Stakeholders main issues with SJRA fall outside sunset review's scope

(Community Impact Newspaper)
(Community Impact Newspaper)

(Community Impact Newspaper)

The San Jacinto River Authority, the entity that provides surface water to certain users in Montgomery County, is undergoing sunset review, a performance evaluation by a state commission that may require the SJRA to make certain improvements. But local entities said the initial report fell short of examining their priority concerns regarding the SJRA.

Sunset reviews are conducted by the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission, which may recommend improvements to state agencies or recommend abolishing them altogether, although river authorities are not subject to abolishment. The SJRA’s review is in the third stage, in which the committee has written an initial report and plans to file a bill in the Texas Legislature consisting of its recommendations.

According to state Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, the sunset review has been extended to the next legislative session to provide the legislature and public more time to make recommendations.

Kevin Lacey, the president of the Lake Conroe Association, an entity that advocates for homeowners on the lake, said he was disappointed the report did not discuss the seasonal Lake Conroe lowering, a controversial flood mitigation strategy that is largely supported by residents in areas downstream such as Kingwood but opposed by homeowners on the lake.

“Not once in their sunset report ... did they even mention this hugely contentious program,” Lacey said. “We were scratching our heads.”

Meanwhile, SJRA General Manager Jace Houston said that sunset reviews are similar to a management and efficiency audit and are not designed to examine policy issues.

Sunset findings

The sunset advisory commission was established in 1977, when scandals at the federal and state levels had diminished public confidence in government institutions, according to the commission’s website. Since its creation, the committee has abolished 92 agencies, and has 131 agencies scheduled for review in the next 12 years.

The sunset advisory staff report for the SJRA found the agency “executes its core water supply operations well but needs to improve key support functions.” Some of the areas the report highlighted as needing improvement include communication and engagement with the public as well as its contracting and procurement methods.

Several individuals provided input, some of which fell outside the sunset review’s scope, according to the commission. Ronald McEachern, a resident of the city of Montgomery, called for an end to the seasonal lowering, independent studies to assess the causes of flooding and to switch the SJRA board from an appointed to an elected board.

“There is little transparency and no fairness for the Lake Conroe area,” he said.

However, the sunset commission did not factor this input into its report. Instead, the report focused only on certain aspects of SJRA’s operation and did not review broader water policy issues or topics under litigation. The report concludes the recommendations should not have a significant impact on the SJRA.

Regarding the recommendation for the SJRA to improve its public communication, Lacey said public meetings for the lake lowering could have been more productive if there had been smaller workshops so individuals could have presented technical studies. Rather, the meetings were often contentious and passionate, he said.

“They decided to just use the town hall process, which had limited ability to put deep technical reports or studies in front of the board,” he said.

Legal, legislative efforts

Local elected officials are also looking into the SJRA. State Rep. Will Metcalf, R-Conroe, has filed a bill that would replace the board with an elected board; similar bills have been filed in the past that did not pass.

Metcalf said in an email he was disappointed with what he called “lack of community involvement opportunities” to make substantial, legislative changes to the way SJRA operates.

“I was extremely discouraged that the sunset commission’s report did not address any legislative reforms related to the seasonal lake lowering program,” he said. “I am hopeful that through the continued pressure of our citizens on the SJRA board, as well as through the [Texas Commission on Environmental Quality] and other legal avenues, we will be successful in ending this harmful program once and for all.”

Sen. Dawn Buckingham, vice chair of the sunset commission, did not provide comment before publication time. SJRA submitted a 5-page response to the recommendations, which outlined the steps the agency will take or has taken, such as hiring a new procurement manager.

Meanwhile, Houston said he felt the review was extensive and thorough; the recommendations were “very good;” and policy issues fall outside the sunset’s scope.

He also said there were various opportunities for the public to be involved during the process.

SJRA’s website provides information about the sunset review, including where to provide comments and suggestions, although this deadline has since expired. A link is also available to sign up for email alerts on the sunset staff report and the sunset commission’s public meetings.

As for the lake lowering meetings, Houston said the townhall meetings were necessary to let the public weigh in, and there have been various opportunities to voice concern.

“You have to give the general public a time and a place ... to make their voice heard,” he said. “We did what we felt was the right thing to do.”
By Eva Vigh
Eva Vigh joined Community Impact Newspaper in 2018 as a reporter for Spring and Klein. Prior to this position, she covered upstream oil and gas news for a drilling contractors' association.


Family Promise of Montgomery County encourages residents to show support for homeless families by spending a night in a tent or sleeping bag June 26. (Courtesy Family Promise of Montgomery County)
Night Without a Bed fundraiser to bring awareness to homelessness in Montgomery County

Residents of Montgomery County are encouraged to spend the night of June 26 in a tent in their back yards or a sleeping bag on the living room floor to express support for those experiencing homelessness.

The craft beer industry is growing in the Greater Houston area. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Greater Houston area's craft brewery count grows 344% since 2013

According to NAI Partners, the Greater Houston area has 71 craft breweries.

Home prices continue to increase, according to local real estate data. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Median price of homes sold in Conroe, Montgomery rise at least 12% year-over-year

Plus, check out this month's featured neighborhood, Teaswood.

Gov. Greg Abbott announced a special legislative session will begin July 8. (Trent Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Gov. Greg Abbott announces special legislative session to start July 8

Agenda items will be announced before the session begins, according to a release from the governor's office.

The county is working with firm Brown and Gay Engineers Inc. to update the plan. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Montgomery County commissioners expect thoroughfare plan update in July

Plus, check out two other local transportation projects.

When built out, the community will include several housing complexes and community centers. (Community Impact Newspaper)
Miracle City, community for the homeless, eyes 5-year build-out

Five acres on Foster Drive have been cleared for Miracle City, a community serving people experiencing homelessness in Montgomery County.

It is not clear if Montgomery County businesses were surveyed. (Community Impact Newspaper)
Widespread COVID-19 vaccine mandates in Montgomery County unlikely despite decisions of some employers

A survey conducted by PNC Financial Services found more than 40% of the 150 businesses in the Greater Houston area plan to require it.

Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion announces 3 new concerts for 2021 season

Tickets for all three shows will go on sale to the public June 25.

Texas Medical Center coronavirus updates: Hospital system reports 2.2% positivity rate, down 13% year to date

COVID-19 patient numbers at medical center hospitals are down to 309 from the over 2,000 patients those same hospitals were housing in January.

Many restaurants along Hwy. 105 in Montgomery, such as Pizza Shack, have “now hiring” signs displayed. (Eva Vigh/Community Impact Newspaper)
End of pandemic unemployment payouts may help businesses struggling to find entry-level employees

Local business and restaurant owners say no one is applying—and the few that do, don't come back.

The Texas Central rail connection from Dallas to Houston will feature a bullet train similar to this one. (Courtesy Texas Central Partners/Community Impact Newspaper)
Texas Supreme Court declines to review high-speed rail case, freeing company up to use eminent domain

Texas Central, the company looking to build a 236-mile high-speed rail line connecting Houston and Dallas, has been given a big win in an ongoing legal battle over whether the company is legally recognized as a "railroad company" under state law.