Tag Archive for: precinct one

Where the Flood Mitigation Dollars Have Really Gone: Part 4

The last three posts on the equity flap have focused on how minority neighborhoods in Precinct 1 already receive more flood mitigation funding than affluent areas like Kingwood. Tonight, I focus on why that is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. But first, a recap for context.

Biggest Beneficiary of Funding Claims Discrimination

Last Tuesday, the equity flap erupted again in Harris County Commissioners Court. Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis complained that because of historical discrimination (i.e., slavery, which was abolished more than 150 years ago), he needs to fight for “equity” in the distribution and implementation flood bond projects. Precinct 1 already receives the lion’s share of many types of funding.

What Mr. Ellis does not point out to the Commissioners Court is that Precinct One:

Exploiting Past Wrongs to Perpetuate Inequity

When talking about “historic discrimination,” Commissioner Ellis needs to shift his focus forward in time and look at other areas of the county that receive NO such joint projects and far fewer flood mitigation dollars. Take the San Jacinto Watershed, for instance. It contains Kingwood. Because of Kingwood’s affluence, it’s one of the favorite whipping boys for Commissioner Ellis and his surrogates who argue for equity. They keep bringing equity up every time a Kingwood-related item is on the Flood Control agenda at commissioners court. But the Kingwood/Lake Houston Area has NO such joint projects. Why?

Causes of Inequity

There are two reasons for this inequitable distribution: one obvious, one not so.

First, the obvious: The Houston region has grown from the downtown area outward. Precinct 1, which includes downtown, is older. Flood problems became apparent sooner. Precinct 1 documented problems, identified solutions, and rallied Federal support decades ago.

Commissioner Ellis’ predecessors also started this process decades ago and Precinct 1 enjoys the rewards today. As a consequence…

Buffalo Bayou and all of its tributaries are eligible for Corps support on non-emergency projects; the San Jacinto is not.

The Corps is working on Buffalo Bayou and all of its tributaries thanks to legislation passed years ago. The Cypress Creek watershed actually overflowed into the adjoining watershed during Harvey. For a complete Corps presentation on Buffalo Bayou and its tributaries, see this link.

Even though the problems in the Lake Houston Area have been building for decades, the danger didn’t become apparent until Harvey.

At this point, rallying the kind of Federal support that Precinct 1 has historically enjoyed will involve an act of Congress and Presidential approval. Literally. That’s an uphill battle compared to the battle that Mr. Ellis’ projects face.

Political Challenges for San Jacinto Watershed

A local sponsor, such as the City, would have to file an application for a project. Congressional representatives would have to get the President to build it into the annual budget, then include it in the Water Resources Development Act. Both houses of Congress would have to pass the act. The President would have to sign it. And then the government would have to distribute the money. The distribution usually happens in phases, after approval of each phase of a project, such as:

  • Feasibility study
  • Engineering and design
  • Construction, operation and maintenance
  • Changes after construction authorization
  • Changes after construction

It could easily take three to five years just to get the engineering and design phase on a project, such as additional flood gates for Lake Houston.

A second challenge: Mr. Ellis and his surrogates using unfounded “equity” arguments to further handicap and delay flood mitigation in the Lake Houston Area.

Damages in Lake Houston Area

Unfortunately, the sedimentation and conveyance problems on the San Jacinto only became apparent after decades of additional upstream development. That exacerbates flooding by funneling water to the river faster. In recent years, Conroe was the fastest growing city in America.

Then along came the Tax Day, Memorial Day and Hurricane Harvey floods. They deposited an estimated 5 to 10 million cubic yards of sediment in the East and West Forks. Much of that came from sand mines upstream of Lake Houston, which Lake Conroe inundated when it released 80,000 cubic feet per second at the peak of the storm. This further exacerbated flooding by backing water up in the river and drainage ditches.

As a result, the Lake Houston area suffered billions of dollars worth of damage to schools, bridges, roads, homes, churches and businesses during Hurricane Harvey. At least 13 people in the Kingwood Area died as a result of the flood, 12 in ONE senior living complex.

Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right

Citing historical discrimination that goes back to pre-Civil-War days, Mr. Ellis argues for equity to increase his precinct’s share of flood mitigation dollars and to accelerate projects in his precinct.

As the data shows, his precinct already has far more than its fair share of mitigation dollars. Now, he threatens other areas, property and lives by delaying and usurping their aid.

If any area is underfunded and fighting discrimination now, it’s the Lake Houston Area. Ironically, the discrimination is coming from the Rodney Ellis’ of the world.

I don’t begrudge Precinct 1 a penny of the flood mitigation funds it has received to date. And I admire Mr. Ellis for fighting so hard for his constituents. However, I despise the way he does it.

Mr. Ellis represents one fourth of the people in the county. Yet he cries “equity” and ignores facts to usurp more than half of flood mitigation funding and put his Bond projects at the front of the construction line. I wish he would acknowledge:

  • The inequality that exists in current funding and that is likely to continue for years.
  • That a Kingwood, Humble, Atascocita or Huffman life is as valuable as a life in Precinct 1.
  • Facts.

Ironically, the Lake Houston Area argued for equity in the bond language to prevent the very kind of reverse discrimination that we are now seeing. We need to work together to mitigate flooding everywhere as quickly as we can. This equity flap is fanning racial flames that divide us, perpetuate distrust, delay mitigation, and threaten lives. It’s time to get on with the hard work at hand. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/28/2019

668 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Where the Flood Mitigation Money Has Really Gone: Part Two

At Harris County Commissioners Court yesterday, “equity” proponents from low-to-moderate-income (LMI) neighborhoods in Precinct 1 again complained they weren’t getting their fair share of flood mitigation dollars. In crying “foul” over a perceived lack of buyout dollars, they ignore the fact that the bulk of Federal mitigation spending is on construction projects that benefit their precinct.

The Federal Government is contributing $814 million to joint HCFCD/Army Corps projects that benefit Precinct 1. Only one joint project in Harris County does NOT benefit Precinct 1.

Part One of this series focused on Harris County construction spending for flood mitigation. It found that Precinct 1, which is 78% African-American and Hispanic, received 47% of all Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) dollars spent on construction. That left three other precincts to divvy up the remaining half. But Federal contributions for construction spending are even more lopsided as the chart above shows.

2018 Federal and Harvey Reports Yield Surprises

In Part Two, I examine Federal construction spending in Harris County on joint Army Corps/HCFCD projects. Some are Corps-led; others County-led. Regardless, they all involve Federal contributions. Close review of the latest Federal Report from HCFCD and other information obtained through the Freedom of Information Act reveals some startling facts.

  • Precinct 1 benefitted from more Federally-backed projects than any other precinct.
  • Only one Federal project did not benefit Precinct 1.
  • Sims Bayou, which lies mostly within Precinct 1, was the only one of six Federal projects completed before Harvey. And it was one of the few bayous in the County that did not widely flood.
  • The Lake Houston Area received no Federal dollars for flood mitigation prior to 2018.

Federal Investments Ignored by Precinct 1 Activists

The only joint project actually completed before Hurricane Harvey was in Precinct One. It involved the widening of Sims Bayou and creating additional detention ponds. Together, these actions almost eliminated flooding during Harvey. A huge benefit to Precinct 1. See map below.

Sims Bayou in Precinct 1 was one of the few bayous in Harris County that did NOT come out of its banks during Harvey. See green arrow. The San Jacinto watershed (red arrow) flooded along its entire length and received NO Federal dollars prior to Harvey.

Sims Completed and Did Not Flood Widely

On page 6 of its Final Harvey Report, HCFCD states, “Sims Bayou was one of the few channels in the entire county that did not suffer widespread and extensive overbank channel flooding largely due to the completion of the federal flood risk reduction project and three HCFCD regional detention basins. Water levels for Harvey were generally below the historical records of Tropical Storm Allison and averaged between a 2.0% (50-yr) and 1.0% (100-yr) level downstream of Martin Luther King Blvd and generally below a 10% (10-yr) annual exceedance probability from Airport Road upstream to the headwaters.”

Sims Project Saved Thousands of Homes from Flooding

Further, Page 19 of the final Final Report on Hurricane Harvey notes,”The recently completed … Federal Project and supplemental detention basins constructed by HCFCD reduced the number of homes flooded by about 6,500 along Sims Bayou.”

“Bottom line – the larger channel carried a lot more stormwater downstream away from subdivisions along the bayou and the large detention basins stored stormwater that would otherwise flow through subdivisions along the bayou.” 

The Harris County Flood Control District Federal Briefing (Page 102) from 2018 also shows that the Sims project removed more than 35,000 homes and 2,000 commercial structures from the 100-year flood plain.

The Sims project received $390 million: $125 million from HCFCD and $265 million from the Army Corps.

In contrast, the Federal Briefing lists $0 in federal funding for the San Jacinto watershed.

Hunting Bayou and Achieving “Social Justice” in Precinct 1

At least one Army Corps project in Precinct One won Corps support because of the presence of LMI neighborhoods. Yet “equity” proponents contend the Federal government discriminates against them.

Page 79 of the Federal Report indicates Hunting Bayou (entirely within Precinct 1) received $98 million from the County and $68 million from the Corps, in part because of social justice factors. That’s another $165 million.

Residents claimed in their plea for funds that:

  • “Residents in the Hunting Bayou watershed deserve the same level of potential flood risk reduction as those who live in other parts of Harris County.
  • “The economically disadvantaged Hunting Bayou residents struggle severely to recover from house and business flooding.”
  • “The Corps’ economic analysis is an important factor in prioritizing competing projects for annual Federal funding, but it is biased against economically disadvantaged communities like in Hunting Bayou.”

Prior to 2018, had Hunting Bayou residents received the same level of support as those in the more affluent Lake Houston Area, they would have received NO support from the Federal government.

Three Other Precinct 1 Watersheds Receive Major Federal Support, Too

Three other watersheds in Precinct 1 have received major federal and county commitments for construction of flood mitigation measures. Because they are in various stages of completion, I show total cost estimates below to facilitate comparison.

  • Brays Bayou which flows through precincts 1, 2 and 3 will receive a total of $480 million; half from the county and half from the Corps. See page 60.
  • White Oak Bayou flows through Precincts 1 and 4. There, the County and Corps are excavating 9.7 million cubic yards of detention basins. That’s more than 5 times the volume of sediment removed from the San Jacinto to date. Estimate: $124 million, $90 million of it at Federal expense. See page 68.
  • Clear Creek flows through Precincts 1 and 2. Estimate: $249 million, $98 from local and $151 million from the Corps. See Page 91.

One Lone Exception

The Federal government partnered with HCFCD on only one project in Harris County that did not directly benefit Precinct One: a detention pond in Precinct 4 on Greens Bayou near 249, Beltway 8 and Cutten Road. This $58 million project received $43 million from the Corps. See Page 97.

The Corps does have other projects in Harris County, such as the Addicks and Barker reservoirs. However, HCFCD plays no active role in those. Likewise for the San Jacinto dredging project. This analysis looks only at joint projects that involve Harris County and the Corps.

Federal Construction Versus Buyout Dollars

Because Mr. Ellis’ surrogates base their arguments on buyouts, we need to put those in perspective.

Buyouts are tiny compared to construction spending. In Harris County, they represent just 6.6% of Federal construction spending for flood mitigation.

Page 120 of the 2018 Federal Brochure deals with buyouts. It shows approximately two dozen buyout projects completed in Precinct One. However, few if any appeared active at the time of publication in 2018.

In the entire county, FEMA was funding only $57.1 million in buyouts.

But the Army Corps contributes 19 times more than that in construction dollars for projects that benefit Precinct 1.

The numbers below represent Federal contributions only:

  • Sims – $265 million (In Precincts 1, 2)
  • Hunting – $68 million (In Precinct 1)
  • Brays – $240 million (In Precincts 1, 2, 3)
  • White Oak – $90 million (In Precincts 1, 4)
  • Clear Creek – $151 million (In Precincts 1, 2)
  • Total Estimated Federal Contribution to Joint Construction Projects that benefitted Precinct 1: $814 million
  • Total Estimated Federal Contribution to Joint Construction Projects NOT benefitting Precinct 1 (Greens): $43 million
  • Total Estimated Federal Contribution to Joint Projects in Lake Houston Area before 2018: $0

And Commissioner Ellis’ surrogates complain about discrimination! Maybe that’s why they get so much money.

Note that HCFCD does not break out spending “by precinct” for bayous that flow across precinct boundaries; they list only project totals. The list of bayous above represented ALL the HCFCD/Corps projects in the 2018 Federal Report.

Note also: Video of the commissioners meeting still had not been posted at the time I posted this story.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/26/2019

666 Days since Hurricane Harvey