Guest Editorial: John Hill Wertz, Commissioners Court unprepared for Harvey disaster, volunteers save the day

Guest Editorialist John Hill Wertz examining some engineering on a recent trip to Alaska.

PUBLISHER’S NOTE: John Hill Wertz lives in Commissioners Precinct 2, serves as the GOP Precinct Chair in Voting Precinct 69, and is the Chairman of the Montgomery County Tea Party’s Vetting Committee. Wertz provided some of the following comments during a citizen comment to the Montgomery County Commissioners Court on September 26, 2017. This Guest Editorial contains his entire comments without interruption.

This editorial won’t be about the incompetence of the SJRA and their failure to pre-release Lake Conroe, like Florida did w/Lake Okachobee, prior to Irma making landfall. The lawsuits against SJRA will hopefully expose them for who they are and sort that out. I’m only going to touch on a few items in the aftermath of that fatefull decision of waiting too late.

Since Hurricane Harvey hit this area, I’ve had to the opportunity to work in several areas. That included driving to Timaron to help a friend-of-a-friend, to mucking out a house in Timber Lakes area, to working with Grace Crossing Church fill over 2,000 cleaning buckets, while acting as one of their chief buyers to supplement that which wasn’t donated, to finally settling in over the last few weeks at River Oaks Dr., an unincorporated area adjacent to Woodloch.

What I saw along the way, from a bigger picture, were just a few things that crossed my path.

First, there was information both from The Woodlands Township and in a Courier article that directed people to the wrong website for help. Instead of mctxoem.org …. it had .com (some auto parts website). Sounds small in nature, but when someone has just lost their house and most of their possessions, you’re exhausted, frustrated, there are no telling how many people just threw their hands in the air and gave up.

Some of the community leaders in Timberlakes, including fellow Precinct Chair Shelley Rollins, were all but ignored. That’s until we started posting pictures of debris piles with their street names. Commissioner Noack took action thereafter. Shelly indicated to me this morning that they had a HOA last Monday, which no one from Pct. 3 attended.

Having already mucked out a house, seeing the massive debris piles developing and hearing people say it took 4 weeks during last year’s storms to get picked up, I printed out 10 sheets of 10 slips of paper to each person in the neighborhood that had been impacted …. for debris pickup. Many were incensed that they even had to register.

After we completed the bucket challenge at Grace Crossing Church, I was curious to see how Woodloch area had fared, as with River Plantation and Timberlakes, had heard a lot about them. It’s a disaster area, that became a Humanitarian Crisis. Many of these people are off the radar. A large number were living in tents, next to debris piles, with children ….. as roaches, rats, and other animals roamed the neighborhood. Some still are living in tents or in their cars. Many of these go to local schools. FEMA was helpful to some in the beginning, but are basically gone. Though I hear there may be a Conroe office now, one previously had to go to Magnolia, even if you live in Kingwood area of MoCo, from what I understand. Why not Conroe(from the beginning)? I was told by both regional directors (Roger Fraumann and then Rick Stiff, after Roger rotated out) that FEMA reports to you guys. They were both at River Oaks Dr. several weeks ago, an indicator of how bad it is there, Commissioner Clark. People are still mucking out and still need help picking up. Randy Roan was hired to supplement those trucks being hired away by Harris County and City of Houston. But he punted after 2 days, citing his company was only getting paid for 80% load, while carrying out 100%. Debris sat for another week and pickup has been sporadic. Aside from him not having a servants heart, what’s that all about?!?!

In the course of this past Saturday morning, those staying in FEMA hotels thought they were going to have to leave by yesterday. Mr. Stiff verbally told me the date had been extended to Oct. 23rd. I asked him to confirm that by text, while I went by LaQuinta Shenandoah, where the MCTP will being doing a feed for over 200 FEMA evacuees tomorrow night. LaQuinta said it had only been extended to the 9th. Mr. Stiff came back with a Oct. 10th date. All in the course of an hour, I had 4 different days/dates people would have to move out. Can you imagine how a displaced person feels?

The whole point of this is, you guys [the Commissioners Court to whom Wertz addressed these comments] were unprepared for this. Yes, it was may have been an 800 year event. But it wouldn’t have mattered if it was a 10 year event because basic things like the correct website address to go to was wrong, you got outfoxed by the City of Houston/Harris County on debris pickup and we can’t even get hotel relief dates correct, which are all three critical items. And yet, you are the highest paid county officials in the state. Thank goodness for the first responders and fabulous volunteers throughout, or this would be a bigger humanitarian crisis than what it already is.

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