Lake Houston Area Flood Prevention Initiative Leaders Protest Proposed Flood Bond Prioritization

Four members of the Lake Houston Area Flood Prevention Initiative Steering Committee have sent a protest letter to Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo. The Judges’ desire to prioritize flood bond projects based on “equity” (percent of low to moderate income (LMI) housing in communities) rather than flood danger has sparked a tsunami of protest.

Homes in Barrington in 500-year flood plain during Harvey. Photo courtesy of Julie Yandell. She was forced to flee with her husband and 81-year-old neighbor when waters rose without warning.

Changing the Contract After the Sale?

Many community leaders feel the bond was sold as one thing and is being rolled out as another. At 23 community meetings throughout the county last year, county leaders emphasized that the worst areas would be addressed first, though they did create exceptions for work in progress or work that was shovel ready.

Judge Hidalgo first raised eyebrows on social media when she made the LMI suggestion at a Commissioner’s Court Meeting last month. Then early this month, the Judge’s staff and Flood Control leaders began briefing selected community representatives on how that might work. Even though the ideas were presented as trial balloons designed to elicit feedback, local television and news outlets soon got wind of the ideas.

Factors in Initial Proposal

A flood of criticism followed when people saw how projects in the Lake Houston Area could be delayed. Initial guidance indicated that some low-ranking projects could take 10 to 15 years to implement.

Version 1.0 of the prioritization attempted to rank order projects based on seven factors, each given different weights. The factors and weights were:

  • Existing Conditions Drainage Level of Service (How Bad Things Currently Are) – 20%
  • Equity (LMI) – 20%
  • Flood Risk Reduction (Looking only at # of Structures, not their Value) – 20%
  • Long-Term Maintenance Costs – 5%
  • Minimizes Environment Impacts (Gauging Possible Delays due to Environmental Permitting) – 5%
  • Potential for Multiple Benefits – 5%
  • Project Efficiency (Cost of project/# of Structures Benefitted) – 15%

Problems with Version 1.0

According to version 1.0, a $60,000 house counted for as much as a $600,000 house, or a $60 million high school. There’s a certain egalitarian appeal to this. Neither rich, nor poor, should be disadvantaged when it comes to flooding. Counting structures without factoring in their value evens things out.

However, the plan also has many drawbacks. It ignores the immense cost of damage to infrastructure, for instance. Maybe a $60 million high school for 4000 students should count for more than a single-family home for four. Against this background, the leaders of the Lake Houston Area Grass Roots Flood Prevention Initiative listed these concerns.

  • Failure to appropriately recognize benefits from multi-million dollar partnership matching grants
  • Failure to capture full flooding impacts and full project benefits by not considering commercial property, schools, hospitals, and senior-care facilities
  • Not recognizing benefits to LMI areas received from projects executed in non-LMI areas
  • Not considering Costs/benefits of pre-Harvey Capital Improvement Projects
  • Lack of inclusion of URGENT NEED criteria in the matrix

To see the entire letter, click here.

Next Steps

I’m told by several people who contacted the County Judge’s office today that version 2.0 may already be in the works. Let’s hope it addresses some of these concerns.

Version 2.0 may be presented at the March Commissioners Court meeting on the 12th. However, most people I talk to want more time. They are urging commissioners to hold public meetings, solicit feedback from communities, and develop support for any plan before moving forward.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/27/2019

547 Days since Hurricane Harvey