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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.

Deadline extended for public input on changes to Chapter 19

February 20th, 2018

Houston City Council Member Dave Martin said he appreciates the comments received by many District E residents, and is happy to announce that Mayor Sylvester Turner has changed the deadline for public input on changes to City of Houston Chapter 19 to Monday, March 5 at 5 p.m.

After the proposed changes were presented to Council during a Joint Transportation, Technology, and Infrastructure/Regulation and Neighborhood Affairs Committee Meeting Feb. 12, Council Member Martin provided strong feedback to Mayor Turner, demanding residents be given more time to participate in the process.

APPROACH

The City of Houston hopes to reduce the risk of flood loss for future development and redevelopment by ordinance revisions, new regulations, building codes and design guidelines. Existing development will be improved through Capital Improvement Projects, buyouts, home elevations and demo-rebuilds. Buyouts will be determined based on repetitive flooding and are only considered when residents volunteer to participate in the program. Additionally, home elevations utilizing pier and beam methods are being researched by Houston Public Works. 

RECOMMENDATIONS

Houston’s current code only applies to property in the 100-year floodplain and protects 1 foot above 100-year flood elevation. The proposed revisions would include property in the 500-year floodplain and protect “X” feet of 500-year flood elevation. It would also include no net fill in the 500-year floodplain. 

“X” feet in the proposed revisions is still to be determined following the public input period. It is believed that the City is looking at changing the ordinance to 2 feet above the 500-year floodplain, but the City would like input on if that is too much or too little.

The 100-year floodplain is land that is predicted to flood during a 100-year storm, which has a 1% chance of occurring in any given year. The 500-year floodplain has a .2% chance of occurring. For residents outside of the 100-year and 500-year floodplain, these changes to the ordinance will have little or no affect.

PUBLIC INPUT AND NEXT STEPS

Public input on proposed changes to Chapter 19 can be made:
·        Through this survey (new deadline: Monday, March 5 at 5 p.m.)
·        By emailing the Houston Public Works Department at pwe.director@houstontx.gov, or
The ordinance will be presented to Council on March 21, 2018.
For more information, please contact the District E office at 832-393-3008 or via email at districte@houstontx.gov

First-of-its-kind agreement brings millions in flood relief for Houstonians

January 24th, 2017

With last week’s flooding still fresh in the minds of Houstonians, Mayor Sylvester Turner announced that the City of Houston is stepping in to provide the funds needed to help expedite long-awaited flood relief projects along Brays, Hunting and White Oak Bayous.

The move, which relies on unprecedented cooperation by numerous governmental agencies, will end the delays that have prevented the Harris County Flood Control District from proceeding with planned improvements in these watersheds.

Because it has already received federal approval, Project Brays is the first in line for the improvements.  The White Oak and Hunting Bayou projects will follow, pending Congressional authorization. Upon receipt of that authorization, the City and Flood Control District will pursue separate agreements similar to the Brays Bayou project.  The total estimated cost of all three projects is $130 million. In a separate and unrelated move, the City is also studying potential improvements to Keegans Bayou, a Brays Bayou tributary, which exceeded its banks during last week’s heavy rain.  The analysis will look at options for creating additional detention and improving channel flow.

“These projects will greatly reduce the flood threat for residents along these bayous and remove hundreds of properties out of the 100 year flood plain.  I want to thank the multiple governmental entities that have come to the table to make this happen.  The level of cooperation is unprecedented and a sign of just how committed everyone is to solving our flooding issues,” said Mayor Turner.

“While flooding will always be a part of life in southeast Texas, common sense demands that all levels of government work together as closely as possible in an effort to control it as much as we can,” said Harris County Judge Ed Emmett. “This project is another example of cooperation and coordination that directly benefits residents throughout the area.”

On Wednesday, Jan. 25, City Council will consider a loan application to the Texas Water Development Board for the Brays Bayou improvements. Upon approval of the loan by the state, the city will in turn advance $43 million to the flood control district to help pay for bridge replacements and extensions and channel widening in the Brays watershed.  The $43 million is equivalent to the amount the flood control district expects to receive from the federal government once the projects are completed.  The city will be paid back as projects are completed and the flood control district is reimbursed by the federal government.

The announcement comes just two weeks after Mayor Turner unveiled a Storm Water Action Team, or SWAT, to reduce drainage problems that are not directly attributed to overflow from the bayous that are under the control of the Harris County Flood Control District.

Approximately 100 deferred maintenance projects spread throughout the city have been initially identified for inclusion in the SWAT program.  An initial round of funding of $10 million has been approved so that work can begin on 22 of these projects, two in each City Council district.  The work encompasses everything from replacing sewer inlets and grates to regrading ditches and resizing culverts to minor erosion repairs and regular mowing.

Quotes from Governmental Partners

Congressman John Culberson
“I’m pleased to see local officials working together to improve Houston’s flood infrastructure. Houstonians have experienced two major flood events in the last two years, and this collaborative plan gives hope to residents that completion of major flood mitigation projects will minimize future damage. I look forward to continuing to work with State and local officials to develop creative solutions for Houston’s flooding problem.”

Congressman Al Green
“I would like to thank Mayor Sylvester Turner, the Houston City Council, the Harris County Flood Control District, and the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) for their important work on this agreement to advance the completion of Project Brays,” Congressman Al Green said. “In addition to local efforts, securing the necessary federal funding for these flood control projects is a major priority of mine as well as many of my colleagues in Congress. I will continue working with my colleagues to pass H.R. 121, the Emergency Flood Control Supplemental Funding Act of 2017, formerly known as H.R. 5025 during the 114th Congress, which attracted over 100 bipartisan co-sponsors last year. H.R. 121 would deliver hundreds of millions of dollars to fully fund our flood control construction projects such that their completion can be expedited.”

Congressman Gene Green
“I applaud the important step taken by City officials to address Houston’s recurring flood problem. The completion of Brays Bayou and others like it are examples of proactive solutions that reduce the risk of flooding and make increased safety the norm.

“At the federal level, we have an obligation to do all that we can to match local efforts and reduce delays on reimbursements. To that end, I was pleased late last year with the passage of S. 612, the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act (WIIN).  The legislation prioritizes federal reimbursement and cost-sharing on flood mitigation projects like Brays and our entire bayou system. In the 114th Congress we introduced H.R. 5025, which would increase access to federal funds for flood control projects and deliver $311 million for the completion of our local bayou projects. The bill achieved more than 100 co-sponsors and we are working to reintroduce the bill in the new Congress.

State Sen. Borris Miles
“I applaud Mayor Turner and the Houston City Council for approving this $46 million dollar zero interest loan from the Texas Water Development Board. I am encouraged that changes in the process will enable this funding to reach our community faster and will expedite the completion of Project Brays to give the surrounding neighborhoods the relief they so desperately need. I look forward to working with the City of Houston in the Texas Legislature to fund future flood control initiatives.”

State Rep. Gene Wu
“While we can’t eliminate flooding altogether, we can work to limit it and its damaging effects.”

Mayor Turner Delivers First State of the City

May 5th, 2016

4-1XMayorXSylvesterXTurnerNames flood czar, calls for Rev Cap repeal and pension reform

Flooding, pensions, city finances and public safety were front and center as Mayor Sylvester Turner delivered his first State of the City before the Greater Houston Partnership.

In a major move designed to produce tangible results and instill confidence among residents, the mayor announced the selection of Stephen Costello to fill the new position of chief resilience officer, or flood czar.

Costello, a civil engineer who has worked on numerous drainage projects, will report directly to the mayor and will have the sole responsibility of developing and implementing strategies that will improve drainage and reduce the risk of flooding.

“The April 18 floods had a dramatic impact on our entire region,” Mayor Turner said. “Hundreds of people sought rescue in hastily opened shelters, hundreds more elected to stay in their flooded apartments and homes. Nearly 2,000 homes in Houston flooded and some flooded for the second, third or fourth times. Property owners throughout our area have become weary of flooding in the Bayou City, impatient with elected officials who offer explanations with no practical solutions, and some have and others are close to packing up and leaving our city unless we can convince them that we are going to do exponentially more than what they currently see.”

The mayor also announced that he will soon unveil a plan to put 175 more police officers on the street, called for repeal of the revenue cap self-imposed on the city by voters in 2004 and detailed his plan to address the city’s unfunded employee pension liabilities, a growing obligation that is stressing the city’s overall financial stability.

“There are certain realities that cannot be ignored:  the increasing costs to the city simply cannot be sustained,” Turner said.  “As we look to 2018, city services will be adversely affected, hundreds of employees will be laid off, and our credit rating will most likely be damaged. But this is a course we need not travel.  My mom said, ‘Tomorrow will be better than today,’ and as mayor of this city, I still believe what she said.”

The mayor is already in productive discussions with the employee pension groups about reigning in costs in a way that is least burdensome to employees, reduces the city’s escalating costs and avoids unintended consequences.  He has laid out three objectives for those discussions:

  1. Lower unfunded pension obligations now and in the future;
  2. Lower annual costs for the city now and in the future; and
  3. An agreement by the end of the year to present to the legislature for consideration in the 2017 session.

The mayor noted that the revenue cap, which was cited as one of the reasons for a downgrade of the city’s credit rating, puts Houston at an unfair advantage and hinders the city’s ability to meet the needs of its growing population. No other governmental entity in Texas is under similar constraints.

“The revenue cap works against creating one Houston with opportunity for all and the ability to address pressing needs like flooding, transportation and mobility, parks and added green space, affordable/workforce housing and  homelessness,” Turner said.

“We are competing not just against Dallas, San Antonio and Austin; not just against New York, Los Angeles or Chicago, but against Vancouver, Berlin and Singapore. We are an international city speaking 142 languages, with 92 consulates and two international airports within our city boundaries.”

The mayor concluded his speech with a commitment to leading the nation in addressing homelessness and a personal appeal for Houston businesses to join his Hire Houston Youth summer jobs program. Information on the program is available at www.hirehoustonyouth.org