Tag Archive for: flood bond

Some Projects in Flood Bond Likely Won’t Get Done While Others Not in Bond Will

While speaking to a public meeting of the Harris County Community Flood Resilience Task Force, Scott Elmer, the Flood Control District’s new Chief Partnership and Programs Officer, predicted that some projects in the 2018 flood bond likely will not get done because of a funding gap.

Elmer made this remark while discussing a list of projects proposed by Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) for funding from grants totaling $825 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Texas General Land Office (GLO).

The $825 million is the last large pot of money still sitting on the sidelines from Harvey. But it likely won’t stretch far enough to complete all the projects in the bond.

Despite a partner funding gap of approximately $800 million (published in 2021), the $825 million would only reduce the gap by approximately an estimated $420 million. How could that possibly be? For one thing…

Not all projects proposed to GLO were in the flood bond.

Origins of Funding Gap

To understand the funding gap, one needs to start with the structure of the 2018 flood bond. It contained a list of projects totaling almost $5 billion, but voters approved borrowing only half of that. The other half was supposed to come from partners, such as FEMA, HUD, local governments and the Texas Water Development Board.

Then COVID and inflation struck. Supply chain issues and labor shortages drove up the cost of projects approximately 20-30%, according to Elmer.

Meanwhile, not all of the hoped-for partner funding materialized. For instance, Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) was hoping for a billion dollars from HUD, added Elmer, but received only $825 million. (The County siphoned off almost a quarter billion dollars for Harris County Engineering and Community Services Departments.)

Some Projects Expand While Others May Be Excluded

Complicating the squeeze between the upward pressure of price inflation and less-than-hoped-for funding, HCFCD added (in some cases) to the scope of projects listed in the bond.

  • For instance, HCFCD originally budgeted the Greens Bayou Mid-Reach Project for $20 million in the bond. But HCFCD lists it at $90 million in the proposed GLO list – a 4.5X increase. The first figure reportedly includes the original phases of the project. The second includes those PLUS others which had been deferred for a subsequent bond.
  • Another example: The Arbor Oaks Stormwater Detention Basin in the White Oak Bayou watershed started out as a $13.3 million project in the bond, but now weighs in at $42.3 million. Its price more than tripled.

A person familiar with the Arbor Oaks project said it could easily be phased, but that it appears some phases (which had initially been deferred) were now recommended for immediate construction.

Lower part of Arbor Oaks area on bottom left. Bridge is on West Little York. Looking SE toward downtown.
Lower part of Arbor Oaks area on bottom left. Bridge is on West Little York. Looking SE toward downtown.

Those two projects alone account for an additional $100 million in scope.

“Use It or Lose It” Deadlines Place Emphasis on Shovel-Ready Projects

The projects recommended on the GLO list largely came from projects which had already been extensively studied and which are near shovel ready. That’s primarily because of two factors:

  • The county took 2-years between GLO’s announcement of a $750 million allocation for Harris County and the County’s submission of a plan for spending the money.
  • Meanwhile, the original HUD deadlines placed on using the money have not slipped. So, HCFCD now has its back up against a “use it or lose it deadline” wall.

If money isn’t spent before HUD deadlines, HUD will take the money back – not just unspent funds, but all funds allocated to incomplete projects. So, say for instance, HCFCD spent $50 million on a project, but had $10 million to go when the deadline arrived. HCFCD would have to give back the $50 million it already spent.

Obviously, the specter of having already-spent funds clawed back by the federal government made “construction readiness” a huge factor in project selection that wasn’t there almost six years ago when Harvey struck.

This means projects given priority by the Equity Prioritization Framework were closer to shovel ready. Presumably, they also helped meet Low-to-Moderate Income (LMI) requirements placed on the HUD funds.

No other large pots of aid dedicated to Harvey remain out there. So, annual programs, such as FEMA’s Flood Mitigation Assistance (FMA) and Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) represent HCFCD’s best hope to make up the rest of the funding gap.

But the competition for those grants is nationwide. They include all states, territories, the District of Columbia and tribal lands. And Texas applications are handicapped because Texas has not updated its building codes in almost a decade to qualify for BRIC funding – despite an 11-to-1 payback.

Updating Project Cost Estimates to Recalculate Funding Gap

Elmer says he cannot calculate an exact funding gap at this time. “We’re still working on updating all project costs with the inflation estimates,” he said.

Elmer hopes to have a firmer estimate by August when the Flood Control District expects to issue its second flood-bond update this year.

I personally hope that the District’s recent reorganization can help it track such financing issues better in the future. It appears that after years of promising residents that all projects in the bond would be completed, now some may not be…while others that were not in the bond will be.

And I suspect I know whose won’t be.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/24/23

2125 Days since Hurricane Harvey

The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.

County Approves Another $15 Million for Flood Mitigation in Precincts 1, 2

On October 25, 2022, the three Democrats on Harris County Commissioners Court approved the expenditure of another $15 million from the Flood Resilience Trust. All the money will be spent to avoid delays on flood mitigation projects in Precincts 1 and 2.

This follows an approval on June 28 to spend $85 million on 16 projects. Two thirds of the benefit for those also went to Precincts 1 and 2.

Not one of the 20 projects approved to date is in the San Jacinto Watershed.

Where the Money Went

Of the four flood-mitigation projects approved for trust funding in October, three were in the Halls Bayou Watershed and one was in Sims.

In June, commissioners approved 16 other projects:

  • One in the Armand Bayou watershed
  • One in Brays
  • Two in White Oak
  • Three in Halls
  • Four in Greens
  • Four in Cypress and Little Cypress Creeks
  • One in Buffalo Bayou

Of the 16 projects, 14 benefited Precincts 1 and 2, but only 7 benefited Precincts 3 or 4. The totals for “projects” and “areas benefited” do not equal because sometimes benefits cross precinct boundaries.

Looking at both groups of expenditures, 20 benefited Precincts 1 and 2, while only 7 benefited Precincts 3 or 4. So about one quarter of the flood mitigation benefit has gone to the Republican-leaning half of the county.

Purpose of the Trust

The Flood Resilience Trust Fund was originally conceived to facilitate:

  • Acceptance of a grant that requires a local match exceeding secured local funds
  • Awarding construction projects that exceed the amount of secured funds
  • A change in contract for a construction project underway that exceeds the amount of secured funds

In all of the most recent cases, the expenditures avoided delays for projects already underway. In each, partnership funds did not materialize as expected. See below.

See high-res PDF of full report here.

The $100 million dollars in Trust Fund expenditures approved to date leaves a balance of only $28 million in the fund. So…

78% of the money is gone in just four months. And the Lake Houston Area hasn’t seen a penny of it. Meanwhile, multiple projects in the San Jacinto Watershed struggle to get in gear.

To see the full report on June projects, click here.

For the full October report, click here.

Fix This Discrimination

Polls are open from 7 A.M. to 7 P.M. Monday through Friday this week for early voting. Election Day is on November 8. It’s a long ballot. Make sure you vote all the way to the end, because several key races/proposals are hidden in the middle of all the judicial races. For instance, the race between Lina Hidalgo and Alexandra Mealer for County Judge comes after family court judges on the ballot.

All registered voters in Harris County may vote for County Judge. A heavy turnout in this area could swing the election. It’s close. As of this morning, however, fewer than 10,000 people in Kingwood have voted.

Also, Precincts 2 and 4 will elect Commissioners this year. (The Lake Houston Area is now in Precinct 3 and won’t vote for commissioner until 2024.)

There are also three county bond proposals on the ballot totaling $1.2 billion being pushed by Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia. Despite promises made by the County Administrator months ago, none has a defined project yet, so if you approve the Garcia Bonds, you’re writing a blank check.

Also, the three Democrats on Commissioners Court have announced their intention to distribute the $1.2 billion unequally. The two Republican Precincts would get only $220 million each or a total of $440 million. So Republican Precincts would get 36% while Democrat Precincts would get 63%.

That echoes lopsided Flood Resilience Trust and 2018 Flood Bond spending to date. Don’t miss your chance to bring fiscal control and balance back to Commissioners Court. And some flood-mitigation benefits to the Lake Houston Area.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/31/22

1889 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Flood Bond, MAAPnext Updates Show Projects Slowing

Two new updates provided to Harris County Commissioners on Tuesday 8/2/22 show progress on the 2018-flood-bond and MAAPnext slowing compared to previous estimates.

Flood-Bond Progress

In many ways, the Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) Flood-Bond Progress Reports are a model of government transparency. They provide detailed information, even when the news is not all good. The most recent flood-bond update showed that HCFCD:

  • Awarded one more construction contract during July. The count increased from 46 to 47.
  • Awarded 5 new agreements, down from 11 the previous month.
  • Spent only $8 million on bond projects including:
    • $1 million dollars in grant money – $368 million total up from $367 million the previous month.
    • $6 million in bond funds – $551 million total up from $545 the previous month.
    • $1 million in local funds – $141 million total up from $140 million the previous month.
  • Completed 0.2% more of the projects in the bond – 22% up from 21.8%.
  • Finished 21 more buyouts – 802 up from 781.
  • Stayed at .97 on the Key Performance Indicator Scale – slightly behind schedule.
Step by Step, Project by Project

Updates also show the progress of each bond project in the form of detailed GANNT charts. Check pages 4-9 to see projects in your watershed.

For full report in high-resolution PDF format, click here.
Watershed by Watershed

The next two pages show the amounts spent and funded to date in each watershed. These maps give readers a good idea of where the money goes. Draw your own conclusions and remember the map below when certain politicians tell you some watersheds don’t get anything.

Screen Capture from Page 10 of Full Report
Active Construction

The last two pages describe updates on active maintenance and construction projects with spending on each. They show that – five years after Harvey – the Lake Houston Area still has only two active capital projects in construction. Both are excavation and removal contracts for $1000 each.

Pace of Projects Slowing

From looking at these reports month after month, it feels as though the pace of activity has slowed. We’re 40% of the way through the 10-year flood bond in terms of time, but only 22% complete. The gap is getting wider. Worse…

At the rate of $8 million per month, it would take 500 months to spend the next $4 billion in the bond.

That’s more than 40 years, not the 10 originally planned. We need explanation. But HCFCD executives were not immediately available to provide it due to travel schedules. I will follow up.

MAAPnext Progress

MAAPnext is the county’s effort to update flood-risk maps in the wake of Harvey. There’s not much new to report.

The timeline has slipped three months. In earlier updates, HCFCD indicated new maps would be released in spring/summer this year. Now, the target has slipped to summer/fall. A large portion of the update consisted of trying to explain why. In a sentence, “We’re waiting on FEMA.”

So I tried contacting FEMA. But FEMA could not provide a more precise estimate.

Harris County followed standard practice by submitting its findings to FEMA prior to public release. FEMA is currently reviewing all data and models. It is also producing preliminary Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMS) based on those models. The data will help determine flood insurance premiums as FEMA moves to an actuarial-based system called Risk Rating 2.0.

Next Steps

When FEMA is ready, it will first brief community officials and floodplain administrators, and give them access to preliminary data. Shortly thereafter, FEMA and HCFCD will hold a series of open houses to brief the public. Public comment periods and appeals follow.

So, at best, the new maps will be released in 2024, seven years after Harvey. That’s fairly consistent with the length of time it took to finalize new flood maps after Tropical Storm Allison in 2001. Those maps became official on 6/17/2007.

But this process is far more complex because of Risk Rating 2.0. It includes individual flood-risk assessments for millions of homes. And that risk assessment will now also include street flooding, not just coastal and riverine flooding.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/5/2022

1802 Days since Hurricane Harvey

May Flood-Bond Update Shows Spending Drought in Lake Houston Area Continues

The Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) posted the June 2022 status of 2018 flood-bond expenditures for Commissioners Court last Friday. Among the report’s highlights: the spending drought continues in the Lake Houston Area where only two capital improvement construction projects are active. Their total reported value: $2 thousand. That’s out of more than $235 million in active construction projects during the month of June.

Said another way, the Lake Houston Area is getting less than one-thousandth of 1% of the construction budget (0.000851%). March and April updates show that no new capital improvement construction projects have started in the Lake Houston Area in months.

See last page of full report for high resolution version. Note spending drought in NE portion of county.

Project Highlights

In the good news category, HCFCD:

  • Completed the $480 million Project Brays
  • Finished detention Basins near Little York and Hopper in the Halls Bayou Watershed, with combined 200 acre-feet of storage.
  • Wrapped up Halls Bayou conveyance improvements
  • Began demolition of the old Raveneaux Country Club on Cypress Creek
  • Started drainage repairs in the Carpenters Bayou watershed
  • Issued a purchase order for the Atascocita Area Drainage Study, which had been approved on February 8.
  • Released the Phase II, 1800-page report on flood tunnel feasibility

Spending Breakdowns by Watershed

Harris County contains 23 major watersheds shown below.

The 23 watersheds in Harris County and the amount spent to date from all sources under the 2018 flood bond.

The table and bar graph below make the rank-order and relative magnitude of spending in various watersheds more apparent.

Spending by watershed ranked from high to low. San Jacinto is middle of pack despite being largest watershed in county,
Bar graph of table above.

Factors Affecting Watershed Spending

Several factors affect the magnitude of spending in each watershed. They include:

  • Equity Prioritization Framework – This scoring matrix gives higher priority to projects in low-to-moderate income watersheds that have a high social vulnerability index. Projects with high scores started sooner.
  • Project Lifecycle Stage – Generally speaking, the earlier a project kicked off, the further along it is in its lifecycle. Studies have completed and construction has started or even completed. Some areas that flood repetitively had engineering studies completed and were already shovel-ready after Harvey.
  • Repetitive damage to population centers – More damage in highly populated areas gets more attention.
  • Prior Investment – Sims had massive investment by the Army Corps before Harvey and, comparatively speaking, had less flooding than other watersheds.
  • Partner Funding Availability – Projects with committed local, state or federal matches get higher priority.
  • Buyouts/Right of Way Acquisition – Sometimes entire subdivisions must be bought out to make room for flood mitigation projects. This can delay construction for years.
  • Lobbying – Squeaky wheels play a role on multiple levels.

Usually, no one factor accounts for a project’s or an area’s ranking. But multiple factors – working together – can push an area up or down the list.

Certainly, some areas have suffered spending-wise because of political priorities.

Other Highlights

HCFCD spent a total of $1.05 billion through the end of May. That compares to $1.025 billion through the end of April. So HCFCD spent $25 million in May.

Of the $1.05 billion spent to date, bond funds comprised $545 million. Grants comprised $367 million. And $140 came from other local funds.

HCFCD reported a schedule performance index of .97. That means projects are running slightly behind schedule. On-schedule performance would have earned a 1.0.

Overall, HCFCD has completed 21.8% of the bond projects when we’re 37.5% of the way through the 10-year program (45 months out of 120).

For the complete June update on bond spending, click here. Remember to review the last page. It shows capital improvement construction projects throughout the county and the spending drought in the Lake Houston Area.

Posted by Bob Rehak on June 26, 2022

1762 Days since Hurricane Harvey

First Quarter 2022 Flood-Mitigation Spending Update, New Equity Formula

In the first quarter of 2022, Harris County Flood Control District spent a total of $84 million. That brought the total of flood mitigation spending since 2000 up to almost $3.8 billion.

For the first time since ReduceFlooding.com started tracking these numbers via Freedom of Information Act requests, spending in the Hunting Bayou watershed led all other watersheds. Brays Bayou, the previous front runner, dropped into second place. Cypress Creek, White Oak Bayou, Clear Creek, and Halls and Greens Bayous virtually tied for third place in spending. The San Jacinto Watershed came in 17th despite the fact that it is the largest in the county.

Watershed spending by Harris County Flood Control District last quarter and since 2000. Includes partner funds and all phases of all projects.

The Galveston Bay and Vince Bayou Watersheds had no invoices reported during the quarter. Totals for Jackson and Addicks were restated to account for a change in accounting, resulting in negative numbers. Previously HCFCD reported dollars spent by project management status. The District now reports totals by invoice date. The new method is more precise.

First Quarter 2022 Watershed Rankings

Negative numbers reflect adjustment for change in accounting described above.

Cumulative Spending Since 2000

Ratio between highest and lowest is almost 100 to 1.

Totals Since Harvey

Between Harvey and the end of 2021, HCFCD spent $1.45 billion on all watersheds. The $85 million spent in the first quarter of 2022 brings the total since Harvey up to $1.535 billion.

San Jacinto Watershed

Of the almost half million dollars spent in the San Jacinto Watershed during the first quarter of 2022, virtually all of it was spent on preliminary engineering and design. The Harris County Flood Control District shows only one active capital improvement construction project in the San Jacinto Watershed valued at $1,000. That’s the Excavation and Removal Contract on the Woodridge Village Property to develop additional floodwater detention capacity. Compare that to the $15.6 million spent on construction in Hunting Bayou.

Equity Formula Being Changed Again

The disparity in totals between watersheds largely has to do with Federal partner funding and the equity funding formula passed by three Democrats at Harris County Commissioners Court. The original formula has been revised again and again to send more and more funding to watersheds with high percentages of low-to-moderate income residents. Commissioners started debating another set of changes to the formula today that would apply to money in the Flood Resilience Trust, but did not vote on it.

The changes recommended include:

  • Prioritizing people over structures
  • Eliminating partnership funding from consideration
  • Recommending proxies for FEMA data since 1977
People Over Structures

This change would favor spending in densely populated neighborhoods inside Beltway 8 as opposed to neighborhoods with more single-family homes outside Beltway 8. For example, 100 people could live in an apartment building on a single acre. So could 3 people in a single family home. The only problem: Flood control has no way of determining how many people live in an apartment building. So the District will have to use an average for the watershed, according to Dr. Tina Petersen, the new head of flood control.

Partner Funding

Democrats don’t want to wait for partner funding. They want to start projects right away, using bond money and other funds diverted from the toll road. Using out of pocket money could speed up flood-mitigation projects in low-to-moderate income neighborhoods, but it could also reduce the size of the total pot, jeopardizing badly needed projects somewhere.

Dated Data

Using 1977 data would disadvantage areas outside the Beltway, which was under construction at that time. Places like Kingwood were just beginning to be built. So using the older data from the Seventies would stack the deck in favor of inner-city neighborhoods. However, there was no universal agreement on a suitable substitute for the FEMA damage claims.

“Who Goes First?” No Longer the Issue

These constant changes to an equity formula which was originally conceived as a “Who goes first?” tool, seem to make less and less sense now that all flood bond projects have started. So commissioners are considering these changes in regard to the Flood Resilience Trust. That money will theoretically allow development of more projects when the flood bond expires. But no one has yet determined the list of projects for that money. So Commissioners still have many details to work out.

One huge related detail is developing a plan for how to spend $750 million in HUD partner funds. The county administrator seems to have turfed the assignment to the Community Services Department. Said another way, they took it out of Flood Control and put it in a department that has had four leadership changes in four years.

Out of 154,000 homes in the county damaged by Harvey, Community Services managed to distribute only $21.4 million in repair funds.

No offense. I’m sure this is a difficult job. And I’m sure the county has talented people. But justifying flood-mitigation grants seems to be more of a job for engineers than people who handle claims. The adventure continues. More details in coming weeks.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/26/2022

1701 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Harris County Commissioners Court Discusses What to Do with HUD, Flood Resilience Trust Money

If you managed to watch Harris County Commissioners Court yesterday, near the end you saw a lively and somewhat confusing discussion of flood mitigation funding. See the video at approximately 6:38:10. Agenda Item 249 was a request by Adrian Garcia to discuss disbursement of the $750 million in Community Development Block Grant Mitigation funds allocated to Harris County by the Texas General Land Office (GLO) and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

During the debate, commissioners also discussed approximately $830 million currently sitting in a Flood Resilience Trust that they created last July to compensate for an expected shortfall in flood-bond partner funding.

In the end, Commissioners made no decisions. But it became clear that Commissioners Ellis and Garcia leaned toward spending it in low-to-moderate income neighborhoods, cleaning out roadside ditches, and sharing money with the City of Houston.

Still No Plan for How to Spend $750 Million

HUD and GLO made the award on March 18, contingent on approval of what HUD calls a Method of Distribution (MOD). Basically, that’s a plan for how and where the money would be spent.

Commissioner Ramsey noted that the pursuit of the money was bi-partisan and that he hoped the distribution would be bi-partisan as well.

Commissioner Garcia said he was immensely frustrated because a) he just didn’t know when the $750 million was going to arrive, and b) what strings came with the money.

He then referenced the Flood Resilience Trust created by commissioners last year from toll road and other county funds. “If we’re going to be getting $750 million, then I think those other dollars (approximated $830 million in the Trust) can be put somewhere else for practical use,” said Garcia. He also noted that another hurricane season was fast approaching.

He then asked Dr. Tina Petersen, the new head of the Flood Control District, whether she had a chance to study this and come up with any recommendations. Petersen who has been in her job about a month said, “We’re working on that.” She reiterated that no project has been delayed due to a lack of partnership funding and that she was working hard to ensure none would be.

Garcia, Ellis Argue for More Money in LMI Neighborhoods

Garcia then claimed, without citing a source, that 70% of the people who flooded in an unspecified flood (but presumably Harvey) “are still without a given project.” He also said that $830 million had accumulated in the Flood Resilience Trust to date.

Commissioner Ellis claimed the County and City of Houston should each have gotten $1 billion and that he would continue to fight for the County’s other $250 million, as well as a billion for the City.

Ellis then tried to add up the amount of committed funding in the flood bond to date but forgot to add approximately $1.5 billion in partner funds already committed. Oops! With the $750 million and the money already in the flood resilience trust, the flood bond should be more than fully funded by now.

flood bond funding
As of the start of this year, HCFCD had $1.57 billion in committed partnership funding and $833 million in the flood resilience trust, leaving a gap of $100 million. The $750 million HUD allocation in March should have created a $650 million surplus.But nobody talked about that.

Ellis assumed the $750 million would be spent in Greens, Halls, and Hunting Bayou watersheds. All qualify as low-to-moderate income areas. But if you look at the latest flood-bond project list spreadsheet, Harris County Flood Control District needed $69 million in partner funding for Greens, $269 million for Halls, and $65 million for Hunting. So partner-funding needs for the three watersheds total about $400 million. That leaves about $350 million out of the $750. Nobody, however, even mentioned that in the discussion.

County Administrator Says “Not So Fast”

The County administrator David Berry then pointed out that we don’t have the $750 million yet. “It was not a direct allocation. The county must prepare the method of distribution (MOD) and a citizen participation plan first,” then get them approved by HUD and the GLO.

Then Berry dropped a bomb. He said, HCFCD was proposing projects, but not preparing the documents about how the money would be spent. That tells me the distribution will be based on political, not technical considerations.

Ellis Uses Threat of Title 6 To Support LMI Funding

Ellis concluded the discussion by saying that HUD used a Title 6 complaint as a lever against the GLO, “and if we’re not sensitive to [LMI, Social Vulnerability], there will be a Title 6 Complaint against us.”

Title VI, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d et seq., was enacted as part of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. It prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance.

According to a summary of the Texas CDBG-MIT Action Plan Amendment approved by HUD, HUD requires that at least 50% of total funds must be used for activities benefiting low and moderate income (LMI) persons. However, the summary also states that “all programs will have an LMI priority.”
Click here to see the complete text of the GLO’s action plan amendment approved by HUD on March 18.

Berry didn’t see the LMI focus as a problem, though. He concluded by saying, “The goals of this court in terms of protecting the most people at the highest risk of flooding, and who are the most vulnerable from recovery, all of that seems straight up the alley of the way we should be distributing this money.”  

Ellis Wants More But…

Ellis said that he still wanted to fight for more funding. He felt the City of Houston and the County each deserved $1 billion. And he wanted to fight for another $250 million. He volunteered to fight on the City’s behalf, too. No one told him that all the flood mitigation money had already been committed.

Ellis claimed the City got $0, but HUD and the GLO made a direct allocation to the City of $61,884,000. And the Houston Galveston Area Council (H-GAC) received $488 million.

According to Brittany Eck, a spokesperson for the GLO, “Funding for three competitions, Harris County’s allocation, and the Regional Mitigation Program all totaled more than $3 billion. Entities within H-GAC were either awarded or allocated a little over 56% of that. Congress has not indicated additional funding may be coming, though it could appropriate additional funds at any time. But that is not likely.”

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/6/2022

1681 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Flood Bond Progress: 35% Time Elapsed, 19.4% Money Spent

A February update by Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) on the status of the 2018 Flood Bond showed that 35% of the way into the program (42 out of 120 months), 19.4% of the funds from all sources (including grants and partnerships) had been spent. That percentage was based on $967 million spent out of $5 billion projected.

Cost of Studies vs. Construction

While one percentage seems to lag the other by a factor of almost 2X, HCFCD estimates it is virtually on schedule. That’s because studies conducted up front cost far less than construction. And only 44 of 181 Bond program projects have entered construction at this point (24%). As more projects enter the construction phase, the pace of spending should accelerate.

From High-Level Summary to Nitty-Gritty Detail

The 13-page update features three major sections:

  • Summary statistics for the entire bond program
  • Project flow charts showing status of all projects
  • Watershed maps showing the amount spent to date; funded to date; and the values of all active maintenance and capital projects.
Spending by watershed on HCFCD flood bond projects through the end of February 2022.

Skewed Distribution of Capital Improvement Projects

Out of 75 active capital improvement projects, I counted only 13 in Precincts 3 and 4 which have Republican commissioners. Those contracts totaled only about $82 million out of about $249 million. That’s a testament to how thoroughly the Democrat-controlled Commissioners Court has relentlessly tweaked the Equity Prioritization Framework. For instance…

In northeastern Harris County, the update shows only two active capital projects valued at a whopping $1,000 each.

Of the 13 active capital projects in Precincts 3 and 4, six are E&R contracts valued at just $6,125 altogether. See page 13. The report lists no E&R contracts in Precincts 1 and 2.

Excavation and removal contracts let contractors sell dirt they remove from a site as a way of making back their normal profit margin. They’re a good deal for taxpayers as long as the demand for fill dirt remains high. But if demand slows, excavation progress could stall. In other words, they come with uncertainty attached.

Breakdown of San Jacinto Watershed Projects

Of ten bond projects listed in the San Jacinto Watershed, schedules show:

  • 4 in the feasibility-study phase
  • 2 in preliminary-engineering reviews
  • 1 in construction
  • 3 not yet started.

To see the full February Update presented at the March 22, 2022 Commissioner’s Court Meeting, click here.

The February report did not address a method of distribution for $750 million allocated by HUD and the GLO for flood mitigation to Harris County. The award happened on March 18, 2022 and will likely be covered next month.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/30/2022

1674 Days since Hurricane Harvey

“Excluding” Partner Funds Could Lead to Shortfalls in Flood-Mitigation Funding

The new Harris County Administrator has proposed “excluding” potential partner funds from consideration in the allocation of flood-bond and flood-resilience trust dollars. There’s only one problem with that. Without partner funds, there won’t nearly be enough money to cover all the proposed flood-mitigation projects in the bond, the trust, or future bonds.

The conclusions above come from comparing projected project totals in the 2018 flood bond with the December 2021 flood-bond update that Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) provided to County Commissioners. The exercise also illustrates why people who are TRULY interested in making informed decisions about HCFCD’s Bond Program need to dig deep into the data.

Making conclusions based on hearsay or a glance at a chart could be self-defeating. There is more to the story. 

Partner Funds Make It All Possible

We anticipated 43% of the dollars in the flood bond would come from partners such as FEMA, HUD and the TWDB. We also anticipated it would take another 16% in local matching funds to attract the 43%. So 59% of the flood bond revolved around partner funds. Only 41% was local cash to pay for projects totally out of pocket.

From the project spreadsheet approved by voters in 2018.

Excluding Partner Funds Could Accelerate Construction in LMI Neighborhoods, Deny Others

David Berry, the County Administrator, proposed the partnership exclusion to accelerate construction of projects in Low-to-Moderate Income (LMI) watersheds, such as Halls. Halls, in particular, has waited on grant awards from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) longer than most.

A HUD decision is expected sometime in January, according to the Texas General Land Office, which distributes HUD grants in Texas. So it’s not clear how much residents gain by Berry’s proposal. And they could lose big.

Most of the HUD grant applications for Halls are on a 90:10 basis, meaning the local share is only 10%. So excluding these grants means increasing the local contribution for that portion of the budget by 9X. That could cost local taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. For instance, HCFCD budgeted $500 million for Halls drainage alone. 90% of that is $450 million…to cover 2.4% of the county!

The effect would be to take money from affluent watersheds – which don’t qualify for HUD 90:10 grants – and shift it to LMI watersheds. No one then would get the grants and something would have to give somewhere down the road.

One Third of Way Through Flood Bond: Good Time to Take Stock

At the end of this month, exactly one third (3 years, 4 months) of the 10-year flood bond will have expired. So this is a good time to review spending versus projections.

Thirty-three percent of the way in, we’ve expended a little more than 16% of the flood-bond funds. While that may sound like a slow start, one must consider project lifecycles. Projects start with studies (feasibility, preliminary engineering, final engineering, design). These determine and validate cost projections. They also form the basis for grant applications, a plan and bids. But they are the least expensive part of a project. Together, they comprise only one eighth of project costs.

The expensive parts follow. They include right of way acquisition and construction. Those comprise more than three-quarters of all project costs. See the pie chart below which shows averages for the last two decades.

Average percent of costs in various project stages since 2000. ROW (Right of Way) Acquisition includes purchase of land upon which projects will be built.

For most flood-bond projects, we’re just now getting to the expensive phases. So I wouldn’t worry too much about that 16% overall average right now.

Spent/Unspent Funds by Watershed Gives Greater Insight

You can gain more insight by looking at spent and unspent dollars in each watershed.

Height of bars shows total amount budgeted per watershed in flood bond. Blue areas show dollars spent to date. Does not include any funds spent prior to flood bond.

From the charts above and below, you can see that spending rates vary widely among watersheds. Brays has consumed 57% of its budget already. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Sims has consumed just 1.6% of its. Why the wide variation?

To understand, we need to look at unique circumstances in each watershed. The chart below makes it easier to see actual spending as a percent of the budget that voters approved for each watershed in the flood bond.

Percentages represent the portion of budget spent to date. See discussion below for explanations of ranks.

The height of some of the bars above could be “predicted” by referring to the flood bond equity prioritization framework. Brays and Greens Bayous, for instance, are two watersheds with high percentages of LMI residents (58% and 57% respectively).

But others cannot. More than half the residents in Goose Creek/Spring Gully, Hunting, White Oak, Halls, Vince and Sims Watersheds also qualify as LMI. But dollars spent to date in those watersheds are far lower as a percent of the total budget. To see why, you need to put the numbers in a bigger context that includes:

Investment Prior to Flood Bond

Size of Total Budget for Each Watershed

Percentage of Partner Funds

Grant Application Status

Stage of Project Lifecycle

Bigger Context Shows Reasons for Variance

Brays and Greens had a large number of shovel-ready projects that had already been studied and approved when the flood bond passed. They were just waiting for dollars to become available. So they had head starts.

Other factors explain LMI watersheds further down the curve:

  • Sims received $380 million in federal funding for 23 Army Corps projects that finished construction by 2015. As a result, Sims was the only bayou in Harris County that stayed within its banks during Harvey. None of that spending shows up in the Bond Program charts. Because it’s already done! 
  • White Oak received full funding in the Bi-Partisan Budget Act of 2018. The Army Corps also started addressing many projects there before the flood bond.
  • Vince lies wholly within the City of Pasadena and is primarily the City’s responsibility.
  • Halls is the poorest watershed (71% LMI) and has only spent 6% of its projected budget to date. Lest you attribute this to racism, understand that the bond allocated more than HALF A BILLION DOLLARS to Halls. In percentage terms, the $29 million dollars spent to date looks small. But in absolute dollars, it outranks 15 other watersheds.
  • Far more affluent watersheds – such as Buffalo Bayou, Cedar Bayou, the San Jacinto River, Barker, Willow Creek, Armand Bayou, Galveston, Luce Bayou and Jackson Bayou – have each received fewer dollars from the flood bond than Halls.

HCFCD had just finished a watershed plan for Halls Bayou in 2018 when the flood bond passed. That explains the size of the watershed budget as well as the late start compared to Brays, White Oak, Greens, and Sims.

Other factors also explain affluent watersheds further up the spending curve, such as Little Cypress. HCFCD started working on that watershed long before the flood bond, too. Dollars spent to date on Little Cypress primarily reflect right-of-way acquisition costs, not construction. It’s also important to understand that the total budget for Little Cypress is only 37% of the total budget for Halls.

Creating a Win-Win For Everyone

In another three years and four months, these charts will look totally different than the ones you see today. Construction costs will surge for some and be long gone in the rear view mirror for others.

In my opinion, we need to stop creating chaos with endless tinkering in the bond program. The people have spoken. Leaders should listen. Let’s stop changing the allocation formula, focus on construction, and work like hell to win those grants. Then everybody wins.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/28/2021

1582 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Flood-Bond Update through End of November 2021

At the last meeting of Harris County Commissioners Court, Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) released a flood-bond update that shows spending through the end of November 2021. It provides a quick and easy way to see what your money is being spent on and where it is going. This differs from data reported recently from my FOIA Request. That data goes back to 2000 and looks at data pre- and post-Harvey, not just the start of the flood bond.

November Highlights

Below, some of the highlights from the November spending update:

  • Professional services invoices paid to date total $296 million. In November, payments totaled $338 thousand. Three quarters of that amount went to minority- or women-owned businesses.
  • HCFCD has awarded $354 million in construction contracts. Five more were awarded last month totaling $335 thousand.
  • Total spending since the approval of the flood bond through the end of November totaled $885 million. Of that, $447 million came directly from bond funds. Another $321 million came from grants. Other local funds totaled $117 million.
  • Three years into a ten year bond program, we’ve expended 17.9% of the anticipated total.
  • Home buyouts continue to drag out. HCFCD has completed 676, but 613 remain in the pipeline.

GANNT Charts Show Progress in All Watersheds

The San Jacinto River Basin has 10 active projects in various stages of development. Cypress Creek has 10. And Spring Creek has 4. To see what stage they are at, see the GANNT Charts on Pages 4 through 9.

Brays Leads Dollar Derby By Wide Margin

Brays Bayou still leads the dollar derby by a factor of two compared to the next three contenders. Brays has received $162 million flood-bond dollars to date. Cypress Creek, Addicks, and Greens Bayou have each received approximately half that. Then there are all others.

Where your flood-bond dollars have gone through the end of Nov 21..

This report PDF also contains maps that show:

  • Dollars spent in each watershed through the end of November.
  • Dollars funded in each watershed through the end of November.
  • Active maintenance projects and their values in December.
  • Active capital projects and their values in December.

The visual nature of this report makes it easy to see where your money is going at a glance.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/20/2021

1574 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Move by Dems Could Mean Flood-Bond Projects in Outlying Neighborhoods Never Get Built

Harris County Commissioners Court considered a motion today by the County Administrator to change the prioritization of flood-bond projects for the fourth time. By a 3-2 party-line vote, they approved a proposal that could soon lead to depriving outlying neighborhoods of flood bond funding. The vote today was preliminary. Before they take a final vote, they will submit the proposal to the Community Flood Resilience Task Force (CFRTF) for input, then take a final vote in 60 days. Based on past experience, the CFRTF will likely rubber stamp the three recommendations in the proposal:

  • Exclusion of partner funding
  • Inclusion of street flooding in 500 year floodplain
  • Counting people not structures when measuring benefits

Exclusion of Partner Funding

The exclusion of partner funding will mean that 90% match grants from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will no longer be available to anyone. Inner city neighborhoods will use flood-bond money to complete their projects instead of HUD money. And more affluent, outlying neighborhoods do not qualify for HUD grants.

County Judge Lina Hidalgo, Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis, and Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia all admitted during debate that there wasn’t enough money to complete all the bond projects. But they voted to consider the allocation changes regardless.

Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle and Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey also agreed there wasn’t enough money to complete all bond projects. However, they voted against the proposal.

The 3-2 vote will send the proposal to the CFRTF for input. To date, the CFRTF has rubber stamped everything proposed by Democrats that benefits low-to-moderate income (LMI), inner-city neighborhoods at the expensive of outlying neighborhoods.

That means construction funds may not be available for outlying projects by the time inner city neighborhoods complete theirs.

Those who compiled the list of bond projects were counting on approximately $2.5 billion in partner funding. The Flood Control District has already secured more than a billion just three years into a ten year bond. But this move could now jeopardize a large portion of the remaining partner funding.

Inclusion of Street Flooding

Not one project in the flood bond addressed street flooding. That is not within HCFCD’s scope of responsibility.

Regardless, Commissioner Garcia said, “People don’t care where they flood from. They just want it fixed.” He never addressed the budget issue or who was responsible for cleaning out those roadside ditches – Garcia, Ellis, Turner and other City mayors!

Expanding the scope of the bond and eliminating partner funding will mean even fewer dollars left over to address flooding in outlying neighborhoods.

I have photographed hundreds of clogged roadside ditches like these in watersheds inside Beltway 8. Dems now want to use what’s left of your flood bond money to clean them out even though the flood bond never mentioned them.

Counting People Not Structures

Typically, the objective of flood-mitigation projects is to remove structures, not people, from a flood plain. By counting people, not structures, in an evaluation matrix, you push funding toward more densely populated neighborhoods. Normally, helping more people is good. But what if the density is vertical, not horizontal?

Let me give you an example. Consider an apartment building with a hundred residents. But none lives on the ground floor.

Now consider 25 single family homes each with three people. All live on the ground floor.

Project A could take a 100 people out of the flood plain whose apartments would not flood. Project B would take 75 people out of the floodplain and prevent damage to 25 structures that would flood. Should A or B get the flood-mitigation project?

This provision would also drive funding away from outlying neighborhoods which generally have fewer apartments.

The People Spoke and Are Being Ignored

The People – with a Capital P – voted on the flood-bond and approved it overwhelmingly. Now its being repeatedly changed by a few individuals to push ever more funding to inner-city neighborhoods which already get the lion’s share. These latest moves could deprive outlying neighborhoods of construction dollars needed to complete projects.

Seems to me that the three Dems and their proxies are depriving half the county of their votes and taxes.

The two Republicans on Commissioners Court, Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle and Precinct 3 Commission Tom Ramsey, argued against the changes.

Commissioner Cagle argued that “We must do what we say. We must work on projects in the bond.” He went on, “Changing the projects included in the 2018 flood bond is a bad idea. The promises we made to voters in 2018 are sacred. While I support the concept of asking to finance more flood mitigation projects in the future, the public has to know that we can be trusted to keep our word.”

Top 4 LMI Watersheds Receive 53% of All Funding since 2000

However, when you look at spending to date and the ever-changing “equity” guidelines, we’re far from approaching anything that resembles equity. And we’re getting farther from it with each round of changes to the so-called “equity” guidelines.

Four LMI watersheds out of 23 (Greens, Sims, Brays and White Oak) have received 53% of ALL funding since 2000, yet their representatives complain about historical prejudice and demand more.

Analysis of HCFCD Spending Data from 1/1/2000 through Q3 2021 obtained via FOIA request

For the record, that’s $1.6 billion out of $3.1 billion during the period of comparison.

Top LMI Watersheds Get More than Twice as Much as Top NON-LMI Watersheds

Comparing those 4 LMI watersheds with the most dollars to the four NON-LMI watersheds with the most, we can see that LMI watersheds have received more than two dollars for every dollar received by a non-LMI watershed.

Pie represents total dollars spent among top four LMI and NON-LMI watersheds. An LMI watershed is one where more than half the residents earn below the average annual income for the region.

The four LMI watersheds receiving the most money included Brays, Greens, Sims, and White Oak Bayous.

The four NON-LMI watersheds receiving the most included Cypress Creek, Addicks, San Jacinto and Buffalo.

All dollars include HCFCD and partner spending from 1/1/2000 through Sept. 30, 2021.

Bottom 4 LMI Watersheds Get 3X More than Bottom 4 NON-LMI

At the opposite end of the spectrum, the four LMI watersheds receiving the least money have received 3X more dollars than the four lowest NON-LMI watersheds since 2000.

Comparison of total dollars spent in the four lowest LMI and NON-LMI watersheds since 2000 through the end of Q3 2021.

There are only 8 LMI watersheds hence the comparison of groups of four.

  • The four LMI receiving the least dollars since 2000 include Halls, Hunting, Goose Creek/Spring Gully, and Vince.
  • The four NON-LMI watersheds receiving the least include Luce, Galveston, Jackson and Carpenters.

But what about those other NON-LMI watersheds in the middle of the spending pack? Simple. Altogether, the scale is already so tilted, they can’t tilt the balance back much. See comparison below of ALL LMI and NON-LMI watersheds.

LMI vs. Non-LMI flood-mitigation funding
LMI vs. Non-LMI flood-mitigation funding through Q3 2021 for ALL watersheds. Note Non-LMI watersheds outnumber LMI watersheds almost 2:1, yet have gotten only a little more than a third of total funding.

Partner Funding Also Favors LMI Watersheds, Not Affluent Ones

Anyone who doubts the percentages above can check my calculations. Here’s the raw spending data for each watershed with percentages of low-to-moderate income residents – including pre- and post-Harvey spending.

I’ve also included partnership funding since 2000 for each watershed. Because the dollars involved vary widely and because Non-LMI watersheds outnumber LMI watersheds 2:1, the fairest way to compare partner funding is by looking at it as a percentage of total funding for each watershed since 2000.

Watersheds with a high percentage of LMI residents are not disadvantaged in total spending or partner funding. LMI watersheds are those with a percent of LMI residents above 50%.

During that period, 26% of all flood mitigation funding in Harris County has come from partners, such as FEMA, HUD, the Army Corps, TWDB or cities. However, LMI watersheds have attracted a higher percentage of partner spending: 30%.

While that’s not a huge advantage, it shows conclusively that LMI watersheds, as a rule, are not disadvantaged when it comes to partnership funding.

The correlation between total dollars and partnership dollars spent in all watersheds is not a perfect (1.0), but very high at .79.

In fact, the two highest partner percentages both belong to LMI watersheds (Sims at 55% of the watershed total and White Oak at 33%). The two lowest partner percentages belong to two of the most affluent watersheds (Willow Creek at 6% and and Barker at 3%).

This debunks another myth frequently heard in commissioners court, i.e., that partner dollars always go to the watersheds with the highest home values.

Conclusion: Organize, Protest

Outlying communities must organize and protest en masse before commissioners take a final vote on shifting even more dollars to LMI communities based on bad information. If they change the deal on this flood bond, they’ll do it again on the next.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/14/2020

1568 Days since Hurricane Harvey

The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.