Harris County Flood Control District plans public hearings

July 11th, 2018

With Harris County planning a vote Aug. 25 on its $2.5 billion bond proposal to fund flood risk reduction projects, several meetings are being held beforehand to hear the public’s thoughts on flooding issues.

One such public hearing Tuesday, July 17, from 6 to 8 p.m. concerning the Clear Creek Watershed and involving a number of area projects, will be held at the El Franco Lee Community Center, 9500 Hall Road, just off the Beltway. The Clear Creek Watershed covers a wide area through which Clear Creek flows – Nassau Bay, Taylor Lake Village, El Lago, Webster, Friendswood and a small part of Seabrook.

Another meeting that might be of interest to Bay Area residents and concerning the San Jacinto/Galveston Bay Watershed will be held Tuesday, July 24 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Sylvan Beach Pavilion (1 Sylvan Beach Drive, La Porte, TX 7757) and is expected to focus more on Seabrook, Shoreacres and La Porte projects.

Potential projects that may impact Seabrook include:

  • Pine Gully Channel Improvements
  • Todville Bridge at Pine Gully
  • Wildlife Park Drainage Expansion
  • Lower Pine Gully Drainage Improvements
  • Improvements to Hester Gully
  • Increase depth and capacity of El Mar Ditch
  • Drainage Improvements to Miramar Subdivision
  • Drainage Improvements to Baybrook Section 1
  • Improvements to the Seabrook Slough

Citizens can view watershed area maps at:

San Jacinto and Galveston Bay:

https://www.hcfcd.org/projects-studies/san-jacinto-galveston-bay/

Clear Creek Watershed:

https://www.hcfcd.org/projects-studies/clear-creek/

Seabrook is encouraging its citizens to attend one or both meetings or email comments into Harris County Flood Control District for the upcoming bond election (HCFCD Community Input).

At this time, Seabrook does not have projects listed on the interactive map but has submitted a number of projects for consideration during this comment period before the election. This is a good chance for citizens to have their voices heard, a Seabrook spokesman said.

H-GAC Announces Tow and GoT Program

July 10th, 2018

The Houston-Galveston Area Council has announced the launch of the Gulf Coast Regional Tow and GoT Program, which provides no-cost towing for vehicles that break down from mechanical failure while traveling within the City of Houston on freeways with camera coverage.

The regional quick clearance program will expand next into Harris County and eventually to freeways in neighboring counties where camera coverage is available and as funding is allocated. Tow and Go will replace existing clearance programs like SafeClear.

Vehicles that break down due to mechanical failure (e.g., out of gas, overheating, flat tire) while traveling in the program’s service area will be cleared, at no cost, to a safe location within one mile. Motorcycles are included in the program, and trailers can be towed when possible.

Each tow is authorized by law enforcement, including the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and the Houston Police Department. Law enforcement officers authorize every Tow and Go clearance either from their location in the Houston TranStar traffic center where freeway-monitoring cameras allow them to view incidents in real time or while officers are on the freeway. Each tow operator contracted to perform the quick clearance service has not only met strict selection standards, they have also completed roadway safety and traffic incident management training.

If a motorist calls for their own towing service, such as AAA, it must arrive before law enforcement monitoring the freeway has authorized Tow and Go or meet them at the safe location where they have been cleared from the freeway.

If a breakdown is the result of a flat tire and the motorist has the necessary equipment along with a working spare, the Tow and Go operator will change the tire, at no cost, once the vehicle has been moved to a safe location off the freeway. Vehicles that are abandoned, involved in a crash, or in a law-enforcement incident are not eligible for the no-cost service, and the vehicle's owner must pay established local jurisdiction towing rates.

“The Tow and Go program is an essential component of effective Traffic Incident Management, and will address the dangers, frustration and costs associated with congestion on Houston’;s freeways,”said H-GAC Regional Incident Management Program Manager David Fink. “Traffic is one of the biggest concerns for Houston-area residents. Hours spent in heavy congestion caused by stalled vehicles not only impact productivity and the environment but can put lives at risk.”

The Houston-Galveston Area Council manages The Gulf Coast Regional Tow and Go Program through funding provided by the Federal Highway Administration and the Texas Department of Transportation. Initial participants in the program include the City of Houston, Harris County, and representatives from the towing industry that operate out of Houston TranStar.

For more information about Tow and Go and to download the Houston TranStar app, visit TowAndGo.com. Motorists who experience mechanical failure on the freeway coverage area can call 713-881-3333 for immediate assistance or to speak with law enforcement.

Harris County bond proposal gets the OK

June 12th, 2018

Harris County Commissioners Court voted June 12 to place a $2.5 billion bond proposal on the Aug. 25 ballot, asking voters to finance a 10- to 15-year program of flood mitigation projects that include drainage improvements, upgraded warning systems, infrastructure repairs, home buyouts, and construction of more detention basins.

County Judge Ed Emmett said the goal of the bond issue is to speed up a host of projects that ultimately will provide greater protection for county residents and their property.

“After a series of catastrophic floods in recent years, Harris County residents rightly expect major improvements in the way we protect our homes and residents from disaster,” Emmett said. “We must take steps now to make our county more resilient. We all saw the way that Texans helped Texans during the Memorial Day floods of 2015, the Tax Day floods of 2016 and Hurricane Harvey last year. Now is our chance to work together to protect each other proactively.”

The county’s Budget Management Department has estimated that, if passed, the bond issue would result in an overall tax rate increase of 2-3 cents per $100 assessed valuation – meaning that most homeowners would see an increase of no more than 1.4 percent in their property tax after all bonds were sold. (Homeowners with an over-65 or disabled exemption and a home assessed at $200,000 or less would pay no additional taxes.)

The Harris County Flood Control District has begun planning and scheduling a series of 23 “community engagement” meetings — one in each county watershed — to present proposed projects and to solicit public input on other potential flooding solutions in each area. The proposed project list, information about community engagement meetings and an online comment form are all available on the “Bond Program” website at www.hcfcd.org/bondprogram.

Harris County working to address future flooding risks, Morman says

May 1st, 2018

Harris County Commissioner Jack Morman, center, gets a warm welcome from Space Center Rotary President Ralph Kramer and Program Chairman Kippy Caraway as he arrives to address the club during its luncheon meeting at Bay Oaks Country Club. Photo by Mary Alys Cherry

By Mary Alys Cherry

This past year Harris County was on the receiving end of one of the worst flooding events in our nation’s history,” Harris County Commissioner Jack Morman told members of Space Center Rotary.

Speaking at their luncheon at Bay Oaks Country Club in Clear Lake, the Precinct 2 commissioner updated the crowd on Hurricane Harvey, which nearly drowned Harris County with more than 50 inches of rain in just 4 days.“That represents 70 percent of our average annual rainfall — 250 days of rain in 4 days.

“In unincorporated Harris County, over 30,000 residential structures flooded during Harvey, with approximately 5,700 homes flooded in Precinct 2. Everyone was affected in some way by the storm, but the resolve of the people of Harris County, both during the storm, and throughout the recovery process, has been inspiring to witness.”

After taking a moment to recognize Constable Phil Sandlin, his deputies and other law enforcement who helped save countless lives during the storm, the commissioner talked about the 260,000 cubic yards of debris picked up by Precinct 2 crews and contractors – “enough to fill 16,000 dump trucks” — and the severe damage to the Lynchburg Ferry landings, noting that the ferry finally resumed service March 3.

GREATEST CHALLENGE
“Fixing flooding issues in our area will be this generation of leaders’ and lawmakers’ greatest challenge. We have been working on ways, not only to recover from the storm, but to better protect Harris County residents from future flooding. In December, Commissioners Court voted to update the floodplain regulations for the unincorporated areas of Harris County. The City of Houston is still discussing their proposal.”

This will mean changes to building height requirements, stricter permitting on buildings within the 100 and 500 year floodplain, and guidelines for mapping the floodplains. “In the past, building officials have focused on the 100 year flood event. Clearly they were off the mark. We now are basing much of this new criteria off of the 500-year flood plain. Harris County Commissioners Court has approved $20 million, in what we hope is only the first phase of funding for home buyouts,” he said, going into some detail about the buyouts.

“We are still waiting on money from the Federal relief package. So far, Flood Control has proposed to Congress over $10 billion in projects and efforts addressing flood risks in the county. Large scale projects, like the coastal barrier, and the possibility of another large reservoir in Northwest Harris County, are dependent on the funds we receive from the relief packages.”

BOND REFERENDUM
Waiting on the Feds, he continued, “can’t be our only option, in the meantime we need to create effective flood protection infrastructure. Later this year, the county will propose a flood control bond referendum to the voters to jumpstart flood control infrastructure building. This money will let the Flood Control District make immediate improvements to our flood control infrastructure, such as channel widening, storm water detention basins, and more efficient floodwater conveyance.

“While we wait, the flood control district is working on solutions right now. There are several . . . tributaries of Horsepen Bayou that are scheduled for channel restoration and desilting. The channels . . . located along Bay Oaks, Oak Brook and Bay Forest subdivisions are scheduled to go to construction in summer of 2018.”

Along with these channel repairs, there will be major conveyance improvements to Armand Bayou between Beltway 8 and Spencer Highway…to account for the expansion of the Belt and solve existing drainage issues, he added. “These two projects will greatly reduce the risk of flooding in the area . . . similar to what our friends at the Clear Lake Water Authority have done with Exploration Green—which, by the way, we believe saved hundreds of homes from flooding during Harvey.

Harris County again OKs large tax exemptions for homeowners, seniors and the disabled

June 17th, 2017

Harris County Commissioners Court unanimously has approved a set of property tax exemptions that will virtually eliminate county property tax bills for thousands of older or disabled homeowners here and greatly reduce tax bills for nearly everyone else.

Court members approved an annual extension of the 20 percent exemption for all Harris County homesteads, as well as the $160,000 exemption for homesteads belonging to disabled owners or those 65 years of age or older. When combined, those exemptions guarantee that disabled and senior homeowners pay no Harris County taxes on homesteads assessed at $200,000 or less and greatly discounted tax bills on more expensive homes.

The court’s decision again places Harris County among the state’s most generous counties in granting property tax exemptions, especially those for seniors and disabled homeowners. No other surrounding county offers a senior or disabled exemption higher than $100,000, with most at or around $25,000.

Harris County first approved its $160,000 exemption in 2008, the year after Commissioners Court also approved the county’s largest-ever property tax rate cut.

“Increases in property value have us all concerned and talking about property tax bills,” said Harris County Judge Ed Emmett. “But Harris County goes much further than other counties in Texas when it comes to protecting homeowners – especially older and disabled homeowners – from ballooning tax bills.”

The exemption applies to taxes levied by Harris County, the Harris County Hospital District, Harris County Flood Control District and Port of Houston Authority tax bills.