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Archive for December 21st, 2017

Hello, Winter!

Rays third baseman Evan Longoria is now with the Giants. He’s played ten years in the bigs and has 261 career dingers with 40 coming off of B’More pitchers and 35 off of Yankees pitchers. How many career dingers does he have against ‘Stros pitchers?

Hello, Costello! I was thinking of making that my headline this morning but it would have been mean spirited four days before Christmas.

The Chron today has a good piece on how folks allowed housing developments in flood pools and devotes a number of paragraphs to former H-Town City Council Member, former mayoral candidate and current H-Town flood czar Steve Costello. Here are parts of the lengthy article:

In development and engineering circles, the dangers were well documented. But as Houston’s leaders repeatedly signed off on a relentless building boom, few mentioned them publicly or took them seriously.

In broad strokes, that’s how county and city officials approved the construction of 30,000 suburban homes and businesses in Katy and west Houston on the edges of Addicks and Barker reservoirs, inside invisible lakebeds that government and private engineers had long predicted would be inundated in an extreme storm.

More than 9,000 of those structures flooded during Hurricane Harvey, records show.

A large group of homeowners is now suing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which operates the dams. They contend that in allowing the reservoirs to spill into dozens of neighborhoods, the government seized their property without compensation. Many had no idea — until Harvey struck — that their homes were within the reservoirs’ footprint, in areas engineers call “flood pools.”

“It’s crazy that in a flood pool they can grant permission to build houses,” says Flavie LaPorte, a petroleum engineer from Venezuela whose family was forced to abandon their Grand Lakes home in the middle of the night.

She and other displaced homeowners want to know: Why were subdivisions built there in the first place?

And this:

Development of Grand Lakes, where LaPorte’s family lives, began in 1998, southwest of Cinco Ranch and Kelliwood. Much of it was engineered by Costello Inc., which also was hired by Harris County in 1996 to make recommendations on what to do about reservoir flood pool risks that developments such as Grand Lakes would magnify.

The firm’s report found that 6,000 properties worth $500  million were at risk upstream from Addicks and Barker dams, but it didn’t recommend buyouts or limiting development. At the time the report was published in 2000, Costello Inc. already was working on plans to add 1,500 more homes to Grand Lakes inside the Barker flood pool.

Since 2000, the number of structures inside the flood pools has swelled to 30,000, records show.

Steve Costello founded Costello Inc. with a partner in 1991. He was later elected to the City Council and now is Houston’s flood czar. Costello said he didn’t recall his firm’s study and said he didn’t realize until after Harvey that the two reservoir flood pools could swamp Grand Lakes and more than 200 other neighborhoods.

“I don’t look back at why,” he said. “I look (at) how we move forward and how we address everything …”

And finally this:

Steve Costello began his career as a civilian employee of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Galveston. His job involved helping draw federal flood plain maps. But he says then or later as a private engineer, he never calculated the size of the maximum flood pool for Houston’s two reservoirs prior to Hurricane Harvey and didn’t realize those flood pools could affect hundreds of neighborhoods — including Grand Lakes.

At least 20 sections of that subdivision and three of its municipal utility districts are labeled as inside the Barker “inundation” zone, according to Fort Bend County maps.

In Grand Lakes and other subdivisions, more than 4,000 homes and businesses were damaged near Barker’s Reservoir and more than 5,000 near Addicks, according to a Chronicle analysis of data provided by Harris and Fort Bend counties.

In an interview, Costello said he didn’t know that Fort Bend County required inundation warnings on subdivision maps, even though his firm did include them for Grand Lakes.

“Obviously there were people in my office that might have known about it,” he said. “I’m not sure about that, but I’m assuming they did.”

Costello was president and treasurer of Costello Inc. during the years that Grand Lakes was developed, state records show. He said he worked on many other projects and on municipal utility districts but was not personally involved in engineering the subdivisions or MUDs his firm established for Grand Lakes.

Records show that MUDs within the flood pool portion of Grand Lakes generated consulting work for his firm for more than a decade. Costello Inc. was listed as consulting engineer for the Grand Lakes’ MUDs and its water control district, which issued more than $71 million in bonds from 1999-2014.

Costello was elected to the City Council in 2009, having campaigned as an infrastructure expert. That same year, the Corps of Engineers declared Houston’s dams to be among the nation’s most dangerous because of their deteriorating condition and encroaching development.

Costello said he didn’t read the Corps’ report or raise the topic of reservoir flood pools in his years as a councilman from 2010-2015.

Jim Blackburn, an environmental lawyer and Rice professor, has authored papers on post-Harvey solutions and worked on lawsuits related to Houston flooding and its dams for decades. Blackburn said he finds Costello’s denials of knowledge about reservoir development dangers “hard to believe.”

Blackburn said Costello and other engineers involved in flood pool developments should consider whether they abandoned their duties under state administrative code to “protect the health, safety, property and welfare of the public.”

“I think it’s reflective of a cavalier attitude of engineers about a lot of these issues and I think that’s one of the issues that has to change in our community,” Blackburn said. “… Our engineers have to have a much stronger sense of their duty to the public, and if he doesn’t remember, then shame on him.”

Here is the entire read: http://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/For-buyers-within-flood-pools-no-warnings-12434078.php.

Ouch!  That’s why I subscribe.

I am surprised the Chron didn’t mention that Costello was a key player in getting the Rebuild H-Town drainage fee passed and implemented.

The flooding devastation caused by Harvey was more than just a wake-up call. It was a call to action. No more studies, task forces, or blue ribbon panels. It is time for drastic and dramatic changes.  We know what we have to do.

I read the other day about some developers saying they were ready to make changes or something like that. That was just code for we want to be in the room when y’all are talking about putting down the hammer on us.

Commentary is kind of falling on the side of if you were part of the problem you really shouldn’t be part of the solution. Sure, you might have to leave a lot of experience and talent on the sidelines on decision making, but I’d rather have the folks who have been sounding the warnings leading the way, rather than those who ignored or denied the issue. Nice job again, Chron!

From Bill King:

Second Judge Slaps Down the Montrose Management District 

For a second time in just two months, a District Court has slammed the Montrose Management District (“MMD”).  In November, the 333rd District Court issued its final judgement that the MMD had illegally imposed over $6.5 million of assessments against property owners.  It ordered the MMD to stop collecting the illegal assessments, refund the illegal assessments and prohibited the MMD from spending any of the illegal assessments that had not already been spent.  

Because of the widespread dissatisfaction with the MMD, property owners collected the signatures of 75% of the property owners subject to the assessment to dissolve the MMD.  Incredibly, under state law a management district can be formed by 25 property owners but 75% of all owners must petition to dissolve it.  But, taking a page from the City of Houston, the MMD board ignored the petitions, making bogus challenges regarding the validity of the signatures.  In response, the property owners filed a second suit, this time seeking to force the dissolution of the MMD.  

The second suit was filed in the 269th District Court, which last week entered a strongly worded temporary restraining order. [Click here to read TRO.]  The Court found that the property owners are likely to prevail in the action to dissolve the MMD and that the agenda for a meeting to be held on December 11 indicated that the board of the MMD intended to violate the orders of the 333rd District Court by continuing to spend and collect illegal assessments.  It is a startling finding.  But the agenda that was posted for the December 11 meeting seemed oblivious to orders issued in the first suit and gave every indication the MMD intended to continue to operate as normal.  [Click here to read the agenda.]

After the Court issued the TRO, the meeting was cancelled and the agenda has since been removed from the MMD’s website.  A few days later the board chair announced his resignation.   Personally, I cannot imagine why anyone would continue serving on that board.  All of the board members were sued individually, and the Court found in its TRO that they have likely committed ultra vires acts.  That could potentially subject them to personal liability.

I think 2018 is going to be the year of the TIRZs and management districts and not in a good way.  Increasingly, the shadowy dealings of these governmental entities are coming to light.  We are discovering that the salaries and fees being paid to managers are staggering.  Also evidence is emerging of self-dealing and conflicts of interest.  In the past, serving on the boards of these entities has been mostly honorific.  But based on the information coming out, a lot of these board members may soon be wishing they had declined the “honor.”

Winter begins today, and I am OK with that.

Check this tweet from yesterday:

Collin Myers ABC13‏Verified account@CollinMyers_ 18m18 minutes ago

Tomorrow is the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere. So, starting Friday, we gain light each day until next summer! I don’t know about you, but for me- That makes a huge difference.

I don’t know about that. I kind of like the short days because I’m not of fan of those days when it doesn’t get dark until a quarter until nine. Just saying.

During the World Series, my friend Laura and I were talking about the slogan that was on some ‘Stros gear that read “Fly the Pennant.” We both were not fond of the slogan because it really didn’t sound like H-Town. I told her that MLB probably hired one ad agency to handle slogans for the postseason. You can go on the Dodgers website and buy a Dodgers T-shirt with the “Fly the Pennant” slogan. I also only saw one Dodgers NL Champs T-shirt. What a difference Game 7 makes.

I have doubled my Christmas card intake. I am now at eight thanks to the Lunas, the Schnieders, Cristina and Alex, and Amy and Billy from Austin.

Evan Longoria has 9 career dingers off of ‘Stros pitching of course.

You already know that there are four days left until Christmas but you can still go to the Team Store for World Series gear.

 

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