During the Imelda tropical storm event in September, residents in the northern areas of Kingwood, especially in Elm Grove, suffered massively from unexpected and never-before-seen severe flooding. Hundreds of homes, many built decades ago, flooded for the first time. To a lesser extent, the heavy spring rains in May also resulted in rising water and flooding in the area.
Imelda made it clear there was something more happening than what happened with Hurricane Harvey two years before. In most cases, flooding had never happened before back to the late 1970s when Elm Grove and surrounding villages were first created.
It did not take long for potential major causes to be determined: recent development to the north in Montgomery County is changing the way rainwater is absorbed and drained away in areas of new development, especially in an area under development by Perry Homes. Whether the result of poor planning or just pure negligence in considering the necessary drainage requirements, the damage was done and the threat remains. Solutions are available but the actions to mitigate the threat going forward are not yet started. Lawsuits have been filed to recover past damages but their status is quiet, largely unknown to the public.
During the last two months, it seems to have been all quiet on the “northern front” of the war on Kingwood’s flooding. Dredging is going forward on both the San Jacinto River forks. Flood gates on Lake Houston’s dam are funded and construction is getting underway. Meanwhile, fixing the threat to the north appears in a state of limbo.
A major fix has been proposed. It is to buy the Montgomery County land currently owned by Perry Homes and create a runoff retention area.
Joe Stinebaker, director of communications for Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle’s office, acknowledged that Perry Homes told the Harris County Flood Control District that they would consider selling the 268-acre site with the potential for 800 residential lots.
The idea has been studied and discussed by the City of Houston, Harris County, Montgomery County and ostensibly Perry Homes. It has been proposed in theory but any specific final deal is quietly not happening.
The question is why? Why so quiet about what is not being done or at least announced one way or the other? The need for answers is critical; the need for action even more so. Beth Guide, a director of the Elm Grove Village Community Association, a homeowners association, in City Councilman Dave Martin’s Town Hall on Feb. 25 asked for more information.
“I would like to ask that the city maybe get a little more engaged. I’ve got 500 people that are one flood from homeless,” she said.
Guide needs answers. More importantly, Elm Grove and all of Kingwood needs action.
So far the answers seem to be more a work in progress with no real date in sight. In Martin’s own words at his Town Hall meeting, “We’re that close to making it happen.”
He was talking about the proposed Perry Homes land buyout. Martin explained that it is the same kind of action the Harris County Flood Control District is already doing in an $11.4 million deal that closed Jan. 30 to acquire the Raveneaux Country Club clubhouse and adjoining facilities in Spring. The objective there is to acquire and use 206 acres from the Cypress Forest Public Utility District for floodwater retention and preserving ground absorption by not allowing construction of housing or commercial development on land currently used as a golf course.
Martin said he supports the concept but that Harris County wants the City of Houston to contribute one half of the cost of doing so and that is where the problem is.
“Frankly, I am not going to ask the mayor to contribute half because they should be contributing 100% of it – we gave them our tax dollars and they specified what these tax dollars should be used for,” Martin said, referring to the $2.5 billion flood infrastructure bond passed by voters in 2018. (Martin’s full four-minute response to this issue at his Town Hall meeting can be seen on the internet at youtu.be/Tv5LMoodR4Q.)
As of Friday, Feb. 28, Jessica Beemer, Martin’s chief of staff confirmed no further progress had yet been made.
She said, “Mayor Pro Tem Martin does not have an update at this time as they are still working through details.”
In the meantime, the lawsuits are apparently in progress with no statement available from the law firm reputedly handing at least one of them.
So even though Martin announced “We’re that close … ,” we are not there yet and no one involved wants to get more specific. Maybe they are, maybe not, but as the saying goes, “Close only counts in horseshoes,” and the spring rains are fast approaching as is hurricane season.