In their 8/23/22 meeting, Harris County Commissioners discussed proposed budget priorities for the next fiscal year. Dr. Tina Petersen, PhD, PE, Harris County Flood Control District’s Executive Director, presented her goals for next year. And once again, they revolved around “equity.” See page 64 of the proposed budget for Petersen’s priorities or the summary below. The inequities of the “equity plan” are getting too hard to ignore.
Petersen wants to “reduce flood risk and strengthen resiliency.” Not much to quibble with there!
However, she also described how she wants to do it: “…through … equitable … strategies.”
Desired Outcome #1
“Equitable” might cause people in outlying areas concern, considering that Judge Hidalgo, Commissioner Ellis and Commissioner Garcia redefined that term after voters approved the 2018 Flood Bond. Equitable no longer means “fair and impartial” as most dictionaries would define it. Equitable now means prioritizing projects in watersheds with a majority of Low-to-Median Income (LMI) households and a high social-vulnerability index.
Since being blindsided in 2019, taxpayers in more affluent watersheds have largely been put on hold. For instance, out of $236 million dollars in active construction projects at the end of July 2022, the heavily flood-damaged Lake Houston Area has only $2000. That’s less than one-thousandth of one percent – 0.0008% to be precise. So…
The outcomes associated with reducing flood risk? Harris County is targeting year-over-year reduction in the number of structures susceptible to damage from a 1% ATLAS 14 event. HCFCD also wants to reduce the number of structures susceptible to flooding in any flood. Both of those are admirable outcomes.
Having been burned once, though, I wish they would take it two steps further. Tell me: a) how many structures and b) where they are. Their wording leaves things too open ended and generic for my taste. The district could save a handful of homes and declare victory.
To achieve the not-so-specific outcomes articulated, the District wants to increase its budget for:
- Sediment removal by $5 million, due to inflationary costs totaling 35%
- Maintenance by $790,000, due to increased contract and material costs.
- Mowing by $760,000, due to increased contract costs.
- Building costs, professional services, and money paid to other departments, such as IT, by $1.7 million due to inflation.
Desired Outcome #2
Petersen also wants to: “invest in flood control equitably, where the most people are at risk of flooding.” I read that as, “Not the most people with the most risk; just the most people with any risk.”
Her strategy: “…increase alignment of flood control investment to areas of greatest need.” What does she mean by “greatest need”?
- The deepest flooding?
- The most damage to infrastructure?
- The highest frequency of flooding?
- Schools, grocery stores, and hospitals underwater?
- Loss of critical bridges that cut off whole communities?
Apparently, Petersen means none of those things when she talks about greatest need. She wants to “Use the revised Prioritization Framework that emphasizes people, not structures.”
Thus, the money would go to the most densely populated areas, not necessarily those that suffered the most or worst damage. And the “revised prioritization framework” emphasizes the social vulnerability index (SVI). Ooops. There’s the “tell” again.
Petersen wants to spend her budget in the most highly populated neighborhoods with a high SVI. Translation: mostly inside the Beltway where the vast majority of funding for the last 22 years has already gone.
I’ll give Petersen one thing. She’s open about her priorities. No secrets there, unlike the trick Commissioner Ellis played on voters in 2018 with the bond language.
At least she’s telling you what you need to know when you go to the polls this fall. If you live in the Lake Houston Area, I wouldn’t count on seeing any benefit from the flood bond next year. Or the Flood Resilience Trust. The Trust contains money diverted from tollroads. That will now likely go to fix neighborhood drainage long ignored by Precincts One and Two, and the City..
Commissioners discussed the budget for 90 minutes Tuesday. A vote on it will come in September. More to follow before then.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/23/22
1820 Days since Hurricane Harvey