Note: This story has been updated to include comments from Montgomery County Precinct 3, Tachus and CenterPoint.
A public town hall centered on issues related to local construction work by the fiber internet company Tachus and led by Montgomery County Precinct 3 and Tachus officials will be held March 23 in The Woodlands, the precinct announced March 18.
The forum follows recent conversations between representatives from Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack's office, CenterPoint Energy, the Howard Hughes Corp., The Woodlands Water Agency and Tachus regarding the internet company's drilling operations, Precinct 3 said in a statement. Noack and Tachus CEO Hal Brumfield will host the in-person town hall, which is set to begin at 6 p.m. March 23 in the South County Community Center at 2235 Lake Robbins Drive, The Woodlands. The meeting will also be streamed live on Noack's Facebook page.
According to Precinct 3, several operational changes aimed at avoiding utility line breaks are now under consideration by Tachus; those include increased communication with residents, local officials and other utilities before and during drilling as well as improvements to the quality of Tachus contractors' work. The company may also partner with Woodlands Water to fund a new locator position for the municipal utility district management agency, Precinct 3 said.
In an email, Tachus Marketing Director Chelsie Baker referred questions relating to the March 23 public meeting to Precinct 3.
"Tachus is looking forward to presenting alongside Commissioner Noack as we are working together to help mitigate any construction concerns or issues that arise while we continue to bring The Woodlands residents a new and 100% fiber-optic Internet service," Baker said.
The Woodlands-based Tachus was founded in 2018 and has plans to expand its internet service throughout several Greater Houston-area communities. Tachus began installation work in Shenandoah in 2018, and its service first arrived in The Woodlands last October in the Village of Cochran's Crossing.
Tachus construction is now underway in the villages of Cochran's Crossing and Panther Creek, according to the company's website. Precinct 3 said Tachus plans to spend $45 million for the installation of fiber internet service in every neighborhood in The Woodlands, and the majority of related drilling work could be completed this year.
In a March 19 email newsletter from Precinct 3, Noack outlined several local concerns related to Tachus construction activities and damages in The Woodlands area. Noack said the precinct has been communicating with Tachus since May 2020 regarding a variety of issues, including "resident concerns, questions and complaints; utility line breaks, challenges with incorrectly marked lines by other utilities/locate companies; property damage" and possible improvements to the company's installation process.
Noack also identified two intersections in The Woodlands where he said Tachus contractors had damaged existing utility lines, requiring the precinct to tear up roadway for repairs, and said Precinct 3 crews have had to complete some ditch repairs in the aftermath of fiber installation work.
Noack said those incidents partially prompted the March 23 forum to allow for further feedback among local residents, businesses and utilities.
"... To be clear, Tachus is not the first and surely will not be the last entity involved with a utility line break that results in damage or necessary repairs to county roads," Noack said in the March 19 statement. "Most of the utility line breaks that Precinct 3 has responded to have involved issues that required road/lane closures or affected traffic. ... Over the past few weeks, Precinct 3 has facilitated enhanced communications between the utilities and Tachus, which shed light on the number of broken water lines being dealt with by the Woodlands Water Agency."
Noack also noted that the county lacks any legal standing to regulate construction activities of utility companies like Tachus or mediate property damage complaints.
Jim Stinson, The Woodlands Water Agency general manager, said March 18 that the utility agency is engaged in talks with Tachus regarding the company's local boring operations. Stinson said Woodlands Water has recorded around 100 water line failures and $100,000 in damage to water infrastructure throughout The Woodlands since Jan. 1 alone, which he attributed to Tachus' local drilling work.
“The issue that’s reoccurring the most is damaging what we call the service tubing to the residential water meter. ... We are also getting damage to the water main itself periodically. That is a concern. That puts a larger area out of water until that’s repaired," Stinson said. "The service tubing usually puts at least one or two residents out of service until that’s repaired, but the damage to the water main can impact a much larger area."
Stinson said Woodlands Water and Tachus representatives are scheduled to meet next week to discuss possible operational adjustments by the fiber company.
"We think there’s some construction methods that Tachus could implement that would reduce the frequency [of damage], and that’s going to be a large part of our discussion with their team," he said.
In an email, CenterPoint's media relations team also referenced damage to the electric company's infrastructure.
"CenterPoint Energy representatives have met with Tachus representatives to discuss various issues related to their work, including avoiding damage to existing underground utilities," the CenterPoint team said March 18.
While Tachus has the right to install its infrastructure without advance notice in public spaces—and to do so with no liability for private damage in those areas—Noack's office said Tachus has dedicated some efforts to repairs and has asked local residents to contact the company if additional problems are identified.
"Under the Texas Utilities Code ... a recognized telecommunications company is not required to give notice or receive approval prior to installing its facilities in public right of way. The code also protects Tachus from responsibility over private damage in the right of way. However, Tachus leadership said the company continues to be committed to repairing yards and irrigation lines," Precinct 3 said in its March 18 statement. "The company’s leadership further urges residents to call Tachus directly with any construction-related issues to help ensure that its boring contractors restore all areas as close as possible to pre-construction conditions."
More information on the March 23 town hall is available through Noack's office at 281-367-3977.