By Kevin M. Smith
Killeen Daily Herald
Complaints of poor drainage flooded city officials and local developers as heavy rains this spring – particularly in late May – left water standing in lawns, homes and streets.
But the minor flooding in Killeen and Harker Heights was a grim reminder to some of an ongoing drainage problem, and it was the last straw for others.
"I don't remember exactly when the flooding started," Jennifer Young said. "But it's been happening for about four years."
Young bought her house on Solomon Drive in Killeen when it was brand-new in 2000. Her frustration builds as she claims to get conflicting information from her builder. When a significant amount of rain fell, Young's backyard became one large puddle.
Young said the builder told her that growing grass, putting up a fence and installing drains would reduce the flooding. It didn't.
She even dug a ditch along her fence in hopes of channeling extra water to the street. Not even that helped.
"The water comes in, I mop it," Young said.
She doesn't have any carpet in the north side of the house where it floods, but has never had the house checked for mold.
"It's like you're stuck in this house that's losing value," Young said.
Her friend down the street is deployed. Young is house-sitting and pointed out flood damage outside the house. What Young believes is algae – or some other green growth – is found in the grass, in a tree bed, on the water meter cover and on the curb. On Thursday evening – at least four days since the last time it had rained in Killeen – the grass next to the house was still wet.
"We have had problems before," Young said. "Before anybody else flooded, we were flooding."
This time Young documented it as she videotaped the water rushing around her house and up to her back door.
"Because I can't take this anymore," she said.
John Mullings lives in a house near Young. He also has flooding problems.
Like Young, Mullings bought his house on Solomon Drive brand-new in 2000. Mullings said he had flooding problems within the first year of living in the house. After talking to the builder, Mullings said he was told to put sod on his lawn and build a fence. He did that.
"We have the same problem," Mullings said.
He installed a French drain, which is an underground pipe with holes in it to help divert the water. His back porch is surrounded by large panels of wood to prevent the water from flooding his living room and bedroom.
"The only thing that blocks it from coming in is putting that up," Mullings said, pointing to the wood.
Neighbors say the water comes onto their lawns from every direction.
"What I see the problem is the lay of the land; it slopes down, then in," Mullings said. "It's accumulating faster than it drains."
Seeking legal advice
The problem is so bad that Young, Mullings and others who live on the west side of Solomon Drive in Killeen contacted an attorney.
On July 10, Michael Klein, a partner with Smith Robertson Attorneys at Law in Austin, sent a letter to Donco Enterprises Inc., two city officials and Pastor Randy Wallace of First Baptist Church to address the drainage problems.
Donco Enterprises Inc. developed the land the houses sit on. Scott Cosper, of Cosper Homes, is a board member for Donco.
"Instead of fixing the problems, they point fingers," Cosper said.
Not that Donco can do anything about it. The letter asks the city to require a drainage channel or concrete diversion wall to be built along the east side of the property owned by First Baptist Church.
"If the flooding cannot be resolved through a cooperative effort, then we may be forced to resort to litigation," the letter states.
"I am currently reviewing it to see if it's a matter the city can get involved in," said City Attorney Kathy Davis.
Davis added that the city cannot get involved in a civil dispute.
Cosper contends that it is not the developer's fault.
"This is a very complex set of concerns," Cosper said.
He said the city inspected the grading and signed off on construction for the plats in 2000. It was then up to the builder for further drainage plans. Once that's approved, Cosper said any changes to the terrain make the homeowner responsible.
"If I've done something wrong, I'll correct it. If I haven't, then I won't," he said.
Cosper said he doesn't appreciate that people with no engineering experience or qualifications say what should be done.
"The quick thing to do is go, Oh, those bad developers,'" Cosper said.
The law firm admits no expertise in the matter.
"At this point in time, the residents have not engaged the services of a professional hydrologist to prepare a report on the cause of flooding. But from a layman's perspective, the flooding appears to be due to the cut and fill' design of the west side of Solomon Drive," the letter states.
First Baptist Church
The church is involved because its property abuts the backyards for residents on the west side of Solomon Drive. The church is located at 802 N. Second St., but plans to start construction of a new building in January with a completion date of December 2008.
"If we're turning dirt and they're getting mud in their backyard, that's terrible," the Rev. Randy Wallace said.
Wallace said he wants the church to be a good neighbor and will do whatever the city requires for drainage through the construction process.
"We're required by law to take responsibility for our runoff when we start construction," Wallace said.
The 48,000-square-foot building will be on W.S. Young Drive across from the Killeen Civic and Conference Center.
"Their concerns are already being addressed in our building plan," Wallace said.
He expressed concern with the plat process from seven or eight years ago. A map from the city's Global Imaging System shows a creek bed running behind the subdivision and branching off through the subdivision.
Wallace said that doesn't make sense. Andrew Allemand, Killeen city planner, said typically there is a drainage easement for those creek beds.
Cosper said that was likely a farmer's terrace, because the land was used for agriculture before being developed for housing.
The flooding last May and June was not the first bout of complaints and it was not isolated in Central Texas.
In May 2006, 12 Harker Heights residents settled a lawsuit – filed by Smith Robertson – against Morgan Construction Co. after residents alleged a 12-acre building site diverted stormwater onto Frontier Trail and flooded homes along that street.
Earlier this month, some residents in the Saegert Ranch subdivision in Killeen complained to the Water/Sewer Drainage Committee about their drainage problems.
The residents asked for longer French drains. D-R Horton, the developer, asked for an easement to build a drainage ditch between a church's property and the houses. No action was taken because it was not an agenda item at the meeting.
On July 11, two homeowners in Killeen filed a lawsuit – through Smith Robertson – against RSBP Developers, owned by Gary Purser Jr. That suit alleges the developer did not follow Texas Commission for Environmental Quality guidelines or city regulations in development.
Shaheen Rehman and Muhammad Bhatti, who both live on Omar Drive, said their homes were flooded. They blame the Trimmier Estates, Phase Four, subdivision to their north for the water runoff. Rehman declined to comment. Bhatti was unavailable for comment. Purser did not return calls by the Daily Herald.
In May, the Killeen City Council approved a land disturbance ordinance that will require a permit for land-change activity.
Land-change activity, as defined by the proposed ordinance, would be any change that may result in soil erosion from water or wind and the movement of soil into waters or onto lands. It would also include any increased runoff of water from, but not limited to, clearing, grading, excavating, transporting and filling of land.
The council approved the ordinance 4-3 in May, but then-Councilman Dick Young amended the motion for the ordinance to not take effect for 90 days.
Local developers protested the ordinance, saying it would cost them too much money and drive up house costs.
Councilman Larry Cole said land disturbance will be the Land Use/Development Committee's top priority. Cole chairs the committee that combines the former Land Use Committee and Land Development Committee. At the new committee's first meeting on Friday, the mission statement focused on drainage.
"We want to prevent as much as possible the flooding of residents' neighborhoods as a result of new development," he said.
Cole also asked for a standing item on the committee's agenda to be citizen input. The new committee also includes a representative from the Central Texas Home Builders Association.
"The developers expressed a concern that they didn't have a voice," Cole said.
A representative from the city's Planning and Zoning Commission also was appointed to the committee.
"Planning and Zoning was not aware of what the council was planning ... they need to be aware," Cole said.
Contact Kevin M. Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (254) 501-7550