Q&A: candidates for Montgomery County Precinct 2 commissioner answer questions on flooding, county growth

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Residents in Montgomery County Precinct 2 will vote this November for a county commissioner.

Incumbent commissioner Charlie Riley is a 47-year resident of Montgomery County and has served on the board of trustees for Magnolia ISD. He was first elected in 2014.

Ron Keichline is an environmental, health and safety professional at Huntsman Corporation and has served as a volunteer with several groups in The Woodlands.

Charlie Riley (via Courtesy Charlie Riley)

Charlie Riley*
Republican candidate for Precinct 2 commissioner

Occupation: Montgomery County Precinct 2 commissioner
Experience: Four years as county commissioner for Precinct 2, former Magnolia ISD trustee, 47-year resident in Precinct 2
Top priorities: Mobility, improving and building roads, flood mitigation along Spring Creek, Lake Creek and nearby tributaries

www.charlieriley.org

What do you see as the most critical project or initiative to prevent future flooding in the precinct?
I think one of the most important things that we’ve done is entered into this interlocal agreement with Harris County Flood Control District to where we can actually access some of their resources to help us look at our problem situations with Spring Creek with Lake Creek with some of these tributaries that are running to and from these creeks to see what may actually be done to help mitigate the flooding along those creeks and waterways. I think when we are trying to look at large parcels of land to build detention ponds along theses creeks, I think that is something we need to be looking at really hard to where we can store some of this water and keep it out of the creek and let the creek run and do what it needs to do. And once the creek gets back down to a manageable level, then we can release the water out of these detention ponds and into the creek. I think that’s a very workable solution, we just got to have the tracts of land to do that, and that’s what they’re looking for now, they’re looking at that type of thing.

The other thing would be the same thing at Lake Creek. Lake Creek and the San Jacinto River, they join each other just south of Conroe and I think more focus has been put on San Jacinto River than at Lake Creek. I think now that we’ve done this, we’ve got some attention on Lake Creek to where we should be able to do some kind of mitigation along Lake Creek too.

Nothing is going to prevent a Harvey again, I don’t care how much money we spend or how much we do, if we get another Harvey, we’re not going to be able to do anything about it. Hopefully we never do see that again. But if we can mitigate some of the 5-10 inch rains that seems to be a normal rain nowadays, if we can do some of this for that type of range I think we can help the situation and it’s certainly something that we can build on for the future.

Aside from flooding, what is the biggest challenge facing the precinct? How would you address that challenge?
Mobility, mobility mobility. Traffic, traffic traffic. We are just getting swamped with more and more vehicles every day and we are in the process of trying to correct some of this over in Precinct 2 working with [the Texas Department of Transportation] trying to get [FM] 1488 expanded all the way through Magnolia from Mill Creek to at least four lanes, get [FM] 1774 to four lanes through Magnolia to Magnolia West High School. [FM] 2978 is finally under construction to where it will be a five-lane road, two lanes each direction with a turn lane down the middle which is what we need.

[Hwy.] 249 is going to be a game changer. [Hwy.] 249 is going to completely change. [Hwy.] 249 is on a fast track we should be driving on [Hwy.] 249 in February of 2020—that’s just unheard of. If you come out here and look at the progress they’ve made so far if they can continue what they’re doing, they’ll make that deadline and that will relieve so much traffic coming to and from Precinct 2 and the west side of the county that is the game changer.

All of those things improve not only traffic but improves safety. When we can improve traffic and safety I think we’ve done our job and we’re making great strides in doing that.

How should the county address increasing traffic on roads with its limited revenue sources?
We do have limited options. We do have limited funds we can spend on traffic and mobility, but we’ve got to partner, and we have great partners with [the Houston-Galveston Area Council] and TxDOT and even the local municipalities. Shenandoah, Magnolia, Conroe—we have a great working relation with all of these folks and we try to help them.

I had a meeting with Shenandoah about trying to improve the intersection on Research Forest at I-45. And again, that’s TxDOT, Shenandoah and the county all trying to work together to come up with a solution to move traffic through that intersection.

It’s the same thing with [Hwy.] 242 and I-45, these are the same situation. You’ve got TxDOT, the county, The Woodlands Township, all of us are trying to look at that intersection because of all the hospitals that have been built there. It scares me that we got these hospitals and it’s hard to get to and from those hospitals, that scares me so we got to be looking at trying to make some improvements there.

You’ve got to partner with your municipalities, your cities, and even school districts. We’ve partnered with our Magnolia school district over here to help do some signage and different road improvement projects to get their kids in and out of their schools. That is how you make things happen, but you got to have people that you can work with, you have to be willing to try to work with different people. It can’t be just me or just the county trying to take care of all of the traffic problems in Montgomery County—it’s got to be everybody.

Ron Keichline

Ron Keichline
Democratic candidate for Precinct 2 commissioner

Occupation: Environmental, health and safety professional at Huntsman Corporation
Experience: 19 years of professional experience, eight years experience with Huntsman Corporation, volunteer with various groups in The Woodlands
Top priorities: Flood resilience, county infrastructure, county services, government accountability

www.voteronk.com

What do you see as the most critical project or initiative to prevent future flooding in the precinct?
Having studied environmental issues most of my adult life, I understand that flood resiliency must be addressed at the watershed level. We cannot impose local, county-by-county projects (or even less effective, Precinct-by-Precinct) without causing adverse impacts either up- or down-stream. I believe it is imperative that the Commissioners Court work closely with the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA) to identify both short- and long-term priorities to reduce flood severity, enhance resiliency, and protect property and lives.

Furthermore, I believe that some of the most groundbreaking research on flood risk mapping is being done by the property insurance companies (and reinsurers). Their risk maps are based on much more recent data (e.g. flood claims from the last 3-5 years) than our older county/real estate flood maps. I believe the Commissioners Court should partner closely with the major insurers to develop hazard maps that are virtually “real time” and use them to develop mitigation strategies for 5-, 10-, and 15-year development plans.

Aside from flooding, what is the biggest challenge facing the precinct? How would you address that challenge?
I believe loss of trust in our Commissioners Court is devastating to democracy. The ethical lapses and questionable judgement that resulted in recent indictments against the outgoing judge and commissioners need to be addressed on Day 1 if we are to regain the trust of our constituents. I am committed to zero-corruption and transparent governance.

How should the county address increasing traffic on roads with its limited revenue sources?
An initial and low-cost method to reduce congestion includes advanced computer traffic modeling and reevaluating speed limits and traffic sensors/recalibration of traffic light timing to improve flow.

In staunch opposition to the current court, I do not support creating more toll roads as a shady and disingenuous means to collect “non-tax” revenue. I stand firm in my belief that toll roads are inequitable and only benefit a very few residents. I do not wish to stand in the way of progress on mobility but (consistent with my commitment to transparency) the full and reasonable costs should be detailed and made available to voters for consideration – and to stop hiding road projects behind a facade of toll revenue while simultaneously claiming to have lowered property taxes.

*incumbent

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Wendy Cawthon
A Houston native and graduate of St. Edward's University in Austin, Wendy Cawthon has worked as a community journalist covering local government, health care, business and development since 2011. She has worked with Community Impact since 2015 as a reporter and editor and joined The Woodlands edition in 2017.
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