Well over 600 Kingwood and Lake Houston area residents heard a message of accomplishment, hope and cautious optimism at Houston City Councilman Dave Martin’s Town Hall Meeting March 6. The main subject was about future flooding in Kingwood and the Lake Houston Area following Hurricane Harvey.
On hand to explain all aspects of the recovery were City of Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner; State Representative for District 127 Dan Huberty; Matt Zeve of Harris County Flood Control; City of Houston Chief Resiliency Officer Stephen Costello; Niel Golightly, chief of staff of the Harvey Recovery Office; a representative from Governor Gregg Abbot’s office; and Carol Haddock, the Houston director of public works. In addition, there were at least three other City of Houston council members in attendance, along with Stan Sarman, chair of the Lake Houston Redevelopment Authority/Texas Increment Reinvestment Zone 10, with an update regarding the Northpark mobility project and the impact that Harvey has had on that project.
Martin opened the meeting and set the stage for presentations to follow when he displayed a big map on an overhead screen.
“This is the San Jacinto watershed. There are a number of tributaries that lead right into our backyard and into Lake Houston,” he said.
Martin pointed out the tributaries that flow into both the West Fork and the East Fork of the San Jacinto River threatened Kingwood and the two San Jacinto Forks bracket Kingwood as they flow into Lake Houston.
“When you look at this map it is a little bit frightening, so it is important that we do a good job of trying to move forward and mitigate the processes and make sure we do it the right way,” said Martin.
Martin paused and displayed a large close-up map of Kingwood.
“We also have the area within Kingwood, the bayous, drainage ditches and tributaries which, in my opinion, have all been filled with siltation over a number of years,” he said.
He noted that most of them had not been taken care of in many years, like the situation contributing to the flooding at the Ben’s Branch drainage ditch. He explained that all of these situations together – the silting of the San Jacinto River in both its forks and the condition of the tributaries combined with the local drainage situations within Kingwood – had contributed to the problem and they had to be fixed with a strategic long-term solution while immediate recovery was accomplished.
Martin introduced Turner by pointing out that he and the city had done everything asked of them immediately following the storm, including getting the initial debris cleaned up in Kingwood in a record 32 days with the help of the San Antonia Solid Waste Department and its employees. The mayor received a standing ovation from the crowd in thanks. Martin pointed out that he and a contingent of representatives had recently gone to San Antonio and honored the San Antonio mayor and Solid Waste employees with a special recognition vase from the residents of Kingwood.
Turner then focused on the situation in Kingwood. “We don’t want to spend too much time focusing on the past but we certainly don’t want the past to visit us again,” he said. “The purpose of everything happening as the recovery has taken place up to this point and into the future is based on that objective: to not be revisited by the problems of the past again.” With that in mind, Turner said he had asked Marvin Odum, Shell Oil’s recently retired chairman and president, to head up the city’s overall recovery effort.
Turner said, “More water fell on our region than in any other place in the history of the country.”
He pointed out that thousands of businesses throughout Houston had been affected, but those in Kingwood were the most badly affected and many of them were waiting to see what is going to be different going forward and if it is worth the risk to re-invest.
“I want them to know we are working collaboratively together to make sure things will be different,” he said.
He then addressed the issue of “Chapter 19” regulation changes regarding construction above the defined flood plain.
“What we have to realize as we move forward is we are going to have to do things differently than what we have done before. We can’t be guided by the 100-Year Flood Plain anymore because in 2015, it was the 500-year flood. In 2016, it was the 500-year flood, and in 2017 it was the 500-year flood. Things have changed. We need to be guided by the 500-year flood. We are asking people for future development to build two feet higher than the 500-Year Flood Plain because we have to be more resilient and mitigate the risk of flooding,” Turner said.
He carefully clarified this new change does not apply to existing homeowner homes unless in the course of expansion the structure is expanded by one-third of its original size or more, at which time the new rules apply to the structure.
Haddock took questions regarding resident concerns about the “Substantial Damage” letters required by regulation to notify homeowners who experienced damage totaling more than 50 percent of their home’s structural value. She provided information on who to contact for help and assistance regarding flood insurance issues.
Martin concluded the evening by saying,”I hope you got an idea on the things we have been working on. I wanted to make sure we had the ability to come with a strong message. I will continue to bird dog this thing,” Martin said. He plans to do this type of an updated Town Hall every two or three months going forward while recovery is still underway as a primary priority for Kingwood’s future as a community.