The Woodlands (Harris County) – Residents of The Woodlands Township learned Tuesday there are no quick solutions for debris removal, and the timeline for addressing issues that made the late August flooding worse is much longer.

Woodlands President Don Norrell said more than 400 homes in the township suffered flood damage from Hurricane Harvey. In addition to debris that must be removed from homes, there are many tons of debris caused by other property damage.

Several take-aways became apparent from the session:

  • Clean-up in The Woodlands Township could take three months.
  • The residents of Timarron Lakes want out but cannot sell their homes.
  • Flood mitigation projects will take much longer, but The Woodlands is not in a position to initiate them.
  • Hurricane Harvey may be the event that will motivate residents of The Woodlands to incoporate and become a city.

Prior to the September 5 afternoon board meeting, Norrell said he and Vice Chairman John McMullan met Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle about debris removal from unincorporated areas. Norrell recalled the Tax Day flood of April 2016 and noted that the first round of debris clean-up in Precinct 4 took three weeks.

Flooding in the precinct from Harvey was four times that of the Tax Day Flood of 2016 and affected more than 30,000 properties in the precinct, Norrell said. That does not necessarily mean the clean-up will take 12 weeks, but it will take much longer than three weeks, he said.

Cagle emphasized the residents should consider doing their own debris removal. He said a public drop-off site would open near SH 99 and SH 249 and the public could go there.

This led to spontaneous laughter among those attending. However, Chairman Gordy Bunch made clear this was no joke.

“As of right now, there isn’t a single service provider that will actually contract with us to do the debris removal,” Bunch said. “It’s not a lack of willingness to fund that function.

“To put all this in context, everybody who lived through the May flood event last year, that was less than (the 2001) Tropical Storm Allison. We just had Hurricane Ike, Hurricane Rita and Tropical Storm Allison all hit us in the same week. The span of devastation goes down to south of Corpus Christi all the way into west Louisiana. The amount of resources that are all competing for each other is tremendous.

“I know we all laughed about volunteers taking it to the dump sites, but that might be our fastest answer. It sounds ridiculous. I agree. But if you’re competing with hundreds of thousands of homes across 400 miles, we don’t have a contractor who is willing to do it.”

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Terry Woodson, a Waste Management manager, discusses the obstacles the company faces in clearing debris from Harris County. Image courtesy of The Woodlands video archive.

Terry Woodson, a public sector solutions manager for Waste Management of Texas Inc., told the board the company has 300 employees impacted by flood damage to their homes, “and we’ve been helping them also. We’re still trying to get all our employees back.”

Woodson said Waste Management had called in assistance from five other states and is staging them throughout the East Texas flooded zones as they arrive.

“The problem now is Hurricane Irma. Harvey’s ex-wife is on her way … and Miami is one of our areas, also,” Woodson said.

In addition to the temporary lack of manpower, Woodson said Waste Management is also confronted with a shortage of equipment. Roll-off dumpsters are being trucked into Texas from other states, but there are still not enough of them and Waste Management is encouraging roll-off dumpster manufacturers to build and deliver more as quickly as possible.

Woodson detailed the limitations of roll-off dumpsters. By law, their cargo weight is limited and a dumpster cannot be filled to its capacity. One dumpster could take the contents of one to 1 ½ houses and safely travel the roads.

A majority of the residents affected by flooding came from Timarron Lakes/Creekside Park. The neighborhood is surrounded by small lakes and very close to Spring Creek. Several complained that they have not been able to sell their homes. They complained about the history of chronic flooding and questioned the competency of the civil engineering and surveying relied upon for its development.

Tim Rennie, a Sundown Ridge Place resident, said the board had been aware for some time that the area is flood prone.

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Tim Rennie, a resident in Timarron Lakes, tells The Woodlands Board of Directors they must find a solution to the chronic flooding. Image courtesy of The Woodlands video archive.

“Let me break it down for you. To this point, my wife will not move back into that house and my wife isn’t the only one that feels that way. Ever since last May, people up and down the street, any time there was a heavy rain, it was pucker time,” Rennie said.

“What am I going to do? Sell the house? Am I going to get help for the $200,000 hit it’s going to take? Am I even going to find a buyer?”

The Woodlands Township is one of the most affluent communities in the north Harris County and Montgomery County area. But the board members found themselves relegated to expounding upon the weaknesses of The Woodlands’ development, how it was structured and how their options are limited.

Bunch noted that Timarron Lakes, the neighborhood most affected, is a gated community with private roads.

“FEMA did not authorize Harris County to go pick up in gated communities. It’s a separate process. It takes secondary FEMA approval, which puts us on notice that we’re going to have to work harder to find a private contractor,” Bunch said.

And to the residents’ complaints about development, Bunch said the board is really just a “glorified homeowners association. We didn’t have anything to do with development.”

The Woodlands Township was created in 2010 out of the various neighborhood associations that comprise The Woodlands. A group of municipal utility districts, the precinct commissioners of the two counties and the San Jacinto River Authority have the real power.

“This is a very weak form of government. We are in many ways dependent on multiple other elected officials and governing bodies. We can’t force another governing body to do something. If we were a city, we would have our own FEMA contract. But we’re not,” Bunch said.

After hearing one resident after another testify as to their losses and the bleakness of their futures, McMullan shared his own family’s plight.

“My retired mom lives in Timarron and she was flooded. My retired in-law lives in Timarron and she flooded. We are now a family of nine, because they are living with us. I get the sense of loss. I get the sense of trauma. I get it at a visceral level–the anger people feel about the development decisions that were made. But it was not this board that makes those development decisions. There are things we can do to help and we’ll push to do that,” he said.

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Vice Chairman John McMullan responds to residents’ comments about the flood damage. Image courtesy of The Woodlands video archive.