Tag Archive for: FEMA

FEMA Reforming Flood Insurance Risk, Rate Structure

Since the National Flood Insurance Plan’s (NFIP) inception in 1968, additional legislation has been enacted to strengthen the program, ensure its fiscal soundness, create better maps, and tie rates closer to risk. Next year, FEMA will transform the NFIP with something called Risk Rating 2.0, a major change.

FEMA says that with Risk Rating 2.0, NFIP is leveraging industry best practices and current technology to deliver rates that are fairer, easier to understand, and better reflect a property’s unique flood risk.

That last part is code for “we lost a lot of money.”

Unsustainable NFIP Losses

NFIP continues to pay claims in excess of revenues, and borrows increasingly from the U.S. Treasury.

Last October, Michael D. Berman wrote an article titled “Flood Risk and Structural Adaptation of markets: An Outline for Action” in the Federal Reserve Board’s Community Development Innovation Review. In it, he says, “On September 22, 2017, after borrowing $5.825 billion to fund claims from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, the NFIP had reached its maximum U.S. Treasury borrowing authority of $30.425 billion in program debt. On October 26, 2017, Congress cancelled $16 billion of NFIP debt—the first time in the history of the NFIP that has occurred. Then on November 9, 2017, the NFIP borrowed another $6.1 billion to fund additional 2017 losses, including additional losses from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.”

Rating Flood Risk at Property Level

Berman claims, “The NFIP is clearly not properly pricing flood risk, nor is it adequately influencing prudent behavior by property owners and municipalities to sufficiently reduce or otherwise mitigate this risk…This new rating system, known as Risk Rating 2.0, is expected to include repricing of premiums based on flood risk at the property level.”

What Risk Rating 2.0 Involves

FEMA says its current risk-rating methodology has not fundamentally changed since the 1970s. It is now heavily dependent on the 1-percent-annual-chance-event (100-year floodplain).

Risk Rating 2.0 will incorporate a broader range of flood frequencies, new mapping data, and new technologies, more individual rating characteristics, such as: 

• Distance to the coast or another flooding source;
• Different types of flood risk; and
• The cost to rebuild a home.

By reflecting the cost to rebuild, the new rating plan will also aim to deliver fairer rates for owners of lower-value homes.

Rates that Promote Mitigation Efforts

FEMA also plans to offer mitigation credits to help incentivize risk-reduction efforts and reduce the cost of future flood events. Risk Rating 2.0 will initially provide credits for three mitigation actions:

  • Installing flood openings; 
  • Elevating onto posts, piles, and piers; and
  • Elevating machinery and equipment above the lowest floor.

FEMA is not yet saying how many premiums will increase or decrease, or by how much. Two things ARE clear though.

6:1 Payback on Flood Mitigation Investments

First, the old system is broken and unsustainable. Flood maps were outdated and based on data decades old in many cases. They contained many unmapped areas and the mapped areas were strongly influenced by local politicians and developers. Maps also did not reflect the effects of upstream development or more intense, frequent storms.

Second, the new system has a chance to incentivize risk-reduction. The old system encouraged people and communities to rebuild things the way they were after a disaster. We need a new system that encourages more prudent behavior.

FEMA cites a recent study by the National Institute of Building Sciences. Looking back over 23 years of data, the study found that for every dollar that the federal government invests in flood hazard mitigation, taxpayers save an average of six dollars of future disaster recovery spending.

Rebuild to Fail or Rebuild to Adapt?

The current federal flood insurance program promotes rebuilding in flood prone areas. Hopefully, the new system will promote adaptation to help mitigate increased risk.

Flood insurance rates that better reflect risk may promote more prudent behavior by developers, lending institutions, property owners, buyers, and real estate agents who will all “follow the money.”

For More Information

For more information, see:

Risk Rating 2.0 FAQs

Federal Reserve Board Community Development Innovation Review

Cheaper Flood Insurance: Five Ways to Lower the Cost of Your Flood Insurance Premium

NFIP Community Rating System: A Local Official’s Guide to Saving Lives, Preventing Property Damage, and Reducing the Cost of Flood Insurance

FEMA Discussion of Property Insurance Reform

FEMA Discussion about Reducing Risks and Rates

National Institute of Building Sciences 2019 Report on Mitigation

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/2/2020

977 Days since Hurricane Harvey

FEMA Taking Applications for Youth Preparedness Council

Students in grades 8 – 11 can apply to join the national Youth Preparedness Council between until March 8, 2020.

US59 during Harvey. Photo taken from Sorters-McClellan overpass. Courtesy of Melinda Ray.

Purpose of Youth Preparedness Council

FEMA created the Youth Preparedness Council (YPC) in 2012. Its purpose: to bring together young leaders interested in supporting disaster preparedness. They make a difference by completing national and local preparedness projects. The YPC supports FEMA’s commitment to involve America’s youth in preparedness-related activities. Additionally, it lets young people share their perspectives, feedback, and opinions with FEMA .

Includes Representatives from All Ten FEMA Regions

YPC members represent all ten FEMA regions. They have a wide range of backgrounds and interests. Members have been leaders in their communities’ preparedness. They work in teams on projects relating to financial preparedness, citizen responder programs, and youth preparedness education.

Eligibility and Application Requirements

YPC applications remain open through March 8, 2020!

Students in eighth through eleventh grade are eligible to apply.

To apply, go to FEMA’s application website or download a copy of the application form.

To be considered for the national YPC, complete all sections of the application. These include:

  1. A complete application form (including narrative responses to all application questions)
  2. Letters of recommendation
  3. Academic records (including transcripts from last year and this year)
  4. A list of extracurricular activities
  5. Any supplemental materials you wish to add to showcase your capabilities

For more information about how to apply, see the application instructions and Frequently Asked Questions.

Roles and Responsibilities

FEMA emphasizes that being selected to serve is an honor, but also a significant responsibility. The YPC requires dedication and time-management skills.

YPC members serve TWO years. Each YPC year begins in July with the YPC Summit. If members have not completed the mandatory requirements during their first year, FEMA may excuse the member from participating in a second year.

Members serve on committees with assigned tasks. They primarily communicate via email but have bi-monthly conference calls and other calls as needed.

For a full list of Roles and Responsibilities, CLICK HERE.

YPC Summit Held in Washington, DC on July 21 and 22

A YPC Summit is held annually in Washington, DC. In 2020, it will take place on July 21 and 22. Attendance is mandatory for all YPC members. The YPC Summit provides an opportunity for YPC members to meet FEMA representatives and each other.

Sessions during the YPC Summit cover a range of topics. In some sessions, YPC members are given the opportunity to share their ideas and questions with FEMA and community partners. In other sessions, members prepare for the projects they will complete during their time on the YPC.

Travel Expenses Covered for Member and Guardian

Each YPC member must have a parent/guardian or parent- approved chaperone to accompany him or her to the YPC Summit. In accordance with federal travel regulations, FEMA will reimburse transportation, lodging, and meals for each YPC member and his or her parent/guardian/chaperone.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/9/2020 with thanks to Congressman Dan Crenshaw and photo courtesy of Melinda Ray

894 Days after Hurricane Harvey and 143 after Imelda

Mouth Bar Dredging: First Pictures of Next Phase

Earlier this month, the State, Harris County and City of Houston announced the next phase of West Fork mouth bar dredging. Late last week, it got underway in earnest.

West Fork mouth bar on Monday 1.20.2020 before mechanical dredging started.

How Mechanical Dredging Works

Rachel Taylor took the ground-level pictures below earlier today from her back yard in Atascocita Point. They show mechanical excavators eating away at the mouth bar and loading the spoils on barges.

Sunday afternoon, 1.26.2020, two mechanical excavators worked the western end of the mouth bar. They loaded the spoils on waiting barges (right). Photo courtesy of Rachel Lavin Taylor.
Service boats then pushed the barges upriver. Photo courtesy of Rachel Lavin Taylor.
Barge loaded with spoils passes the Deerwood Country Club. Photo courtesy of Rachel Lavin Taylor.
Barges then anchor at Berry Madden’s property on the south side of the West Fork opposite River Grove Park. That black object jutting into the photo from the lower left is the skid of the helicopter. Photo taken 1.20.2020.
From there, other trucks move the spoils inland. For orientation, that water tower in the upper left is south of Kings Lake Estates. Photo taken 1.20.2020.

Mechanical dredging is slower and more labor intensive than hydraulic dredging, but can mobilize faster. In hydraulic dredging, dredgers pump the spoils to a placement area via pipelines. That is faster, but has higher overhead. It also creates more noise.

Hydraulic Dredging Options

The hydraulic pipelines can stretch miles. In the case of the first phase of West Fork mouth bar dredging, they stretched 10 miles upstream. It took five booster pumps to get the material all that way to a sand mine on Sorters just south of Kingwood Drive.

Luckily for us, the pipe from the first phase of mouth bar dredging is still at the Army Corps dock opposite Forest Cove.

Pipe from the first phase of mouth bar dredging still sits at the former Army Corps command post and could be rewelded into longer sections if needed.
The Great Lakes Dredge also remains at the dock. Here you see the pieces below and behind the crane.

At some point in this project, dredging may switch from mechanical to hydraulic. The fact that the Great Lakes dredge remained here bodes well. It chewed through 500,000 cubic yards of debris at the West Fork mouth bar in less than three months. Officials expect mechanical dredging of 400,000 cubic yards to take 8 -12 months.

Additional Dredging Targets and Financing

Other targets reportedly include the East Fork Mouth Bar and several mouth bars that have formed at the mouths of ditches or streams leading into the lake.

State Representative Dan Huberty helped bring $30 million to this phase of dredging via an amendment to SB500 in the last legislature. That money will funnel through Harris County via the Texas Water Development Board. The County also included $10 million in the 2018 flood bond. And the City is applying $6 million left over from a FEMA/TDEM grant for debris removal from Harvey.

For more details on this next phase of dredging, see the previous post on this project.

Two Phase Project Outlined In Grant

Harris County’s proposal for the grant from the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) calls for splitting the project into two phases. 

  • Phase One will focus on the West Fork Mouth Bar using the City’s $6 million and $10 million from the TWDB grant.
  • Phase Two will focus on the East Fork Mouth Bar using the remaining $20 million from the grant.
  • The $10 million from the County flood bond will fund surveys, formulation of specs, bidding, project management and more.

Progress Result of Pulling Together

All this is great news for the Lake Houston Area. The entire community worked since Harvey to make this happen through all levels of government.

As we look at other flooding problems in the area, it’s important not to get discouraged and to remember that we can make progress if we all pull together.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/26/2020 with photos from Rachel Lavin Taylor

880 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Last Phase-1 Dredge Gone; Phase 2 Will Be Announced Next Week

The last dredge from the Army Corps’ Emergency West Fork Emergency Dredging Program has left the river. State Representative Dan Huberty says plans for Phase 2 of dredging will be announced next week.

Great Lakes Dismantles Dredge

The last remaining dredge, operated by Great Lakes Dredge and Dock, finished dredging a 500,000 cubic yard contract extension in the area of the West Fork mouth bar around Labor Day. That brought the total amount of sand and sediment removed from the West Fork to about 2.3 million cubic yards.

The Great Lakes Dredge waited near the mouth bar for six more weeks, as the owners hoped for yet another contract extension that didn’t come. Finally, in mid-October, Great Lakes started removing its dredge, booster pumps, pipe and other support equipment. That was about the time the City applied for another FEMA grant to help with more dredging.

Now You See It

On November 4th, the dock at the Army Corps Command Post opposite Forest Cove was bustling with activity, as workers dismantled the Great Lakes Dredge. Note all the pipe in the background. Each 40 food section weighs 4,000 pounds.

Now You Don’t

Photo taken on Tuesday, 11/12/19. Dredge is gone.

With Great Lakes and Callan Marine gone, any additional dredging efforts will start from scratch. And we need a Phase 2.

Millions of cubic yards remain in the West Fork Mouth Bar alone. And Imelda deposited immense of amounts of sediment in a growing East Fork Mouth Bar. And let’s not forget upstream dredging near US59 and the County’s planned Edgewater Park, which will have a public boat launch.

Phase 2 Options Moving Forward

Long-Shot Option: On October 15 or thereabouts, City of Houston Flood Czar Stephen Costello submitted another grant request to FEMA for additional money to dredge the mouth bar. That request is still pending. But it isn’t our only hope.

Sure-Thing Option: Luckily, thanks to State Representative Dan Huberty’s Amendment to SB-500, earlier this year, the State Legislature earmarked $30 million for dredging Lake Houston. Let’s call that Phase 2.

The crucial text of the Huberty Amendment reads, “… $30 million is dedicated to the Texas Water Development Board to provide a grant to Harris County for the purchase and operation of equipment to remove accumulated siltation and sediment deposits located at the confluence of the San Jacinto River and Lake Houston.”

According to Huberty, the County, City and State have been examining alternative plans and evaluating their cost-effectiveness. Huberty expects to hold a press conference next week to announce next steps. Stay tuned.

Please note that the two options are not mutually exclusive. The FEMA Grant could still come though and be used to extend Phase 2 dredging.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/15/2019

808 Days after Hurricane Harvey

Lessons from A&M Community Health and Resource Management Workshop for East Montgomery County

On July 23rd, the Texas A&M Agrilife Extenstion, FEMA and Texas Community Watershed Partners held a Community Health and Resource Management workshop. Attendees included 29 officials, municipal staff, and stakeholders from Conroe, Patton Village, Montgomery County, Harris County Flood Control District, SJRA, Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District, the Bayou Land Conservance, Red Cross, United Way and more.

Community Health and Resources Management Workshop in action.

Protecting Growth from Flooding

Organizers dedicated the majority of the workshop to using a GIS (Geographic Information System) mapping platform, developed by AgriLife Extension’s Texas Community Watershed Partners. The platform allows communities to digitally draw different growth and development scenarios on a map of their community. Then they can see the implications, in real time. Which scenarios will increase or decrease disaster risk? 

The organizers challenged participants to double growth without increasing flood risk. The outcomes of the workshop have real-life implications for urban planning, building codes, flood mitigation and disaster recovery.

Here is the entire presentation of outcomes from the workshop.

Strategies Explored by Participants

The teams in the workshop explored strategies, such as:

  • Creation of more detention areas 
  • Public Education 
  • Flood Planning with community leaders 
  • Filling 
  • Public Involvement 
  • Education on flood insurance 
  • Messaging on flood risk
  • Buyouts 
  • Apply for HUD Community Development Block Grants 
  • Implementing higher standards 
  • Changes in Building Codes 
  • Collaboration with agencies, organizations 
  • Buyouts 
  • Future studies 
  • And more

This presentation provides an excellent demonstration of the linkage between planning, land use and long-term-risk.

External Links in Presentation Lead to Valuable Tools

One of the most valuable parts of the presentation: links to related resources from participants and planners.

For instance, this base-flood elevation viewer contained information that FEMA’s national flood hazard layer viewer did not. Using the former tool, I was able to look up Woodridge Village in Montgomery County. I found that much of it was in the high risk 1-percent flood plain. That explains why the developer is raising it so much.

All in all, if you have five minutes to explore this presentation, it could help you connect some dots.

Posted by Bob Rehak with thanks to Paul Crowson and Bob Bagley

733 Days since Hurricane Harvey

FEMA/Corps To Stop Dredging Mouth Bar Before Finishing Job; What You Can Do

Having barely scratched the surface of the mouth bar of the San Jacinto West Fork, FEMA and the Army Corps will pack up their gear next week and call their job done. Last-ditch pleas by the City of Houston, Harris County and the State of Texas to get the federal government to extend its dredging program have fallen on deaf ears, perhaps because of the shifting of disaster relief funds to the construction of migrant detention facilities.

Mouth bar of the West Fork shortly after start of supplemental dredging. Photo courtesy of BCAeronautics.

Regardless, the bottom line is this: the Corps and FEMA will leave millions of cubic yards of sediment in place without restoring conveyance of the West Fork to a prior good condition.

The pullout caps months of arguments over how much sediment Harvey deposited. The City estimated 1.4 million cubic yards and the Corps 500,000.

According to City Council Member Dave Martin, the Corps agreed Harvey deposited 1.4 million cubic yards of sediment in the river near the mouth bar. The Corps also agreed, said Martin, that there was nothing wrong with the Tetra Tech study that arrived at that total.

Waffling by Corps

As late as last Friday, Martin said, the Corps agreed to write a letter to FEMA, recommending dredging more than the 500,000 cubic yards. The letter would say that almost a million cubic yards of Harvey-related sediment remained in the river and should be removed. However, at a meeting in Austin this Tuesday, the Corps revealed that FEMA told it not to write the letter. The Corps now intends to demobilize equipment as soon as it finishes dredging 500,000 cubic yards from the mouth bar. That should only take until next week.

These developments confirm speculation that the Corps “backed into” the 500,000 cubic yard number for reasons unrelated to Harvey. Mystery still surrounds how they arrived at that number. The Corps refused to release many documents related to their decision. A review of their 4-page analysis obtained from the City found numerous issues, logical flaws, and questionable assumptions – uncharacteristic of the Corps.

Next Steps

With the year-long dredging program now almost complete and perhaps less than a quarter of the sediment removed that is required to restore the natural flow of the river, what will happen next? We have some hope.

  • The Corps has finally approved Berry Madden’s property as a storage site for 500,000 cubic yards. That should be enough to get the next phase of the program started while the City seeks additional storage sites.
  • The City has committed to a maintenance dredging program according to Martin.
  • The State and Harris County have earmarked $30 million and $10 million respectively to continue dredging.
  • Additional funds may become available early next year through SB7.
  • Callan Marine has agreed to remain on site and do the dredging.

Your Help Is Needed

However, to make that money stretch far enough to finish the job, we will need FEMA and the Corps to designate the remaining sediment as Category A. City Council Member Dave Martin is sending this letter to all congressional and senatorial representatives in the area. Designating the sediment as Category A will:

  • Enable reimbursement from FEMA
  • Allow the City of Houston to utilize existing resources and pre-positioned contracts.
  • Save nearly $20 million associated with mobilization.

Please Contact These Officials

Here’s how you can help. Send the letter below to:

Tell them that you support the Category A designation and see the mouth bar removal as crucial to public safety with a letter like the one below.

Sample Letter


Dear _____________: 

Thank you for helping to make dredging of the San  Jacinto West Fork a priority.  It will help reduce flooding, protect property, save lives, and improve public safety.  

However, part of the existing mouth-bar located at the confluence of the San Jacinto River and Lake Houston remains.  

I’m writing to enlist your support in urging the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) to designate that remaining debris as Category A for reimbursement.  

Category A designation will allow the City of Houston to:  

  • Utilize existing resources and pre-positioned contracts  
  • Save nearly $20 million associated with mobilization  
  • Protect life, property and safety  

Field data collected by the City of Houston and provided to FEMA demonstrates that the remaining debris was directly associated with Hurricane Harvey. As of August 20, 2019, the City of Houston has proactively secured a third United States Army Corps of Engineers permitted disposal site needed for the additional debris.  

Your assistance is crucial to rehabilitate the San Jacinto River to its prior good condition.  Please urge FEMA to grant this Category A designation. It will let the City of Houston continue rebuilding from Harvey.  





Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/30/2019 with drone photo from BCAeronautics

731 Days since Hurricane Harvey

City of Houston Receives $3.3 Million FEMA Grant for Design and Permitting of Additional Gates For Lake Houston Dam

This week, FEMA awarded $3.3 million for the design, engineering and environmental permitting (Phase I) of additional gates for the Lake Houston dam. Under the 75:25 matching terms of the grant, local sources including the City and Harris County will contribute approximately another million bringing the total available for Phase 1 to $4.375 million.

FEMA notified Congressman Dan Crenshaw regarding the award who then notified Houston Council Member Dave Martin. The award comes through FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP).

Construction Funding Also Committed But Will Require Confirmation of Cost/Benefit Ratio

FEMA also committed funds for construction, but release of those funds is contingent on confirmation of the cost/benefit analysis after completion of Phase I.

The total award for the City of Houston Lake Houston Dam Spillway Improvement Project Phases I and II comes to $47,170,953.

Of that amount, the Federal share comes to $35,378,214.75 and the Non-Federal Share totals $11,792,738.25. City and Harris County shares of the Non-Federal portion have not yet been determined according to Martin’s office.

Lake Houston Area and Downstream Residents Protected

Congressman Crenshaw announced, “Today, FEMA approved $3.3 million for Phase 1 of the gates at the Lake Houston Dam. These gates will increase the flow out of Lake Houston significantly. This money will ensure that the final design will not impact downstream residents and will provide the anticipated relief to the Lake Houston area.  Increasing the conveyance will have positive impacts for the entire San Jacinto watershed including the East Fork and the West Fork. For a community that feels the burden of flooding too often, this is a huge win.”

Mr. Martin has worked to obtain the grant for nearly two years. Martin also played a role in dredging. As part of his press release on the gates, Martin noted that the Army Corps is now half-finished with the 500,000 cubic yards that it intends to remove from the mouth bar between Kings Point and Atascocita Point.

Crenshaw and Martin say they will continue to fight for the removal of even more material from the mouth-bar. They also thanked Governor Abbott, TDEM Chief Kidd, State Senator Creighton, Representative Huberty, Houston Mayor Turner, and Houston Chief Resiliency Officer Costello for their help on the Lake Houston Spillway Dam project.

Martin said, “The Lake Houston Dam gates give us the ability to proactively release water from Lake Houston in an expeditious fashion if needed during an emergency.”

State Role in Two-Step Process

Funding is awarded directly to the State of Texas Division of Emergency Management (our version of FEMA) and will be transferred to Houston in two steps. Phase I gets the project rolling. Once the City successfully completes permitting, engineering, design, and environmental assessment, it will provide a new cost/benefit analysis and to FEMA for review.

This is standard procedure. The initial grant is based on ballpark estimates. With the actual design in hand, the City can more closely estimate the costs.

Assuming FEMA approves renewed cost/benefit analysis, the State will release the additional funds to the City for construction (phase II).

Three-Year Project

The City has not yet chosen an engineering company to design the gates. Nor is it clear how many gates will be added or where they will be located. All that will be part of Phase I.

Martin says the two phases together should take three years once money is received, though an extension may be possible if needed.

Other Grants Also Announced

FEMA also awarded three other grants impacting City Council District E, according to Martin:

  • Lonestar College’s Kingwood Campus won two public assistance grants for Emergency Protective Measures amounting to $6,276,131.22 and $2,502,914.79.
  • Clear Creek Independent School District won a public assistance grant for Emergency Protective Measures amounting to $1,303,060.49.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/2/2019

703 Days after Hurricane Harvey

Army Corps Moving Forward with Partial Mouth Bar Dredging to Reduce Flood Risk

The Army Corps announced Monday that it will begin dredging approximately 500,000 cubic yards of the giant sand bar at the mouth of the San Jacinto West Fork. It has been linked to flooding in the Humble-Kingwood-Atascocita area. However, previous estimates put the total volume at close to 2 million cubic yards, with the volume due to Harvey at 1.4 million cubic yards.

Text of Press Release

GALVESTON, Texas (June 10, 2019) – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Galveston District staff executed a modification to the West Fork San Jacinto River Emergency Debris Removal contract June 7, 2019, to dredge an additional 497,400 cubic yards of material that was deposited in the mouth of the San Jacinto River from Hurricane Harvey.

“This contract modification will ensure a decrease in threats to critical infrastructure and lower the risk to potential loss of life,” said Charles Wheeler, USACE Galveston District project manager. “This is an ongoing contract that is part of a Federal Emergency Management Agency mission assignment.”

According to USACE Galveston District officials, the dredged material will be placed at the existing location referred to as Placement Area 2, which is located approximately 10 miles upriver. The additional dredging is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2019, with the demobilization of the equipment completed by early 2020.

No Mention of Other Partners

The press release does not mention the City of Houston, Harris County, the State of Texas, or Congressman Dan Crenshaw’s office. Most had been negotiating with FEMA and the Corps as late as last Friday.

On two previous occasions, the City announced agreements in principle with FEMA and the Corps. However, the two sides still had many details to work out relating to volume, storage, permitting and cost. The City and FEMA have tried to reach agreement on the volume of sediment deposited by Harvey since last October – eight months.

In February, the City, hired Tetra Tech to collect and analyze core samples from the mouth bar. In late April, Tetra Tech estimated, through a protocol recommended by FEMA, that Harvey deposited 1.4 million cubic yards of sediment at the mouth of the river.

Two Sides Far Apart in Negotiating Volume

The Corps’ announcement reveals just how far apart the two sides were in their volume estimates – about 900,000 cubic yards. That difference means much of the mouth bar area will remain undredged – at least for now.

With approval to remove only about 500,000 cubic yards, the dredgers will have to cut a channel around the mouth bar, most likely on the deeper Atascocita side. Ironically, that would mean leaving behind sand deposited above water by Harvey – a decision that could confuse the public.

Great Lakes Dredge Moving into Position

Great Lakes finished dredging its half of Phase One on April 12, exactly two months ago. The company has waited patiently ever since for the decision that finally came last Friday.

Today, the Great Lakes dredge has anchored near Kings Harbor. Judging by the weeds and logs in the pictures below, it appears that they will have to dredge their way TO the mouth bar. That could use up some of the precious approved volume. It could also take several weeks to position and calibrate all the equipment necessary to pump sediment 10 miles upriver.

Great Lakes Dredge has moved downriver east of West Lake Houston Parkway. It is anchored in front of Raffa’s in Kings Harbor.
Wider shot taken from the pier in Kings Harbor facing west toward the Great Lakes Dredge and the West Lake Houston Parkway bridge.
Callan dredge operating on the other side of the pier. Dredgers are responsible only for work in the channel, not tidying up the shoreline. While taking this shot this morning, I noticed that workers were finally starting to renovate Sharkey’s, one of the most popular restaurants in Kings Harbor before Harvey.

What Comes Next?

Pumping sediment from the mouth bar to PA-2 will require the horsepower of the larger Great Lakes dredge. It will also require several extra booster pumps and miles of additional 24 inch pipeline. The Great Lakes dredge has now moved downstream and is anchored east of the West Lake Houston Parkway bridge near Kings Harbor.

Last week, dredge pipe re-appeared under the 59 bridge after being gone for two months. That fueled rumors that the two sides had finally worked out some kind of deal. At this hour, the mystery is where does the Corps’ decision leave all the other parties in this process? More important, where does it leave the remainder of the mouth bar?

Other Money Available

The state approved an additional $30 million for dredging the mouth bar last week. The county also allocated $10 million in the flood bond approved by voters last year (see item CI-61). That $40 million along with another $18 million committed by the City of Houston would add up to $58 million. In addition to the unspecified sum FEMA is fronting now, that might be enough to remove the entire mouth bar. That could happen one of two ways:

  • The City, Corps, FEMA and TDEM would have to increase the approved volume after the next phase starts or…
  • The City, County and TDEM would have to remove the rest without FEMA and the Corps.

However, money is just part of the problem. The second option might require permitting another placement area. Permitting could delay the project. But permitting a closer placement area might also save money. It gets complicated.

PA 1 is filling up rapidly as the pictures below show. And PA-2 is so far upriver from the mouth bar that would cost extra millions of dollars to use.

Tail end of the Callan dredge pipe empties sediment into an old sand pit off Townsend in Humble.
Several months ago, this was all water. The owner of the pit is now selling sand to an asphalt company and the pit is still filling rapidly.

Easy Way to Save Money

Shortening the distance between the mouth bar and the placement area could reduce the amount of diesel and manpower needed to run the booster bumps. Each booster uses more than one thousand gallons of diesel per day. So costs add up rapidly. That’s why the Corps is still considering other placement areas.

Berry Madden owns several thousand acres south of River Grove Park between the river and FM1960. According to Madden, using his property could save the government $5.5 million in pumping costs. And that’s just on the first 500,000 cubic yards. If 2 million cubic yards is an accurate estimate for the total mouth bar, using Madden’s property could save $22 million. That’s even more than the remobilization costs we were trying to save.

I hope we don’t stretch this out too much longer or make it any more difficult. My truck needs some repairs and I’m afraid, as a taxpayer, that I may not be able to afford them!

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/12/19

652 Days after Hurricane Harvey

City and MoCo Offer NFIP Flood Claims Workshop with FEMA

Houston Council Member Dave Martin announced that the City of Houston and Montgomery County will host a flood claims workshop from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 19, 2019.

  • Kingwood Community Center
  • 4102 Rustic Woods
  • Kingwood, Texas 77345

This event is for anyone (resident or business owner) who has: a) suffered flood damages, b) has flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and c) has questions about the policy claims process. FEMA representatives will be available to provide resources and answer questions. It does not matter what event caused the flood damage. Although the time has passed for submitting a Harvey claim, some people may still be struggling with the process. If they are protesting a settlement, they might benefit from this event.

Melissa Sturgis #4. Treasured antiques 3 generations back from New England are on this curb. Furniture and collectibles from 8 years overseas in Malaysia, London and Russia.
Melissa Sturgis’ home after Harvey
Flooded home in Elm Grove after May 7th rain.

For more information please contact the District E Office at DistrictE@houstontx.gov or Diane Cooper, Montgomery County Floodplain Administrator at Diane.Cooper@mctx.org.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/7/19

647 Days since Hurricane Harvey and One Month since May 7th

AP Story Highlights Efforts to Streamline Buyout Process

According to an Associated Press (AP) story published this weekend, “A recent study for the National Institute of Building Sciences found that society as a whole saves $7 in avoided costs for every $1 spent through federally funded grants to acquire or demolish flood-prone buildings.” 

Idea Behind Buyouts

Buyouts are a strategy used by FEMA to avoid multiple payouts from the National Flood Insurance Program for properties that flood over and over again. At some point, it becomes cheaper to buy the home and tear it down than to fix it repeatedly. However, buyouts can take years to process and they are always voluntary. Moreover, even if a homeowner decides not to sell, the government continues to underwrite his/her insurance.

The AP story by David A. Lieb cited the case of Mosby, Mo. Residents there flooded three times in six weeks in 2015. Many quickly signed up for buyouts, but are still waiting for offers years later.

With 7/1 savings, one wonders why it takes government so long to acquire these homes? Buyout experts that I talked to say that one of the keys to successfully negotiating a buyout is making people offers BEFORE they rebuild their homes. That observation argues for the need to streamline the buyout process, not drag it out for years.

Attempt to Streamline Buyouts

The AP story quotes U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. His committee has jurisdiction over FEMA. He questions why “….[we] keep selling them (flooded homeowners) insurance and building in the same place?”

The article continues: “DeFazio wants to expand and revamp a buyout process that he describes as inefficient and irrational. He’s backing a proposed pilot project that would give homeowners a break on their flood insurance premiums, as long as they agree in advance to a buyout that would turn their property into green space if their homes are substantially damaged by a flood.”

What 240,000 cubic feet of water per second does to a dream home with a river view. Next building is scheduled for demolition on June 3.

Status of Forest Cove Townhome Buyouts on Marina Drive

The buyout process from Harvey is just getting started in some parts of Texas. Harris County Flood Control has already bought out many homes in the Forest Cove area. “We’ve purchased three entire buildings. One has been demolished and two more are in process,” said James Wade of the Flood Control District.  “We have about 65% of the units along Marina Drive purchased and are working through the remaining units.”

But over in Liberty County, officials have just started the buyout process. Buyouts require cooperation between the federal government which funds them, and city or county officials which negotiate them. Therefore, the success of buyout programs often depends on the interest level of cities and counties.

Buyout Success Often Depends on City or County

Counties that aggressively pursue buyout dollars from the federal government can offer residents an option that other counties can’t or don’t.

While most of the Marina Drive townhomes in Forest Cove are structurally unsound and therefore uninhabitable, residents elsewhere, such as Tammy Gunnels in unincorporated Montgomery County, have clamored for buyouts with no luck for years. With the May 7th rains, her home has flooded now 11 times in 10 years.

I applaud Representative DeFazio’s attempt to reform the buyout system. It seems like one of those rare instances when the humane thing to do is also the most cost-effective thing to do.

Turning Problems into Natural Retention and Recreation

A more efficient buyout process will also help rejuvenate and beautify neighborhoods. In the case of Forest Cove, the City of Houston Parks Board and Harris County Precinct Four are already working together to build a greenbelt trail. The trail would connect the County’s new Edgewater Park, under development at Hamblen and US59 with Kingwood’s trail system. That could also open up the entire Spring Creek greenbelt system to Kingwood and Forest Cove hikers and bikers. I can’t wait!

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/28/19

638 days since Hurricane Harvey