Tamina is a historic community located in Montgomery County, Texas. It is self-described as “urban development meets country living.” The African American community there was established shortly after the construction of the Houston and Great Northern railroads at the end of the Civil War. Today, Tamina remains a small, unincorporated area and is home to descendants of many of the original settlers. It is a resilient community full of history, with community members who have dedicated themselves to preserving their heritage while revitalizing their neighborhoods. The residents consider themselves survivors.

Around 200 people live in Tamina. All community members are people of color and nearly 70% are low-income. The town is bordered by predominantly White, higher-income, incorporated areas on all sides. The cities of Shenandoah and Oak Ridge North border the western side of Tamina, the Woodlands Census Designated Place (CDP) is to the northwest, and the city of Conroe is to the north. Tamina operates its own drinking water system, the Old Tamina Water Supply Corporation. It is a small system in the extraterritorial jurisdiction of the five incorporated areas—the City of Conroe, City of Shenandoah, the Woodlands CDP, Spring CDP, and Chateau Woods. The Old Tamina Water Supply Corporation president, James Leveston, is 72 years old and has lived in Tamina his entire life. “When we came here, there was no Woodlands, no Shenandoah, no Oak Ridge—nothing but Tamina,” he says. “As time went on, progress ate us up, and we are struggling to survive here now.”

Tamina Faces Wastewater Challenges
For the last 25 years, the residents of Tamina have been working to install a functional sewer system. Most homes and businesses operate on older septic tanks or more expensive anaerobic systems. Anaerobic systems purify a home’s wastewater through a tank and flush the water through a sprinkler system; the tanks must be pumped once a year. When many of the septic and anaerobic tanks failed, the Old Tamina Water Supply Corporation attempted to finance a public sewer system.

The corporation has faced several barriers to creating a sewer system for its community. Initially, the surrounding cities protested the sewer system construction, exercising their extraterritorial jurisdiction, which allows them to make certain decisions about the land outside of their city limits. The corporation was then promised funding for construction from the Montgomery County Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), but all that financing went to engineering firms for planning and environmental studies.

Next, Tamina tried partnering with Oak Ridge North and had a loan approved by the Texas Water Development Board (TWBD) to finish the project. Still, the two entities could not reach an agreement because the loan required Tamina to give up its water rights or a Certificate of Convenience and Necessity (CCN).

Communities Unlimited and Rural Development Step In
Challenged by the lack of construction funding, Old Tamina Water Supply Corporation searched and hoped for some guidance. After several nearby sewer systems backed out of regionalization proposals, the corporation’s board reached out to U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development (USDA RD). USDA RD then referred Tamina to Communities Unlimited (CU).

Initially, CU was not sure they could help, since the Median Household Income (MHI) of Tamina’s census tract exceeded $71,000, and some federal technical assistance funding is limited based on a community’s MHI. CU and USDA RD decided to go to Old Tamina Water Supply Corporation and take a tour of the boundaries to determine who specifically was served by the system, because they both believed that the true MHI could not possibly be $71,000. CU examined the census data and noted that the tract included the City of Shenandoah, a moderate- to upper-income city. CU then conducted an income survey to determine a more accurate MHI for Tamina itself. The result was an MHI of $18,200. Once the income level was correctly documented, Old Tamina Water Supply Corporation’s board requested CU’s assistance to submit their sewer system application to USDA RD.

Harold Hunter, CU’s Texas State Director for Environmental Services, knew that it would be a complex project with many challenges, including getting the other incorporated areas to compromise and work together. Luckily, the engineer working with Old Tamina was also involved with another system that CU was working with. He said he would do all he could, even some pro bono activities, if CU would assist. Mr. Leveston, the board president, was determined to move forward, so the CU team jumped into action.

CU staff began by assessing the technical, managerial, and financial status of the water system. They determined that the Old Tamina Water Supply Corporation had sound financial and managerial systems in place. In addition, by the time the sewer was estimated to be completed, the water supply corporations’ debts would be paid in full, making additional billing for sewer services feasible and affordable. The billing system used for the water could also easily be converted to include sewer. CU then reviewed the most recent attempts at obtaining funding for the project and researched and established a plan for financing construction. All steps leading up to the application submission involved meetings with the corporation’s board and its engineer.

In 2012, USDA RD approved a plan that would pay for the extension of the City of Shenandoah’s sewer system to Tamina. The City of Shenandoah would also treat the wastewater. Shenandoah would have a Certificate of Convenience and Necessity (CCN), which would grant them the exclusive right to provide retail sewer service to Tamina customers. The award from USDA RD included a $1.19 million grant and $1 million in loans to pay for the construction. In addition, CU provided a $250,000 loan to assist Old Tamina Water Supply Corporation with paying for final plans and specifications, a topography map, and other necessary items. However, Shenandoah did not accept the agreement because the terms of the USDA loan would prohibit the city from annexing the area until the loan was paid off, which could take up to 40 years.

Communities Unlimited, Tamina, and Shenandoah Restart Collaboration
Now, nine years later, Shenandoah is once again willing to consider a regionalization solution. Unfortunately, there are new challenges. Tamina lost their sewer permit during this time and a key board member sold his home and moved to East Texas. In addition, Shenandoah’s engineer estimates that the cost of construction is more than $5 million now, instead of the $2.2 million it would have cost in 2012. James Leveston said that he feels that Tamina has been neglected.

Despite these challenges, CU spoke with the Mayor of Shenandoah, Rick Wheller, in June of 2021 and determined that the city can annex some parts of Tamina, decreasing the number of connections by approximately 41, but still make the Tamina sewer project financially feasible. In addition, Shenandoah has agreed to provide financing. The Old Tamina Water Supply Corporation Board of Directors requested CU’s assistance once again to help complete needed tasks throughout the construction process.

CU, Tamina, and Shenandoah continue to work together to develop a plan that will meet everyone’s needs. We hope that this most recent attempt at regional collaboration will be a success.

Lupita Ortega

Lupita Ortega

Communities Unlimited
Regionalization Project Manager