Tag Archive for: glo

This Disaster Preparedness Video Will Make You Smile

The Texas General Land Office (GLO) has produced a disaster preparedness video guaranteed to make you smile. It features GLO Commissioner Dawn Buckingham, MD, unpacking a disaster preparedness kit with several very young and very cute Texans. The 3-minute video is both informative and fun. Make sure you watch it with your children or grandchildren.

Every Texan, regardless of age should know how to pack a go-bag.  Said Buckingham, “Including your children in your planning and preparations helps ensure the next generation will be ready for potential severe weather events. Plus, you just never know what they’ll say!”

Click here to watch the video on YouTube.

Importance of Disaster Preparedness

Whether excessive heat waves, powerful tornadoes or damaging hurricanes, it is important to be prepared to evacuate. Texas has had 372 declared disasters since 1953. That’s more than five per year!

Of Texas’ total declarations, more than 30% happened in August or later. Evacuations are more common than most may think, and few disasters come with a lot of warning time.

Important Steps

As we approach the peak of hurricane season in the next month, the GLO encourages all Texans to prepare by doing the following:

  • Know Your Risk – Sign up for your community’s emergency warning system. The Harris County Flood Warning System lets you customize flood alerts by the watershed you live in, the gages nearest you, the amount of rainfall, and the water level in the nearest stream/river. The Emergency Alert System (EAS) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio also provide emergency alerts.
  • Make Your Evacuation Plan – Check with local officials about updated evacuation shelters for this year. Know where your family will meet up if you are separated and where you will stay. Pack a “go bag” including items you need to take with you if you evacuate. A “go bag” should be easy to carry and kept in a place where you can grab it quickly. Check with drivetexas.org to find routes near you. To find a shelter near you, download the FEMA app at fema.gov/mobile-app.
  • Gather Supplies – Plan for your entire household including children, people with disabilities or access/functional needs, and pets.
  • Secure Documents – Remember to secure copies of important personal documents. Filing for government assistance requires documentation. Be sure to keep documents in a secure location and take them with you if you need to evacuate. Place these documents in a waterproof bag and back them up on cloud storage or a thumb drive.
  • Photograph the condition of your home and the items in it. That may prove valuable when making insurance claims.

For More Disaster Preparedness Information

Download the GLO’s Disaster Evacuation Checklist for more information. Find resources for family and pet preparedness at www.recovery.texas.gov/preparedness.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/14/2023

2176 Days since Hurricane Harvey

GLO Suggests Plan to Streamline Flood Mitigation in Harris County

Citing the urgent need to spend half of a billion flood-mitigation dollars quickly, the Texas General Land Office (GLO) has made a common-sense suggestion to streamline flood mitigation in Harris County. It recommended making Harris County Flood Control District a “direct recipient” (rather than a “sub-recipient”) of the half billion dollars carved out of $750 million awarded to the County in 2021.

Harris County Commissioners put Community Services, not Flood Control, in charge of managing the $750 million award. But Flood Control is spending two thirds of the money.

The GLO suggestion would streamline working relationships, speed up mitigation, and give Harris County a fighting chance to spend the money before the deadline.

Following the Money

In May 2021, the GLO recommended allocating $750 million of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) money to Harris County for Harvey mitigation and recovery. In March 2022, HUD approved the recommendation.

Later that year, Harris County Commissioners Court decided to have its Community Services Department (CSD) administer the funds rather than Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD).

Since then, CSD recommended giving two-thirds of the money to HCFCD and distributing the rest to various entities within the county. But so far, CSD has only received one application from a potential partner. And six years after Harvey, none of the money has yet been spent moving dirt to reduce flood risk for Harris County residents.

Meanwhile, the county is under HUD deadlines to use the money quickly or lose it.

So, on June 20, 2023, Mark Havens, Deputy Commissioner of the GLO, asked County Judge Lina Hidalgo to make HCFCD a direct recipient. Hidalgo reportedly did not reply to the letter.

The change would shorten lines of communication and reduce layers of administration while speeding up mitigation, protecting residents, and hopefully beating the imminent HUD “use it or lose it” deadlines.

Going into the third year since the announcement of the $750 million flood-mitigation award, none of the money has yet been spent.

Commissioners Court Will Discuss Issue on Tuesday

After more than six months of deliberation, CSD eventually allocated $502.5 million to HCFCD from the $750 million. CSD was then going to allocate most of the rest to unspecified sub-recipients within the county after soliciting applications from potential partners.

However, on next Tuesday’s Commissioner Court agenda, Item 401 reveals…

CSD has found only one entity interested in applying for any of the remaining money in more than six months.

Backup to Harris County Commissioners Court Agenda Item 401

The July 18 Commissioners Court agenda also contains a motion by Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia to approve the GLO proposal. See Item 331.

The County is under two “use it or lose it” deadlines for the funds. And GLO is under pressure from HUD.

How NOT to Advertise for Applications

As of this morning, 7/16/23, CSD’s web page that solicits applications has not been updated for two months. It still talks about a May 4th meeting in the future tense.

Screen Capture from solicitation announcement page on 7/16/23.

It also contains some hysterical typos in the first line above. “Applicant’s Conference” singular? “Question” singular? They expected to have only one attendee and one question!?

Worse, it takes a lot of work to find the application web page. CSD’s home page has no direct link. The architecture of CSD’s site revolves around consumer issues such as rent relief and bus ridership, not applicants for mitigation projects.

To get to the $250 million pot of gold at the end of this rainbow from the CSD Home Page, one must click on:

  • Links
  • Harris Recovery (a separate web site)

Not very intuitive! CSD blames the lack of response on a $20 million funding limit. That may be so. But the first rule of sales is, “Make it easy for the customer.” And that certainly didn’t happen here.

Projects Put on Hold While $250 Million Sits on Table

Management turnover has also plagued CSD. Under Lina Hidalgo, the department has had six different directors in 4.5 years.

To make matters worse, under Hidalgo, HCFCD has had four leaders in the last TWO years.

Meanwhile HCFCD is still looking for money to complete projects in low-to-moderate income neighborhoods. Moreover, Harris County Engineering is putting subdivision drainage projects on hold for lack of funding. And all this is happening while a quarter of a billion dollars is still sitting on the table.

I hope Judge Hidalgo, Commissioner Garcia and Commissioner Ellis can connect those dots and streamline flood mitigation quickly.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/16/23

2147 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.

HUD Clouds Future of Flood-Mitigation Funding in Texas

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has clouded the future of dozens of Texas flood-mitigation projects worth billions of dollars.

HUD has alleged racial discrimination by the Texas General Land Office (GLO), which distributes HUD money in Texas. HUD based its finding of discrimination on complaints by two advocacy groups. The complaints stem from a statewide competition – the first of several rounds of HUD awards relating to Hurricane Harvey.

Now, deadlines for actually spending the money are fast approaching. But the uncertainty created by the racial discrimination allegations is causing entities that won HUD grants to question whether HUD will revoke funding and leave half-completed projects in limbo.

The GLO vehemently denies all allegations of discrimination and points out that:

  • HUD imposed the key rule governing competition for grants now in dispute
  • HUD approved the competition’s scoring criteria
  • More than two thirds of the beneficiaries of the funds are Black and Hispanic
  • 100% of the mitigation projects benefitted communities with a majority of low-to-moderate income (LMI) residents, when only 50% was required
  • GLO and HUD ultimately awarded Houston-area entities about $1.5 billion.

Allegations by Texas Housers and Northeast Action Collective

According to the Houston Chronicle, two advocacy groups (Texas Housers and the Northeast Action Collective) filed charges of racial discrimination after the first round of Harvey grant awards in 2021. They allege that the Houston area got zero dollars and are standing by their accusations, despite all the money the area received at the time and since then. (See amounts in timeline below.)

When developing the competition for Harvey grants, HUD insisted that the GLO could not base awards on actual flood damage. Regardless, Texas Housers and the Northeast Action Collective complained that rural areas received the majority of funding even though Houston and Harris County had the majority of flood damage.

After results of the competition became apparent, GLO attempted to remedy the rural/urban disparity by recommending to HUD that $750 million in remaining Harvey competition funds should go to Harris County – without a second competition. HUD approved.

GLO also recommended increasing the amount going to the Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC) from the Regional Mitigation Program. H-GAC’s allocation more than doubled from $209 million to $488 million – again without a second competition. And again, HUD approved.

Regardless, HUD’s “finding” of discrimination based on allegations by the two advocacy groups still stands. Moreover, HUD issued administrative subpoenas to depose GLO executives, even though the Department of Justice (DOJ) already reviewed the racial discrimination complaints and declined to pursue them.

This mess is like throwing trip wires in front of exhausted marathon contestants.

While GLO defended its actions with more than 1,000 pages of documentation, HUD has reportedly produced only a four-page letter laying out vague generalizations.

HUD has not responded to requests from the GLO or ReduceFlooding.com for specifics regarding the allegations.

Uncertainty, Fear of Clawbacks Slow Progress

After spending years and millions of dollars to win HUD grants, the award winners now face the specter of not having enough money to finish their projects should Texas Housers and the Northeast Action Collective succeed.

Imagine your bank rescinding a mortgage commitment after you bought a lot and began building a new home.

Worse, HUD could try to claw back the money that grantees have already spent. According to GLO, many of the smaller communities awarded grants don’t have the funds to pay back HUD should that happen.

Faced with that kind of uncertainty, some awardees are reluctant to start construction on their projects – even though they face two looming “use it or lose it” deadlines. The first is only three years away – barely enough time to complete many projects.

As a result, the GLO issued a scathing press release last week, accusing HUD of “destabilizing vital funding.”

Timeline: Who Got What, When?

Is all that chaos necessary? Not if you look at the final score as opposed to the first inning. Houston and Harris County received far more than “zero dollars.” See below.

2017: Harvey

Hurricane Harvey strikes Texas. Presidential disaster declaration.

2018: Congressional Action

On February 9, 2018, Congress approves mitigation funds for 2015 and 2016 floods as well as Harvey-eligible areas. Two months later, HUD allocated money to Texas.

2019: Federal Register Notice

On August 30, 2019, HUD finally published the Federal Register notice enabling the State of Texas to proceed in drafting an action plan for the CDBG-MIT funds. GLO then conducted a public outreach campaign and collected thousands of comments from 117 meetings and 936 individuals. 

2020: HUD Approves Action Plan

HUD finally approved the GLO action plan which called for conducting a statewide competition for funding. The scoring criterion included in the state action plan for distribution of the funds was approved by HUD on March 27, 2020.

May 21, 2021: First Awards

The first $1.1 billion was awarded in the statewide competition:

  • Harris County municipalities received $117 million, not “zero” as the Chronicle article and certain local politicians claimed.
  • More than two thirds of the funding went to Black and Hispanic communities, according to the GLO.
  • 100% of the mitigation projects benefitted communities with a majority of low-to-moderate income (LMI) residents.
May 26, 2021: Second Awards

A mere five days later, GLO requested a direct allocation of $1.2 billion without a competition for Harris County and H-GAC. That included:

  • $488 million for H-GAC to distribute to municipalities throughout the region
  • $750 million for Harris County.
March 18, 2022

HUD approves GLO request for second batch of awards. From its $750 million, Harris County will spend:

  • $97.5 million for administration and planning
  • $502.5 million for 2018 Flood Control Bond Projects
  • $100 million for Partnership Projects, i.e., with City of Houston
  • $50 million for Other County Flood Mitigation Projects.
June 6, 2023: Third Award

GLO recently reallocated $322.5 million in unspent disaster relief funds from Harvey to Harris County Flood Control for mitigation projects. This is in addition to $222,519,672 Harris County received in infrastructure funding from the initial CDBG-DR allocation. 

Still, the Chronicle article alleges that the GLO somehow ran afoul of of the Civil Rights Act and Fair Housing laws by giving the Houston area “zero.”

The DOJ took less than 48 hours to review and dismiss the claim. But the continued legal harassment by HUD is distracting the GLO from its vital mission as deadlines loom.

Could this be politically inspired? Two Houston-based politicians running for election next year have close ties to the groups making the claims. More on that in a future post.

Baseless Racial Discrimination Accusations Have Backfired

Despite the vast majority of Harris County flood-control spending since 2000 already going to LMI areas, the baseless charges of racial discrimination seem to have backfired on Texas Housers and Northeast Action Collective.

In one notable instance, the Northeast Action Collective brought more than a hundred members to a Commissioners Court meeting. They pushed the meeting into the wee hours of the next day, repeatedly demanding the resignations of key Harris County Flood Control executives. Since their resignations in 2021 and January 2022, flood control spending has steadily declined – exposing the constituents that the groups represent to more flood risk.

HCFCD Spending by Year since 2000
Data obtained from HCFCD via FOIA request. Covers 1/1/2000 through 3/31/2023.

And the effects are across Harris County. For instance, in the first quarter of this year compared to the fourth quarter of last year, spending was down in two thirds of the county’s 23 watersheds.

watershed spending increases/decreases between 4Q22 and 1Q23
Data obtained from HCFCD via FOIA Request. Only significant increase was in Greens Bayou watershed.

The HUD/Houser/Collective accusations could produce a similar outcome across Texas – backfiring again.

HUD refuses to discuss its allegations of racial discrimination. HUD did not respond to a ReduceFlooding request for an interview, nor would it meet with GLO Commissioner Dawn Buckingham MD.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/8/23

2139 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.

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.

GLO Announces Regional Mitigation-Project Approvals Totaling $128 Million

Two pieces of good news came out of the Texas General Land Office (GLO) in two days! Yesterday, the GLO announced that both Houston and Harris County met their respective expenditure goals for Harvey disaster-relief funds. Today, Commissioner Dawn Buckingham M.D. announced the approval of more than another $128 million worth of flood-mitigation projects in the region.

This batch of funds includes several major projects in the north Houston region:

  • City of Dayton received $1.45 million for sewer rehabilitation.
  • Liberty County received $21.27 million to develop a master-drainage plan and make drainage improvements.
  • Waller County received $6.7 million for drainage improvements and another $2 million for Prairie View Water Improvements and a Planning study.

Of these, the Liberty County batch stands out for its sheer size. And Liberty County will need it. That’s because of the recently completed Grand Parkway. It cuts a wide arc through the county’s farms and fields. Thousands of acres are currently under development thanks to improved transportation. And they will stress local watersheds, such as the San Jacinto East Fork and Luce Bayou.

Intersection of State Highway 99 (Grand Parkway) and FM1960 shortly before grand opening last year.
Just north of the Grand Parkway, Colony Ridge is doubling in size.

Another Liberty County example.

FM2090 at East Fork of the San Jacinto in Liberty County on May 3, 2021. New development has flooded Plum Grove and areas farther south along the East Fork.

And another.

FM 1010
Also in Plum Grove, FM1010 washed out at Rocky Branch during Harvey and has yet to be repaired.

Scope of HUD/GLO Awards

The GLO awarded the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funds to improve street, water and drainage facilities in Brazoria, Fort Bend, Galveston, Jefferson, Liberty, Matagorda, Nueces, Polk, San Jacinto, and Waller Counties.

This is a separate tranche of money from the Houston and Harris County disaster-relief funds discussed in yesterday’s post.

$128,208,664 will benefit 19 federally eligible infrastructure projects to improve streets as well as water and drainage facilities. The cities of Aransas Pass, Coldspring, Corrigan, Dayton, Freeport, Hitchcock, Iowa Colony, Katy, La Marque, Palacios, Pearland, Richwood, Rosenberg, Shepherd, Texas City, and the counties of Jefferson, Liberty, and Waller will all receive the mitigation dollars.

Difference Between Disaster Relief and Flood Mitigation

Disaster relief dollars help individuals recover from past floods. Mitigation dollars, on the other hand, help strengthen infrastructure against future floods.

According to the GLO, HUD defines mitigation as “Activities that increase resilience to disasters and reduce or eliminate the long-term risk of loss of life, injury, damage to and loss of property, and suffering and hardship, by lessening the impact of future disasters.”

Locally-Led Methods of Distribution

The approvals announced today will filter down to cities and counties through regional councils of governments (COGs), such as the Houston-Galveston Area Council (HGAC).

Through its Regional Mitigation Program, the GLO enabled local prioritization. This local prioritization will have a tremendous impact across multiple regions, according to Commissioner Buckingham.

“Locally-led prioritization of mitigation projects is important because it strengthens critical infrastructure and protects communities against the impacts of natural disasters,” said Buckingham. “At the Texas General Land Office, we are not only helping those in need, but also supporting our communities as they grow.”

Who Will Get What

The table below shows a high-level description and the award amount for each of the 19 projects. For detailed descriptions of each project, click the caption below the table.

For project descriptions, click here.

How the Money Got from D.C. to Texas Projects on the Ground

The Texas General Land Office (GLO) allocated $1,166,997,000 in Community Development Block Grant Mitigation (CDBG-MIT) funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for the Regional Mitigation Program. The program aims to reduce the risks and impacts of future natural disasters.

Each Council of Government (COG) with HUD-designated eligible counties developed a method of distribution (MOD) for allocation of funds to units of local governments. Each COG developed its MOD through extensive public participation.

HUD requires that at least 50% of total funds must be used for activities benefiting low- to moderate-income (LMI) persons.

For more information, please visit recovery.texas.gov/mitigation.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/20/23

2121 Days since Hurricane Harvey

A First: Houston, Harris County Both Meet HUD/GLO Disaster-Relief Benchmarks in Same Time Period

The Texas General Land Office (GLO) announced today that for the first time ever since Hurricane Harvey, both Houston and Harris County have each met their benchmarks for expending disaster relief funds – in the SAME time period. They may have individually met performance benchmarks before, but never together in the same review period.

Both Harris County and Houston have semiannual expenditure benchmarks in their Community Development Block Grant Disaster Relief funding contracts with the GLO, per HUD guidance. “These milestones were set by the City and County and approved by the GLO to ensure all programs will be completed as timely as possible,” said a GLO spokesperson.

A New Era of Cooperation Yielding Results Already

Dawn Buckingham, M.D., the new GLO Commissioner credits open communications and focused cooperation. “The GLO is dedicated to helping Harris County and the City of Houston put these vital funds to good use.”

GLO Commissioner Dawn Buckingham, M.D., speaking at a joint press conference in March. Others L to R: Harris County Community Services Interim Exec Director Thao Costis, HCFCD Exec Director Dr. Tina Petersen, P4 Commissioner Lesley Briones, P2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia, P3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey PE, P1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis, County Attorney Christian Menefee.

This is good news. In years past, the relationship between Houston, Harris County, GLO and HUD foundered over performance benchmarks, cooperation and communication. But now, new players are in place. And 5+ years after Harvey, the City, County and State all face “use it or lose it” deadlines from HUD.

More Money Hangs in Balance

While the performance benchmarks in question have to do only with unexpended, Harvey-related, disaster-relief funds, much more money hangs in the balance.

The success of the relationship will also affect $750 million in CDBG-mitigation funds and another $322 million in unspent funds that the GLO shifted from expiring projects to Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD).

Earlier this month, HCFCD presented Commissioners Court with a proposed project list for those funds. HCFCD is reportedly still trying to define the areas benefited by each of those projects before final approval. However, HUD and the GLO seem pleased with both the progress and the collaborative working relationships that have developed.

Everyone seems to respond positively to Dr. Buckingham’s working style – described as “supportive,” yet “results oriented.”

  • Commissioner Adrian Garcia stated publicly, “I want to give a shout out to the GLO and Commissioner Buckingham for her support of Harris County and giving us a degree of trust.”
  • Commissioner Tom Ramsey complimented the fairness of project list, noting that it worked out to about 25% for each precinct. He stated, “job well done by the whole.” 
  • Commissioner Lesley Briones said, “This is so wonderful that we were able to hit reset and really focus on the progress going forward.” 

Nature Provides Its Own Deadlines

It can’t happen soon enough for Harris County residents who live under constant threat of floods. Monday afternoon, Tropical Storm Brett formed in the Atlantic. Another storm with an 80% chance of formation in the next 7 days follows closely behind. That’s up from 50% yesterday afternoon.

National Hurricane Center update as of 10:45AM EDT Tuesday, June 20, 2023

It’s too early to tell with any reliability where/whether/when either of these disturbances will make landfall.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/19/2023

2120 Days since Hurricane Harvey and Updated on 6/20/2023 with new storm information and photo.

Harris County Approves $825 Million Flood-Mitigation Project List For HUD/GLO Funds

On June 6, 2023, Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) recommended to Commissioners Court a flood-mitigation and disaster-relief project list totaling $825 million. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) allocated the funds to Harris County via the Texas General Land Office (GLO). The projects will require another $145 million in local-match funds from the 2018 Flood Bond. Thus, the projects are worth close to a billion dollars.

Commissioners Court unanimously approved the project list with little discussion. Each precinct will receive a relatively equal amount of projects and funding, according to Commissioner Ramsey.

Two Buckets of Money

The money comes in two buckets: Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery funds totaling $322.5 million and hazard mitigation funds totaling $502.5 million. HCFCD intends to use both primarily for channel improvements and stormwater-detention-basin projects.

Further, HCFCD has divided its project list into primary and backup recommendations.

Factors Used to Determine Recommendations

HCFCD developed the project list with the following factors in mind:

HUD normally gives priority to projects that help minority and low-income areas. However, the two major buckets have different LMI requirements. They also have different deadlines.

HCFCD must spend 100% of the Disaster-Relief (DR) funds by August 2026. And they must benefit areas where 70% of the residents qualify as LMI (below the average income for the region).

The Mitigation funds have more time and a 50% LMI requirement. No less than 50% of the $750,000,000 – from which the $502.5 is carved – must be expended by January 12, 2027, with the full balance expended by January 12, 2032.

So the DR funds have more urgency attached to them and that list includes projects closest to “construction ready.”

Reason for Backup Projects

According to HCFCD, the project list will likely evolve based on review by GLO, project schedules and project costs. Budgets are estimates based upon today’s dollars. They will change as projects advance. 

Fatal flaws may also become visible as projects advance toward construction. So, HCFCD requested and received permission to substitute alternate projects as needed if the intended projects become non-viable.  

1 Recommended, 1 Alternate Project in Lake Houston Area

The “recommended” list includes one primary project in the Lake Houston Area: Taylor Gully Improvements.

It also includes one project on the alternate list: the Woodridge Village Stormwater Detention Basin, part of which is already under construction.

Locations of HCFCD Mitigation and Disaster-Relief project recommendations

9 Upstream Projects

HCFCD is also recommending nine upstream projects on tributaries that feed into Lake Houston.

Primary recommendations include:

  • Upper Cypress Creek Floodplain Preservation
  • Part 3 of the Kluge Stormwater Detention Basin on Little Cypress Creek
  • Rehabilitation of the Kickerillo Mischer Preserve Channel on Cypress Creek
  • Boudreaux Stormwater Detention Basin Part 1 on Willow Creek
  • Channel Rehabilitation, Batch 5 on the Main Stem of Cypress Creek
  • East and West TC Jester Detention Basins on the Main Stem of Cypress Creek
  • Detention for Channel Rehabilitation on the Main Stem of Cypress Creek, Batch 5

Alternate recommendations include:

  • Boudreaux Stormwater Detention Basin Phase II on Willow Creek
  • Mercer Stormwater Detention Basin on Cypress Creek

Click here to see the full list of projects.

Project-Specific Data Available Soon

The project list does not include information on how much these projects would contribute to flood reduction – either locally or downstream. However, HCFCD expects to post that information to its website before the projects go to the GLO for approval in the coming months.

Partnership-Funding Gap Affected

Likewise, HCFCD did not include with this list an estimate of how much it would affect the partner-funding gap.

Some time ago, HCFCD projected that it could finish all the projects in the flood bond using a combination of:

  • Taxpayer approved funds
  • Partner funds already committed
  • Harris County Toll Road Authority money allocated to the Flood Resilience Trust.

But to finish all the projects in the Flood Bond, HCFCD “phased” some projects. It knew it wouldn’t have enough money to complete 100% of some large projects. So, several phases might have been included and others deferred.

It appears that several projects on today’s list include some deferred phases. So the “partner-funding gap” may not be reduced as much as originally thought. Net: HCFCD may or may not have to look for additional funds. The District expects it will know more after GLO approves the list.

HCFCD must also come back to Commissioners Court by July 18 with an estimate for ongoing maintenance and land management costs for all the projects.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/6/2023

2107 Days since Hurricane Harvey

ChatGPT Misses on Some Aspects of Flood-Control

Third in a Three Part Series on ChatGPT and Flood Control

My first post on ChatGPT and flood control talked about its prodigious strengths in outlining a range of mitigation solutions. My second talked about using ChatGPT to drill down further into the subject matter.

It excels at generating high-level summaries of issues. And it allows you to drill down somewhat to explore different aspects of topics. But as you get more specific, it can also give you erroneous information. Here’s an example.

The Texas General Land Office has been in the headlines ever since Harvey. So I asked ChatGPT…

Q: What role does the Texas General Land Office play in reducing flooding?

ChatGPT Answered: “The Texas General Land Office (GLO) plays a crucial role in reducing flooding and managing flood-related issues in the state of Texas. The GLO has several responsibilities and initiatives aimed at mitigating flood risks and enhancing resilience. Here are some key roles and activities of the Texas General Land Office in flood reduction:

  1. Disaster Recovery and Mitigation: The GLO oversees disaster recovery efforts and manages federal funds allocated for disaster mitigation in Texas, including those related to flooding. The GLO administers programs and provides financial assistance to local communities for flood mitigation projects, infrastructure improvements, and floodplain management initiatives.
  2. Floodplain Management: The GLO supports and promotes effective floodplain management practices in Texas. It works with local governments, communities, and stakeholders to develop and implement floodplain regulations, zoning ordinances, and floodplain mapping to guide development and reduce flood risks.
  3. Texas Coastal Resiliency Master Plan: The GLO is involved in developing and implementing the Texas Coastal Resiliency Master Plan, which focuses on addressing flood risks, coastal erosion, and storm surge impacts along the Texas coast. The plan includes strategies for enhancing flood protection, preserving coastal ecosystems, and promoting sustainable development practices.
  4. Coastal Barrier System: The GLO is responsible for managing the Texas Coastal Barrier System, which includes the construction and maintenance of levees, floodgates, and other infrastructure to protect coastal communities from storm surge and flooding. This system aims to reduce the vulnerability of populated areas along the Texas coast to hurricane-related flooding.
  5. Grant Programs and Funding: The GLO administers various grant programs to provide funding assistance for flood-related projects. This includes programs such as the Flood Infrastructure Fund (FIF), Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), and Hazard Mitigation Assistance (HMA) programs, which offer financial support for flood mitigation, infrastructure improvements, and post-disaster recovery.
  6. Outreach and Education: The GLO conducts outreach and educational initiatives to raise awareness about flood risks, floodplain management, and resilience strategies. It provides resources, guidance, and training to local communities, property owners, and stakeholders to promote flood awareness and preparedness.
  7. Coordination with Stakeholders: The GLO collaborates with federal, state, and local agencies, as well as community organizations, non-profits, and stakeholders involved in flood management and mitigation. This includes coordinating efforts, sharing information, and facilitating partnerships to enhance flood reduction strategies and improve coordination during flood events.

The Texas General Land Office’s efforts in flood reduction are aimed at safeguarding communities, protecting natural resources, and enhancing the state’s resilience to flooding and other related hazards. By supporting mitigation projects, implementing floodplain management strategies, and facilitating recovery and funding assistance, the GLO plays a critical role in reducing flood risks and promoting sustainable development in Texas.

End of ChatGPT Response

GLO Asked to Evaluate ChatGPT Response

That sounded a bit off to me. So I asked a GLO employee in public affairs to:

  • Give the response a letter grade from A-F
  • Evaluate the accuracy of the response
  • Identify any critical errors or omissions.

GLO Response Reveals Some Misses

My GLO source responded almost immediately. I’ll start with her conclusion. She said, “Luckily, I don’t fear losing my job to AI yet after reading this. 😊”

Then she explained some of the problems:

“I would say FEMA does floodplain management strategies more than the GLO,” she said. “However, FEMA data about floodplains is used by HUD to develop rules for grants.” Note that the GLO is the primary vehicle for distributing HUD funds in Texas.

“As for the Coastal Barrier System,” she continued, “that is tricky. We are the state sponsor, but there are many partners, so I am not sure if the word “managing” is correct or not.”

“This one is the most incorrect:

  1. Grant Programs and Funding: The GLO administers various grant programs to provide funding assistance for flood-related projects. This includes programs such as the Flood Infrastructure Fund (FIF), Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), and Hazard Mitigation Assistance (HMA) programs, which offer financial support for flood mitigation, infrastructure improvements, and post-disaster recovery.

“Flood Infrastructure Fund (FIF) and Hazard Mitigation Assistance (HMA) are Texas Water Development Board programs, not GLO’s.  GLO does CDBG-DR and CDBG-MIT grants, which are used to address unmet housing needs (DR) and flood mitigation projects (MIT), but we do not do CDBG funds, which are annual entitlement funds from HUD and very different. 

“The biggest glaring error is there is no mention of housing recovery or helping homeowners. I won’t fail ChatGPT, but it definitely requires editing and oversight.” 

ChatGPT Hits Some Walls

In addition to errors like those above, sometimes ChatGPT just plain hits a wall and refuses to provide answers. For instance, it:

  1. Currently contains no information past 2021. That limits its usefulness when seeking information about current events. It also limits usefulness for people in certain professions, such as news reporting.
  2. Refuses to address personal or reputation issues.
  3. Can’t provide answers to specific questions that require professional expertise. For instance, I tried to get ChatGPT to quantify the relative effectiveness of various flood control techniques. It responded that it depended on local conditions and suggested hiring a professional engineer. In fairness, that’s a good answer. But it does acknowledge the limits of the program.
  4. Didn’t acknowledge the existence of ReduceFlooding.com, saying “it could be fictional or newly established” when I asked “What is ReduceFlooding.com?” However, Google ranks ReduceFlooding.com #6 in the world when asked “How do I reduce flooding?” In contrast, the Harris County Flood Control District’s website showed up at #26.

Putting ChatGPT in Perspective

ChatGPT is an impressive tool. But it’s only one tool in the tool box. You wouldn’t use a saw when you needed a hammer. Understand the best uses of ChatGPT, such as providing high-level outlines or introductions to topics, and you won’t be disappointed.

In short, it’s part of the answer, but not the answer. And as they say on every airplane before takeoff, “cross-check and verify all the doors.”

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/29/23

2099 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.

HCFCD Could Get $322 Million in Redeployed Funds from GLO

The Texas General Land Office has posted Amendment 12 to the Hurricane Harvey State Action Plan for public comment. Among the highlights: If approved, Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) could get $322 million in reallocated funding from underperforming and completed programs for infrastructure projects that protect residences and businesses. The proposed amendment also includes additional changes.

Almost six years after Hurricane Harvey, the Texas General Land Office hopes to reallocate funding from programs with below-expected participation to programs showing greater-than-expected need.

The goal is to use all the money before unused funds must be returned to HUD in 2026.

Brittany Eck, GLO spokesperson
Looking north along Kingwood Diversion Ditch where hundreds of homes flooded during Harvey. The Kingwood Area Drainage Analysis rated widening this ditch as one of the two most important projects in the Kingwood area.

Where Extra HCFCD Money Comes From

Funds redirected to HCFCD include:

  • $30 million EACH (total $60 million) from the City of Houston and Harris County administered disaster recovery programs that failed to meet program contract benchmarks
  • $83.9 million from the GLO administered City of Houston Homeowner Assistance Program (HAP)
  • $178.13 million from the GLO administered Harris County HAP.

How Money Can Be Used

The GLO’s Homeowner Assistance Programs are projected to serve all eligible applicants in Harris County and City of Houston and the remaining funds are available to be redirected toward other needs.

The HCFCD program will provide disaster relief, long-term recovery, and flood and drainage improvement for local communities within Harris County impacted by Hurricane Harvey.

It will also protect assets that have since been repaired from Hurricane Harvey.

Each project must demonstrate how it will contribute to the long-term recovery and restoration of housing.

Other Reallocations

Amendment 12 ensures the $2.46 billion in CDBG-DR funds originally allocated to Harris County and City of Houston will continue to address unmet recovery needs within those jurisdictions.

Review the full text of Amendment 12 at https://recovery.texas.gov/public-notices/index.html.

Highlights include the following changes:

  • Harris County Administered Disaster Recovery Program total decreased to $887,334,984.
  • Homeowner Assistance Program increased to $49,524,866.
  • Homeowner Reimbursement Program decreased to $46,845,332.
  • Affordable Rental Program increased to $252,888,178. 
  • Single Family New Construction Program decreased to $59,560,401.
  • Commercial Buyout Program increased to $18,294,906.
  • Method of Distribution (Local) increased to $129,934,907.
  • Competitive Request for Proposal Program decreased to $74,289,859.
  • City of Houston Administered Disaster Recovery Program total decreased to $664,157,590.
  • Multifamily Rental Program decreased to $370,855,752.
  • Small Rental Program increased to $13,424,373.
  • Homebuyer Assistance Program decreased to $18,016,785.
  • Public Service reduced to $17,851,394.
  • Economic Revitalization Program increased to $21,803,775.
  • Planning reduced to $22,217,000.
  • State Administered Disaster Recovery Program increased to $4,124,897,426.
  • Harris County Flood Control District Program created with $322,033,863.
  • Infrastructure Project Delivery increased to $29,585,390.
  • Harris County Homeowner Assistance Program decreased $108,214,125.
  • City of Houston Homeowner Assistance Program decreased to $481,698,301.
  • Homeowner Reimbursement Program (GLO program completed in January 2021, administered in the 48 eligible counties outside of Harris County and Houston) decreased to $102,951,722.
  • PREPS decreased to $22,587,890.70.

A spokesperson said that the GLO left enough money in the original programs to cover completion of work already started or approved.

How to Register Your Opinion

In my opinion, HCFCD sure could use the $322 million. Project overruns and inflation have eaten into the 2018 Flood Bond funds jeopardizing many projects at the bottom of the equity priority list.

To be considered, submit your comments to cdr@recovery.texas.gov by 5:00 p.m. on June 21, 2023.

Per federal requirements, the GLO must respond to public comments before the amendment can be sent to HUD for its 45-day final approval.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/22/2023 based on a press release by GLO

2092 Days since Hurricane Harvey

GLO Releases Texas Coastal Resiliency Master Plan

Texas Land Commissioner Dawn Buckingham, M.D. released the 2023 Texas Coastal Resiliency Master Plan (TCRMP) last month. It proposes a framework that addresses coastal hazards as well as investments that protect natural and man-made coastal environments.  The plan includes 52 Tier 1 priority projects in the Houston/Galveston area including 4 in Harris County.

121 Projects along 367 Miles of Coastline

The beautifully written and art-directed 356-page plan recommends a total of 121 projects prioritized as Tier 1 by the Texas General Land Office (GLO). In developing the plan, the GLO collaborated closely with a Technical Advisory Committee to mitigate issues that negatively impact the Texas coast. 

“Protecting our 367 miles of Texas coastline is vital to our state’s economy,” said Commissioner Buckingham. “The Texas Coastal Resiliency Master Plan provides a strategic path in prioritizing projects. It will ensure long-term resilience of our diverse coastal ecosystems and protect coastal resources for future generations. I want to thank the hundreds of members of the Technical Advisory Committee for the expertise and leadership they contributed to this comprehensive process.”

The Texas Coastal Resiliency Master Plan will help protect both coastal infrastructure and natural resources.

The plan’s recommended strategies and projects target areas in need of better protection and restoration.

Texas General Land Office

Plan Updated Every Four Years Addresses Variety of Threats

GLO updates the Coast Resiliency Master Plan every four years. It uses the most current storm surge and sea-level-rise models to illustrate the need and benefit of recommended projects. A list of high-priority coastal resiliency initiatives and projects was developed to address risks such as:

  • Storm surge
  • Inland flooding
  • Shoreline change
  • Degraded water quality and more.

Separate From, Yet Complementary to, Corps’ Plan

The TCRMP is separate from, yet complementary to, ongoing federal coastal protection efforts led by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).

Federal efforts include the Coastal Texas Program and Sabine Pass to Galveston Bay Coastal Storm Risk Management (CSRM) Program, which focus on implementation of the Coastal Barrier System and other storm risk reduction projects.

The TCRMP provides a priority list of projects that could be funded through other federal, state, and local sources to work towards restoration and protection of areas not currently covered directly by the work of USACE.

While the TCRMP does not provide or guarantee funding to projects, it is designed to demonstrate funding need and cost estimates for proposed projects. Project initiatives range in status from conceptual to in progress, so actual costs may vary once implementation begins.

Technical Advisory Committee Helps Produce Broad Range of Materials

The Technical Advisory Committee included hundreds of:

  • Coastal planners
  • Community leaders and decision-makers
  • Coastal scientists and engineers
  • Ports and navigation professionals’
  • Technical experts
  • Resource agency and regulatory staff members
  • Other key stakeholders.

They assessed coastal vulnerabilities with cutting-edge science and data analysis to determine the vulnerability of natural systems to hazards such as floods, storms, and storm surge.

For more information, visit: www.glo.texas.gov/crmp. Components of the Texas Coastal Resiliency Master Plan include:

Story Map Provides Excellent Graphical Introduction

The Story Map gives you an excellent overview of the plan in an easy-to-digest graphical format.

Note the high level of extreme and imminent hazards along the upper Texas Coast. This area includes Galveston Bay.

Brown areas are in extreme danger. Red areas are under imminent threat.

Many of the recommended projects are in this area, including projects at Anahuac and McFadden National Wildlife Refuges.

To address the dangers, the report includes many different types of projects/solutions.

Recommendations span the gamut of green to gray.

See the Texas Coastal Resiliency Master Plan for descriptions of the actual recommended projects and their locations. Thirteen recommendations involve multiple regions. See the links below for more information on each.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/24/2023 based on information provided by the Texas General Land Office

2064 Days since Hurricane Harvey