By JUAN A. LOZANO Associated Press
HOUSTON (AP) — Crews are working on 134 flood control projects as parts of a $2.5 billion bond program approved by Houston-area voters last year in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, officials announced Thursday.
Another 103 projects are on the drawing board — all part of a process that could take up to 10 years to complete.
“Most people we talk to think we’re going too slow. I think we’re going relatively quickly for a government agency working on difficult infrastructure projects. But there’s always room for improvement,” said Matt Zeve, deputy executive director of the Harris County Flood Control District.
Some of the projects already being built include widening of area bayous and construction of stormwater detention basins. The bond referendum is being supplemented by federal funds earmarked for flood mitigation after Harvey.
Harvey, which made landfall as a Category 4 storm on Aug. 25, 2017, killed 68 people and caused an estimated $125 billion in damage in Texas. Thirty-six of the deaths were in the low-lying Houston area, where days of torrential rainfall and decades of unchecked development contributed to the flooding of more than 150,000 homes and 300,000 vehicles.
As construction continues, questions have been raised about possible equity guidelines related to the projects.
In a letter sent last month to Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, a group of 11 state lawmakers expressed concerns about factoring income levels into the prioritization of the projects.
“Harris County has been clear that prioritization of projects depends on a number of factors but neighborhood and/or individual income levels have not, to my knowledge, ever been on the table,” the lawmakers wrote. “Actions by the State’s largest county to base project prioritization on elements outside of the scope that was understood by voters last summer could undermine our efforts to deliver much needed aid to Harris County and Texans across the state.”
The legislators became concerned after “low-moderate income” data was to be considered in the evaluation process for prioritizing bond projects. But Hidalgo later indicated that such data would no longer be considered.
Other factors now being considered as criteria for prioritizing bond projects include existing drainage conditions, flood risk reduction and long-term maintenance costs.
At the county commissioners meeting last week, Commissioner Rodney Ellis worried the ongoing debate about the equity guidelines would pit rich neighborhoods against poor neighborhoods over who would get projects built first.
“I don’t think any of us ought to engage in class warfare. That’s the wrong thing for our community,” Ellis said.
County commissioners had been scheduled to discuss the equity guidelines at their meeting on Tuesday, but the issue has been postponed, Zeve said.
Officials said they want to reassure residents that all the flood control projects are moving forward.
“We are not canceling any projects,” Zeve said. “We are going to complete every project in the bond program.”
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