Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Fall has peaked like never before in the Parched Woods

Rush Haven street in the Village of Indian Springs Fall, 2011
How is it that we marvel at the beauty of the Fall color in The Woodlands Texas this year? Our trees have been stretched beyond their safety zone of tolerance in a severe summer that broke heat records for the area. And the suffering of our trees did not stop there. They had no water to drink to fight the thirst brought by that heat. A drought of previously unknown proportions had gripped the area for months... and now?
Most oftentimes yellow but at times, totally red

The trees are singing after that thirst has been quenched by two months of decent rain followed by an early cold spell to sprinkle the leaves with a light frost. So we have an insanely gorgeous Fall, resembling a painting of a forest in its splendid glory in the Northeast of the country. And just before Christmas, we get to see this spectacular show! How lucky we are!
Flintridge at Gosling Rd, The Woodlands Texas
This story is that we should take our hats off to one species of tree in particular. Some people dislike the gum balls of the Sweetgum tree, but I love this tree. It has beauty that outshines every native tree here. It's bloom in the Spring is not so colorful but intricately beautiful. The gum balls are very useful as fillers in gardens when they fall off the tree. The bright green star-shaped leaves early in the summer are unique and vivid. Every Fall, the Sweetgum drops its yellow leaves, but never have the colors been so vivid as this year.
Hwy 1488 in Montgomery County Texas offers a view of the natural forest setting
When you see these colors in the forest this late in the year, there is an 80% chance that the colors are from this native species alone. There are a few other less plentiful species also contributing to the colors, such as the Red Maple or the Chinese Tallow (an invasive species showing very vivid colors), or the Crepe Myrtle.
Inside looking out at a Sweetgum in its full glory
The spectacular showing of color in the Fall is an excellent reason to have living trees on your property. Living in the forest is why I live here. I hope you would live here for the same reason. That is what this community is - life in the forest, a vestige of the great Piney Woods of East Texas. I would not live in this community without the forest.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Vote against Firefighters union proposition in The Woodlands

I do not endorse the Fireman's unionization proposition for The Woodlands Texas. In my opinion, public servants should not ethically be unionized. They are paid with tax dollars to serve those who pay those taxes. They lobby for politicians, trying to influence local elections. They should not have extraordinary powers to influence voters. It is an abuse of the unique trusted position they hold as firemen. Let's keep our government clean and government employees on even ground, not giving any group special privileges nor any special bargaining powers. The Woodlands is a respected and good place to work for any government employee, utilizing competitive and comparable salaries for like jobs elsewhere. Let's keep it that way! 


Vote "AGAINST" The Woodlands Township Proposition for firefighters. CONTRA la proposición!   

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Open letter to The Woodlands Township - Save our natural resources


I was asked to make this letter public, and therefore have published it here.

Situation:  Whereas, (1) We are in the worse drought on record in Southeast Texas.  (2) The Woodlands is economically dependent on the existence of its natural setting and resources, (3) Tall mature trees form the basis of our natural setting, (4) Large reforesting efforts are very expensive and recovery takes decades, (5) The Woodlands has no evident disaster plan for its resources, (6) Weather forecasts predict we may be in the 10th year of a 20-year drought cycle, (7) We will likely lose 10-20% of our trees this year alone.  Tree service companies are knocking on doors trying to convince people to cut their trees down, (7) Even trees on private property is within the jurisdictional scope of the Township (protected in the covenants), (8) Residents have indicated in past annual polls that the most important aspect of this community is its trees,  and  (9) The Woodlands Township has a substantial but unknown valued inventory of mature trees on its deeded properties, including parks and green reserves.  As stewards of these properties and our tax dollars to care for these properties, The Township is responsible for the health and well being of these properties.  Our most basic core value is the forest setting of our community and the wildlife therein.  There are unexploited opportunities to deliver non-potable and potable water resources to our green areas, to provide a means to give life to our forests.  Esplanade watering in 2011 started entirely too late to save many of our trees at most risk.  The Township has a forestry “bible” created by a contractor in 2004 that laid out a forest management plan for this community; we have a reforestation plan derived from that document.  We have grown by leaps and bounds since that study was conducted. Although we have not executed that plan in its entirety, the plan itself has a number of pitfalls, one of which we are experiencing today – severe drought.  This plan provides for normal actions to Texas forests in general; it is tailored specifically for The Woodlands but is not a disaster plan. We have a strategic business plan, but it is not comprehensive and does not cover such disasters. We must take action now to deal with disaster planning for our future, or this master planned community may cease to exist. A pine tree grows at a rate of two feet a year.  We cannot afford to lose all of our mature pines. Status quo is not the answer to this situation. Fire continues to be a hazard for our area as well; the study of 2004 recommended ways to mitigate that threat.  

Request for Action 
Scope
As a resident and taxpayer of this community, I hereby request the board of directors to immediately take short term and long term actions to save our trees. We should work with the development company, county and MUD districts who are also stakeholders in the health of our forests. The scope of these actions considers the risks to our economic prosperity, both in business and in residential neighborhoods. Home values are significantly at risk; business volume is also at risk. Therefore, I suggest we develop two plans. One is for short term planning, where residents, businesses, and the government partner to provide water to our trees, saving as many as possible. Establish a partnership with tree service companies to inform residents with a common message of preservation. Establish a licensing process for tree service providers, to help prevent misinformation being spread to homeowners on the necessity of cutting down trees.  Establish a research and grant partnership with educational institution(s) to find best practices and evolving means to save our forests in the context of current changing issues, including disease control.
 
Suggested course of action
Immediately establish a task force to recommend near term actionable tasks.  Perhaps we could call the program “Save our Woodlands one tree at a time”. As the winter approaches, the drier air is likely to stress the trees even further. We are in our “wet season” but the dry climate over the past three years has demonstrated the need to pay attention to the problem even in cold months and “wet” seasons. The devastation to our forests this summer was predictable. We are way behind in rainfall and have been behind for three years.  
Short term (now): To provide vision and possible specifics, I can give a possible start of ideas: develop an immediate watering plan to make sure our trees have sufficient water to survive.  Assume this drought continues; don’t wait any longer. Identify the areas most threatened by the drought. Utilize the 2004 study to assist in this process but do not limit an action plan to that study. This includes the high risk of beetle infestations which is very likely to occur over the next 12 months. Be willing to displace other projects in the 2011 and 2012 budget plan to make this happen.  Be willing to spend emergency funds to make this happen. Include residential and business-owned trees in an estimated inventory of mature trees. Track and report on the general health of our forest at various locations. Use all resources available – including the RDRCs and DSC which are tasked to protect the large trees on private and business properties.  Communicate judiciously and often with homeowners and businesses on their responsibilities to care for trees on their properties.  Solicit volunteers to help with the process. It is implied in the covenants that residents must water their trees.  Establish a partnership with the water authority to acquire water for this emergency; seek to lower the cost of watering trees.   Communicate with residents on their responsibility to the community for saving one tree at a time.  Quantify costs and identify funding resources to make this happen. Encourage residents to help with public lands.  Utilize Township resources to perform these actions. Prepare a health check of our forests and present it to the community at a widely publicized Townhall meeting. Participate in the Houston-Galveston Fall  Planning workshop for the environment and be a regional player to mitigate future risks.
Long term (within one year):  Develop the economics of our trees, their impact on our economy and specific risks to their health. Establish a clear vision and strategy in the Township business plan that places the proper importance of our forests and triggers urgent proactive and reactive actions in the future when the forest is thus threatened again. Inventory our large mature trees, especially those with a diameter greater than six inches and establish their location. Have a working relationship with a major university such as Texas A&M to ensure we are on the front line of loss prevention.

If we were an insurance company, our rating would be very low right now to provide coverage for our forests. And yes, we actually are an insurance company. We insure ourselves.  Let’s admit we are in trouble and take action.
     
Thank you for playing close and urgent attention to this matter and aggressively seek to protect our property values and the quality of life in The Woodlands, by saving our forest, what is left of it. Let’s not be in the same position regarding this subject next year at this time.

Randy Scott, stakeholder and resident of The Woodlands  

Monday, October 3, 2011

Farmers Market in Grogans Mill

Today marked the Fall opening of the Grogan's Mill Farm Market, an event sponsored by the Grogans Mill Village Association in The Woodlands for the past four years. George Van Horn pictured here is a Director of the Grogan's Mill Village Association.

George Van Horn (right)
The market is open from 8AM until NOON each Saturday. Today, the management team announced the market will be open all year starting now. There will not be a Fall and a Spring season anymore. That decision was made in response to a unified  vendor's request, because they cannot sustain business when the season is so fragmented. Now the market will be there all year long. Some vendors may opt out for a short vacation now and then, but all-in-all, they will sell their goods each and every Saturday throughout the year. All the vendors indicated that they intend to be there each Saturday throughout the year. Some will even take orders and bring them to the market on Saturdays. Many of them have web pages; a few have social network pages.  Generally speaking, all the products are natural, with a focus on health.
Dana Denton (left), Katerina Graham (right) 
Katerina is the manager of the Grogans Mill Farmers Market, overseeing its weekly operation. She is the person the vendors and public will interface with during the 4-hour event each week and who the vendors do business with during off hours. Dana is a VP in the Grogan's Mill Village Association who is responsible for the event.
Fresh seasonal vegetables are available from several farms
Local honey is sold by several vendors
On this opening day, there was plenty of space for additional tented booths. The space was about 60% filled. There will be many more vendors in the weeks ahead. Neal's Berry Farm, Theiss Farms and one other farm provided the vegetable products today. Theiss and Round Rock Honey were selling local honey. Round Rock has some three million bees in Texas, in various locations. They blend the honey collected to be "Texas Honey" specifically to help all Texans with allergies. Their blend now for sale is for this time of year. They also have bee keeper classes to encourage people to have a hive of their own.  I am contemplating taking one of those classes.
Home-made bread
Angela's Oven was there to sell their natural delicious breads and baked goods.
Scented Soaps - food quality ingredients
Honey bees were attracted to the soaps made and sold by Lavanda. As you can see from the photo, there is a wide assortment of colors and scents to choose from, and they smell great!
Chef of the Grande Tamale Factory - fresh and home-made quality
Fresh tamales are sold by Grande Tamales International Kitchen.You can order these through the internet at their site (below) and have them brought here on Saturday morning. The Woodlands is where Higinio Amado started his business a couple of years ago. He has expanded to several other markets since then. HEB is also considering selling his products.

Special Costa Rican coffee by a local packaging distributor was for sale by Don Vittorio. I sampled two of their smooth coffees and found both to be palatable, but personally preferred the dark. They sell the beans and the ground fresh coffee.

Georgia's Texas Grassfed Beef was also here selling their Texas grass-fed beef which is totally natural in all respects. I was told that I had to experience it to know the difference. Maybe next time...

There was an Indian cuisine booth selling a variety of packaged foods. Some of their salsas really looked inviting. There was also an Arabic type food booth.

Muffins for sale
These muffins from Bluebird bakery were very popular today. There were very few left at 11AM.

The market is close to us here in The Woodlands and quite unique. People come from all around the area shopping for natural products. I encourage everyone to visit it at least once, to see and experience its value. At lunch I ate the vegetables I bought there an hour earlier; can't get it much fresher than that! The organizers expect the market to grow over the next few months to not only fill the empty booths of today, but develop another line of tents branching off from the current double-lined configuration.

Neal brings his farm to us. It is located on Gosling Rd. His story of how he keeps crops naturally free from chemicals and insecticides is quite interesting and practical. He is proud of what he has accomplished. I would be too if I were in his shoes! Sea salt is his answer to bugs and fertilizer.

Come out to see these folks at the Grogan's Mill Shopping Center on Grogan's Mill Rd at South Millbend. A list of current vendors and website links are found on the Grogan's Mill Village website at this location. Some vendors will accept credit cards, but I took cash to purchase what I found for myself.

Facebook Follows:
+ Grogans Mill Farmers Market
+ Bluebird Bakery
Nativa Soaps
+ Nishas Indian Food
+ Neals Berry Farm

Thursday, September 29, 2011

October 2011 email to readers for list of recent articles


During the period June through September 2011, the following Woodlands Commentary articles were published. We are in our third year of an extended drought which threatens our trees and will continue to stress our water supply. It is far from being over. Related articles from the past remain applicable and can be found using the search engine. This week I was on Channel 11 news, at the TV station's request, to describe the forest situation in The Woodlands and discuss tree watering techniques. See the first article below for a news story link and the story that triggered their interest.

01.  Save our Trees   

02.  Hummingbirds again about to migrate   

03.  Eagles perpetuate their species -

04.  Businesses at Kuykendahl and Flintridge -

05.  Houston Grand Parkway goes to Development Status 

06.  Drought of 2011 - one to remember  

07.  September Storms - first of 2011 brewing  -

08. Next-generation Government for The Woodlands - focus groups for gap analysis 

09. Fall Flea Market in The Woodlands 

10. Woodlands Parkway and Gosling intersection 

11. Letting them go, loss of loved ones 

12. Amazing Discovery in the Jungle, the Rainbow Toad

13. Watering Trees, especially during a drought

14. Drought Tolerance of Trees in The Woodlands 

15. Texas Wildfire - Northeast Texas 

16. Ponds under Stress 

17. Forest under Stress 

18. Wildfire in Dyer Mill, Texas 

19. Museum hosts Kinderfest 

20. Children's Fishing Tournament 

21. Wildlife and Values of The Woodlands 

This blog is provided as a service to The Woodlands residents and patrons of local businesses, connecting to amenities provided in and near The Woodlands. Please forward to anyone who might be interested. Every reader's view on any local matter is appreciated and considered for future articles. Help save out trees and forest! 

To get on the email distribution, just send your email address to IndianSpringsGuy@sbcglobal.net

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Save our trees - program by Texas Forest Service

Many of the things I have been saying about watering trees in this drought are found in recently published documents on the Texas Forestry website, stated a bit differently and shortened to my explanations. It has been estimated that we will lose 66 million trees worth two hundred billion dollars in the Houston region this year alone. That is 10% of the total population of the region. Here in The Woodlands, where water runoff is managed, where the soil is sandier and elevated, and concrete is near many of the trees, this will be a larger percentage. The Woodlands is known for its enormous trees and dense forest from the lumber mining days. It is quickly disappearing and cannot be effectively reforested for decades. This potentially will significantly harm the economy of the area and value of private homes. Home owners have the responsibility to care for the trees as well as the government officials who are charged with safeguarding the community's investments and resources.  

+ Texas Forest Service video - Water your Trees! How to care for drought-stricken trees.
+ Texas Forest Service downloadable document-  Tree Watering Tips: Caring for trees during extreme drought
+ Houston Chronicle article - Houston may lose 66 million trees this year. Or more. Save yours
+ Channel 11 News 09-25-2001 - Grassroots Effort to Save Our Trees in The Woodlands featuring the author of this commentary, Randy Scott.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Hummingbirds again about to migrate

Bottlebrush provides a fine nectar

It is that time again as you probably have noticed, if you live in Southeast Texas. Hummingbirds are everywhere there are flowers. Yes, you are so right! Food is available only in cultivated areas, like gardens and homes. This is the reason I write this article. These birds need our help to get ready to migrate across the big pond. There is very little food available for them this year. So far, I have put out three feeders and plan to put out two more in my yard, spread out enough to allow "thieves" to get away with some. Yes, all food "belongs" to the resident bird of the area, which may include two neighbors' homes.  Possession is the law with these birds. Territory is protected judiciously and ferociously.
Lickn her chops to get all the leftover nectar on her proboscis from the bush she just visited 
Personally, I can be entertained for hours by these amazing creatures. The expend so much energy fighting each other, that in the end you wonder how they can possibly be storing up energy to ride the north winds to Central America and Mexico later this month.
Keeping cool in this heat is no easy task but time out for a rest!
 This year, 5-8 birds are in my little plot here in The Woodlands. I expect even more in the days ahead. These are constantly bickering and fighting. They will fly within a few inches of my head or arm when I am watching them on the back deck. I can feel the air as one passes and hear them both and at times, four of five of them with their battle cries.  I have been hoping to get a photo of two of them dueling face to face suspended by their wings in mid-air, chirping gallantly, hoping to run off the other. I have not managed that yet but came very close to capturing the scene this morning.
At times, everyone needs some rest and personal hygiene 
Even so, the birds manage to get food and water. A splash of water with the sprinkler is received very enthusiastically. They love to get a drink off of leaves when a bush or tree is covered in water. They also love to take a bath in a very small water container. I use one that was designed for that purpose. It sits in a rod three feet tall that is in the ground under the trees.
From every angle, every drop is important
They are very nimble in their ability to reach difficult spots
What was that?!!! exclaims the Tufted Titmouse 
Other birds and creatures don't seem much affected by this hullabaloo but watching close, there are cases where others are annoyed by the hummingbirds.
Hey you! Keep your act away from me! That is dangerous!!!!! This is MY space. 
It was clear that this exchange of words was due in part from a flyby.
Hey bud! You can eat on your side. I am taking care of the ants on mine!
At the feeder, everyone gets a drink sooner or later. This lizard likes the idea of the ants on the feeder, but the birds could care less.

Man your battle stations!!
And there will be no peace!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Eagles perpetuate their species - a project for The Woodlands.

Eagle of The Woodlands
Isn't it amazing that our national bird has almost totally recovered from near extinction? It was not long ago in my lifetime that they were endangered, because we used insecticides (DDT) to "nuke" bugs and everything else that got in the way of raising crops or children. Finally, in 1962, "Silent Spring" by Rachel Carson, a biologist, was published. It revealed the effect of DDT on our environment. "Nuking" our mosquitoes was causing mass murder to the hummingbird population. DDT-polluted water was destroying even our national bird, in addition to water fowl and fish. Butterflies and other insects such as Fireflies were obliterated by DDT. As part of the food chain, humans were also getting poisoned little by little by this nervous system drug. The revelation in 1962 of the grave consequences of this chemical on the earth took another ten years to effectively act upon. It was so heavily used in the 1950's that virtually every living species was affected, including the American Bald Eagle. The shell of it's egg became very thin in the presence of DDT, thereby getting crushed when the eagles sat on them. 
Woodlands Eagle, one baby and nest
(click to see full size) The Eagles of The Woodlands have been producing two eaglets every year for the last ten years. I am not aware of one year where they failed to produce two babies. Eagles live to be 30+ years old in the wild, potentially parenting about 60 Eagles. Why would an Eagle pick The Woodlands to nest? It is far enough south to provide a warm but not hot nest in the winter. Of course, we also have the trees that can support a nest weighing up to two tons. These birds do nest in pines here, but they are not limited to Pine trees at all.  The critical requirement is to be near water, because Eagles are fishing birds. The other requirements include trees that can hold a nest, which weights as much as a car, and enough space for the parents to hunt, fish and protect their young in reasonable solitude.  Eagles can spot a fish at a very high altitude and can go totally unnoticed by a fish near the surface.  Lake Woodlands and presumably the reservoir on Kuykendahl both support Bald Eagle nests. These birds also need hunting space and forested protection, so that the parents can oversee the nest and protect the young from man, varmints and other birds of prey. Vultures are constantly watched and attacked when they approach an Eagle's nest. I have seen them chase other raptors away.

Eaglet in The Woodlands
The Eagles talk in the forest. They makes sounds that are unique only to them and tell each other when there is danger, where they are and what they expect of their mate. What a fitting species for our national bird! Strength, agility, speed, flight and domain attributes, skill and cunning, perception and beauty. Are not you proud this is our national bird? I am! And it lives right here among our trees for half a year!

Bald Eagles are "bald" because they have white heads. This name apparently came from old grey haired men who identified baldness and white heads on humans as mature and cunning hunters. Anyone who has studied these birds are aware of their great hunting and fishing skills. I have watched them fish. With keen eyes and high speed flight, a fish will in one second be sun bathing and the next in the grip of Eagle claws. The Eagle Claw brand picked a suitable name for fishing hooks, because they are very effective! Fish are simply plucked out of the water with such skill, that you hardly see the water move except by movement of the fish. When an eaglet is trained to fish, he learns to do this by example. The adult will catch the fish and then after essentially disabling it, drop it with the eaglet following, which dives to pluck it up off the surface of the water. He is rewarded with a meal and the example and feel of the catch is set in his memory.

An Idea for The Woodlands Conservation of our National Bird

There are video cams in various places in the USA and Canada, where nests are monitored and live telecasts via internet occur. One can watch what occurs in an eagle nest and the process of caring for eaglets. A project to educate the public on the natural setting here is quite possible for The Woodlands, and little effort would not cost much  money, but have high returns. The primary obstacle is the land use. My idea would be to have a video screen video on our waterway tourist boats to show the live broadcast and feeding stations of other wild animals in our forests. It would show our eagles live to visitors in the Spring and by recorded video at other times. Some creative thinking and ingenuity could leverage what we value and have here at our fingertips, and demonstrate that man and creature can co-exist, each in its unique habitat. To do that, we would need to change our collective attitude about wildlife here. These birds are an asset to us, but at risk to being displaced by development. We should be looking for help from conservationists in corporations or elsewhere to do this. It should be done now! Anyone want to help?  

As I have suggested before, I firmly believe that we have a few strengths to competitively draw commerce and visitation, and little of it is in concrete and steel. What is made with concrete and steel can and will be replicated down the freeway or highway or on the other side of the city. Everyone with any business insight will tell you to build on strength, not on weakness. The strengths come from the forest, its inhabitants and the natural creeks that meander through our villages. That is basis of what we are, what we have been and hopefully what we will be in the future. We are part of the East Texas forest system. The Bald Eagle nest is one of those very things that make us unique, right in the middle of  town! The birds need their privacy, but visitors on one of our boats could spot an eagle any time in the late winter or spring without disturbing its rituals of nesting. Have you ever ridden one of these boats? Did you feel like you were in nature? That is what I am talking about. The foundation of this place has always been the forest and nature. I keep it close to my heart every single day of my life.

Join me in pushing for nature conservation in Town Center!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Businesses at Kuykendahl and Flintridge - development anew

After the removal of trees by the former owner of this property in The Woodlands Texas and subsequent withdrawal of plans due to bankruptcy, a new owner, Tom Pisuela has acquired the property and is planning to divide and construct four commercial properties on the site. He has prior commercial experience in The Woodlands, since he was the property developer of the medical facility at 9301 Pinecroft. A 20,000 sq ft medical office building is planned in the middle of the property, and two story facility toward the rear. Two independent one story businesses will be located on the Kuykendahl frontage. According to sources, there will be no connectivity for auto traffic or pedestrians to the Indian Springs Shopping Center which abuts to this property. The medical office building is expected to be completed by the end of the year. The other three commercial entities are in the sales phase. When all properties have been completed, there will be two parking entrances on Flintridge and one on Kuykendahl. There remains hope that a cut-through will be agreed upon later from the HEB parking lot, especially for the planned bank in order to lower traffic volume on Flintridge.   

Friday, July 29, 2011

Houston Area Grand Parkway moves to Develop Status

Recent decisions in June and July by Montgomery County and TXDOT  have determined that the Montgomery County portion of the Grand Parkway (State Hwy 99) will be be built and operated as a toll road under the auspices of TXDOT. So the G and F-2 segments near The Woodlands officially moves into the execution phase of the approved plan, previously reviewed and adopted in the planning phase. The past few months have been a transition from planning to execution, as legal issues had to be resolved. Now since Montgomery County has rescinded its right to develop and operate the portion of the G (I-45 to I-59) segment within its territorial domain, it has cleared the way for full steam ahead development. The full completion of the parkway segments F-1, F-2, G  is predicted to occur by the end of 2014. Segments E and I-2 are under development, and some portions are being prepared for operation, dependent also on the outcome of this RFI and RFP.

When completed, this four lane 70 mph toll road will provide a much needed means to quickly reach east and west portions of the greater Houston area without using north/south freeway systems. This alternative is expected to bring large commercial developments along the segment, significantly impacting the economy of the area. Some downsides include its close proximity to nearby schools in Northampton and loss of some structures and homes in its path. TXDOT has the means and commitment to mitigate noise, so it is my hope and expectation that the resultant deliverable will not affect classroom learning in Northampton.

During the construction phase, some roads will likely be inaccessible near construction, and traffic is expected to be rerouted. More details will be coming as they become available.

An RFI (Request for Information) was issued in early June in order to decide on which contractors will be chosen to submit a proposal. The RFI has been closed and the information has been submitted to TXDOT and is under review with one-on-one interviews. Requests for Information is preliminary to contracting and establishes materials required and a general knowledge interchange pertinent to the project.  It helps develop the language and contractor selection criteria for the contract. We can expect an RFP (Request for Proposal) afterwards to select the general contractor(s) and operators.  

References
+ Montgomery County Minute Order (PDF)
+ Grand Parkway Project by TXDOT (PDF)
+ Request for Information              

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Drought of 2011 - one to remember


Park sign in The Woodlands

In all reality, the drought of 2011 in Southeast Texas has not ended, especially here in The Woodlands and westward. With temperatures in the 100s in much of the state, the threat of dangerous wildfire remains with us. "Extreme danger" is the highest threat issued in Texas. That level of threat means it is dangerous to light a fire of any sort outside. Just prior to July 4th, there were several huge wildfires raging in Texas. The reason that one of these is so hard to control is the state of the timber, the grass, the wind and temperature. I walked through the forest several times during the worst of the dryness in July. There were few to no butterflies in places where butterfly enthusiasts normally count the bugs for relative annual comparison studies. My friends and I all readily noticed what the forest was saying, long before an extreme danger alert had been posted. Butterflies are a very good measure of the health of the ecosystems and environment. The variety and number of butterflies are measured each year as benchmarks of ecosystem health. These "counts" are conducted at the same times and in the same ecosystems each year. This early summer, we had zero sightings in places we normally see many, and we had less diversity, although it has been amazing me that we generally see a fair diversity in some places, even in these tough times of drought.

We had a reminder just yesterday that the danger is far from being over, with a new wildfire nearby. Very little rain has fallen this year, and the lack thereof is in addition to last year's drought. Due to the lower volume of rain, the water table is diminishing in a similar way as the shorelines of our ponds are retreating. For the first year ever, turtles have been seeking places to lay eggs in our yard. They do not have their normal ecosystem in the park to support their eggs. Even if they did have a protected mud area, their young would not likely survive due to the lack of water vegetation along the shoreline. The fish population will also suffer severely, because fish fry do not have any place to hide from predators.

Inside the forest, where water has always been plentiful in creek beds and marshes, there is no water. Several creeks in the national forest were totally dried up in July. Therefore, many deer and other creatures are struggling to survive. Lack of food and water have surely diminished their numbers. We found a few pools of water and mud in just a few locations, giving us hope that we would have at least a fair survival rate in some areas. There were not many tracks at those locations though. Near Lake Conroe, there will be better survival stats, I am relatively sure. That lake has not suffered as bad as one might think, compared to the lakes of central Texas.

We are sure to remember this year as one of the driest ever, the worse drought in a century. We all have our fire departments to thank for reducing the risk of fire in our neighborhoods, by outlawing outdoor fires and July 4th fireworks this year. As Fire Chief Benson said, "we always have fires generated from our fireworks shows. There is no need (this year) to have buildings catch fire and costly damage because of our fireworks display." I hope my neighbors in The Woodlands are taking measures to trim back vegetation from their home and making sure the dried combustibles are removed. That is the responsibility of every resident in the community.

Here in the heart of The Woodlands, our drought is quite apparent. I along with several other amateur volunteers have rigorously been measuring the rainfall accumulation for years now. We have recorded rainfall to the nearest one-hundredth of an inch every day. Certain areas are naturally drier than others, but theoretically it all averages out over time, like the stock market. However, like the stock market in practice, it just doesn't work out exactly that way. The more measuring stations, the clearer the variations are. If we had a three or four inch rainfall over the entire area, then the severity of this drought would be called into question. Right now, I don't see how we can lower the signs.We are in a very severe drought.

For the first six months of 2011, we received a total of 8.45 inches in our Indian Springs neighborhood. The norm for our area for the first half of the year is about 24.5 inches. We had 16.5 inches last year in the same period during the 2010 drought. The Woodlands is very thirsty this year! Make sure you water your trees and foundation this year, especially if your home is situated on clays which shift and expand. Individual large trees can be watered with a helical soaking drip hose. In porous mulch or sandy dirt, water is not retained very well, so frequent hand watering or drip watering is the most effective means of maintaining sufficient water in the shallow soils of your annuals. Even native plants often require frequent watering in 100 degree heat. Some will wilt and that is OK, but if that condition is allowed to continue for long, native plants will dry out also and die. The term "withering away" is really applicable this summer. Remember that it is necessary to train plants to seek water with deep roots. Try to encourage plants to do so by watering deeply to reduce watering frequency where you are able to do so. Some trees have a defensive mechanism to protect itself from drought. The trees just withdraw their sap as if it is fall and can come back next year or even this year if we receive sufficient rain in the growing months of summer.

When searching for butterfly eggs on native plants, some butterfly enthusiasts have noted the lack of thereof on plants that normally are stripped of their leaves by caterpillars at this time of the year. This has been caused by two weather events - the drought and the extreme cold that reached deep into Mexico this past winter, killing many of the Monarchs and other migratory species.

Maybe we will receive a tropical system to turn this all around. I expect us to go to mandatory outdoor watering schedules very soon, despite the recent rains and the fact that we are operating a full well configuration this summer, pumping at near capacity. Maybe we will get a tropical system to dump a large volume of water to help us out.

Related Links:

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

ExxonMobil Announces Near Woodlands Location to Employees

Exxonmobil Campus as depicted by an artist
Yesterday, ExxonMobil announced the consolidation of Houston area employees into a central campus of 385 acres just south of The Woodlands Texas. It is located at the intersection of Hardy Toll Road and I-45. As expected, their intention is to bring work teams together from multiple disciplines to improve their business through innovation and collaboration.

Low rise buildings with "green" technology
The location will provide very near access to three major traffic thoroughfares for commuters. Development in this area has been dramatically active. A nearby master planned community was recently announced for shopping and living, that will compete with the commercial and housing in The Woodlands and nearby areas. The Woodlands Development Company is challenged for finding better commute means for home owners where the new development will likely provide much easier access to new homes for ExxonMobil employees. Employees of ExxonMobil have already started to purchase homes in The Woodlands and the surrounding area, anticipating their future office consolidation. In the Village of Creekside Park, Gosling Road to the Grand Parkway will need to be widened in Harris County. Commercial development along Gosling to the parkway will be quite important. Visionary developers are likely looking and acting on this opportunity now.

ExxonMobil conducted a comprehensive real estate strategy study by a team of consultants and internal staff to determine the benefits and location of this new campus. Construction of the facility has been underway for months. "The campus will include multiple low-rise office buildings, laboratory, conference and training facilities, outdoor open spaces, several food venues and other employee amenities including child care, an on-site wellness center and various retail offerings." Employees will be looking forward to the forest setting, a pot-load of amenities on campus and modern technology throughout the campus. As would be expected, the upstream and chemical business lines will be the bulk of the first deployment to the campus. Additional business lines continue to be studied, notably downstream and its support functions. Financial and corporate services are likely to stay elsewhere, but ExxonMobil has left that open for the future as well.

The company has intentionally retained parts of the forest surrounding the campus to present itself as an environmentally conscious corporation. In its design strategy, it is also considering the wellness of its employees.

Full occupancy is anticipated by 2015, approximately the same time as the projected completion of the new northern segment of the greater Houston outer parkway, segment F-2 of the Grand Parkway. Occupancy should begin in 2014 with a methodical phased approach to relocate employees.

The area's economy will be boosted by this very major corporate commitment and will underscore the presence of a major Oil and Gas technology location worldwide. We can expect inflation of housing prices and continued economic and development growth in the future as demand continues to increase for housing and commercial goods and services.

Related articles:
(1) Commentary: Exxon Mobil Consolidation to have Main Campus here?
(2) Swamplot: Tour of the new Exxonmobil Campus

Sunday, May 15, 2011

ExxonMobil Consolidation to have main campus here?

For sometime now, there has been considerable speculation about ExxonMobil establishing their primary operations location by consolidating their people into one place. More efficiency in the heartland of oil and gas technology and services and at last, the final step of the merge between Exxon and Mobil is now thought to be underway. For a while, many included the corporate headquarters in Irving as part of the deal. That apparently is not going to happen. Officially, the company says it is studying the consolidation.1 Evidence however suggests this has already been decided. 2

Whispers are just about everywhere. "Corporate staff have been house hunting in The Woodlands." "I sold four houses this past month to Exxonmobil employees." "Did you see the Google map where the new ExxonMobil office consolidation is going to be located?" Well, IndianSpringsGuy is definitely interested in this.  He isn't the only one either.  Its potential impact is huge! Gradually, little by little, Houston is surrounding us and absorbing us into its midst. Just think, 45 minutes from downtown Houston, and we still see its tentacles on our doorstep!

The preparation of a large tract is clearly seen on Google maps just west of I-45 and south of The Woodlands at Hardy Toll Rd. 3 Very near to this is an area planned for a large development including home sites - obviously competition for The Woodlands. What would the Woodlands Development company think of this? On one hand, there is a very large number of potential customers who could seek homes in the new village in Harris County. These employees would also be searching for places to shop. On the other hand, I would think the Development Company would also be concerned about being boxed away from the new facility, making a significant obstacle to attract employees who will work at that facility. Development of the commercial area in the Village of Creekside Park could be accelerated to accommodate a large influx of people, but would there be sufficient means to move traffic during rush hour?

Demand for housing could cause inflation of prices in The Woodlands. Those employees currently working at Greenspoint might want to stay but with the current price of gasoline, living close to the office is getting much more important.  Traffic patterns could change at the intersection of the toll road and the freeway. A better traffic conduit from Creekside might need to be accelerated. I do understand that there is a plan on the books to cut through Sawdust Rd to I-45; this will consist of a four lane bridge over Spring Creek connected to High Oaks. I am am anticipating this development much earlier than the predicted 2023.4 The construction urgency of the Grand Parkway segment which will pass by the campus also increases with this. All of this could be in the planning stages now, but none of it can be revealed until ExxonMobil goes public with the decision. Consolidating a large number of employees into one complex has been done before by corporations - a tedious and complex process, requiring very disciplined project management. That includes confidentiality, even if it does mean speculation by us folks taking notice.

1 Houston Chronicle May 12, 2011
2 Swamplot May 05, 2011
3 Google map from satellite view
4 Mobility Plans for South Montgomery County

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Wildlife and Values of The Woodlands

Some people say trees are the most prized asset of The Woodlands Texas. What about the wildlife under the canopy of the trees? Slowly but surely, our wildlife is disappearing. Is it not an asset? If The Woodlands is to retain its value, in my opinion, the wildlife must remain. What is our strategy? I am guessing on this, because I have never heard any statement to the contrary. We have no strategy. We have icons to recognize the wildlife but why is the wildlife seemingly ignored in everything we do? We remove and displace the wildlife.

White Tail Deer in Village of Cochran's Crossing

Under the canopy of our forest once lived a multitude and variety of deer, opossum, coyote, tree rat, beaver, snake, lizards, turtles, birds, armadillo, raccoon, tortoise, butterfly, and I am sure a host of other creatures. Birds of prey such as the Bald Eagle still lives here, but its stay is likely imperiled by development. We have buzzards and hawks as well. The diversity was huge but is dropping as forests are displaced by homes and businesses - basically as the development company sells its assets.

Squirrels in Village of Indian Springs
Is our primary value system based on the dollar or on the quality of what we experience and see on a day-to-day basis? Maybe we are too focussed on the traditional concept of a community instead of what this community has always been designed to be. Tourism is now a big priority as part of our value system. That translates to the dollar being extremely important in our value system.  I contend that the two (economics and our natural state) should be considered in tandem. As an example, it has been rumored that there is a second eagle's nest in The Woodlands, but that information comes from the development company. I have never seen it. What I truly know exists is an eagle's nest in the land that the development company plans to develop. That is under the radar of the development company now.

Skink in Village of Indian Springs
What are the opportunities in Town Center? If we want tourism in Town Center, why is not the development company trying to leverage our natural state? This is the age of ecological preservation. Right now Town Center offers nothing about The Woodlands ecology and everything about shopping and the traditional vision of economic development. Imagine! We have a Koi garden instead of a protected wildlife area in Town Center. We have had the key to The Woodlands right under the noses of the development company. Where is a vision of Town Center that integrates the existing values of the community into it? We could have deer on the shore of the lake, wild flowers and other creatures on the same shore. We could have a video of the eagle's nest on every boat in the waterway at a relatively low cost, one which emphasizes the beauty of The Woodlands, even showing a live CAM of the eagle's nest. Why isn't the development company being a part of the community instead of trying to make the community something it was never envisioned to be? Instead, we have introduced bars for night life here and crime. Surely we could have more creative goals than what we have. Don't you think?

Opossum in Village of Indian Springs
Who wants a community to talk about the way it was instead of the way it is? Let's get back into thinking we are a forest, not just a few trees with a little nightlife and valet parking. What are we offering that cannot be easily trumped by competitors?  Water taxis? The Houston area will have alternatives in the future more attractive than ours. You can build them anywhere. Maybe the red riders on horses is the key. Maybe it makes it look like we are in Canada. I think not; they are there to make us be something we are not, a ploy for plastic tourism that is easily replicated elsewhere. Where is our future? Our uniqueness is the forest, but we are destroying it. Yet our leaders take us right into the foray of disaster. Leadership should be looking at potential competition and leveraging what we have, so we move forward, not what the development company envisions for us. Is it too late? Maybe, maybe not.
Bald Eagle in Town Center
  It seems to me the opportunities are endless but gradually fading away. Is that the ultimate goal we seek to fulfill?

Friday, April 29, 2011

Why Peggy Hausman in 2011?

The 2011 Woodlands Township in Montgomery County, Texas election of May 14th is to fill three director positions. Early voting occurs from May 2nd through May 10th at the community center next to the library at Grogans Mill /Lake Robbins across from HEB at Market Street.  On election day, there will be fewer places to vote than last year. See the list and precincts at this link.
 
In this, the second election after the formation of the township, we have only one contested race, for position #6.  What makes this race interesting is the attempt to oust one of the bulwarks of leadership within this community. We are today where we are, partially due to the contributions of our long time resident, Peggy Hausman. If you know me really well, you may be surprised that I am endorsing any candidate. I have never done that before, except for myself. But this contest is quite unusual, and I am going to tell you why there are residents strongly endorsing the re-election of Peggy Hausman to The Woodlands Board of Directors.

It is critical that you get out and vote for her! Don't be passive in this! The challenger, James Stilwell is out to get voters from the masses who may not even know the incumbent. This is another important term  for The Woodlands. The Board of Directors will be working on governance in preparation to elect the preferred alternative for our "final" form of government. Peggy is the candidate who brings the values of The Woodlands to the table and will truly represent the views of the public. I am very confident that she will listen and dig into the governance alternatives and be actively involved in it throughout her term. The final form of government will have huge tax consequences. Every home owner should want to participate in the decision. Yes, she stands up for the residents and has done so for years. I certainly do not believe there is any hypocritical motivation or self gain in her work. She gives herself for the love of The Woodlands and the people who live here. She will not try to limit the options in decision making and edit out the alternatives to suit her own purpose, so that you have few or no alternatives. She is not very egotistical (everyone has an ego). She will try hard to let you decide, different than what I would expect from her challenger. She has a history of questioning the rationale of spending your money and looking for alternatives that are likely to be in your best interest. Believe me! It was not her fault that she had to vote contrary to the other directors in a few instances. She held her ground like she was supposed to do, representing us, instead of representing the other board members, the development company or any other special interest groups.

I have known Peggy for a long time now. Frankly, we need Peggy's prying questions in our government. Her opponent accuses her of voting against safety when her vote was "nay" to the fire stations proposal and one other proposal, but the propositions just were not right for approval at the time the Board voted.  I don't say I agree with all of her votes and decisions, but I do seek directors who openly question the proposals without the bias of social pressure or political ties and will say "no". She is not a member of what is called by some, "the club". I happen to know that Peggy votes the way she chooses based on what she believes to be right or wrong, after conferring with residents and other contacts.  Let's take some examples right from her opponent's platform - I was there for most of them. She speaks well enough for herself, but I will give a testimony of what I have seen and what I believe to be the benefits of electing her to represent residents. I will contrast the two persons running for this position and share with you thoughts of their differing backgrounds and approaches to governing and local politics. I will expound somewhat on three events related to the election that I have personally attended.

Peggy learns the facts, and if not satisfied with the due diligence, economics, probable conflict of interest, or benefits of a proposal, she has voted "nay". What she will do and how she will do it is a known to us. She picks her battles. For example, she might not have been happy with the taxis, but voted for the proposal for the taxis, because the proposal just might work for the benefit of the residents. What is really important in determining outcome is what the residents think and say. Residents get annoyed with spending money recklessly. They get more than annoyed when board members do not listen to their issues. Both candidates say they will listen, but performance is not based on saying so. It is based on doing. This is all about spending taxpayer money and protecting the values of the community. It has nothing to do with profession or technical capability. It has everything to do with the values on why we moved here. Not all residents prize these founding values of our community. Some are here for presence and status. Our assumption is that those who vote are interested in The Woodlands as it was designed to be, not what it has been changed to be. I hope you are reading this because you are looking to support this value system through your tax dollars. If you want to know what I believe to be the value system, perhaps the best place to look is at the articles I wrote on the three propositions. For many, The Woodlands has digressed into something much less desirable than earlier, yet they are willing to put up with some of it it to have lower taxes. There is no consensus on that however. Some people even believe we do not pay enough taxes for local government. It is debatable whether we will be able to sustain our current tax rate in the future. I hope we can for the sake of those on fixed and low incomes. Already the quality of life here has been  compromised by crime, pollution and bulldozing of forest. I trust Peggy to ask the  right questions and make the right decisions to preserve what we have now. I am personally hopeful that we will be able to keep our taxes in check but have a high quality life as well. Peggy falls in line with that ideal. But we have to deal with our issues, and we need help with that on the Board. The Town Center threatens us in that respect, but it also provides the revenue to keep our taxes under control. We need a person on the board sensitive to this and watching for all of our interests. That person is clearly Peggy. We don't need to fire her. Let's have a person who understands what quality means and has the insights and the fortitude to deal with issues so that every single taxpayer is able to have the same quality of life as our shared vision provides. Not one resident should be disappointed with life in our Woodlands.      

Many of us are here for the trees, natural surroundings and the enjoyment of nature through The Woodlands amenities. Peggy has an appreciation of that although I feel it might fall slightly short of my own expectations. Some residents live here to be close to work. Some are here to live the rest of their lives. Some are here to live as they did as a child and as their parents did when they were raised here among the trees. This is not a community designed to be steel and concrete, but we accept some of it for convenience. I do not consider ourselves business-centric, but business-tolerant instead. Peggy had demonstrated the same to me. Many of us work outside of The Woodlands. It is based on the natural state of the East Texas woods.

Let's talk taxes for a moment. Peggy does not want to spend our dollars unless necessary. She does not want to put money into reserves needlessly. In the WCA, there was an excess of fund for reserves. Residents complained about that almost every year. She supports the concept of experts being contracted to study and quantify that reserve for adequately maintaining our hard assets (mostly parks and amenities), instead of Township staff defining it. Combined with her support for a study of how much police protection is actually needed here and her conviction that we need a homestead exemption for property owners, I believe her financial perspective is quite sound. She understand the low interest for bonds and how that spreads the cost of assets to homeowners over 20 years. She understands it all and is totally aboard the boat on our behalf. This is one of the most important election issues for us to understand as voters. I hope and perceive that the other two other incumbents in this election share that same view.    

Crime and automobile traffic is attached to commercial presence. Issues with safety and unruliness is often attached to bars, alcohol and drugs.  All of it has to be managed through law enforcement. Earlier this year, our bars had become a nuisance with drunkenness and fighting. It had gotten so bad that the Sheriff's officers were looking for small signs of drinking in the parking lots to try to expose DWI possibilities before a person even started driving their automobile. As an example, I was recently accused of being drunk when I walked through Town Center one evening and after I entered my automobile. Those who know me, know I may not even drink a beer for months, yet I was required to take a sobriety test. The reason? We have issues here. It was the relaxed way I walked! The officer said he knew drunkenness when he saw it! I learned at that moment that I had to stand up straight and walk like I was taking a sobriety test all the time to keep from being under suspicion of drunkenness. I could not relax in my walk in Town Center. It is a funny story now, and I tell it now and then just to underscore the need to not be over-policed, but at the time I did resent it.  This is indicative of the magnitude of the issue faced by our law officers and the change from our quiet suburban existence in the forest to a somewhat wild and woolly commercial center on the outskirts of Houston. Peggy is tuned in to this issue. We need balance and a cautious approach to law enforcement. It is not about increasing numbers; it is about number and quality of policing. In a way, we avoided being part of Houston, so we brought part of it here. I admit that we are better off with a commercial center,yet we currently lack control of our own destiny. That has been in the hands of the developer all along. We cannot make the vision, they do. This may seem superfluous and not pertaining to the subject, but it is very pertinent. Stilwell has a history of service to the Chamber of Commerce and therefore ties to special interests in the Town Center. He also has ties to the developer as a contractor.

After two debates, I have discerned two very different people running for this director position. One is a lawyer who seeks to be a future leader of the community. He emphasizes his youth and potential for being a future leader. Would it be silly to keep the director who has the experience? Peggy Hausman's challenger,  James Stilwell, has played in what I consider a relatively minor role in the decisions of  the Township. Yes, Stilwell worked to prepare legal documents for the Township in its infant stages, but that was technical as a contracted lawyer. Yes, he supported the three propositions. I worked with him in that effort and was glad he helped. Peggy on the other hand was part of the communication team deployed to tell residents about the propositions in an unbiased manner without revealing her position. James has business ties to the development company which gives some people the suspicion that he has made a deal with that company.  He does have some good notions on private enterprise vs government enterprise, as he has consistently reinforced. That I like about him, but so does Peggy. Both he and Peggy would likely deal with the ice rink in the same manner except in voting. We would not likely hear the arguments or the prying questions from Stilwell. James would likely vote for the ice rink as a business of our government, in order to vote with the others, but he may not like the approach. The destiny of the boats has been set by the board recently. He had no part in it that I know of. I am glad he has positioned himself against government enterprise, but quite frankly, I believe he would have voted for the taxis when the time time came to vote against them anyway. He has said he would vote with the rest of the board, not against them. Peggy has been involved in every facet of the township, in key leadership roles. She is motivated by fact, principle and progress for her constituents in every village in The Woodlands. She is always looking for a solution and is willing to fight for the right solution. That is indicative of a listener and a doer. Her values relate to her memory of The Woodlands in the past, as well as the present. She is a realist as she has totally adjusted to the current situation and weighs everything in context of what is needed now and for the future. In day-to-day life, Peggy usually responds to residents' issues quickly. I would expect Stilwell to be slower to act like the other directors who do not have sufficient time to do their homework or respond personally to resident issues. I recently asked for help for my neighbors in some noise issues. Peggy was the only board member to take any visible action. Can we afford to lose her? I think not.

Let's take the Indian Springs Fire Station as an example of the differences between the two candidates. Peggy's opponent accuses Peggy of voting against the two new fire stations and thereby against safety. What Peggy voted against was the priority order of the construction of the two new fire stations which was defined in the proposal. This assertion is a very obvious misunderstanding and totally incorrect. I did not agree with the motion either, and I can guarantee I would not have voted as the other directors did. I have pleaded for some time to build the Indian Springs station and build it first. I even raised the issue in the last year of the WCA before the merger. The board however voted to construct one in the Village of Creekside Park first, where there was a temporary station at the time. Fire response time in parts of Panther Creek (Peggy's village) and parts of Indian Springs (mine) was atrocious and still is not as we need it to be. When everyone was bragging about obtaining the level two ISO rating, in my neighborhood we were worried that we might never get to that level. Response for emergencies had been mediocre to poor for years. I count seven years at least in our effort to get a station built! That station I am told was in the master plan. It was in the WCA capital plan for five years that I am aware of. Peggy was very aware of all of this. The new fire station construction had been delayed a full year due to the formation of the township. The new fire station for Indian Springs is now nearing completion, not because the board had the foresight and understanding to do it right, and not because they had not acquiesced to the development company and fire department wishes. They just had no alternative but to change the priority, because the construction for the Village of Creekside Park station was not yet even feasible. Yes, the board had passed a measure to build a fire station in the new village before the one previously planned for Indian Springs, even though it was not feasible. Peggy clearly stated that she was not going to agree to the new village getting a station first, so she voted "nay" to the proposal. That was the correct, appropriate thing for her to do. Why did not the rest of the board do the same? It is my intuition that tells me the position of the development company was to attract buyers in the Village of Creekside Park. It was an idea sponsored by the development company but put on the shoulders of the fire department.  That is my guess and others as well. As it turned out, the Creekside station plan ran into technical difficulty, so the station could not be constructed on the planned timeline. Therefore, the timeline was changed to build the Indian Springs station first. Personally, I was also unhappy with the original motion and thanked Peggy for casting her vote in protest. Was I against safety? Logic must rule in this. Peggy was very thankful that in the end that she was part of the right decision, but months later than it should have been had the correct station been put on the table for construction. Valuable and possible life threatening time had been lost for residents in Panther Creek and  Indian Springs due to the lack of due diligence and rationale by the board. Peggy voted against the proposal for very obvious reasons, and I applaud her for doing that. Thanks Peggy! We need more independent questioning and practical decision making, not less. No one on the board spoke out for the station except Peggy, quite contrary to the claim by Stilwell.  He would have voted FOR the proposal! He has made that very clear. Now her opponent is attempting to use her wisdom against her. Sorry to break the bubble, but she did the right thing. Good judgement must be a quality we look for in our directors.  We seek our dollars spent appropriately with the urgency and priority that it direly deserves, where safety is first. The board's decision was not based on sound principles of safety, and Mr Stilwell still does not see the logic in it.

There are other cases where she voted against a proposal, and I admire her for doing so in most of those cases as well. There were reasons for each one. I did not necessarily agree with everything, but I wasn't on the board, she was.  Why did the other board members vote for these proposals? I want to stop for a second and remind everyone that we have two other board members who also show independent thinking and vote "nay". They also offer alternatives that the other Board members often reject.  I invite residents to watch or even attend some of the meetings of the board to see for yourselves.

Success is achieving quality through diversity.  Why would we need a third lawyer on the board? We already have two! They happen to be the candidates unopposed in this election. So we would elect three lawyers to these positions in the same election? Quite frankly, I question the need for more than one. And that is based on the need for diversity of background and thought.

Look at the voting records. Check out Peggy's website and James' website. You will see a marked difference between the two candidates. One accuses; the other answers and defends. Rubber meets the road through experience, not through a rubber stamp. Peggy's opponent has established his strategy to go with the flow. Since we have open meetings to discuss the proposals and issues, one would expect the Board members to raise questions and issues, yet that modus operandi is not there. The opponent of Peggy has stated that he will vote with the other members of the board if elected.

I respect many of the board members, but I appreciate due diligence with my tax dollars and not routine acquiescence to the developer. Now I will reveal what I observed at the kickoff campaign of Peggy's opponent, James Stilwell and the two debates between him and Peggy.

At the campaign kickoff in the country club, two board members were present - Director Lloyd Matthews and Director Ed Robb, dressed in what I call Penguin outfits, in apparent support for James Stilwell, of course also dressed formally. When members of the board throw their weight into a campaign against a peer director, one knows that the politics of the election most likely trumps the principles of the campaign. Directors who support a candidate are probably trying to establish a network of consensus behind the scenes instead of transparent and open interaction for the public to see. That is always a red flag to me. Behind the scenes is often money, alliances, and communication. The guy on the street is not a part of that.

In this kickoff meeting, speaking on the behalf of Stilwell was the former development company appointed association director Joel Deretchin, who formerly presided over the western section of The Woodlands (TWA) as appointed by development company. I have always had considerable respect for him. He was a long time employee of the development company, retiring in 2010. He began his political speech by using a smear tactic aimed at Hausman's tenure in office. I could tell immediately that this was going to be a campaign not of what Stilwell can do for us, but would instead be a campaign against the actions of the incumbent. That would not be so bad except the testament was (to be nice about it) twisting the truth. Why was that necessary? It wasn't. It caused a negative reaction for me. What was said, in my opinion, can arguably be stated to violate the agreement Stilwell made with the Township to have a clean campaign. At first I was OK with it, because he can say anything in ignorance. But in the debates, Mr Stilwell maintained his campaign kickoff strategy despite Hausman's explanations and continued to attack Hausman for how she voted. He sent out a brochure in the mail, "I am running a positive grassroots campaign..." You probably received one. I have to disagree based on what I have witnessed and the tone of the kickoff campaign. That would be good and believable if I had not heard Deretchin's kickoff speech myself. Stilwell might have been able to win me over by an apology for misconstruing the facts and smearing his opponent. He did not. As nice a guy as he seems to be, the campaign in my opinion was started in bad taste, totally different than what I would have expected of him. A leader always establishes the tone, so afterwards, the talk around the tables followed that tone. The 40 or so people attending were anti-opponent instead of pro-candidate. We should not elect a director based on mis-perception of fact and a negative campaign. One must stand up for ones own convictions, not against ill-perceived opponent actions. We demand integrity and honesty in those we elect to office. Peggy lives that integrity.

I want to bring something to your attention, because no one else is likely to. In the campaign kickoff of Stilwell, one of the speakers stated that Peggy interrupts Township meetings and said that the staff of The Woodlands Service company can't get their jobs done because of the questions of Hausman. Imagine! I could not rest until I got an answer from the service company on that statement. I had to understand what is was that would make Deretchin make that statement. Yes, Hausman does seek information. Would not you if you were a director? I sure would. When you are a leader, you are accountable to the public for the outcome. If you have a questioning mind, you will ask questions. So I asked the president of the Township about Peggy's direct influence on preventing staff to perform their jobs. His answer was quite simple, generic and straight. Amazing to me, this was clearly and brashly waved in front of his constituents as fact. As stated by the president - "staff receives a number of contacts from Directors. In most cases these contacts represent residents who have contacted the Director because of a particular issue, a service need or simply seeking information. If these residents were not contacting Board members, they would typically be calling The Township offices or sending an email. These inquiries and service requests from residents, whether they come directly from the resident or through a Director, are not interruptions to staff but simply a part of our work day...". In my former days, I had a job to question project managers, turn over every leaf looking for gaps and holes. From that I gain an appreciation for what someone like Peggy does for us to improve the outcome and seek excellence in decisions.

Not everything was smear in his kickoff. A large part of the campaign kickoff was devoted to talking about the candidate. James had one of his supporters to present his background, and then Mr Stilwell presented his ideals and his strategy to show the differences between how Hausman voted and how he would have voted.

At the first debate sponsored by the local chapter of the Tea Party,  the campaign strategy of Mr. Stilwell continued, but with much more caution. I heard the same arguments expressed in a more refined manner.  I thought at the time, and concluded later that Stilman indirectly criticized the two other directors as well as Hausman when he criticized Hausman for voting against some of the proposals.  Like I said earlier, she is not the only person who votes "nay". That would make a good story for later. Then again, some directors have never recently voted against a proposal, unless it came from one of  "the three". You can view the voting history on Hausman's website.

Peggy is proud of her accomplishments, which includes the raising of a family in The Woodlands. Her opponent is in the midst of raising a family also. I would much prefer to have the broad experience of Peggy in office than an inexperienced person. She has served on about every Board and local governmental agency there is here. I do not believe the The Woodlands Board members have sufficient time to look at the details of the proposals and do not give the proposals sufficient independent thought. Peggy is an exception to to the rule. She is a home keeper and makes the time to work on Township issues. I have been to her home to observe what she does to prepare for a Board meeting. She takes that responsibility very serious. Her work is apparently not in collaboration with other Board members and should not be. That work should be done in public. If not, it is arguably not "open government". It defeats the purpose of openness and having a diverse board for quality decision making. I don't think residents want penguins with rubber stamps to be levying taxes and spending their money. Peggy finds the facts and makes her decisions based on her independent knowledge and research, using staff, friends and contacts.

In the second debate, sponsored by the League of Women's Voters, both candidates were drilled for their views. In a way, I felt sorry for them, because the other two director positions are uncontested and all the attention was focussed on these two people vying for this one position. Again, Stilwell answered some questions with an attack on Peggy's voting history. There weren't any more than 120 people attending, and there seemed to be that many questions. Let me share some of the statements I deemed noteworthy. My notes do not compare the two contenders directly. They are what I considered to be interesting excerpts in getting to know the candidates. I'll share the first five.

Intro: Peggy - "I believe in transparent government, and asking questions. I won't vote until I know the answer." James: "My wife is a United Methodist minister. We have lived here since 1995 in three villages."
Q1: What is your vision for The Woodlands in 20 years? Be specific. James: I will not support anything that threatens our being a part of Houston. I support what is always number one in value in the surveys - the natural environment, one of the most important things to preserve.  Peggy: Steve Burkett expounded the vision long ago. The Woodlands will be the place where our children will opt to return to live and play. We will preserve what we have now.
Q2: Did you support all three bonds?  Peggy: I was part of the Woodlands Decides Committee. I taught the public about all three. It was my job to educate the public and not convince them either way. James: Yes I did, unlike my opponent who did not support all of the bond proposals. I was in favor of them.
Q3: Should the two year tenure of the directors be different than today? James: I support a 2/2/3 instead. We will need to change the law to alter it. Peggy: I would go further. The at large election has some flaws. We need to extend the election to consider where the directors are seated.
Q4: Would you lower the tax rate or the amenities? Peggy: we need to accumulate reserves to protect our assets and operations. Your tax check will be higher next year (due to increased assessments). James: No, neither one. We appreciate the style of living we have here and the $86.7mm budget is sufficient to support it. The tax rate we can bear.
Q5:  Where do you stand on the controversial improvement of the Grogan's Mill bridge? Is it appropriate for the Township to be spending money on it?  James: It is not Township property, so your tax dollars can't be spent on it. Commissioner Chance  says it is not in his jurisdiction either. Peggy: I agree. We need to find the owner, facilitate improvements and see to it that it is up to code.

Those were just the first five questions. I am not publishing everything, just too much, but want to give both candidates credit for their thoughtful responses. I noted 19 questions.
Closing: Peggy - Two promises: (1) No robo calls from me. (2) Before I vote, I will read, listen, and ask questions and watch your money like it is mine. James - I have presented a catalog of differences between us. Peggy was against the tax break for over-65. She voted against every proposed park. Instead of spending money earmarked for parks, she favored giving back WCA taxpayers money to WCA's residents in the last two years of the WCA's existence. I am a leader who will listen to you. I will fight for financial strength and for the high quality of life here. I am 40 years old and will be here in the future and do what's right.

The debates are ongoing in the websites of the two contenders for this position. James throws darts at Peggy in "Ask Peggy Why". I do not know James as well as I do Peggy, but I can attest to Peggy's unrelenting commitment to the community.  We need her to remain there and lucky she is willing to serve. James is too much like the others on the board.  Maybe in the future he will mellow out and run for a position based only on his commitment to the community instead of telling the public his twisted view of why Peggy did what she did or didn't do. I go with truth, sincerity, diverse thinking, and honor. That is what The Woodlands deserves for a leader. Please go vote and vote Peggy Hausman.

Resources:
James Stilwell election website 
Peggy Hausman election website
Hausman, Stilwell receiving support in upcoming election (Villager)
+ Township election website