Bottled water plant in Willis causes flooding woes for church neighbor

WILLIS, TX (KTRK) -- At Center Hill Baptist Church on the edge of Willis, they're sprucing up for the Easter season -- except for the first time in a century, this year's sunrise service is uncertain.

"This is where we would normally have our sunrise service," Barbara Hull gestured to a water filled wooded area on the church property. "The most important day in the Christian faith, and we can't have it out here now."

Hull and other members of this small congregation say the flooding on church property first became a problem last October. They say it is caused by Cal Sierra, the Texas company that bought the former nursery next door. Cal Sierra is now building a 200,000 square feet water bottling facility on that site.

"You can't cut the trees and change the lay of the land without affecting something," said church member Robbie Sheffield, who has been attending Center Hill Baptist for 40 years.

Eyewitness News went to the 24-acre site looking for answers. Almost all the trees are gone from the nursery property, and plenty of reddish dirt is exposed. There is a large building, which Montgomery County officials estimate as larger than 200,000 square feet. However, there is no visible retention pond. A manager on site did not want to comment. We reached the company's Vice President, Felix Ho, on the phone.

"The retention ponds, we have been working on it," said Ho. "But the weather has not been very stable."

Ho repeatedly told Eyewitness News the delay in building the retention pond is because of the weather.

However, Montgomery County officials tell Eyewitness News that a retention pond should have been built long ago. According to the engineering department of the County, a building permit for the property was issued in April 2013. The company submitted a drainage engineering plan in November 2013. The plans called for a retention pond 70 feet by 1100 feet, and at certain points, up to nine feet deep.

Montgomery County engineers say that usually, a retention pond should be built before a building is built. That way, the water offset by the structure will have some place to go. Now, almost two years after an initial building permit was granted, there is still no retention pond.

Church members say Cal Sierra needs to follow its own submitted plans, because the church property is not a drainage pond.

"It's time for us to speak up," said Hull. "I don't think God wants us to be walked on."

Montgomery County says its investigators are trying to determine whether any fines should be levied against the company. The company has told Eyewitness News that it is trying to work with the church to develop a temporary solution until the retention pond is built.
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