Montgomery County Judge Doyal panders for Lake Conroe votes, attempts to stick Commissioners Court into SJRA business

Image: On Friday, September 1, 2017, the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA) released a video in which the Authority tried to explain its actions. The video did little more than enrage Montgomery County citizens who saw through the video for what it was: a thin rationalization. This photograph is from the video. On the front row are, from left to right, Laura Fillault (Woodlands Township Board), Jace Houston (SJRA Executive Director), Mike Meador (Precinct 1 County Commissioner). In the back row, from left to right, Lloyd Tisdale (SJRA President), Darren Hess (Montgomery County Emergency Management Director), and Craig Doyal (Montgomery County Judge).

Conroe, February 26 – Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal is pandering for votes with an offensive resolution “opposing efforts to force permanent lake level reductions at Lake Conroe, Montgomery County, Texas” that Doyal has placed on the February 27, 2018, Montgomery County Commissioners Court meeting agenda. Besides having the Commissioners Court stick its nose into a substantive area outside of its competence, the resolution is little more than a swipe at a “straw man,” because no one is seriously campaigning or lobbying “to force permanent lake level reductions at Lake Conroe.”

It’s eight days before an election that might very well end Doyal’s political career. Therefore, Doyal has focused on pleasing his primary constituents: the small group of engineers and vendors who enjoy the millions of dollars that San Jacinto River Authority (“SJRA”) and the County government spend on them. The vast majority of Doyal’s criminal legal defense fund – since he’s under criminal indictment – and his political contributions fund have come from engineers and contractors who do business with the County government or the SJRA or both.

Doyal’s resolution calls upon the Texas Legislature to oppose any efforts to force a permanent reduction in Lake Conroe levels for the purpose of flood mitigation. In reality, however, such efforts to force a permanent reduction are outside of the jurisdiction of the Texas Legislature, because they would unconstitutionally infringe upon the executive power of a state agency, SJRA, to perform its primary statutory duty “to provide flood control,” a duty, of course, which SJRA and its General Manager Jace Houston have refused to perform.

There’s another problem with Doyal’s resolution. It calls upon the five members of the Montgomery County Commissioners Court to exercise engineering judgment with respect to the management of Lake Conroe. While there certainly are not serious calls for a permanent reduction in the level of Lake Conroe, there most certainly have been calls for SJRA to manage Lake Conroe water levels when storms are approaching. During the Harvey storm, of course, SJRA abjectly failed to reduce Lake Conroe’s water levels in order to avoid the necessity of having to flood homes downstream with the massive release of water which SJRA began around 2 a.m., on Monday, August 31, 2017, with no early warning to homeowners and neighborhoods downstream.

The SJRA has a statutory duty “to provide flood control” within the watershed of the San Jacinto River (other than Harris County). The watershed of the San Jacinto River encompasses all of Montgomery County in addition to other areas. Doyal’s resolution attempts to absolve SJRA of its responsibility by stating “Whereas, six Montgomery County watersheds and streams or rivers feed into Lake Houston.” That recital is a non sequitur, because the San Jacinto River watershed would then encompass all of those Montgomery County streams or rivers, according to the United States Geological Survey map of the San Jacinto River watershed.

Watershed of the San Jacinto River. Source: United States Geological Survey.

On Monday, August 31, 2017, SJRA was releasing 79,141 cubic feet per second of water (more than 500,000 gallons per second) through the Dam, even though its normal flow of released water from the Dam is 2,700 cubic feet per second. The inflow of water into Lake Conroe was 130,000 cubic feet per second at the height of the storm.

Massive and severe flooding of communities downstream began almost immediately upon SJRA’s release of the water which exceeded the maximum release out of the Lake Conroe Dam during the 1994 flood by 2.39 times.

SJRA provided little warning to downstream communities other than a press release it issued on Sunday, August 27, 2017.

Many people lost their lives and approximately eight thousand families lost their homes in the floods, according to estimates of the Montgomery County Commissioners Court during its Friday, September 1, 2017, meeting. The flooding occurred in three primary areas moving approximately downstream:

  • West Fork of San Jacinto River: River Plantation, Harpers Landing, Porter, and surrounding communities
  • East Fork of San Jacinto River: Splendora, Patton Village, Roman Forest, and surrounding communities
  • Confluence of the forks of San Jacinto River: Kingwood.

Former State Representative Steve Toth and many others have criticized SJRA for their failure to handle flooding property. Toth’s criticism of SJRA primarily consists of two points:

  • SJRA should have provided real and substantial warning to the homeowners downstream that SJRA intended the massive release of water from the Lake Conroe Dam. “All they did was issue a press release. It’s completely disgusting. They should have gone into neighborhoods with sound trucks and warned people what was coming,” said Toth.
  • SJRA should have begun pre-releasing water in larger quantities than the typical release rate well before the storm actually hit the San Jacinto River watershed, because this entire community had sufficient warning that Tropical Storm Harvey was on its way to southeast Texas several days before it actually struck.

SJRA is a state agency that is out of touch with the community around it. On June 12, 2017, SJRA presented a proposed $2 million engineering study by none other than the seriously conflicted Halff Associates, Inc., engineers, the firm of Bobby Jack Adams, best friend and business partner of County Judge Craig Doyal, and the son of former SJRA General Manager Jim Adams. The purpose of the study is to update flood plain information and enhance flood early warning capabilities in the region.

It’s unclear why SJRA with its massive budget and team of engineers would need to provide such a lucrative contract to an outside engineering firm such as Bobby Adams’ Halff Associates. Flood control and planning are parts of the core mission of SJRA. Flood plain information and early warning capabilities should have been a part of SJRA’s core operations a long, long, long time ago.

It’s unclear why SJRA with its massive budget and team of engineers would need to provide such a lucrative contract to an outside engineering firm such as Bobby Adams’ Halff Associates. Flood control and planning are parts of the core mission of SJRA. Flood plain information and early warning capabilities should have been a part of SJRA’s core operations a long, long, long time ago.

Amazingly, the proposed study does not include any analysis of the area around the East Fork of the San Jacinto River. Both Clark and his political opponent, Bob Bagley, who is running against Clark in the March 6, 2018, Republican Primary Election, have complained that SJRA should include East Montgomery County in the study as well.

Once again, East Montgomery County is receiving treatment as a second-class part of the community without any justification. Doyal’s proposed resolution doesn’t mention East Montgomery County. It almost seems as though Doyal seeks to pander for votes in the Lake Conroe area while choosing to set up flood conditions for East Montgomery County.

Once again, East Montgomery County is receiving treatment as a second-class part of the community without any justification. Doyal’s proposed resolution doesn’t mention East Montgomery County. It almost seems as though Doyal seeks to pander for votes in the Lake Conroe area while choosing to set up flood conditions for East Montgomery County.

Clearly, SJRA needs to manage the lake levels of Lake Conroe better than it has done. What this community, especially East Montgomery County, doesn’t need is for a governmental body to turn the proper management of Lake Conroe water levels into a political issue to give SJRA and Jace Houston political cover to continue making decisions to flood East Montgomery County and other communities downstream without appropriate reductions in Lake Conroe water levels before storms hit this area.

 

 

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