In almost the blink of an eye, bustling strip centers and new construction at I-45 and Tamina Road lead east to a historic unincorporated community encroached upon by the booming growth in south Montgomery County.
The glimmering office buildings of The Woodlands Town Center to the west can be seen from the community of Tamina across the tops of the pine trees, but the contradictions between the two areas have never been more pronounced.
Tamina has been fighting for public sewer service for nearly 15 years—something residents say would help the community flourish and grow like the surrounding municipalities.
Shirley Grimes serves as the executive director of the Tamina Community Center and has lived in the community for more than 40 years. She said although many residents do not wish to be annexed, they want basic services in the community.
“[Tamina residents] shouldn’t have to give up their community for progress,” Grimes said. “They want to keep their identity. People don’t want the community to be dissolved and just become street signs. They’re afraid Tamina would become just a word and there would be nothing to remind people where it was.”
Surrounded by prosperity
About 200 people live in Tamina, which is bordered by the cities of Shenandoah and Oak Ridge North, across I-45 from The Woodlands. Many have lived in the community for decades and watched south Montgomery County transform from the rural fringes of Houston to a thriving area home to numerous company headquarters and million-dollar homes.
Seventy-two-year-old James Leveston, president of the Old Tamina Water Supply Corporation, has lived in Tamina his entire life like many who are second- and third-generation residents.
“When we came down here, there was no Woodlands, no Shenandoah, no Oak Ridge—nothing but Tamina,” he said. “As time went on progress ate us up, and we are just trying to struggle to survive here in Tamina now.”
Tamina was founded after the Civil War in the 1870s when the Houston and Great Northern Railroad line was built through Montgomery County. The area was part of the vast 3,000 acres owned by the Grogan-Cochran Lumber Company in the early 1900s and was home to a post office, mill, general stores and a school.
Today, there are still several businesses in the community—tree service companies, day cares, an after-school program and the community center—but the lack of basic services, such as public sewer, has been a hindrance to progress.
“We are surrounded by so much prosperity and wealth, but we can’t get sewer services in our predominately black community,” Leveston said. “I can’t comprehend it.”
Instead of a public sewer system, a majority of the homes and businesses in Tamina operate on older septic systems or a more expensive aerobic system. An aerobic system—which has to be pumped out once a year—purifies a home’s wastewater through a tank and flushes it out through the sprinkler system. A septic system needs to be pumped out every six months.
“Most people don’t have enough property or enough money to get the aerobic system—that’s why people want to get on the [public] sewer [system],” Grimes said.
Leveston said Tamina residents no longer want to live in conditions similar to those in third-world countries, especially with all of the nearby wealth in the community’s backyard.
“There is no growth, period, if we can’t get a sewer system in,” he said.
Fighting for progress
The initiative to install public sewer began in the early 2000s after the community was awarded a Community Development Block Grant for $250,000, Leveston said. Tamina tried partnering with neighboring Oak Ridge North to install a sewer system and had a loan approved by the Texas Water Development Board to finish the project. However, an agreement could not be met between the two entities because of a loan condition requiring Tamina to give up its water rights or certificate of convenience and necessity.
Most recently, Tamina received a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture to put in the sewer line if a nearby municipality could provide sewage treatment services. The community tried to work with Shenandoah officials to come up with a plan for sewer service.
“Shenandoah was supposed to run pipes down Tamina Road from David Memorial to Johnson Lane,” Leveston said. “We made an agreement with them that we would get the sewer system in and buy services from [the city].”
However, Shenandoah did not accept the agreement because terms of the USDA loan would prohibit the city from annexing the area until the loan is paid off, which is expected to take 40 years.
“[That land] could end up being extremely valuable to the city,” Shenandoah City Attorney William Ferebee said. “I don’t think any responsible [city council] would agree. You’d by tying up the next 20 city councils.”
New developments in Shenandoah near Tamina Road and David Memorial Drive have brought sewer service closer to Tamina, which does not sit well with some in the community.
“[Residents] are puzzled to see that Shenandoah and the hotel were able to put sewer in about halfway down Tamina Road and stop,” Grimes said. “It’s mind-boggling—if they can bring it that far into the community, why not bring it all the way down? It shouldn’t be a major task.”
Leveston said Tamina will take Shenandoah to court in an attempt to make the city honor its commitment. The community cannot move forward with the project or put it out for bid using the USDA grant money until the situation is resolved.
“We’re trying to go down every avenue we can,” Leveston said.
Much of Tamina sits within Shenandoah’s extraterritorial jurisdiction, or unincorporated land outside the city’s boundaries in which a city can exercise authority. Shenandoah does not have annexation powers since it is a general law city with approximately 2,300 residents. However, that could change in the coming years as residents could be eligible to vote on becoming a home rule city if the population reaches 5,000, making the city hesitant about providing the wastewater services in the Tamina area.
Grimes said most Tamina residents want to remain in the community and hope sewer service will be installed in the future.
“Habitat [for Humanity] could come in and families could get homes built in the area,” Grimes said. “They could build nice affordable housing, but they have to have [public] sewer—they can’t put down the aerobic system. All we are asking for is that we have the necessities so we can have everything we need in our community to flourish and grow.”