 20 acres and claims 20 acres are sandy loam. But then he says 20 acres out of 20 acres is 74%. Hmmmm. No wonder he has six tax forfeitures in his past.
  10. Page 22 – Contractor relied on USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) for soil data. But NRCS says its data is invalid for a site of this size. It falls below the limits of resolution for NRCS sampling.
  11. Page 34 – Before clearing, contractor failed to mark the southern property line. Employees then cut down a corridor of trees approximately 50 feet wide for a distance of about 750 feet. Contractor then piled dirt in corridor which eroded into Edgewater Park.
  12. Page 40 – I can see no measures in use to slow down velocity of sheet flow.
  13. Page 40 – I can see no temporary erosion controls in place on portions of the site where they are no longer working.
  14. Page 41 – Exits have been mud pits so vehicles have tracked dirt out of the site and spread it into streets where it washes into storm sewers.
  15. Page 41 – They have perimeter protection installed only along one side and have even bypassed that.
  16. Page 42 – No protection of storm sewer inlets until yesterday (about 5 months late).
  17. Page 42 – They claim a sediment basin would put public safety as risk, but don’t explain why.
  18. Page 42 – Contractor should have drained the detention pond through a 24 inch reinforced concrete pipe leading to the City’s storm sewer system, but chose to use the wetlands in Edgewater Park instead.
  19. Page 43 – Says discharge of standing water into a storm sewer will not be allowed, but residents have photographed them doing it.
  20. Page 43 – Covers vehicles tracking dirt out of the site. It requires stabilized construction entrances and/or regular street sweeping. This is basic “good housekeeping” stuff that has been in short supply since this construction site found the spotlight.
  21. Page 44 – Says “No discharges of Stormwater…will take places under this SWPPP.” See photos above.
  22. Page 45 – Says “Maintenance and repairs will be conducted within 24 hours of inspection report.” But only in the last two days has the contractor started removing eroded dirt from the county’s park caused by the discharge weeks ago.
  23. Page 45 – Says “Sediment will be removed from sediment fences … before it reaches 50% of the above ground height of the barrier.” Sediment was placed against the new southern silt fence that already exceeds that height.
  24. Section 8 on page 45 requires the contractor to select the most effective erosion control measures for specific site conditions from a page-long list of options. The contractor chose NONE.

How To Report Violations to the TCEQ

I urge residents who live close to the RV Resort to read the SWPPP and report additional violations/problems to the TCEQ if they see them.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/13/22

1629 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.

RV Resort Contractor Cut Down Trees in County’s Edgewater Park

The contractors for the Laurel Springs RV Resort west of Lakewood Cove got a little overzealous with bulldozers. They killed up to 50 feet of mature trees in Harris County Precinct 4’s Edgewater Park along the entire property line. TCEQ and County inspectors visited the site last week and documented problems. According to one resident, the City also had inspectors there. Ever since, the contractors have been scrambling to correct problems, such as erosion, and to install pollution-prevention measures that should have been there months ago.

Mature Trees Hard to Replace

But some problems, like the trees will be hard to correct. It could take decades for newly planted trees to reach the height of the old ones.

It’s hard to say exactly how many square feet of trees were lost beyond the property. The distance varies along the southern perimeter of the RV site. But another resident and I, using a tape measure and eyeballs, estimated the damage extended into the park for up to 50 feet south of a surveyor’s stake at the southern property line. If the estimates are close, that would mean the contractor harvested almost an acre of County trees.

Attempts to Clean Up Site

Since a two-day shutdown after the discovery of contractors flooding Edgewater Park with silty stormwater, the construction site has bustled with activity. Some employees have continued laying pipe, spreading fill, and grading. Meanwhile, others try to fix problems pointed out by inspectors.

Yesterday, contractors tried to retrieve dirt that eroded into or was placed in Edgewater Park. Last night, they erected silt fence along most of the southern perimeter. The muck-retrieval team was still working this morning. The contractors created a new entrance with fresh bullrock. And they also placed silt filters in front of storm-sewer grates along Laurel Springs Lane.

Photos Show Extent of Tree Loss

The orange stake below represents the southernmost stake of the developer’s RV park. It lines up roughly with the southerns edge of the detention pond’s bank. Edgewater Park is to the left.

Photo taken yesterday, 2/11/22 from Laurel Springs Lane looking west. County’s Edgewater Park is left of stake.

The position of the orange stake in this wider shot lines up a little bit north of the left end of this traffic island in Laurel Springs Lane.

Note position of orange stake relative to tip of traffic island. Photo taken 2/11/2022.
Note where southern boundary would cross southern tip of traffic island on right – same place as in photo.
Note how far clearcut goes below southern tip of traffic island. Silt fence (placed last night) does not mark property boundary. It was placed where ground was dry enough to hold stakes, hence its irregular shape. Photo taken today, 2/12/22.
Photo taken 2/12/22. On the western edge of the property, the new silt fence lines up with the southern edge of the pond bank and a little bit north of the still-standing trees above the fence. Note the same trees in the first photo relative to the orange stake.

Had the silt fence been installed from the start of construction – as the Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan said it should have been – perhaps contractors would not have cut down the trees.

Pipe Apparently Still Buried

After digging a trench in the southern wall of the pond to discharge silty stormwater into Edgewater Park at the top of the frame, contractors then buried a pipe to create a permanent conduit. They still have not removed it to my knowledge. I visit this site every day and would likely have noticed people working on that. But all I saw was some dirt placed in front of the inlet and outlet. If still embedded, leakage through the pipe could explain the continued presence of silty water below the pipe in the trees at the top of the frame.

Red line marks approximate path of pipe buried by contractors. Photo taken 2/12/22.

Sometimes trying to take shortcuts can cost you more money in the long run than you save. Developers and contractors often get away with things because neighbors rarely read plans and watch to make sure they are followed. The assumption is that regulators inspect these sites daily. They don’t. We just don’t have enough of them.

Tomorrow…details of the developer’s Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan filed with the TCEQ. You definitely don’t want to miss that one.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/12/2022

1628 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.

Dirt Excavated from Woodridge Being Used to Build Up Laurel Springs RV Resort

Sprint Sand & Clay, the company hired by Harris County Flood Control to excavate 500,000 cubic yards of dirt from Woodridge Village, began hauling some of it to the controversial Laurel Springs RV Resort near Lakewood Cove this morning.

Wake-Up Calls

My phone started blowing up before breakfast with dozens of complaints about Sprint truck traffic. So, I began investigating. I first went to the Woodridge Village site. Drone photos and on-the-ground observations revealed that Sprint was indeed hauling dirt from the Woodridge Village excavation site.

SW corner of Woodridge Village taken Wednesday 2.9.22. Sprint trucks line up to haul off dirt.

I followed one of the trucks all the way to Laurel Springs Lane where I observed it dumping its load. Along the way and at each end, I saw many more Sprint trucks – up to four at a time. There was a veritable parade of dump trucks making round trips along Woodland Hills Drive, Kingwood Drive, Chestnut Ridge, and Laurel Springs Lane.

Orange truck from above enters RV site several minutes later and turns toward detention pond.
The orange truck dumps its load just north of the pond near an area marked as the 500-year floodplain. Other equipment spreads it out.

Will Storm Drains Be Adequate?

Sprint trucks had also dumped dirt near a new “north entrance” to the site.

In the shot above, note the ponding water from 0.2 inches of rain more than a week ago. The contractor’s Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan describes this soil as “silty sand” to a depth of 18 inches (Page 18).

They may want to recheck that before installing more storm drains.

Other Issues Noted Today

Most trucks that I observed used what has now become the “south” entrance. The fresh load of bullrock laid down days ago has already been covered with mud. That accounts for all the dirt tracked into the street.
While the storm sewers were still unprotected from dirt, at least a street sweeper was onsite today.
Another unprotected storm sewer and contractor taking water from City fire hydrant. Photo courtesy of Robin Seydewitz.
All the dump trucks I observed were this large size, not the kind that holds 10 cubic yards.

Good News/Bad News

The start of serious excavation at Woodridge Village comes as welcome news to the people of Elm Grove and North Kingwood Forest who flooded twice in 2019. However, it’s equally worrisome to the people of Forest Cove and Lakewood Cove. Many expressed concerns about potential flooding.

Risks from Building Up Land

Should existing residents be concerned about that? Yes, was the answer I got from one respected hydrologist who spoke on condition of anonymity. He likened the built-up area to a berm and said that “You don’t want a berm to stop overland sheet flow.”

The elevation survey shown below comes from the RV park’s Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan. It shows that the land naturally slopes from northeast to southwest. Building up the RV property would definitely prevent water from the NE from flowing in that direction. Sheet flow would divert south along Laurel Springs and put an evacuation route at risk.

Survey shown in developer’s Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan shows elevation going from 83.1 in the NE to 61.4 in the SW, a difference of more than 20 feet.

East to west along the southern boundary, the elevation drops from 67 feet at Laurel Springs to 61 feet near the railroad tracks.

Another risk is that sheet flow with nowhere else to go could back up Lakewood Cove storm sewers at the same time that the RV park is trying to pump water into them to compensate for its undersized detention pond.

Texas Water Code

Chapter 11.086 of the Texas Water Code covers situations like these.

If someone sustains water damage on their property due to a neighbor’s property, questions as to who may be liable may arise. Surface water runoff — most often caused by excess rainwater — is the common culprit. Texas law holds landowners responsible for damage to neighboring property due to diversion of surface water.

If you find the legal wording in the water code difficult to understand, visit this Texas State Law Library page for resources written in plainer English.

SWPPP Plan Good for Laugh-Out-Loud Moment

I received a copy of the RV Park’s SWPPP plan today from the TCEQ. Parts of it made me laugh out loud. For instance, the section about “Receiving Waters, Wetlands and Special Aquatic Sites” said:

“No existing wetlands or other special aquatic sites have been identified at or near this site [Emphasis added].”

Page 18 of Laurel Springs RV Park SWPPP prepared by Construction Eco Services

Obviously, they didn’t glance across the southern property line or consult the National Wetlands Database. I can’t wait to read the rest of this plan to uncover more gems.

From US Fish & Wildlife Service National Wetlands Inventory Mapper. The RV Park is going in just above the large green area labelled PF01A Future Edgewater Park.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/9/22

1625 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Eight TCEQ Investigations Reprimand Colony Ridge Construction Practices

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) finalized nine investigations into Colony Ridge construction practices this week. Eight of the nine found violations. And six of the eight scolded Colony Ridge for lack of best management practices relating to erosion controls. The other two cited Colony Ridge for operating without a permit.

Summary of Violations

The TCEQ meticulously documented the findings with dozens of photos and supporting documents. The nine investigations total 2,341 pages. Below is a summary of the investigation numbers, subdivisions and violations:

  • #1699286, Sante Fe #6, operating without a permit
  • #1704908, Long Branch, best management practice (BMP) violations
  • #174909, Sante Fe #5, failure to meet final stabilization requirements, large bare areas of unstabilized soil
  • #1704910, Sante Fe #7, BMP violations, unstabilized drainage channels, damaged BMPs, improperly installed BMPs
  • #1704912, Sante Fe #8, erosion control measures not installed
  • #1404914, Sante Fe #9, erosion control measures not installed
  • #1704916, Sante Fe #10 and #11, erosion control measures not installed
  • #1704918, Sante Fe #10 and #11, no violation
  • #1707467, Sante Fe #10 and #11, operating without a permit

The best management practices and erosion control measures cited above are designed to prevent the rivers of mud seen coming from Colony Ridge. The mud has partially plugged local creeks in Plum Grove, contributing to flooding. It has also contributed to sediment buildup farther downstream near the mouth bar of the San Jacinto East Fork.

Violations apply only to TCEQ regulations, not Liberty County’s drainage standards. The Liberty County attorney is reportedly conducting a separate investigation into Colony Ridge construction practices and engineering reports.

Nature of Violations

Six of the TCEQ violations relate to best management practices and erosion control. For instance:

  • Planting grass can stabilize soils.
  • Silt fences can prevent dirt from entering ditches.
  • Rock gabions can reduce the velocity of water, thus reducing erosion.

But the investigations found little evidence of any such practices. And when they did, the measures were often ineffective due to lack of maintenance. For instance, water eroded around and under silt fences, rendering them useless.

Dirt piled on sides of ditches. No silt fences, grass, or gabions. Photo taken May 26, 2021.

When you clear thousands of acres at a time, erosion control is important to protect downstream neighbors.

Two of the other investigations found Colony Ridge operating without a valid permit.

Conditions For Obtaining Permits

The National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) requires developers to formulate Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plans (SWPPP) as a condition of obtaining their permits. The plans should:

  • Control the perimeter of the site
  • Protect receiving waters adjacent to the site
  • Follow pollution prevention measures
  • Protect slopes and channels
  • Stabilize the site as soon as possible
  • Minimize the area and duration of exposed soils at any one time
Part of Colony Ridge expansion area covered in TCEQ investigations. Photo taken March 3, 2021.

The goals of pollution prevention plans include:

  • Retaining sediment on the property
  • Selecting, installing, inspecting, and maintaining sediment control measures in accordance with good engineering practices
  • Removing offsite accumulations of sediment that escapes the property at a frequency sufficient to minimize offsite impacts
  • Preventing litter from becoming a pollutant source in stormwater discharges
Accumulations of litter on banks of Colony Ridge ditchdefinitely not a best management practice. Photo taken March 3, 2021.

Penalties Unclear at This Time

It’s unclear at this time whether the TCEQ violations will result in any fines for Colony Ridge. Typically, the TCEQ gives regulated entities a chance to remedy violations before levying fines. However, the recurring nature of these violations may call for a new approach. TCEQ has warned Colony Ridge about similar issues in the past, saying that Colony Ridge violations could adversely affect human health. However, violations continue.

Clearly, the ability to fix problems without a fine – after silt has been discharged into bayous, streams and rivers – seems like an incentive to ignore, not obey, regulations. Violators can simply fix problems if caught and, if not, take their profits to the bank.

Looking south. Photo taken May 26, 2021. Colony Ridge continues to push north with same construction practices.

Conclusions of All Nine Reports

The reports comprise almost 650 megabytes. They are far too large to post in a forum like this. However, I have captured screen shots of the reports’ conclusions for those who wish more detail.

#1699286: operating without a permit

#1704908: failure to maintain and properly install BMPs

#1740909: failure to achieve final stabilization requirements, large areas of bare soil

#1704910: Failure to maintain BMPs, install them properly and stabilize drainage channels.

#1704912: erosion control measures not installed

#1704914: failure to install even minimum erosion controls.

#1704916: no erosion control measures installed

#1704918: No violations.

#1704467: Operating without a permit.

For full reports, visit the TCEQ website.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/5/2021, based on TCEQ investigations

1376 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.

LJA Engineering Report on Woodridge Stormwater-Pollution Safeguards Shows Deficiencies

An investigation by LJA Engineering found many stormwater pollution-prevention safeguards were not in place on the Woodridge Village construction site at the time of the Elm Grove flood on May 7.

After the flood, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) received multiple complaints about alleged SWPPP (stormwater pollution prevention plan) violations on the site. TCEQ referred them to Montgomery County for investigation. Montgomery County then referred them to LJA Engineering, which coincidentally also represented the Woodridge developer. But more on the apparent conflict later.

Timeline of Investigation

  • Between May 8 and May 10, 2019, LJA Engineers received five complaints for investigation.
  • On or about May 11, 2019, Rebel Contractors began installing safeguards and posting permits that should have been in place months before the flood.
  • LJA conducted its investigation on May 15, 2019.
  • LJA submitted its findings to Montgomery County on May 16. The report showed several deficiencies, but many more had been corrected shortly before the LJA inspection.
  • On June 5, 2019, LJA reinspected the site and found that all corrective actions requested on 5/15/2019 had been completed.
  • On July 8th, an email between LJA and the TCEQ indicated that the contractor was now in compliance and that Montgomery County considered all the complaints resolved.

Findings of LJA Engineering Investigation

Below are copies of the reports. Note that the LJA report reflects only what was in place at the time of their investigation, not before the flood.

Results of 5/15 inspection show that SWPPP permits were posted, however they were posted just before the inspection even though construction had been in progress for months.

The following photos were attached to the email containing the report above. They give the impression that the vast majority of silt fencing had been in place and that all the permits were posted. I could see no fencing and no permits when I visited the site immediately after the flood.

Permit notices, such as these, should have been in place months earlier, but showed up just before the LJA inspection.
Silt fence along Woodland Hills in Kingwood was also missing at time of flood, but installed days before inspection.
Lack of protection around storm sewer allowed silt to enter drains near Woodland Hills Drive.
Looking south on Woodland Hills, you can see silt fence adjacent to road but none protecting Sherwood Trails in background.
Looking east along county line (southern border of development), you can see recently installed silt fence.
These rock baskets at the entrance to Taylor Gulley in Kingwood were installed just before the inspection to control erosion (visible in the background). They were not in place at the time of the flood on May 7.
Looking south toward Taylor Gulley from the concrete culvert above.
Interior portion of the site without silt fencing. Taylor Gulley lies between utility poles and tree line on the left.
Looking south along the Porter boundary. Yates property is on right. Lack of silt fencing and adequate drainage covered his property in muck.
Clean bill of health issued after reinspection on 6/5/2019.

As proof of compliance, LJA submitted these two before/after photo sequences. Neither sequence corresponded to the photos from May 15 where the inspector noted deficiencies. These “before” photos bear a different date: May 23. The second report above never mentions an inspection on May 23.

Conflict of Interest?

Both the developer and Montgomery County hired LJA Engineering independently:

  • Subsidiaries of Perry Homes (Figure Four Partners and PSWA) hired LJA to design the site and its detention ponds. AND…
  • Montgomery County hired LJA to investigate complaints about multiple construction sites throughout the county.

LJA did not see a conflict of interest. Nor did it recuse itself. Instead, it claimed that two different divisions of the company handled the contracts, therefore, there was no conflict.

However, the timing of the investigation by LJA raises questions. LJA gave Rebel Contractors time to install most of the pollution-prevention measures that they should have installed months earlier.

Questions of Conscience

At this point, after reviewing hundreds of photos and drone footage taken after the flood, I have several questions:

  • Why didn’t Rebel Contractors address these deficiencies before the May 7th flood?
  • Did an LJA engineer’s repeated references to “I can’t comment on anything that existed before the inspection” indicate that he was aware of violations?
  • If so, why didn’t he take action to correct them earlier?
  • Construction permits specify that an engineer was to be onsite. Why wasn’t the engineer monitoring compliance with the SWPPP all along?
  • Did LJA Engineers give contractors advance notice of the inspection and then delay it so that all involved could look less culpable?
  • Did any fines result from the SWPPP violations?
  • If so, did advance notice of the inspection allow LJA’s other client, Figure Four Partners, to minimize the amount of fines?

Hundreds of Elm Grove residents have sued the Woodridge developer and contractor, alleging negligence, gross negligence, and negligence per se. They deserve answers to these questions.

Copies of the SWPPP plans still have not been made public to see if other irregularities exist. LJA Engineering has not returned phone calls.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/10/2019

680 Days after Hurricane Harvey

All thoughts expressed in this post represent my opinions on matters of public interest and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the great State of Texas.

Contractor Not Executing All Requirements in Approved Woodridge Plans

A review of construction plans for detention ponds and other site work in the troubled Woodridge Village subdivision revealed several deficiencies in the contractor’s performance to date. These deficiencies contributed to the widespread flooding on May 7 in Elm Grove and North Kingwood Forest. They have also affected life in those and other neighboring communities for months.

The plans submitted by LJA Engineers for Job #2027-1100L are dated July, 2018. Both the City of Houston and Montgomery County approved them. The plans specify responsibilities for Rebel Contractors.

Deficiencies include, but are not limited to, inadequate detention, poor drainage, missing silt fencing, not displaying permits, failure to repair damage to streets, and lack of supervision.

Missing Silt Fencing

Let’s start with a pretty standard one: silt fencing. Their purpose is to control runoff that carries silt into streets and sewers. The objective: avoid clogged storm drains that can exacerbate flooding and require expensive remediation.

The law requires contractors to erect silt fencing BEFORE they even clear the land. The contractor completed clearcutting the land adjacent to Elm Grove last November. But when I visited the job site on May 9 of this year – six months later – I could see no silt fencing…anywhere.

Image taken on 5/9/19 at north end of Village Springs Drive in Elm Grove. Note lack of silt fencing and presence of clay and silt in street.

On May 16, one day after the LJA site inspection, I took this picture.

Silt fence installed AFTER flood.

Page 6, Point #5 says, “Contractor must inspect all structural controls at a minimum once every seven days and within 24 hours after a storm event that meets or exceeds .5 inches per 24 hour period.” Structural controls would include the silt fencing that wasn’t installed for 6 months.

Does it really make a difference? Look at the water quality in these two pictures taken by Jeff Miller in front of his home in Elm Grove.

Water in street in front of Jeff Miller’s house in Elm Grove during Harvey, BEFORE Rebel Contractors clearcut the area to the north.
Water in same street on May 7 after clearcutting adjacent area. No silt fences were installed.

Says Miller, the homeowner who took the pictures above, “Certainly in addition to suspended solids, there were also dissolved chemicals and biological materials (eg., diatoms) swept into Taylor Gully and our drinking water.” Miller is a retired project manager for a large pharmaceutical company and knows about the importance of avoiding contamination.

Missing or Inadequate Supervision

Several pages in the plans, including the cover page, specify that a professional engineer must monitor construction to ensure compliance with construction plans and specifications. If that person was doing his/her job, how could he/she possibly miss the lack of silt fencing…which is also specified on numerous pages? You should have to climb over it to get into the site!

Inadequate Drainage

Page 2, Column 1, Point #3 states, “Contractor shall be responsible for damages to existing water, wastewater, and storm drainage lines.” According to residents and maps available on the Montgomery County Appraisal District web site, the contractor filled in existing drainage before Elm Grove flooded; it never had before.

Also on Page 2, Column 1, Point #5 states, “Adequate drainage shall be maintained at all times during construction and any drainage ditch or structure disturbed during construction shall be restored to existing conditions or better.” Again, the contractor filled in existing drainage, did not restore it, and Elm Grove flooded. The contractor also worked on the site for six months without installing the main detention pond in the area to where all water was draining. After the flood, it took them only a day or so to excavate most of the pond. Why wait so long?

Here’s where it should have gone.

Detention pond in red circle just above flooded homes was not in place before flood. Yet all the drainage for 268 acres exited the site through here. See photos below.
Image taken on 5/12/19, five days after storm by Bob Rehak shows detention pond S2 has not yet been excavated.
Four days later, photo by Jeff Miller on 5/16/19 shows S2 pond being excavated. Pond still has not reached required depth of 15 feet. Representative of LJA Engineers did not recall seeing the excavation during their site inspection on May 15.

Street Damage

Page 2, Column 1, Point #8 states, “Any damage to any of the existing pavement and/or utilities must be repaired immediately. The contractor must notify the appropriate utility owner who will make the repairs at the contractor’s expense.” People in Porter have been complaining for months about how heavy construction traffic has crumbled their asphalt streets.

Heavy truck about to turn left into Webb Street construction entrance. Photo by Bob Rehak.
Damage to Web Street from construction traffic. Pile of dirt was dumped there by contractor. Photo by Bob Rehak.

Keeping Pipe Free of Dirt

Page 2, Column 1, Point #15 states, “All pipe and reinforcement steel shall be kept free of dirt and other debris. Any damage to the coating of the various materials must be repaired.” See image below. Nuff said.

Taken from Woodland Hills Drive on May 8, 2019

Maintaining Adequate and Positive Drainage at All Times

Page 2, Column 1, Point #16 says, “Contractor shall be responsible for maintaining adequate and positive drainage at all times during construction of proposed facilities.” If the adequate part was true, Edy Cogdill could not have shot this video of water pouring out of the construction site and flooding Village Springs Drive.

It is also unlikely that the high water rescue vehicle below would have been necessary on May 7.

Houston Fire Department High Water Rescue Truck during May 7 flood in Elm Grove.

No Traffic Controls

Page 2, Column 4, Point #1 under Traffic Notes states, “Contractor shall provide and install traffic control devices in conformance with Part VI of the Texas Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices.” No traffic control devices are installed anywhere around the site as of this writing, yet construction machinery barges right out into traffic, as this equipment did in front of me. With one way in and out of this neighborhood, residents complain that they have had to wait up to half an hour while large equipment gets stuck in ditches.

Residents complain that equipment frequently blocks traffic. I witnessed this personally.

Page 6, Point #10 says, “Contractor is responsible for cleaning mud and or dirt tracked onto existing streets, by his workman’s, contractor’s or suppliers’ vehicles. Street must be cleared within 24 hours of when the tracking occurs.” Above, I caught the contractor dumping dirt on the street, in a feeble attempt to shore up the shoulder to widen the turning radius. The contractor succeeded only in further destroying the street. He should have widened his own driveway instead.

Complying with Environmental Laws

Page 6, Point #3 states, “Contractor will be responsible for complying with all environmental laws.” One such law stipulates that the contractor isn’t supposed to let silty water leave the site; hence the discussion of silt fences above. Another states that they must post their Stormwater Pollution Prevention Permits at site entrances. I looked high and low for those without success for the week after the flood. Then suddenly on May 16, I saw this posted.

Photographed on May 16, 2019, this should have been posted from the start of construction.

Such notices enable residents to file complaints when they notice violations. Not posting the notice makes it difficult to know where to complain or about whom to complain. If you have seen other suspicious activities you wish to report, here’s all about Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plans. They’re supposed to be monitored by the TCEQ.

But in this case, the TCEQ turfed the investigation to LJA Engineering, which was paid by both the developer (to plan the site) and Montgomery County (to inspect permit compliance).

I could go on and on. (Actually, I’m just getting warmed up.) There are 26 pages of plans relating to the detention and drainage. Download them for yourself and let me know what else you find.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/23/2019 with help from Jeff Miller, Gretchen Dunlap-Smith and Abel Vera

632 Days after Hurricane Harvey