Tag Archive for: The Herons

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

TCEQ Observes Triple-PG Sand Mine Discharging Wastewater Directly into Tributary of Lake Houston

On May 18, Josh Alberson and I gave Tony Buzbee a tour of sediment and sand mining issues on the San Jacinto River. Buzbee is a candidate for Mayor of Houston and got to witness first hand some of the problems I have been talking about for almost two years now. On Caney Creek, we stumbled across a giant breach in the dike of the Triple-PG mine in Porter. We reported it immediately to the TCEQ.

Massive breach in dike between Triple PG Mine and Caney Creek, May, 2019

Two-Week Discharge

Investigators actually observed the unauthorized discharge of process water from the mine into the City’s drinking water supply. It continued for approximately two weeks.

Not One, But Two Massive Breaches

The TCEQ found not one, but two breaches. The first was on the southwest side of the mine. Water entered the mine from a breach of the dike near White Oak Creek. The water then swept through the mine and exited through a second breach on Caney Creek. That meant the two creeks were actually flushing process water out of the mine into the drinking water supply for two million people.

The TCEQ finished its investigation in July and cited the operation for failing to prevent the unauthorized discharge of process water. The TCEQ told them to repair and widen their dikes. They did. Case closed.

Classic Example of Pit Capture

The breeches appear to be the result of heavy rains in early May. This is a prime example of pit capture. High pressure in the floodway causes dike failure. The river or stream then flows through the mine and breaks out the opposite side. The same thing happened during Harvey when floodwaters carried away a large part of the mine’s stockpile.

Repeated Violations

This same mine has been investigated five times in five years by the TCEQ for various problems detailed in this report. The mine is owned by a cardiologist from Nacogdoches named Guniganti. His family operates it.

The basic problem with this mine is its location. It sits at the confluence of two floodways. That’s why the dikes were blown out. That’s why Harvey’s floodwaters swept through it. Continuing to operate this mine is like flying a plane into conditions that you know are unsafe.

No Disincentive for Dangerous Business Practices

Yet there’s no disincentive for dangerous business practices. Investigators told the operators to fix the breaches. They did. Business will go on as usual. Until the next disaster.

As a society, why do we tolerate this?

We even seem to venerate it. How strange that one family’s profit outweighs the health and safety of millions! The legislature had an opportunity to fix this problem this year. However, one bill that would have established best practices for sand mining and another that would have established minimum setbacks from rivers for sand mines never made it out of committee. Likewise HB-908 proposed by State Representative Dan Huberty that would have provided meaningful financial penalties for such bad practices never made it out of committee.

Tax Breaks Instead of Penalties

This Guniganti family even gets tax breaks from Montgomery County. The appraisal district gives timber and agricultural exemptions to areas actively being mined. Go figure!

Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/23/2019

724 Days after Hurricane Harvey

The 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.

Public Notice: Army Corps and TCEQ Soliciting Comments on High-Rise Development Near River Grove Park

Romerica Investments, LLC has applied for a permit to develop wetlands, flood plain, and floodway in the area around Barrington and River Grove Park in Kingwood. Rumored for years, many residents, including me, assumed the project died after Harvey. After all, who would be crazy enough to build high-rises in the path of 250,000 cfs? But as they say in horror movies, “It’s baaaa-aaack.” The proposed development includes: a marina/resort district, a commercial district, a residential district, and roadway expansion.

Here’s a link to a video that describes the architect’s vision for the development. It was posted to Vimeo in February of this year. Note the sky-blue waters of the San Jacinto. (This is what you get when a developer in Mexico uses an architect in Rome.) See more specifics below.

Location of Romerica’s proposed development.
The major pieces of Romerica’s proposed Kingwood development. For details see below.

River and Floodway Alterations

The applicant proposes to construct a new navigation channel on the West Fork to the south of the proposed marina and expand the existing channel on the east for better connectivity between the proposed marina and the West Fork San Jacinto River. 

Features of Proposed Resort District

The applicant proposes to develop the 25 acres north of the proposed marina into a resort district. The resort district will consist of a resort hotel, commercial, and residential space. The applicant proposes to construct:

  • Five towers within the resort district at a height of 90 feet for the western hotel parcel
  • Residential condominium towers at a height of 260 feet, and at a height of 500 feet (50 stories) for the eastern hotel and condominium parcel. 
  • Fill material would be used to raise the elevation of the resort district 12 feet from 45 to 57 feet to raise the proposed structures above the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) 100-year floodplain of the West Fork San Jacinto River.  

Features of Proposed Commercial District

In a 47 acre commercial district, the applicant proposes to construct:

  • Retail, residential, and office space.
  • Three towers ranging in height from 230 to 400 feet for the retail offices and residential condominium towers.
  • Additional mid-rise residential and retail spreads at a height of 70 feet. 
  • Fill material would raise the elevation of the commercial district from 45 feet to 57 feet over base flood elevation and raise the proposed structures over the FEMA 100-year floodplain of the West Fork San Jacinto. 
  • Parking garages with two below grade levels and concealed above grade levels to increase the footprint density. 
  • A 19.25-acre lake (from an existing 16.25-acre lake) to create a smaller marina area for personal watercraft parking.
  • A 125-foot wide channel between the 80-acre marina and the 19.25-acre marina and the marina/resort district and the commercial district. 

Features of Proposed Residential District

The 64-acre residential district would include:

  • Condominium structures, 65-feet high, on pier and beam foundations with elevated first floor parking and four stories.
  • They would use fill to elevate them to 58.5 feet, which is above the FEMA 100-year floodplain of the West Fork San Jacinto River. 
  • 25-story condominiums with parking garages.
  • Nearly 2 miles of 41 foot wide roadways with bridges over canals and streams.

Expansion of Woodland Hills Drive

The applicant also plans to bring in more than 1700 cubic yards of fill to raise and expand Woodland Hills Drive. Woodland Hills would become four lanes all the way to Hamblen.

Wetlands Mitigation: Somewhere Else

To compensate for all the fill they are bringing into the floodplain and wetlands, they would purchase mitigation credits from outside the Kingwood area. Basically this means that all of this development would be filling in local floodplains and floodway without commensurate local compensation. Said another way, it would constrict the flow of the West Fork during floods.

To review the complete text of the public notice, click here.

To review the proposed plans, locations and schematics, click here.

Comments are used to determine the need for a public hearing and to determine the overall public interest of the proposed activity. For accuracy and completeness of the record, all data in support of or in opposition to the proposed work should be submitted in writing. Concerns should contain sufficient detail to furnish a clear understanding of the reasons for support or opposition. Prior to the close of the public comment period on January 29, the Corps’ District Engineer will determine whether sufficient cause exists to hold a public hearing.

If no comments are received by that date, it will be considered that there are no objections.

Comments and requests for additional information should reference USACE file number, SWG-2016-00384, and should be submitted to: 

  • Evaluation Branch, North Unit 
  • Regulatory Division, CESWG-RD-E 
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 
  • P.O. Box 1229 
  • Galveston, Texas 77553-1229 
  • 409-766-3869 Phone 
  • 409-766-6301 Fax 
  • swg_public_notice@usace.army.mil 

Rehak’s Concerns

  1. If not removed, the mouth bar will back flood water up into this area during major floods.
  2. I thought Friendswood deed restrictions limited the height of commercial structures to 3 stories. When I built my commercial property, that was the limit. It was also a major point of contention during the construction of the new Emergency Hospital at 59 north of Kingwood Drive. I wonder how they’re getting around that. All these high rise buildings in the middle of a residential area will significantly change the character of the community. Most residents bought into Kingwood because of those deed restrictions.
  3. Filling in our floodplain with mitigation credits purchased from somewhere else will significantly alter floodplain characteristics here. When KSA explored building a dog park in River Grove Park, the City engineer told us that the width of the fence posts could not reduce flood conveyance by .000001%. The maximum allowable was 0%.
  4. Boat navigation on the West Fork has been if-fy for decades and getting worse due to sediment washed downstream from sand mines. Dredging may improve a two-mile stretch, but until the mouth bar is removed, boats will have a difficult time navigating beyond that. The Army Corps is having to dredge its way up and down the river. Any marina likely could not survive the kinds of floods we had in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Other structures would also likely be damaged.
  5. If damaged in a future flood like Harvey, who would have pockets deep enough to repair these huge structures? Few would want to inhabit them. The one office building on Hamblen has flooded repeatedly in the 35 years I have lived here. It’s not just repairing water damage this close to the river; Harvey deposited 5 feet of sand in River Grove Park. How do you clean all of that sand out of a luxury resort?
  6. The paving and filling of all this wetland will increase and accelerate runoff that endangers downstream properties.
  7. It appears that no environmental impact study has been filed.
  8. All of the floodplain calculations are based on old surveys which are currently being revised. Before these buildings could even be built, floodplain maps will be redrawn. Remember, USGS reclassified Harvey flooding at Highway 99 as a 42-year storm. The area where many of these buildings would be built has been under three feet of water at least four times this year.
  9. I’m not an engineer, but will the soil support structures this large?
  10. It already can take a half hour to get in and out of Kingwood at rush hour. This high density development could add thousands of additional cars when residents have indicated they do not want to widen Kingwood Drive or Hamblen Road. The information provided to date makes no mention of traffic loads.

Having said all that, the architects renderings look gorgeous. If they could solve those concerns, the development might be an asset to the community.

Please send your feelings, pro or con, to the address above.

These are my opinions on matters of public policy protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP statutes of the great state of Texas.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/29/2018

487 Days since Hurricane Harvey