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IN-DEPTH: Land of the overlooked could receive help from the Federal Infrastructure Bill

Posted: 6:45 PM, Sep 01, 2021
Updated: 2021-09-02 11:51:26-04

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Texas — Tucked behind Shenandoah in southern Montgomery county is Tamina, a small, unincorporated community nearly 35 miles north of downtown Houston.

"We can't do any growing, without septic we won't be able to stay here," said James Leveston, 77, leader of the nonprofit Old Tamina Water Supply Corp.

James Leveston, 77, speaks about the community of Tamina
James Leveston has been working for over a decade to help the community founded in the 1800's receive a sewage system.

The community was founded around 1871 by slaves that were set free. Homes are crumbling and for many dreams are doing the same.

"They are outlawing septic tanks, some people want to move mobile homes in but they don't want to give them a permit to to put them in," said Leveston.

The community doesn't have sewage investiture despite trying for over a decade. Time after time they continue to hit dead ends.

"Our best route on this journey is to hook up with Shanedoh," said Leveston.

Shenandoah backs out of agreement

On March 20, 2009, a letter was sent from the City of Shenandoah proposing and intending to provide wholesale water and wholesale sewer services to the Old Tamina Water Supply Corp.

"The city intends to sell and provide water, wastewater, sewer, and sewer treatment services to OTWSC," said Manuel De La Rosa in the 2009 letter.

Old Tamina Water Supply Corp was granted a USDA loan to pay for the sewage system. On September 8, 2014, a letter was sent saying they would not be able to enter into the purposed agreement.

"The Mayor said if we defaulted on the loan then Shenandoah would have to pay it back, that's just not true," said Leveston.

"Per the funding agreement, Old Tamina must submit for approval to USDA the final plans and specifications for the wastewater treatment plant and collection lines," said Erika Archie from USDA.

Fire Kills Three Children

There are no fire hydrants because the water pressure is not enough. But just 0.4 miles away is a neighborhood with full sewer systems and hydrants.

While looking around we bump into Eddie Pierson on the waterboard. As he tries to remain positive you can hear the sadness in his voice.

"Three babies lost their lives right there," said Pierson pointing at what's left of a burnt home.

A house caught fire killing three siblings in May 2017. Body and dash camera video shows three officers going in and trying to help. The fire was too big.

Police went door to door warning others about the massive fire. To this day the community still grieves about that tragic night.

Grave Yard becomes a Swamp

Pierson's father, along with other family members, is buried in the Tamina cemetery. Graves go back to the 1800s. They are now unable to access the grave because it's underwater.

"It's just a swamp because they dump all that water comes from Shenandoah and around."

The community leaders blame the dumping of dirt after growth took place in the area in the early 2000s. There is work now being done to drain the water and help bring the historical site back.

"Memorial day, guys my age and a little younger than me, we all use to meet at that cemetery and clean it up," said Pierson.

The graves are of those who founded the community, law enforcement, and military.

"That's how they show their respect," said Pierson.

Commissioner James Metts vows to help restore flooded Tamina Cemetery

“This is just wrong what is happening out here,” Metts said as he walked away.

In 2020 he toured the area and believes more should be done.

A five-year grant looked like it would be a good fit this summer. However, the court said in July the aid didn't go far enough. They're asking the federal government to lend a hand.

Could help be on the way?

The Federal Infrastructure Bill does include helping communities of color that have been damaged by interstate systems in the fifties and sixties.

Significant portions of the interstate highway system were built through Black neighborhoods, destroying homes, schools, churches, and parks and causing lasting disconnection and disinvestment for residents who stayed.

Federal grants would be available for fund planning, design, demolition, and reconstruction of street grids, parks, or other infrastructure.

The battle continues

Leaders continue to hold out hope maybe the new bill will help. They are still asking Shenandoah for help. But they find it difficult to know what's next.

In the last year, James Leveston has survived a stroke and knee replacement; as a believer in prayer, he believes God can do all things. He's asking for God to move the hearts of City leaders.