Tag Archive for: Woodridge

Deadlines Converging on Woodridge Deal; Option If Purchase Falls Through

Several deadlines are converging to force a decision on whether to purchase Woodridge Village from Perry Homes and turn it into a giant regional detention pond. Every day that passes makes that deal appear more remote for reasons I will discuss below. Luckily, Elm Grove residents have an option, which I will discuss at the end of this post. But first…

Deadline #1: Detention Ponds Nearing Completion

Contractors for Perry Homes have nearly finished all detention ponds on the site. Last week, they were cementing drainage pipes and pilot channels in place.

Looking north across the western boundary of Woodridge Village and the massive N2 detention pond on 7/12/2020. N2 has 57% of the detention capacity for the entire site.

Contractors also appeared to be building drainage swales designed to intercept runoff and channel it toward the detention ponds.

Drainage swales, looking east along northern boundary of Woodridge Village on 7/12/2020

These swales were Item #6 on J. Carey Gray’s 10/17/19 letter to the City of Houston Attorney, Ronald Lewis.

Gray is the lawyer for Figure Four Partners, Perry’s development subsidiary. In the letter, Gray promised the last item would be completed in 280 days. 280 days from the date of the letter (October 17th, 2019) is July 24 – this coming Friday.

Perry has said that it would not start building homes and roads until they finished work on detention ponds. With that work done, how much longer will they delay?

Deadline #2: 75 Days from County’s Redefining of Deal

Last week, Houston Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin addressed the Kingwood Executive Group. He said that after the May 19th Commissioners Court meeting in which Commissioners redefined the terms of the purchase, Perry sent a letter saying “you have 75 days or we will sell the property.”

75 days from May 19th is August 2nd.

The City applied for a grant from the TWDB to help pay for its half of the purchase/construction costs. However, the TDWB doesn’t expect to finalize decisions on those until this winter.

Deadline #3: Upcoming Commissioners Court Meeting

The next Harris County Commissioners Court Meeting is July 28th. They don’t meet again until August 11. Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle is placing an item on the agenda for next Tuesday to discuss the status of the purchase.

Deadline #4: Perry Says It Has Offer Waiting in Wings

At the same meeting of Kingwood executives, Mr. Martin reported that Perry said it had an offer to buy the property. But he also questioned how firm the offer could be, given all the pending litigation.

Deadline #5: Peak of Storm Season Approaching

Nature always gets the last say. Nature could make everyone involved in this deal look bad if Elm Grove and North Kingwood Forest flood again.

We’re now approaching the peak of hurricane season. Beginning in August, storms start to build rapidly. They peak on September 10. See below.

Number of Storms by Date for the last hundred years. Source: NOAA

We have two storms approaching now. One south of Louisiana. The other still in the mid-Atlantic.

Based on satellite and surface observations, a broad surface low pressure center has formed with the tropical wave moving into the central Gulf of Mexico. NHC has increased the chance of formation to 80% and advised that watches and/or warnings could be issued for portions of the TX and LA coast tonight or on Thursday.

Overall, says the National Hurricane Center (NHC), the organization of the system off the Texas coast is increasing and it is likely that a tropical depression or storm will form in the next day or two as the system moves generally toward the WNW around 10mph.

Jeff Lindner, Harris County meteorologist predicts it “could drop 1-3 inches with isolated totals of 4-6 inches. Heaviest rains may end up close to the coast, say south of a line from High Island to Wharton. There’s still much uncertainty, although visible images this morning show a better organized system in the Gulf.”

Latest satellite images show storm in Gulf building.
Gonzalo, the Atlantic storm now looks like it will track into the Caribbean by Sunday and turn into a hurricane.

The second storm intensified this morning and was given the name Gonzalo. According to Lindner, Gonzalo may weaken as it moves across the Caribbean Sea if it encounters wind shear. So forecasters have low confidence in intensity predictions. However, “small systems such as Gonzalo can have rapid fluctuations in intensity,” says Lindner. And most models agree on the path.”

Nature, as they say in poker, could soon call everyone’s hand.

Option if Deal Does Not Happen

The amount of detention that Perry has built is 40% short of Atlas 14 guidelines for this area. What happens if the Woodridge Village purchase falls through? Is it the end of Elm Grove? Not necessarily.

Residents have a fallback. Harris County Flood Control could widen and deepen Taylor Gully. Engineers have reportedly studied that option as part of the Kingwood Area Drainage Analysis, due out in September.

However, widening and deepening Taylor Gully could take some time. And there is intense competition for resources right now. That option could not be constructed in time to head off storms for this hurricane season. So keep your fingers crossed.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/22/2020

1058 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 307 since Imelda

Woodridge Village Turns Into Beehive of Construction Activity

Last year, overland sheet flow from Perry Homes’ Woodridge Village contributed to flooding hundreds of homes in Elm Grove and North Kingwood Forest twice. Construction slowed last fall, but has now turned into a beehive of activity. Just days before a deadline for a deal with the Harris County and the City of Houston to buy the property. Yesterday, dozens of pieces of heavy equipment swarmed over the northern section.

Visible Changes Since April 21st Flyover

Since my April 21st flyover:

  • Excavation of the N1 detention pond started
  • Excavation of the N2 detention pond continues.
  • N3 is surprisingly far along, perhaps 30-50% complete
  • Contractors are filling in wetlands and bogs with dirt excavated from detention ponds
  • They are building a concrete pilot channel down the east/west portion of Taylor Gulley
  • And they appear to be blocking out some roads.

These construction crews appear to have completed more work in the last month than the original contractors did in the last year.

Purchase Deal Faces May 15 Deadline

Perry originally set a May 15 deadline for a City/County commitment to purchase the property. Perry said that if they didn’t receive a commitment by then, they would continue to develop the Woodridge Village property and to try to sell it on the private market.

When Harris County commissioners last met, they put two conditions on a purchase:

  • That the cash-poor City of Houston donate land worth $7 million (half the purchase price) to Harris County Flood Control District, to help defray the cost of other other flood-mitigation projects.
  • That the City of Houston adopt NOAA’s latest Atlas 14 precipitation frequency estimates.

Sources close to the deal believe that if Perry Homes gets a firm commitment by the 15th, that will keep negotiations open.

However, the last City Council meeting before the deadline starts this afternoon (May 12). Donation of land to Harris County Flood Control is not on the agenda. Neither is an Atlas-14 resolution.

Harris County Commissioners Court publishes the agenda this Friday for their Tuesday, May 19th meeting.

Pictures of Work in Progress as of 5/11/2020

Below are pictures of the Woodridge Village work in progress. All were taken on 5/11/2020. It certainly appears as though Perry Homes is hedging its bets in case the City and County don’t come through with an offer. For orientation purposes, the first image shows where detention ponds go.

Location of detention ponds within Perry Homes’ property.
Looking south along the eastern property line of Woodridge Village at excavation of the N3 detention pond.
Looking southeast from the northwest corner of Woodridge near the Webb Street entrance. Shows initial work on the N2 pond.
Looking southeast. Activity is where Mace Street extension into Woodridge Village would go.
N2 Detention Pond Extension
Filling in the bog adjacent to Woodland Hills. Note mud on left side of photo.
Looking north from SW corner. S1 is in foreground. S2 is in upper right. N2 is triangular area in upper left.
A tighter shot looking north along western boundary with N2 in foregroundyou can see three distinct zones of activity.
Hovering over Village Springs in Elm Grove, looking north along eastern property boundary. S2 is in middle and N3 is taking shape above that.
Where Taylor Gully makes a turn north of S2, contractors are installing a concrete pilot channel.
Looking NW across northern section. Taylor Gully is on bottom left. S2 on upper right. Dirt excavated from various ponds is being used to fill in wetlands, center.
Middle of eastern boundary, excavation work continues on N3 and a channel that will lead down to Taylor Gully.

After months of foot dragging, construction activity at Woodridge is now in high gear. Perry Homes says it expects to finish work on the detention ponds sometime this summer.

Sale or no sale, that’s good. Hurricane season is just a little more than two weeks away. These ponds won’t be fully functional by then, but every little bit helps.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/12/2020

987 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 236 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.

More Delays on Fixing Perry Homes’ Drainage Debacle Increases Risk of Yet More Elm Grove Flooding

At the current rate of work, Perry Homes could easily take 3-4 years to complete the detention ponds on its Woodridge Village development. The chances of getting another rain event like May 7th during that period? 27.1% if it takes Perry 3 years and 34.4% if it takes 4.

Perry has moved only a few shovels full of dirt since early August to expand detention capacity. That’s when construction activity came to a virtual standstill.

Despite an October 17th letter from Perry Homes’ lawyer to the City Attorney promising to accelerate work on detention ponds, the company has not.

This significantly raises Perry Homes’ legal liability if Elm Grove floods again.

How to Determine Cumulative Probabilities

How do you compile those statistics? Start by classifying the storm. The May 7th storm that flooded approximately 200 homes was a 10-year event, according to USGS, NOAA and National Weather Service statistics below.

Hourly rainfall totals for the USGS gage at US59 and the West Fork. Whether you consider six inches in six hours or 3.6 inches in one hour, May 7th storm still classifies as a 10-year event.

Next, figure the cumulative probability of it happening again during a given time period. If you ask, “What are the chances of another May 7th happening in any year,” the answer is always 10%. But if you ask, “What are the chances of another May 7th happening in the next three-years,” the answer is different.

You calculate the cumulative probability using the following formula:

Probability of at least one 10-year storm in next 3 years = 1 – (9/10)3rd = 27.1%. Four years equals 34.4%.

The possibility exists that the rainfall rate may have been slightly higher in Elm Grove on May 7th. But these are official statistics and conservative for the purposes of estimating risk. They don’t even include the chances of getting hit by even larger storms in the same year (as we did with Imelda).

Legal Risk of Not Mitigating Flood Risk

Perry Homes has shown little desire to mitigate flood risk by expanding detention capacity at Woodridge – even after promising the City of Houston it would do so.

After clearcutting virtually the entire site, Perry had installed only 7% of the required detention ponds when the May 7th flood hit and only 23% by the time Imelda hit on September 19. Since then? Virtually nothing!

Where three detention ponds should be on the northern portion of Woodridge Village. 77% of detention capacity is still missing after four months of inactivity.

What Perry Homes Has and Hasn’t Done

Since the October 17th letter laying out a 26-month timetable for completing work on Woodridge detention ponds, Perry Homes HAS:

  • Removed several brush piles from their northern property (shown above)
  • Slightly widened 300 feet of Taylor Gully
  • Concreted a portion of the 300 feet (see below).
  • Moved a small amount of dirt from the S2 pond that eroded into it back up onto the banks (see below).
  • Spread some grass seed on the northern portion of the development (see two photos below)
Perry Homes moves eroded dirt from S2 detention pond back onto banks on 12/3/2019.
The area where the N3 detention pond should be now has a small amount of grass. Photo by Jeff Miller.

Perry Homes has NOT:

  • Finished work on the S2 detention pond.
  • Started work on other detention ponds.
  • Managed to keep ponding water from reducing the volume of S2.
  • Established grass on pond banks to reduce erosion as regulations require.
  • Finished the spillway into S2 from Taylor Gully.
  • Fenced in their detention ponds as regulations require.
  • Installed maintenance roads around the ponds as regulations require.
  • Released its internal investigation into the causes of Elm Grove flooding as it promised Channel 2 news.
Section 7 of Montgomery County Drainage Criteria Manual shows many items still missing from Perry Homes’ existing detention ponds.
Close up of spillway into S2 pond and its north bank as of 12/5/2019. Photo courtesy of Jeff Miller.

Perry Homes Increases Risk to Residents and Itself

Since August when Perry Homes virtually stopped working on Woodridge, the company has done nothing to allay the major causes of flooding: clearcutting and lack of detention. It has slow-walked this project. Whatever its motivation, Perry Homes has significantly increased the risk of flooding Elm Grove residents again. In doing so, it also increases its own risks.

If Perry Homes does flood Elm Grove again, its slowdown and disregard for the promises it made to the City in its October 17th letter could prove the difference between negligence, gross negligence and punitive damages.

According to the Sawaya Law Firm, “Gross negligence is the extreme indifference to or reckless disregard for the safety of others. Gross negligence is more than simple carelessness or failure to act. It is willful behavior done with extreme disregard for the health and safety of others. It is conduct likely to cause foreseeable harm.”

Kathy Perry Britton knows that slow-walking the expansion of detention capacity will increase the risk of another major storm hitting Elm Grove before she finishes. But I doubt her lawyers are telling her that risk could be as high as 34%.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/15/2019 with help from Jeff Miller

838 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 87 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.

Woodridge Village Update: More Dirt, Denials, Delays

Twenty-three days ago, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner read a letter to a packed town hall meeting at the Kingwood Community Center. The letter was from a lawyer named J. Carey Gray. Mr. Gray laid out a timetable for accelerating completion of the detention ponds on the troubled Perry Homes’ development, Woodridge Village, just north of Elm Grove. The first deliverable: completing the S2 pond in 30-45 days – even though it was already largely completed.

As of early this week, contractors have performed no new excavation work on the site since early August. See pictures below.

One Piece of Equipment Moves Closer to S2 Pond

This piece of Rebel Construction equipment moved from the site entrance to north of the S2 pond last Thursday. It looks as though its in danger of actually doing some work. Photo by Jeff Miller on 11/7/2019.

Dirt Continues to Flow From Construction Site

Construction has slowed to a virtual standstill for three months. Between that time and the time the photos below were taken, we had Imelda and a 2.12-inch rain on October 29.

On the 29th, yet more mud washed out of the development into the City’s storm drains, despite the City’s Cease and Desist Letter.

This and photos immediately below were taken on 10/29/2019 near Woodridge Village Construction entrance on Fair Grove Drive and Creek Manor Drive in Kingwood.
Dropping back a little farther, you can see the silty runoff from the construction site. Notice the contrast between that and the clear water coming from a resident’s lawn through the curb break.
Contrast appears a little clearer in this closeup.
You can see the contrast even better where the water enters this storm drain. Muddy water is coming from the construction site. Clear water from the neighborhood to the south.
These sand waves covered Fair Grove Drive just outside the construction site entrance...despite silt fencing.
Here’s a picture of water going into the S2 Detention pond at the north end of Village Springs Drive.
And here it is coming out of S2 into Taylor Gully. S2 is behind the trees on the left. This shot is looking north.

Of course, flooding, not sediment is the real issue in Elm Grove. However, sediment can block storm drains and contribute to flooding. That’s why the City has an ordinance prohibiting discharges of sediment into the City’s sewer system. It’s one area where the City has real leverage with the Perry gang. That’s why so much emphasis has been placed on sediment in this controversy.

City Inspectors Visit Site

Thursday and again Friday, City inspectors checked the construction site for discharges. We dodged a huge bullet Thursday. Parts of Houston received five inches of rain. But the Lake Houston Area received less than one inch.

Photo taken 11/7/2019 by Jeff Miller of a City Inspector photographing Woodridge S2 detention pond.
Photo taken 11/7/2019 by Jeff Miller shows same City Inspector walking along Taylor Gully just south of Woodridge.

Denials, Finger Pointing, Objections on Legal Front

Webster and Spurlock, lawyers for hundreds of Elm Grove flood victims, have brought another defendant into the suit. It is Texasite LLC of Montgomery, Texas. Legal filings do not describe exactly what the new defendant did on site. The company has no web site that I can find. Even the Texas Secretary of State can’t shed much light on the matter; the company’s Certificate of Formation simply says it is organized to “conduct lawful business.”

That said, whatever they allegedly did, they aren’t accepting responsibility for it. Texasite:

  • Denies they harmed anyone
  • Asserts that plaintiffs caused their own injuries through negligence
  • Asserts that third parties caused the damage. Those third parties include God.

In other legal news, Webster and Spurlock filed a notice of intent to take a deposition by written questions from LJA Engineering. The list of information they seek is two pages long.

PSWA and Figure Four Partners, two Perry Homes subsidiaries being sued, objected to items #2 and #3 on the list. They included “letters, emails, and other correspondence/communications between LJA Engineering & Surveying” and the defendants “with regard to the Woodridge Village Development.” The defendants argued in their objection that the request was overly broad because it didn’t limit the time period or subject matter. So sayeth Counselor J. Carey Gray, who wrote the overly vague letter to the City of Houston re: completion of the detention ponds. According to documents on file with the Harris County District Clerk, the judge has not yet ruled on Perry’s objection to production of the evidence.

Delays Also Continue on Construction of More Detention

I flew over the Woodridge Village construction site on Monday, 11/4 and saw no evidence of construction activity, despite the assurances made by Counselor Gray. The images below show the lack of activity from several different angles.

Looking N at the extreme western tail of the construction site that borders Woodland Hills Drive (left). This and all photos below taken on 11/4/2019.
Looking NE across the north and south sections of the site. Detention pond S1 runs along the diagonal tree line from the lower left. Detention Pond N2 is in the upper right. These two ponds comprise 23% of the total detention capacity by volume.
Detention pond N3 is supposed to go along the trees in the background to the left of the S2 pond. It has not been started yet. Notice the one piece of yellow equipment at work clearcutting more land on the middle left.
Close up of where the N3 pond will eventually go. It will start in the bottom left and curl around the upper right.
Looking west. No construction activity on the northeast corner of the site in the foreground.
From this angle, looking SW, it’s easy to see all the standing water on the site. We received two inches of rain SIX days before. So much for LJA’s assumption that this site contained sandy loam. The ponding water after such a long period suggests a high clay content. That in turn explains the rapid and huge runoff rates that flooded Elm Grove.
More ponding water indicating high clay content.
Looking west at the NW corner of the site. This is where the non-existent N1 pond should be.
Looking North. The largest detention pond on the site, N2, will go in that triangular green area (center). Contractors were supposed to deepen and enlarge it. The partial detention capacity you see here now was developed by Montgomery County in 2006 as mitigation for another site. So the detention capacity you see in this image, by itself, would not reduce Elm Grove flooding potential. Saying it did would be like trying to sell a ticket that someone else already bought.

I’m Shocked, Shocked I Tell You

So what are we to make of the continued lack of construction activity? To paraphrase the exchange between Strasser and Renault in the movie Casablanca, I am shocked – SHOCKED – Perry would promise the Mayor of Houston that it would accelerate construction of new detention ponds and then not do it.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/9/2019, with photos an updates from Jeff Miller.

802 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 50 Days since Imelda

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

New Drone and Helicopter Footage Reveals How Elm Grove Disaster Unfolded

In the world of process quality-control, a consulting company named Kepner-Tregoe built a reputation for itself with a simple methodology. The foundation? When a problem appears, look for something different you did. Chances are, you’ll find the cause there.

Applying that same methodology to Elm Grove, an area that never flooded before May 7th, but which has flooded twice since then, one would have to look at the clearcut area immediately to the north, home of a new development called Woodridge Village.

Shortly after Perry Homes, its subsidiaries and contractors clearcut approximately 268 acres the problems started. But that wasn’t all the Perry gang did.

Before Harvey

They also filled in all the natural streams and wetlands that wound through the dense forest, slowing down runoff. Here’s what the area looked like before Harvey.

This is where the wetlands were (past tense).

Source: USGS. According to the Army Corps of Engineers, no one requested a jurisdictional delineation for the wetlands on this site. Normally, engineering companies request such a ruling to see if the Corps will object to the loss of valuable wetlands. So this project could have required a Corps permit that the developer never obtained.

After Clearcutting

Here’s what the same area looks like today from a helicopter facing south.

Shot taken on 9/21/19 two days after Imelda. Land slopes generally from NW to SE, funneling toward Taylor Gully at the tip of the arrow. Note the ponding water on the northwest side of the dirt pile near the base of the arrow. Depending on where rain falls within this area, it could take a different path, but the destination remains the same – Taylor Gully.

The LJA engineer who authored the Woodridge hydrology report characterized the slope on the northern section as 1% or greater. That’s confirmed by this contour map. And that slope is enough to make water move.

For the full report, click here.
This map shows that LJA Engineering knew all drainage funneled into Taylor Gully. For the full report, click here.
LJA also knew that the areas on either side of Taylor Gully in North Kingwood Forest and Elm Grove were vulnerable. Large areas were classified within the 100-year flood plain. For the full report, click here.

Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc

Kepner-Tregoe aside, just because something happened after something else does not automatically mean that A caused B. In logic, that assumption is called the Post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy.  (Latin for “after this, therefore because of this.”)

Even though the Kepner-Tregoe methodology strongly suggests a linkage, do we have more direct proof that runoff from this subdivision caused the Elm Grove/North Kingwood Forest Flood on 9/19/19? Yes.

Clue #1

Well, for one thing, 75% of the detention pond capacity was supposed to be installed on that steep northern section, which is twice as big as the souther section. But none was. Or at least, none of it was fully functional.

Here’s where LJA intended it to go. It virtually ringed the western, southern and eastern sides.

This illustration shows that 234 acre feet of detention capacity should have been built on the northern section. But before Imelda, only 75.7 acre feet were actually built, all on the southern section. Less than 25% of the detention was fully functional when Imelda hit.

Out of the promised 309 acre feet of detention, only 75 acre feet actually existed before Imelda, about 25% of the eventual total. All of that was on the southern section. Despite the fact that the northern section contained far more land.

N1 detention in NW corner missing. Looking SW.
N2 Detention only partially available in SW corner. Montgomery County excavated this to a depth of approximately three feet between 2006-2008. But it needs to go much deeper to reach its detention goal. Looking West.
Where the top part of the missing N3 detention pond should be on the NE corner. Looking SE.
Where the bottom part of the missing N3 should be. A shallow trench channeled water toward Taylor Gully (out of frame in the upper right), without the benefit of any detention on the northern section to slow it down. Also looking SE.

Clue #2

When all that water reached the tree line that separates Elm Grove from Woodless Village (sic), it pushed the silt fence over. Notice the giant chunks of wood slammed up against the fence.

Silt fence that separates Woodridge Village from Elm Grove now leans toward Elm Grove.
The same thing happened on the border with Taylor Gully. When the rainfall exceeded the capacity of the detention pond, water came up out of it and pushed the silt fence near the culvert outward.
The same thing happened with the silt fence that borders North Kingwood Forest to the East. It leans toward the damaged area.

Water pushed the silt fence outward in all directions, like an exploding water balloon. This indicates the S2 pond exceeded its capacity.

Clue 3

If all this inferential evidence isn’t enough, we have direct evidence – video shot by Allyssa Harris during the flood. It shows water streaming out of the development in the background, directly into the streets of Elm Grove.

What it looked like from the Elm Grove side of the silt fence during the storm. Video courtesy of Allyssa Harris. Video looks north toward S2 detention pond from Village Springs.

This is what happened to the 75% of the runoff that the two southern detention ponds could not hold.

Clue #4

When the flood subsided, there was muck in streets, driveways, yards and homes. This was not just rainwater; it was runoff from 268 clearcut acres.

Abel Vera had to grab his car to avoid slipping in ankle-deep sediment on Village Springs.
What Village Springs looked like the day after Imelda.

Clue 5

According to the USGS gage at US59, a foot of rain fell on this 268 clearcut area on 9/19. All of it had to squeeze through the two tiny box culverts circled in the lower right. It was like aiming firehoses into a kitchen sink. Note: it’s worse than it looks. Additional acreage exists out of frame on left and right.

Likely Path of Water

As in May, water that should have been detained elsewhere rushed to S2. S2 overflowed and added to already heavy rainfall.

Broken fences, leaning grass, the location of ponding water, and erosion patterns all suggest that water followed the same routes on May 7.

It rushed to the SE corner of Woodridge, couldn’t get through the culvert, backed up, and sought ways around – via the streets of Elm Grove and North Kingwood Forest.

Likely path of water in May and September floods. Background image is from February, before S2 pond was completed.

What Should Happen Next?

In my opinion, for all the reasons listed above, as a result of clearcutting all this land without installing required detention, hundreds of families flooded for a second time in four months. Worse, the threat remains.

Perry, its subsidiaries and contractors had ideal construction weather during that time yet construction activity ground to a half almost a month ago.

That exposed hundreds of people to needless flood risk. Again. Worse, more than two months remain in hurricane season. And lawyers for the defendants in the lawsuit are dragging the case out by stonewalling production of evidence. They refuse to answer even simple questions like, “Who was in charge of this project on the day of the flood?” And “Who is your insurance company?”

Water Six Feet Deep in Places

What started as a dispute over negligence has turned into a massive public safety issue. Residents estimated water in the streets of Elm Grove reached six feet in places. That’s deep enough to sweep people away and drown them.

My Wishes for Elm Grove and North Kingwood Forest

  1. That Perry Homes settles these lawsuits immediately and makes people whole, or…
  2. That Perry Homes fast-tracks construction and completes the promised detention ponds, or…
  3. That Perry Homes puts a conservation easement on the land, donates it to the County or a conservation organization, and converts the property back to its natural state or a giant lake/detention pond.
  4. Failing any of the above, that the City of Houston or Montgomery County pulls construction permits for this property and renders it useless and valueless.

But before any of those things happen, the judge in this case may need to throw some lawyers and CEO’s in jail. If someone walked into a 7-11 and stole a loaf of bread, he would get jail time.

But steal the lives and destroy the homes of hundreds of people and what do you get? Delays.

It’s time to put a stop to this nonsense and hold people accountable.

These are my opinions on matters of public safety and concern. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP statute of the Great State of Texas.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 9/23/2019 with grateful thanks to Matt Swint for his drone images, Jeff Miller for his reporting, Allyssa Harris for her video, and Daryl Palmer for arranging the helicopter from National Helicopter Service, Inc.

755 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 3 since Imelda

Woodridge Village Plans Being Set in Concrete…Before Case Goes to Trial

Just three months ago, on May 7th, water poured out of Woodridge Village and into the streets and homes of Elm Grove. More than 200 flooded homeowners are suing the developer and contractor for negligence. Meanwhile, before the case has even gone to trial, contractors are pouring concrete. Let’s hope the drainage plans do the job. Because they are literally setting those plans in “stone,” so to speak. Here’s what’s happening north of the MoCo border.

Woodridge plans 5 detention ponds, 3 in the northern and 2 in the southern section. The two in the southern section are now at total depth. However, excavation still has not started on the three northern ponds, despite ideal construction weather.

Elevation Raised Compared to Elm Grove

Looking east along the southern border with the detention pond S1 out of frame on the left and the culvert that leads to Taylor Gully in the upper left. Village Springs in Elm Grove can be seen through the trees on the right.

The new development has been built up about four feet above Elm Grove and Woodland Hills Villages. It gives the hood a split level look.

At the top of that hill, along the perimeter, the contractor bulldozed a v-shaped notch. That’s called a backslope interceptor swale. The swale or depression collects rainwater that would otherwise drain straight into detention ponds. In theory it provides additional storage for rainwater. It also reduces the potential for erosion along the banks of the pond. That’s because water collects in the swale and drains through a pipe into the detention pond.

S2 detention pond above Village Springs in Elm Grove. Photo courtesy of Jeff Miller. Miller says that the pond looks 3 feet below the mouth to the culvert on Taylor Gully. So it will hold water constantly.

Detention Pond S1 Now Lined with Concrete

Contractors have also begun lining detention pond S1 with concrete. That should reduce erosion. It will also accelerate runoff.

Woodridge Village Detention Pond S1 which is north of Woodland Hills Village. The ditch has reached its total depth and is now being lined with concrete. Photo courtesy of Jeff Miller.

Roads Going In

Contractors have also poured the main road through the southern part of the subdivision. It is within feet of connecting to Woodland Hills Drive on one end. It will soon cross Taylor Gulley about in the middle of the subdivision and eventually connect to the northern half of the development.

Looking east from Woodland Hills in front of Kingwood Park High School.

It looks like this from the opposite direction.

Looking southwest toward Woodland Hills from the northern side of the southern section of Woodridge. Main road in distance will soon cross Taylor Gully. Photo courtesy of Jeff Miller.

In Other News

Jeff Miller says it appears that the contractor has nuked all of the trees separating the northern and souther section. Says Jeff Miller who supplied many of these pictures, “As Peter Townseand of the Who sang, ‘I can see for miles and miles.’” The song now applies to the view from Elm Grove looking north. There’s little to see but brush piles.

Nothing but brush piles for miles and miles. Photo courtesy of Jeff Miller

Risky Business: No More Detention Ponds Heading into Peak Hurricane Season

Contractors have not yet started excavation on any of the detention ponds for the northern section: N1, N2, or N3. That’s a risky strategy given months of ideal construction weather behind us and the peak of hurricane season fast approaching. Those Perry Homes subsidiaries are definitely connoisseurs of edge work.

Peak of hurricane season is less than a month away. This is when things usually start to heat up.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/16/2019 with thanks to Jeff Miller

717 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Rehab Work to Begin on Upstream Portion of Taylor Gully Monday, July 15

According to Beth Walters of the Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD), work on the upstream portion of Taylor Gully in Kingwood will begin on Monday, July 15, weather permitting. There’s still uncertainty regarding the local impact of Tropical Storm Barry, however, equipment has already started showing up at the job site.

Taylor Gully at the county line is half blocked with silt due to erosion from the clearcut area in the Woodridge Village development behind this culvert. Photo courtesy of Jeff Miller.

From Bassingham to Harris County Line

The work will extend from Bassingham to the Harris County line where the Gully meets the new Woodridge Village development in Montgomery County.

Scope of Work

This work will include the following:

  • Desilt the channel
  • Reconstruct the backslope interceptor structures
  • Install new backslope interceptor pipes
  • Regrade backslope swales
  • Install new gates
  • Install new “No Trespassing Signs”
  • Re-Set the covers of the “E type” inlets that have been damaged

Next Steps

After completing this reach of the channel, HCFCD staff will investigate Taylor Gully further downstream, where HCFCD completed a desilt job in the spring of 2019, from Bassingham to the downstream end.  HCFCD will open up any constrictions and desilt the channel if necessary.

Vital for Flood Mitigation

Approximately 200 homes near this channel flooded during the May 7th storm. According to residents, video taken during the storm, and still photos taken after the storm, overland sheet flow from Woodridge Village was the likely cause of their problems. Regardless, news of this effort will come as a great relief to Elm Grove and Woodstream residents who welcome every extra margin of safety they can get.

Kudos to the flood control district for jumping on this project. Commissioners Court approved the right of way acquisition only last Tuesday!

Work on Montgomery County Portion of Gully Also Proceeding

Elm Grove resident Jeff Miller also reported today that Woodridge has expanded a portion of Taylor Gully that runs through Montgomery County. Where the east/west portion of the ditch makes a 120 degree turn and starts heading south along the western border of North Kingwood Forest…

This corner and the portion of the ditch that extends straight down were expanded this week.

… the contractor widened the ditch and expanded the turn.

Dozens of homes flooded in North Kingwood Forest (left side of photo behind tree line) on May 7. This ditch had a tiny portion of current capacity at the time (see below). Photo courtesy of Jeff Miller.

For comparison, here is what the same ditch looked like on May 12.

Same ditch as above adjacent to North Kingwood Forest (on left) but on May 12.

To see what the entire turning radius NOW looks like, see this video.

Video courtesy of Jeff Miller.

More good and welcome improvements. Just wish they had been in place before May 7th.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/13/2019 with help from Jeff Miller.

683 Days after Hurricane Harvey and Two Months after the Elm Grove Flood

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.

Only 23% of Woodridge Village Detention Ponds Now Functional

One month into the 2019 hurricane season, only about 23 percent of the Woodridge Village Detention Ponds have been substantially excavated and have outflow control devices installed. At the time of the May 7th Elm Grove flood, that percentage was only 9 percent. So in a little less than 2 months, Rebel Contractors has more than doubled the percentage completed. However, as we head toward the peak of hurricane season, approximately three quarters of the detention capacity remains unexcavated, dysfunctional, or both.

Contractors also have yet to finish grading, planting, and cementing portions of the ponds that they have excavated.

Only 2 of 5 Detention Ponds Substantially Excavated

The first phase of the 268-acre Woodridge Village shows a total of 4 detention ponds. But Rebel Contractors has excavated only two on the southern end so far: S1 and S2.

Together they provide a total of 49 acre-feet of storage. Pond N1 has not yet been excavated and Pond N2 does not yet have an outflow control device that will retain the water upstream from Elm Grove.

Detention for Phase 1 of Woodridge Village

In Phase 1, Pond N2, has no additional excavation. Existing excavation was done by Montgomery County starting in 2006. The county removed approximately 3-4 feet of dirt in a 20 acre area. Ultimately, N2 will be the largest pond in the development with 154.7 acre feet of detention. Note: the figures quoted below differ slightly from those I quoted earlier because LJA Engineers presents conflicting data in its Drainage Impact Analysis for Montgomery County. See pages 7 and 54.

Ultimate Detention for Woodridge Village from Page 7 of the document titled Report Addendum-2027-1002. N2 currently covers about 10 acres to a depth of 6-8 feet. However, it will be enlarged and deepened so that it holds 154.7 acre feet. That’s more than half of all the detention on the property.

Ultimately, the 5 ponds will have a total of 271 acre feet of storage. An acre foot covers one acre to a depth of one foot. So the five ponds will hold a little more than one foot of rainfall per acre of development.

Woodridge Village Detention by Pond in Ultimate Phase

That means, 12 inches of water should be able to fall on the entire development without flooding any adjoining properties. But with only 23% of detention functional (S2 – green, and S1 – blue), that 12 inches of detention is effectively reduced to 3 inches right now.

How Much is Functional and Where?

The bullet points and pie chart below summarize the total storage and current status of each pond as of July 1, 2019. The figures for acre-feet are taken from the map above representing the ultimate phase of development.

  • N1 = 13.2 acre feet (not started)
  • N2 = 154.7 acre feet (started by Montgomery County circa 2002, but is not fully excavated, nor is there any outflow control device installed to detain water upstream of Elm Grove)
  • N3 = 42 acre feet (does not appear to be started)
  • S1 = 18.6 acre feet (mostly functioning, but not fully finished)
  • S2 = 42.5 acre feet (mostly functioning, but not fully finished)
  • Total detention when complete = 271 acre feet
  • Total detention not functional as of July 1, 2019 = 77%

Photos and Video of S2 as of End of June 2019

Jeff Miller shot his video of S2, the pond immediately north of Village Springs in Elm Grove. It shows what progress looked like at the end of June. The pond has been widened by sloping the sides even more since the last update.

Video of Woodridge Village Detention Pond S2 shot from north of Village Springs in Elm Grove at end of June. Courtesy of Jeff Miller.
This shot, also by Jeff Miller, gives you a sense of the scale of the S2 detention pond. Remember, as large as it looks, it’s only designed to hold 16% of the runoff above it.
Taylor Gulley below the concrete box culvert that controls the outflow from S2 is becoming badly silted. Those openings are each supposed to be 10′ x 6′. They look far less than that right now because of the sediment.

N2 Will Contain More than Half of All Detention

Google Earth image showing the triangular shaped N2 detention area in March of 2011. This land was partially excavated by Montgomery County circa 2006-2012. The developer plans to widen and deepen it, but has not done so yet.
Google Earth image showing same area in February of 2019. According to MCAD-tx.org, Montgomery County still owns the triangular area that will become Detention Pond N2.
This is what N2 looked like at the end of May. It had not changed since the May 7th flood.
N2 from the reverse angle looking south on 7/1/19. Still no appreciable change.

N1 – Still No Excavation

This is where the N1 detention pond should be on the north section near the Webb Street entrance. No excavation in sight.

N3 – Still No Excavation Visible

Likewise, no excavation is visible near where the N3 pond should be.

Much More to Come Per Hydrologist’s Report

In Phase 1, Figure Four, a subsidiary of PSWA and Perry Homes, will develop 30 acres in the northern section and 58 acres in southern section. Ponds N1, S1 and S2 are to be built during this phase.

The hydrologist notes that a portion of N2 is already in place (although there is nothing there yet to detain the water upstream from Elm Grove). She also notes that:

  • N2 will be widened during the Ultimate phase
  • A pilot channel within N2 and  the E-W channel immediately downstream will be graded during Phase 1 to provide flow-line continuity with other proposed structures.
  • A concrete lined channel on the eastern side of the subdivision will be extended 150′ between the E-W junction and a 36″ plastic pipe.

Much work remains before their tables and charts on water flow can be used.

Remember, per their own report, the larger portion of Woodridge Village is in the north. It comprises two thirds of the development and the ground there slopes 10 times greater than the southern portion. (1 degree vs.  0.1 degrees).

The Woods are Gone, But We’re Not Out of the Woods Yet

As Elm Grove resident Jeff Miller said, “It sure seems to me that once they clear cut the north, that the potential for flooding rose exponentially.”

Let’s see!

  • More clear-cut area.
  • No functional detention.
  • Sloping toward Elm Grove.
  • And only one fourth of the total detention installed on the southern section.

I would agree.

As we approach the second anniversary of Harvey in 7 weeks, everybody on the periphery of this development is on edge…no pun intended.

Montgomery County needs development rules that protect neighbors from such development practices.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/1/19 with help from Jeff Miller

671 Days since Hurricane Harvey

All thoughts expressed in this post are matters of opinion and safety involving public policy. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.

Even More Discoveries Demand Independent Investigation into Causes of Flooding Around Woodridge Village

On 8/28/2018, LJA Engineers’ project manager for hydrology and hydraulics, submitted a 59-page letter to the Montgomery County Engineer’s Department. The subject: Figure Four Partner’s proposed Woodridge Village development. It shows that the developer knew of the potential for downstream flooding, yet did not develop the site in a way that might have prevented or reduced flooding.

Specifically, the developer’s team failed to construct needed detention ponds in a timely manner. They could have helped offset the effects of clearcutting the southern section of land. Instead, the contractor continued clearcutting the northern section, filled in existing drainage, and sloped land toward Elm Grove BEFORE installing needed detention ponds.

The contractor also failed to repair a culvert running next to North Kingwood Forest. Engineers warned that the damaged culvert had to be replaced.

Finally the engineers may have mischaracterized the soil in modeling assumptions. They classified soil as sandy loam instead of clay. That could have skewed a key factor in runoff models by 2X to 3X.

Parts of Porter Also Flooded That Were Not in Any Recognized Flood Zone

LJA’s letter also shows that residents who flooded in Porter on the western edge of the new Woodridge development were NOT in either 100-year or 500-year flood zones. This supports the claims of Porter flood victims, such as Gretchen Dunlap-Smith. They say they never flooded before. They also claim that Rebel Contractors pushed dirt up against the western edge of the development while filling in natural drainage and wetlands. These actions likely constrained drainage on May 7th, before the contractor began installing storm sewers, drainage ditches and detention ponds in that area.

Flood Plain Maps Show What Developer’s Team Knew Before Permit Granted

Section 1.5 of LJA’s letter to Montgomery County states, “The project site is shown on FEMA Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) panel 48339C0750H for Montgomery County, Texas and Incorporated Areas, revised August 18, 2014. The area just across the county boundary from the project site is shown on FIRM panel 48201C0305L for Harris County, Texas and Incorporated Areas, revised June 18, 2007.” On Page 51, the letter shows existing floodplains on the map below.

Page 51 from LJA letter to Montgomery County Engineer. The dark purple lines show the boundaries of the new development. The light purple and gray areas below the new development show the 100-year and 500-year flood plains in Elm Grove, North Kingwood Forest, Mills Branch and Woodstream Villages.
Drainage on the developer’s two tracts is sloped toward Taylor Gully, Elm Grove and North Kingwood Forest in red circle.

Clearcutting of the S2 detention pond area finished last November according to Nancy Vera of Elm Grove. However, only detention pond S1 and the flow-restricting box culvert next to Vera’s house had been substantially completed by May 7. Neither N1, nor the drainage ditch connecting it with N2 were excavated on May 7th; they still have not been excavated.

At the time of the May 7th flood, only detention pond S-1 had been installed. N-2 is on land owned by Montgomery County and was at least partially excavated in 2006, but none of the devices regulating flow into or out of it had been installed on May 7th.

LJA Engineering’s models assumed all the detention ponds are in and functioning, but we know they were not at the time of the flood. Instead of installing drainage first, the contractor focused on clearcutting and grading the northern section of land which exacerbated flooding on the southern section.

Drain Pipe Should Have Been Replaced

Page 3-1 of the LJA Letter mentions, “…an existing 36-inch-diameter x 290-foot HDPE culvert in Taylor Gully at the downstream end of the project. The upstream end of the culvert is within Montgomery County and the downstream end is within Harris County. Because of its poor structural condition, this culvert needs to be replaced.”

Intake end of the pipe referenced on page 3-1 of LJA Engineer’s letter to Montgomery County. Photo taken on May 12, 2019.

Judging by the poor condition of the pipe after the May 7th flood and the lack of disturbed soil around it, I feel it’s safe to say that it wasn’t replaced at the time of the flood.

Modeling May Have Included Faulty Assumption About Soil

Every time I re-read the letter to Montgomery County, new things jump out at me in light of new things I have learned. Today, I spotted another huge and potentially faulty assumption relating to runoff and flooding. The site description on page 1.1 states that the project site is “characterized by fine, sandy loam.” One of the oil industry’s leading geologists, however, characterized it as “mostly clay,” though he did say it became more sandy in natural drainage features, such as stream beds.

Major factors affecting the runoff coefficient for a watershed are land use, slope, and soil type. We know the contractor increased the runoff rate when it clearcut the forest and altered the slope of land. But I had not previously focused on how the engineers characterized the soil type, which affects water infiltration.

  • Sandy soils absorb more rain, generally reducing runoff.
  • Soils with more clay absorb less rain, generally increasing runoff.

In modeling runoff and flooding potential for Woodridge Village and downstream areas, LJA Engineers used the Army Corps’ Hydrologic Modeling System (HEC-HMS). Page 216 of the user guide for that program states that, “The sand percentage accounts for the effect of infiltration and surface runoff properties on hydrograph generation. Zero percent indicates essentially all-clay soils with characteristically low infiltration rates. Conversely, 100 percent indicates essentially all-sandy soils with characteristically high infiltration rates.”

BrighthubEngineering.com estimates infiltration rates in inches per hour for different types of soil. They show the rate for clay-based soils to average one-third to one-half the rate for sandy loam. That means…

The characterization of the soil could have skewed this component of LJA’s modeling by 2X to 3X. Certainly, that merits further investigation and verification of LJA Engineering’s results before contractors begin pouring concrete.

New Discoveries Argue for Independent Engineering Investigation

All of these observations argue for an independent investigation into the engineering of and construction practices on this site. They raise serious questions about the accuracy of LJA’s conclusions and whether their plans will protect downstream residents from future flooding.

Let’s pray that Montgomery County and the City of Houston commission a forensic investigation into the causes of this flooding. That’s the only way we’ll be able to prevent similar flooding in the future. By the time these issues work their way through the court system, contractors will have built homes and streets that could forever alter downstream flood potential. Harris County and the Federal government could be stuck with hundreds of buyouts costing tens of millions of dollars. A second opinion might save a lot of heartbreak, misery, and tax dollars. Better safe than sorry.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/2/2019

642 Days since Hurricane Harvey

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