SJRA President Tisdale, VP Koetting conciliatory regarding downstream flooding, while citizens express concerns at board meeting

Left to right at back wall: San Jacinto River Authority Board member Jim Alexander, Vice President Fred Koetting, General Manager Jace Houston, President Lloyd Tisdale, General Counsel Mitchell Page, and Board member Gary Renola, at the Board of Directors meeting on October 26, 2017, in the SJRA Board Room.

Conroe, October 27 – San Jacinto River Authority Board President Lloyd Tisdale and Vice President Fred Koetting struck a conciliatory tone during the October 26, 2017, Board of Directors meeting at the SJRA’s Board Room next to the Lake Conroe Dam. It’s unclear whether SJRA will focus more on its duty “to provide flood control” (as set forth in its Enabling Act), but there are some positive signs.

The Board of Directors meeting began with two citizen comments from the Publisher of this newspaper and then David Fannin, a member of MUD #42’s Board of Directors.

The Publisher of The Golden Hammer, Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper, told the SJRA Board:

  • “It’s time for the ‘blame game’ about the Tropical Storm Harvey flooding to stop with all of the lawsuit, lawyers, police protection, and locked gates.”
  • Citizens of Montgomery County should be concerned about two issues related to rapid completion of a flood mitigation and prevention study. First, “it’s critical that the study get done and it makes the most sense for the SJRA to do that study, since it’s part of its statutory duty ‘to provide flood control.'” Second, very few people (perhaps other than County Judge Craig Doyal) want the County government and the taxpayers of this community to have to bear the multi-million cost of that study. For that reason, “the SJRA should step forward with its considerable financial resources” to lead that effort. It was quite heartening that SJRA General Manager Jace Houston visibly nodded his head seemingly in agreement.
  • “You [SJRA] should not focus on the blame, especially in the form of the lawsuits, because the legal principle of sovereign immunity likely protects the SJRA. Meanwhile, SJRA’s Board is not elected, so that they act without recrimination at the ballot box.”
  • There are some very good people on the SJRA Board. President Tisdale has been a business and community leader in the Greater Conroe Area for a long time. Vice President Koetting engenders a lot of respect. General Manager Jace Houston is known as an excellent engineer and a very nice person. “Even good people make mistakes, but the odds of that happening are a lot less if we work as a community to prevent flooding in the future.”
  • The SJRA should brick up its windows facing Lake Conroe and open the wall facing the downstream communities to the south and east as a symbol of the real focus of SJRA to fulfill its statutory duty “to provide flood control” and to prevent soil erosion, the first two listed statutory duties for the state agency.
  • The citizen comment concluded, “Just step up and to heck with the consequences of doing the right thing to provide flood control, which will open the floodgates of community good will which will pay SJRA back by the hundreds of millions.”

In his citizen comment, Fannin made clear that he was not representing the MUD Board #42 but was speaking as a private citizen. Fannin:

  • Expressed concern about the “pay quality for women in the SJRA.” He noted that the top 5 men comprise 12%, or about $1.3 million, approximately of the state agency’s $10.7 million payroll, while the top 5 women only make $500,000.
  • Said that of SJRA’s 165 employees, 118 are men who make up 76.64% of the payroll.
  • Explained the average male SJRA employee earns $69,518 per year, while the average female SJRA employee earns $53,198 per year.
  • Argued that SJRA has too many “payroll redundancies” and too many managers.
  • Explained that SJRA’s current services are far different from the dams and levees for flood control that legislators and community leaders envisioned more than 60 years ago.
  • Criticized SJRA for budgeting only $100,000 for a flood warning system and $369,000 for flood protection.
  • Suggested “we’re getting overcharged for water. We have the highest rate of all 14 river authorities in Texas for charges for surface water.”

 

General Manager Jace Houston’s update was very brief. Houston told the Board that he has appeared before the Texas House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee and also the Texas Senate’s Agriculture, Water, and Rural Development Committee, which held a hearing in New Caney, as well as staff briefing for Legislative staff members in Austin.

 

The Board of Directors received a presentation from the staff recommending a $202,748 construction contract for rehabilitation of the Lake Conroe Dam’s Gate Hoist system. During the discussion, President Tisdale commented, “This system is an important component of dam safety. We can accept no compromises in its function. Hopefully, we won’t have an opportunity to exercise this hoist system but we need to be prepared.”

Board Vice President Koetting added, “Once is too much.”

Board member Gary Renola asked, “Why don’t we have redundancy for this system?” SJRA’s Raw Water Enterprises Director David Parkhill, P.E., explained that, if the gate hoist system were to fail, SJRA could still lift the gates on the Lake Conroe Dam manually.

 

The Board voted unanimously to approve the hoist system the staff had recommended.

Additionally, SJRA’s Board of Directors adopted a budget amendment adding $400,000 to the agency’s funding of legal fees to fight the numerous lawsuits against SJRA arising from the flooding during Tropical Storm Harvey and the pending litigation over surface water sales. “It’s disturbing to note these things all add to the bottom line,” Tisdale said.

SJRA has received withering criticism from thousands of citizens in Montgomery County and the Kingwood-Lake Houston area, State Senator Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe), the members of the State Senate Agriculture Committee, former State Representative Steve Toth (R-The Woodlands), and Houston City Councilman Dave Martin. Even Francisco Sanchez of the Harris County Office of Emergency Management offered critical remarks about SJRA’s handling of the Harvey storm at a September 26 Houston City Council Committee meeting. Only Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal, who seems substantially out of touch with the community he should represent, has attempted to deflect criticism away from SJRA.

The good news is that Tisdale, Koetting, and Houston made comments during the meeting yesterday which seemed to reflect that they’re listening to that criticism.

 

 

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