Six hundred and thirty-seven days after Hurricane Harvey, the Texas Legislature finally passed and funded a massive flood-relief bill, Senate Bill #7 (SB 7), sponsored by State Senator Brandon Creighton. The lengthy delay between Harvey and the bill’s passage underscores the need for Creighton’s bill.
Need for Faster Mitigation
Few government entities, it seems, budget for emergencies. So when a tragedy like Harvey happens, cities and counties scurry around looking for small grants. They use those to hire consultants to apply for other small grants that provide matching funds for even bigger grants from FEMA.
There’s even a two-step process to get on the list for grant consideration at the Federal level. You don’t just apply to FEMA or HUD. First, you have to file an application with the TDEM (Texas Division of Emergency Management, a part of DPS) before you can file an application with FEMA.
Most of the begging goes on behind the scenes, out of sight to the average citizen. The fact that the City or County has applied for a grant falls below the threshold of newsworthiness in most cases and so remains invisible to all but insiders. Once someone approves the grants, lengthy permitting processes further delay construction. It take years for a mitigation project to get to the construction phase. That’s when a project becomes newsworthy again.
Changing a Frustrating Process
This is why, to the average citizen, the pace of flood mitigation appears maddeningly and frighteningly slow. Important projects, such as additional dredging, gates for Lake Houston, and upstream detention, seem perpetually mired in government red tape.
The passage of Senate Bill (SB) 7 and SB 500 could help change that. The Senate and House have passed both bills, which are on their way to Governor Abbott’s desk. State Representative Dan Huberty says the governor supports both bills and that his signature is certain.
Here’s what they do:
- SB 7 sets up several different funds that will make it easier to launch flood mitigation projects.
- SB 500 appropriates the money for the funds in SB 7.
Provisions in SB 7
SB 7 relates to flood planning, mitigation and infrastructure projects.
- Article 1 in SB 7 provides money for: flood control planning; preparation of applications for regulatory approvals; and development of engineering plans/specifications for flood mitigation and drainage projects.
- Article 2 establishes a special flood infrastructure fund to make loans (at or below market interest rates) for flood projects. It can also provide grants that provide matching funds to poorer political subdivisions that make them eligible to participate in federal programs.
- Article 3 amends the state Water Code relating to the Texas Infrastructure Resiliency Fund by establishing special accounts for Floodplain Management, Hurricane Harvey, Federal Matching projects, and Flood Plan Implementation.
Provisions in SB 7 encourage cooperative planning and financing of projects across political boundaries. Those provisions support regional flood mitigation projects through the Flood Infrastructure Fund. That should be especially helpful in the Lake Houston area where mitigation projects affect multiple counties and cities.
SB 500 Provides the Funding
SB 500 is an appropriations bill. It provides funding SB 7 and other items. It appropriates out of the state’s economic stabilization (rainy day) fund:
- $273 million to provide matching funds for Hazard Mitigations Grants administered by FEMA.
- $365 million to provide matching funds for Public Assistance Grants administered by FEMA.
Out of those two sums, it also appropriates $30 million that may only be used to provide a grant to Harris County to remove accumulated silt and sediment at the confluence of the San Jacinto River and Lake Houston, i.e., The Mouth Bar! That came from an amendment to SB 7 proposed by State Representative Dan Huberty when the House considered the Senate Bill.
It also provides, among many other things:
- $47 million for community assistance
- $793 million for flood infrastructure projects (drainage, flood mitigation and flood control projects)
- $857 million for the Texas infrastructure resiliency fund
- $13 million to the Lone Star College system for expenses related to Hurricane Harvey.
Rep. Dan Huberty says that since SB 500 is a supplemental appropriations bill, money from it should be available immediately, as soon as the Governor signs it.
A Big Thank You to Creighton and Huberty
The 85th legislature adjourned less than three months before Harvey inundated South Texas. That delayed legislative action two years. As a result, ever since Harvey, local officials have scrambled to organize and fund flood mitigation projects. The passage of these two bills should speed that process up by providing seed money for planning, grant writing, and matching funds. Thanks go to Senator Brandon Creighton and his staff for responding to the need and pushing these bills through the legislature. Thanks also go to Representative Dan Huberty for earmarking money for mouth bar dredging.
With West Fork Phase One dredging rapidly winding down, hopefully the addition of $30 million to any money contributed by the City and FEMA will enable dredgers to restore conveyance of the West Fork.
Finally, we should give a big thank you to all of you who wrote letters in support of these two important pieces of legislation.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/28/2019
637 days since Hurricane Harvey