Houston and Conroe, October 24 – Houston City Councilman, who represents District E, which is the Kingwood-North Houston area, accused the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA) for “a bald-faced lie” when SJRA claimed on its website and elsewhere after the Harvey storm that “they meet regularly to prepare for storm events.” Martin questioned Harris County Office of Emergency Management (OEM) Liaison and Public Information Officer Francisco Sanchez during a City Council committee meeting on September 26, 2017.
The soft spoken Sanchez agreed with much of Martin’s criticism of SJRA and added, “One of the core points from our perspective is ‘don’t do what you have the right to do. Do what’s right.'”
Most of the discussion between Martin and Sanchez during the committee hearing focused on whether SJRA participated in the pre-storm preparation and planning sessions in which the Harris County OEM had engaged over two years prior to Tropical Storm Harvey. Martin began his questioning of Sanchez, “Two weeks in advance [of the storm] we knew exactly what this hurricane was going to do…the meteorologists nailed it, they got it correct. My question is do the river authorities, particularly the San Jacinto River Authority, do they work with you for this potential event that y’all have been working for two years on?”
Sanchez initially responded, “We’ve had limited interaction from my perspective with the San Jacinto River Atuhority.” Later, however, Sanchez admitted, that in his work as liaison and public information officer, “I personally have never met anyone with the San Jacinto River Authority.” Sanchez described during the hearing that he regularly attends all of the meetings of the Harris County Flood Control District as well.
Martin asked, “So the entity, the San Jacinto River Authority, had control of the water release that ended up flooding about 4,000 homes in areas for the first time in the history of the neighborhoods – and some were developed back in the 70s – did they participate in your emergency disaster drills which in my opinion is a great example of how you follow protocol…so the San Jacinto River Authority didn’t participate in any of these discussions…for precisely this hurricane?”
After Sanchez said SJRA had not participated in drills or preparation for hurricanes, Martin further asked, “Were they just stupid? Were they just lazy? Exactly why wouldn’t they participate in a disaster drill that you guys have been doing for 2 years which would help us on many fronts?!”
Sanchez suggested, “You’d have to ask the San Jacinto River Authority.”
Martin answered, “Well I’m trying to, but they’re hiding behind lawyers. I think it’s sheer stupidity on their part and I hope they hear this…What’s important for the 63% of the businesses that we lost in this area and the 25% of the homes that we lost in this area…we need to understand that this event can never happen again…the San Jacinto River Authority who blatantly flushed us without any warning or notice and they said that they didn’t have to give notice, because that’s not what they do.”
The City Councilman sharply criticized SJRA for its failure to provide warning of its release of water from the Lake Conroe Dam. He added, “For someone to say they [SJRA] meet regularly to prepare for storm events, that’s a bald-faced lie. There are things within this document that they’re CYAing and they’re lying to people, because if they would’ve prepared for this, they would’ve done the simulation models that to understand the data that you guys did. They would’ve been able to do something like pre-releasing the water from Lake Conroe into Lake Houston, coordinate with the coastal water authority to then release the water from Lake Houston into the Gulf of Mexico two weeks before this hurricane came near us because it did exactly what the meteorologists told us…Before it became a name storm, we should’ve opened up the floodgates and started to move water from one body of water into another into the Gulf of Mexico and we would’ve saved lives, and we would’ve saved property.”
Steve Toth, former State Representative and candidate for State Representative
Former State Representative Steve Toth (R-The Woodlands), who has worked as a community leader and conservative activist for many years in this community, is now running for State Representative, District 15, the seat incumbent Mark Keough is vacating in order to run as a reform candidate for Montgomery County Judge.
Toth said, “Jace Houston [SJRA’s General Manager] may be a nice guy, but one of the most important resources Montgomery County has is the SJRA. Water is one of our most important assets. But so too is the confidence of the people of this County that are impacted by the San Jacinto River floodwaters. The testimony from Jace Houston [before the Texas Senate Agriculture Committee] and Francisco Sanchez shows that Jace Houston has not been truthful with the people of this County. We need to make sure we have someone in place who will earn the trust of the people of this community and not undermine the authority that the SJRA needs to have.”