At Harris County Commissioners Court yesterday, “equity” proponents from low-to-moderate-income (LMI) neighborhoods in Precinct 1 again complained they weren’t getting their fair share of flood mitigation dollars. In crying “foul” over a perceived lack of buyout dollars, they ignore the fact that the bulk of Federal mitigation spending is on construction projects that benefit their precinct.
Part One of this series focused on Harris County construction spending for flood mitigation. It found that Precinct 1, which is 78% African-American and Hispanic, received 47% of all Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) dollars spent on construction. That left three other precincts to divvy up the remaining half. But Federal contributions for construction spending are even more lopsided as the chart above shows.
2018 Federal and Harvey Reports Yield Surprises
In Part Two, I examine Federal construction spending in Harris County on joint Army Corps/HCFCD projects. Some are Corps-led; others County-led. Regardless, they all involve Federal contributions. Close review of the latest Federal Report from HCFCD and other information obtained through the Freedom of Information Act reveals some startling facts.
- Precinct 1 benefitted from more Federally-backed projects than any other precinct.
- Only one Federal project did not benefit Precinct 1.
- Sims Bayou, which lies mostly within Precinct 1, was the only one of six Federal projects completed before Harvey. And it was one of the few bayous in the County that did not widely flood.
- The Lake Houston Area received no Federal dollars for flood mitigation prior to 2018.
Federal Investments Ignored by Precinct 1 Activists
The only joint project actually completed before Hurricane Harvey was in Precinct One. It involved the widening of Sims Bayou and creating additional detention ponds. Together, these actions almost eliminated flooding during Harvey. A huge benefit to Precinct 1. See map below.
Sims Completed and Did Not Flood Widely
On page 6 of its Final Harvey Report, HCFCD states, “Sims Bayou was one of the few channels in the entire county that did not suffer widespread and extensive overbank channel flooding largely due to the completion of the federal flood risk reduction project and three HCFCD regional detention basins. Water levels for Harvey were generally below the historical records of Tropical Storm Allison and averaged between a 2.0% (50-yr) and 1.0% (100-yr) level downstream of Martin Luther King Blvd and generally below a 10% (10-yr) annual exceedance probability from Airport Road upstream to the headwaters.”
Sims Project Saved Thousands of Homes from Flooding
Further, Page 19 of the final Final Report on Hurricane Harvey notes,”The recently completed … Federal Project and supplemental detention basins constructed by HCFCD reduced the number of homes flooded by about 6,500 along Sims Bayou.”
“Bottom line – the larger channel carried a lot more stormwater downstream away from subdivisions along the bayou and the large detention basins stored stormwater that would otherwise flow through subdivisions along the bayou.”
The Harris County Flood Control District Federal Briefing (Page 102) from 2018 also shows that the Sims project removed more than 35,000 homes and 2,000 commercial structures from the 100-year flood plain.
The Sims project received $390 million: $125 million from HCFCD and $265 million from the Army Corps.
In contrast, the Federal Briefing lists $0 in federal funding for the San Jacinto watershed.
Hunting Bayou and Achieving “Social Justice” in Precinct 1
At least one Army Corps project in Precinct One won Corps support because of the presence of LMI neighborhoods. Yet “equity” proponents contend the Federal government discriminates against them.
Page 79 of the Federal Report indicates Hunting Bayou (entirely within Precinct 1) received $98 million from the County and $68 million from the Corps, in part because of social justice factors. That’s another $165 million.
Residents claimed in their plea for funds that:
- “Residents in the Hunting Bayou watershed deserve the same level of potential flood risk reduction as those who live in other parts of Harris County.“
- “The economically disadvantaged Hunting Bayou residents struggle severely to recover from house and business flooding.”
- “The Corps’ economic analysis is an important factor in prioritizing competing projects for annual Federal funding, but it is biased against economically disadvantaged communities like in Hunting Bayou.”
Prior to 2018, had Hunting Bayou residents received the same level of support as those in the more affluent Lake Houston Area, they would have received NO support from the Federal government.
Three Other Precinct 1 Watersheds Receive Major Federal Support, Too
Three other watersheds in Precinct 1 have received major federal and county commitments for construction of flood mitigation measures. Because they are in various stages of completion, I show total cost estimates below to facilitate comparison.
- Brays Bayou which flows through precincts 1, 2 and 3 will receive a total of $480 million; half from the county and half from the Corps. See page 60.
- White Oak Bayou flows through Precincts 1 and 4. There, the County and Corps are excavating 9.7 million cubic yards of detention basins. That’s more than 5 times the volume of sediment removed from the San Jacinto to date. Estimate: $124 million, $90 million of it at Federal expense. See page 68.
- Clear Creek flows through Precincts 1 and 2. Estimate: $249 million, $98 from local and $151 million from the Corps. See Page 91.
One Lone Exception
The Federal government partnered with HCFCD on only one project in Harris County that did not directly benefit Precinct One: a detention pond in Precinct 4 on Greens Bayou near 249, Beltway 8 and Cutten Road. This $58 million project received $43 million from the Corps. See Page 97.
The Corps does have other projects in Harris County, such as the Addicks and Barker reservoirs. However, HCFCD plays no active role in those. Likewise for the San Jacinto dredging project. This analysis looks only at joint projects that involve Harris County and the Corps.
Federal Construction Versus Buyout Dollars
Because Mr. Ellis’ surrogates base their arguments on buyouts, we need to put those in perspective.
Buyouts are tiny compared to construction spending. In Harris County, they represent just 6.6% of Federal construction spending for flood mitigation.
Page 120 of the 2018 Federal Brochure deals with buyouts. It shows approximately two dozen buyout projects completed in Precinct One. However, few if any appeared active at the time of publication in 2018.
In the entire county, FEMA was funding only $57.1 million in buyouts.
But the Army Corps contributes 19 times more than that in construction dollars for projects that benefit Precinct 1.
The numbers below represent Federal contributions only:
- Sims – $265 million (In Precincts 1, 2)
- Hunting – $68 million (In Precinct 1)
- Brays – $240 million (In Precincts 1, 2, 3)
- White Oak – $90 million (In Precincts 1, 4)
- Clear Creek – $151 million (In Precincts 1, 2)
- Total Estimated Federal Contribution to Joint Construction Projects that benefitted Precinct 1: $814 million
- Total Estimated Federal Contribution to Joint Construction Projects NOT benefitting Precinct 1 (Greens): $43 million
- Total Estimated Federal Contribution to Joint Projects in Lake Houston Area before 2018: $0
And Commissioner Ellis’ surrogates complain about discrimination! Maybe that’s why they get so much money.
Note that HCFCD does not break out spending “by precinct” for bayous that flow across precinct boundaries; they list only project totals. The list of bayous above represented ALL the HCFCD/Corps projects in the 2018 Federal Report.
Note also: Video of the commissioners meeting still had not been posted at the time I posted this story.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/26/2019
666 Days since Hurricane Harvey