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Precinct 2 to get $1 million grant to purchase air monitors

December 27th, 2019

Harris County and Precinct 2 will receive a $1 million grant from the American Chemistry Council Foundation (ACC) to purchase air quality monitors, more stringent data analysis and collaboration with industry partners, Commissioner Adrian Garcia has announced. This is the first time the ACC Foundation has developed and awarded a local government grant for a community air-monitoring network.

“This grant is a result of conversations that began in the wake of a series of industrial incidents in Precinct 2. We learned how potentially vulnerable our industry partners were and that more needed to be done to ensure their success and not their failure,” said Commissioner Adrian Garcia. “Residents need access to reliable and timely air-quality data at all times, and especially during a chemical emergency.  Thanks to this collaboration, the County will be able to address data and communications gaps to ensure residents have the information they need to make decisions about what actions to take for their families’ wellbeing in the unfortunate event dangerous chemicals are released,” he continued.

The joint effort of members of the East Harris County Manufacturers Association (EHCMA), Texas Chemistry Council (TCC), American Chemistry Council (ACC) and Harris County will enhance the availability, transparency and interpretation of air monitoring data. The grant will support the following initiatives:

  • The purchase of one stationary air monitor with gas chromatography capabilities. Estimated cost $350k.
  • Provide funds to support the ongoing engagement of the Houston Area Research Council to receive, analyze, interpret and communicate air-monitoring data in the event of significant safety events that could affect air quality. Estimated Cost: $200k
  • Provide funds to purchase handheld air monitors or other air monitoring equipment deemed appropriate to augment current and future County air monitoring capabilities at key locations around the Houston Ship Channel. Estimated Costs: $450k

“The chemical industry is deeply integrated into the communities and economies of Harris County. Our companies take their responsibility to be good neighbors very seriously,” President and CEO of ACC Chris Jahn said.

“Local industry reached out to Commissioner Garcia soon after several incidents in the first quarter of 2019 and shared with him our commitment to learn from the events. In 2020 and beyond we will be focused on encouraging strong safety performance throughout the chemical industry and among our commercial partners including those in the transportation, distribution and storage sectors. We look forward to collaborating with Harris County, Precinct 2 and the citizens of east Harris County,” Jahn added.

“Chemical manufacturers operating in Harris County have high standards of operational safety and environmental performance. Process Safety Management ideals and lessons learned have helped industry continuously improve safety performance over the past several decades,” EHCMA Board Chairman Gary Piana explained. “Through this grant, we are pledging to both Harris County and the citizens of east Harris County that we are committed to making further enhancements to our safety performance, communication and transparency.”

Piana also pointed out that industry is making private air monitoring data available to TCEQ and Harris County to ensure they have the data necessary to make informed decisions about public health and safety during industry events. The Houston Regional Monitoring network board approved providing monitoring data to Harris County during a recent board meeting. Industry members reinforced a commitment to work with Harris County and to develop a model that can be used in other jurisdictions in the region and across the nation.

“Industry values the partnership with Harris County, especially Commissioner Garcia in Precinct 2 where many of our industry facilities operate,” President of TCC Hector Rivero said. “Our members are committed to working with Harris County and the local cities, and developing a model that will enhance similar collaborative working relationships in the region and across the nation.”

In addition to the $1 million grant, the industry group is also proposing to provide Harris County with specific air monitor data that can help inform public health and safety decisions in the event of an incident. Additionally, industry will develop an “Industry 101” program that can help educate government officials and first responders about industry facilities and operations.

“This is a significant first step toward ensuring Harris County becomes a national model and leads the way in collaboration between industry, community organizations and government to promote a healthy and economically strong area. Together we can work to ensure our residents feel safe, engaged and educated about our industry neighbors,” Commissioner Garcia said.

Judges Deliver Dynamic State of the County Addresses

October 31st, 2019

Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership President Bob Mitchell, left, welcomes Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Galveston County Judge Mark Henry, keynote speakers for the annual State of the Counties Address at Bay Oaks Country Club in Clear Lake.

By Kathryn Paradis

The Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership hosted its annual State of the Counties meeting at Bay Oaks Country Club, where both Galveston County Judge Mark Henry and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo impressed their audience with their affable presentations that spoke of the opportunities and challenges of these rapidly growing counties.
Judge Hidalgo was quick to point out that “we can’t avoid the topic of flooding and flood control coming out of Imelda. I want you to know that that is the No. 1 priority for us in Harris County. For the first time, we’re truly putting science and people first. There are tough decisions that we have to make.

“We’ve hired an independent, outside group to come in and help us figure out how we can do things faster. We’re moving forward as quickly as we can. What was going to take 10-15 years is firmly at 10, but limitations such as environmental permitting and right-of-way acquisitions take time.”

She added, “We’re moving the drainage project in unincorporated Harris County forward to 3½ years instead of 5, which means two hurricane seasons faster. Our Flood Control District is very focused on innovation. If we don’t change the way we do things pretty dramatically pretty soon, it will affect the competitiveness of our region and everyone’s ability to thrive.”

Judge Hidalgo also discussed the coastal barrier and thanked BAHEP for its advocacy work. “It is such an important project. We can’t just hope that we don’t get a direct hit (from a hurricane).”

She also stressed the importance of being good stewards of the county’s $5 billion budget for this fiscal year, closing her remarks by saying, “Our ability to work together is going to continue lifting all of us. Count on me as a partner in the work that you all have done and continue to do.”

GALVESTON COUNTY
Judge Henry opened his remarks declaring, “The economy in Galveston County is doing great. The population is expected to grow seven percent over the next 10 years. Employment is expected to grow over eight percent. We are growing at such a pace that it is difficult to keep up.

“The county has been very successful in its conservative budgeting. The tax rate is where it was in the late 1990s. This gives the county a AAA bond rating making the county government very stable,” he said, going on to note that a county-wide drainage study is underway. Updated flood information was received from NOAA and the county is trying to get FEMA to adopt NOAA’s information to get a better idea of what flooding may look like in the future.

Transportation is going to be a big issue, Henry said, expressing his concern about viable hurricane evacuation routes out of Galveston County. He spoke of the Texas Department of Transportation’s decision to keep the southern sections of the Grand Parkway in its Unified Transportation Program. Henry said, “The Grand Parkway will be a major economic driver in the region, but it’s also another evacuation route. This was my No. 1 point in talking with TxDOT.”

Henry said he is constantly working with companies interested in relocating to Galveston County, “where thousands upon thousands” of acres are available at less than $1 per square foot with deep water, rail, and interstate access. Meanwhile, he expects 1.9 million cruise passengers will pass through Galveston Island, which expects 7.2 million visitors during 2019.

Businesses know they can count on Galveston County to be predictable, fair, and consistent, he said in closing, adding, “We are open for business.”

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.