Harris County Commissioners Approve Kingwood Drainage Assessment, But Not Without Battle Over Equity

Harris County commissioners approved a Kingwood Drainage Assessment Project Tuesday, but not before a 50-minute discussion of equity that had commissioners shaking fists at each other at one point.

Cagle Versus Ellis with Kingwood in Middle

The battle involved Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle and Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis. The flashpoint concerned Item 2a14 on the agenda. It read:

The Lake Houston Redevelopment Authority and TIRZ #10 wanted to PAY Harris County Flood Control $100,000 to manage and conduct a study of Kingwood drainage capacity. The study would have supplemented a Flood Control District study approved as part of last year’s flood bond. The objective of Item 14: to determine possible improvements to channels and mitigation basins to reduce flooding potential. Click here to read the scope document that Flood Control asked Commissioners to approve.

Illustration showing some of the ditches/streams included in the study including the reach of Taylor Gulley, along which Chris Kalman reported many blockages last week.

Commissioner Ellis invited four “equity coalition” representatives to the meeting. Each gave speeches, using the drainage assessment project as an example to show how poorer parts of the county were being discriminated against. During and after the speakers, Commissioner Cagle, whose Precinct 4 includes Kingwood, got into heated exchanges with Ellis.

The Equity Flap Revisited

The equity flap first surfaced in February. It concerned prioritization of projects in the 2018 bond proposal.

Section 14 (g) of the approved bond language states: “Since flooding issues do not respect jurisdictional or political boundaries, the Commissioners Court shall provide a process for the equitable expenditure of funds, recognizing that project selection may have been affected in the past and may continue to be affected by eligibility requirements for matching Federal, State, and other local government funds.”

Kingwood was among the hardest hit areas in Harris County. As the flood bond language was being finalized, Lake Houston area leaders argued to include language that said all areas would receive their fair share of funds to prevent reverse discrimination. Historically, the Lake Houston area had received no flood mitigation dollars.

Greater Houston Flood Mitigation Report Misrepresented

The following figures and chart are taken from the Greater Houston Flood Mitigation Consortium’s April, 2018 report on Hurricane Harvey. Ironically, one of the activists speaking for Ellis used this report to suggest that poorer neighborhoods have suffered historical discrimination. The report does not support her argument relative to Kingwood at least, as the figures below show.

From the Greater Houston Flood Mitigation Consortiums April, 2018 report on Hurricane Harvey

The San Jacinto watershed, says the Consortium, contains 3% of the region’s population, gets 0% of the mitigation budget, and had 14% of the region’s damages.

Contrast that with Sims Bayou and Braes Bayou, both of which run through Commissioner Ellis’ Precinct 1. Those watersheds have 20% of the region’s population, get 42% of the mitigation budget, and had about 20% of the damages.

The Flood Control District’s own Federal report from March of 2018, shows a map of Harris County with Federal partnership projects everywhere … except the Lake Houston area.

Of the three other speakers, one evidently did not think Kingwood had apartments. Another complained that his community was still recovering (as if we weren’t).

So much for equity! The fact-defying arguments of Mr. Ellis and his surrogates do no one any good; they serve only to drive wedges between people who should be working together to triage a battlefield.

See the Video for Yourself: Blow by Blow

To see the video of the meeting, go to this Commissioner’s Court page, select Item 1, Part 2 of 2 from the menu, then fast forward to 30 minutes. That’s where this discussion starts with the first speaker. If you don’t have an hour, see these other key time markers:

  • 34 minutes: In response to the first speaker, Cagle and Ellis debate who has really gotten the lion’s share of spending.
  • 38 minutes: The second activist begins talking.
  • 42 minutes: Another activist complains that his community still has not recovered and therefore should go first.
  • 48 minutes: A fourth activist quotes the Greater Houston Flood Mitigation Consortium Harvey report. She overlooks the fact that Kingwood is part of the San Jacinto Watershed, which historically has received ZERO mitigation dollars.
  • 51 minutes: She complains that by counting structures, not people, the government discriminates against neighborhoods with multi-family housing. She ignores the fact that at least five major apartment complexes flooded in Kingwood.
  • 1:04:40: Commissioner Cagle complains to Ellis that the discussion is rubbing him raw.
  • 1:06:00: Cagle and Ellis shake fists at each other and nearly come out of their chairs.
  • 1:25:00: Discussion wraps up on this agenda item and the meeting then moves on.

Motion Finally Passed, Next Steps

Luckily and thankfully, when it came time to vote on the measure, it passed.

Matt Zeve, Deputy Executive Director of Harris County Flood Control, said of the plan approved today, “This is not the full scope of the project, just what HCFCD and the TIRZ are partnering on. The full scope will be determined once we have a consultant selected.”

Zeve continued. “The project will involve developing detailed hydrologic and hydraulic models to determine the current “drainage level of service” on open channels in the Kingwood area. Once those are determined, alternatives will be developed to increase the level of service for channels deemed to be undersized.”

“These alternatives,” concluded Zeve, “will be shared with the public in a community meeting. Final recommendations for future projects will be provided. Once Commissioners Court approves the final report, preliminary engineering for the recommended alternatives will begin.”

Zeve expects the assessment work to begin before the end of the summer.

Need for Vigilance and Balance

Today’s meeting underscores the fact that the Equity Flap has not gone away. Lake Houston area residents need to remain vigilant and fight for our fair share of dollars as this and every Lake Houston area project moves forward. We need several Kingwood residents to speak at the next commissioners court meeting to provide balance.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/04/2019

644 Days since Hurricane Harvey