Tag Archive for: sb 500

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

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

Great Lakes Dismantles Dredge

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

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

Now You See It

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

Now You Don’t

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

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

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

Phase 2 Options Moving Forward

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/15/2019

808 Days after Hurricane Harvey

Governor Signs Flood Mitigation and Sand Mining Legislation. Now, what happens when?

Governor Greg Abbott has signed final versions of Senate Bill (SB) #7, SB 500, House Bill (HB) #907 and HB 1824. So, what will happen when? Let’s look at the implementation of each.

Flood Mitigation: SB 7 Implementation

SB 7 establishes special funds dedicated to flood mitigation. The bill creates dedicated Texas Infrastructure and Texas Infrastructure Resiliency Funds for flood control planning and the funding of flood planning, mitigation, and infrastructure projects.

Money from SB 7 could help fund additional flood gates for the Lake Houston spillway. They could help release water faster before and during floods such as Hurricane Harvey.

Within 90 days, a Texas Infrastructure Resiliency Fund Advisory Committee will submit recommendations to the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) on rules it should adopt in administering the fund. TWDB has another 90 days to adopt rules governing the fund. After that, on or before the end of this year, the TWDB may begin financing projects in the state flood plan.

The bill itself takes effect immediately because it passed both the House and the Senate by more than a two-thirds majority. The Senate passed it 31-0. The House passed it 143-1 with two present but not voting. However, Article Two of SB 7 – the part dealing with the infrastructure fund – takes effect on January 1 of 2020 ONLY IF VOTERS APPROVE a constitutional amendment in November. If voters do NOT approve the constitutional amendment, Article Two has no effect.

Flood Mitigation Funding: SB 500 Implementation

SB 500 is an all-purpose special appropriations bill. It appropriates money for SB 7 and other Hurricane Harvey relief projects. For instance, it include $30 million to help dredge where the San Jacinto meets Lake Houston. SB 500 passed with greater than two-thirds majorities in both House and Senate. Therefore, it takes effect immediately.

That means $30 million should be available today to help dredge the mouth bar of the west fork.

$30 million can now used to help dredge the mouth bar.

Sand Mining Inspections and Fines: HB 907 Implementation

On its way to becoming law, the Senate strengthened HB 907. In its final form, it increased inspection frequency for all aggregate production operations (APOs) from every three years to every two.

Breach in Triple-P mine in Porter allowed process water to flow directly into Caney Creek, East Fork and Lake Houston, the source of drinking water for millions of people.

HB 907 also allows the TCEQ to conduct unannounced inspections if the TCEQ investigated a complaint about an APO operation in the previous three years.

It sets registration fees for APOs at a level that will allow the TCEQ to establish an active APO registry.

Finally, it increases penalties for failure to register an APO. It set the minimum at $5000 and the maximum at $20,000 per year with the total not to exceed more than $40,000 for any three year period.

This act takes effect on September 1, 2019. It passed in the House by 135-8 with one present and not voting. It passed in the Senate 28-3.

“Sand Trap” Bill: HB 1824 Implementation

Environmental groups and citizens, including me, fought to clarify the open-ended language in HB 1824. It allows the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA) and Harris County Flood Control District take sand and gravel from the San Jacinto without a permit in order to restore the conveyance of the river. They can also deposit the sand and gravel on private land.

Opponents feared that it would open the door to river mining because the SJRA is essentially an economic development entity that is sensitive developers. The SJRA has also shown no desire in the past to control sand mining along the banks of the river.

When I asked legislators, miners, TACA and the SJRA how it would work, I received four different answers!

Proponents of the bill sold it as “the sand-trap bill.” The idea: to get sand mining operations to dredge the river, allow them to sell the sand, and avoid taxpayer expense. By dredging at certain locations under government supervision, proponents hoped to reduce the amount of sand coming downriver. That sand reduces the conveyance of the river and contributes to flooding.

If the bill actually works that way, great. But there’s nothing in its language that indicates how it will work or whether miners will be supervised. River mining is outlawed in many countries, including most of Europe. It has been linked to the destruction of private property in many of other countries that allow it.

Watch private sand mining activity on the river closely! This bill takes effect in three months, on September 1, 2019.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/3/2019

642 Days since Hurricane Harvey

The thoughts in this post represent my opinions on matters of public interest and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP statute of the great State of Texas.

Passage of SB 7 and SB 500 Should Speed Up Flood Mitigation Projects

Six hundred and thirty-seven days after Hurricane Harvey, the Texas Legislature finally passed and funded a massive flood-relief bill, Senate Bill #7 (SB 7), sponsored by State Senator Brandon Creighton. The lengthy delay between Harvey and the bill’s passage underscores the need for Creighton’s bill. 

Need for Faster Mitigation

Few government entities, it seems, budget for emergencies. So when a tragedy like Harvey happens, cities and counties scurry around looking for small grants. They use those to hire consultants to apply for other small grants that provide matching funds for even bigger grants from FEMA. 

There’s even a two-step process to get on the list for grant consideration at the Federal level. You don’t just apply to FEMA or HUD. First, you have to file an application with the TDEM (Texas Division of Emergency Management, a part of DPS) before you can file an application with FEMA.

Most of the begging goes on behind the scenes, out of sight to the average citizen. The fact that the City or County has applied for a grant falls below the threshold of newsworthiness in most cases and so remains invisible to all but insiders. Once someone approves the grants, lengthy permitting processes further delay construction. It take years for a mitigation project to get to the construction phase. That’s when a project becomes newsworthy again.

Changing a Frustrating Process

This is why, to the average citizen, the pace of flood mitigation appears maddeningly and frighteningly slow. Important projects, such as additional dredging, gates for Lake Houston, and upstream detention, seem perpetually mired in government red tape.

The passage of Senate Bill (SB) 7 and SB 500 could help change that. The Senate and House have passed both bills, which are on their way to Governor Abbott’s desk. State Representative Dan Huberty says the governor supports both bills and that his signature is certain.

Here’s what they do:

  • SB 7 sets up several different funds that will make it easier to launch flood mitigation projects.
  • SB 500 appropriates the money for the funds in SB 7.

Provisions in SB 7

SB 7 relates to flood planning, mitigation and infrastructure projects.

  • Article 1 in SB 7 provides money for: flood control planning;  preparation of applications for regulatory approvals; and development of engineering plans/specifications for flood mitigation and drainage projects. 
  • Article 2 establishes a special flood infrastructure fund to make loans (at or below market interest rates) for flood projects. It can also provide grants that provide matching funds to poorer political subdivisions that make them eligible to participate in federal programs.
  • Article 3 amends the state Water Code relating to the Texas Infrastructure Resiliency Fund by establishing special accounts for Floodplain Management, Hurricane Harvey, Federal Matching projects, and Flood Plan Implementation.

Provisions in SB 7 encourage cooperative planning and financing of projects across political boundaries. Those provisions support regional flood mitigation projects through the Flood Infrastructure Fund. That should be especially helpful in the Lake Houston area where mitigation projects affect multiple counties and cities.

SB 500 Provides the Funding

SB 500 is an appropriations bill. It provides funding SB 7 and other items. It appropriates out of the state’s economic stabilization (rainy day) fund:

  • $273 million to provide matching funds for Hazard Mitigations Grants administered by FEMA.
  • $365 million to provide matching funds for Public Assistance Grants administered by FEMA.

Out of those two sums, it also appropriates $30 million that may only be used to provide a grant to Harris County to remove accumulated silt and sediment at the confluence of the San Jacinto River and Lake Houston, i.e., The Mouth Bar! That came from an amendment to SB 7 proposed by State Representative Dan Huberty when the House considered the Senate Bill.

It also provides, among many other things:

  • $47 million for community assistance
  • $793 million for flood infrastructure projects (drainage, flood mitigation and flood control projects)
  • $857 million for the Texas infrastructure resiliency fund
  • $13 million to the Lone Star College system for expenses related to Hurricane Harvey.

Rep. Dan Huberty says that since SB 500 is a supplemental appropriations bill, money from it should be available immediately, as soon as the Governor signs it.

A Big Thank You to Creighton and Huberty

The 85th legislature adjourned less than three months before Harvey inundated South Texas. That delayed legislative action two years. As a result, ever since Harvey, local officials have scrambled to organize and fund flood mitigation projects. The passage of these two bills should speed that process up by providing seed money for planning, grant writing, and matching funds. Thanks go to Senator Brandon Creighton and his staff for responding to the need and pushing these bills through the legislature. Thanks also go to Representative Dan Huberty for earmarking money for mouth bar dredging.

SB 500, a supplemental appropriations bill approved last weekend contains $30 million to help dredge the mouth bar on the West Fork of the San Jacinto.

With West Fork Phase One dredging rapidly winding down, hopefully the addition of $30 million to any money contributed by the City and FEMA will enable dredgers to restore conveyance of the West Fork.

Finally, we should give a big thank you to all of you who wrote letters in support of these two important pieces of legislation.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/28/2019

637 days since Hurricane Harvey

Huberty Proposes Amendment to Appropriations Bill that Would Allocate $30 Million to Dredge Mouth Bar

Senate Bill 500 is an omnibus appropriations bill passed by the Texas Senate on March 13. The bill passed to the House for committee review and consideration the same day. Last Friday, March 22, State Representative Dan Huberty offered an amendment to SB 500. It would allocate $30 million to dredging the mouth bar where the West Fork of the San Jacinto meets Lake Huston.

Text of Huberty Amendment

The text reads:

“Out of the funds appropriated in Subsection (1), $30 million dollars is dedicated to the Texas Water Development Board to provide a grant to Harris County for the purchase and operation of equipment to remove accumulated siltation and sediment deposits located at the confluence of the San Jacinto River and Lake Houston.”

Great News for West Fork Residents

This is great news for Lake Houston and West Fork residents. We faced six floods last year on relatively small rains. The mouth bar and other sediment dams left by Harvey created backwater effects that exaggerated flood heights. The exaggerated response of the river to these modest rains forced the City to prerelease water to avoid flooding.

It’s not clear how much funding the City will get from FEMA, if any, to address the mouth bar. The two sides have been arguing for more than a year about how much of the sediment is due to Harvey. Stephen Costello, the City’s Chief Recovery Officer, told a town hall meeting in Kingwood last week that there was at least 1.5 million cubic yards of sediment that needs to be removed to restore the river’s natural conveyance. Local geologists estimated that at least a third of that was due to Harvey.

Matching Funds for County

Last year, the County Flood Bond approved by voters in August included a $10 million match for dredging of the East Fork, West Fork and Lake Houston. The project description read: “Potential partnership project with the City of Houston, Coastal Water Authority, and the State of Texas to permit, design, and complete dredging of the East Fork, West Fork and Lake Houston area waterways to reduce flooding risks.”

The County expected to provide one-fifth of the total $50 million projected cost.

If the Huberty amendment and the appropriations bill pass, suddenly we have a clear path to funding… regardless of what FEMA does and how long it takes their money to get here.

Includes Purchase of Equipment

The Huberty amendment calls for the purchase and operation of equipment. That means the equipment could be owned and used wherever needed. For about a year, the Army Corps has emphasized the need for maintenance dredging to prevent re-accumulation of massive deposits.

Matching Funds Mean Higher Priority

There’s a lot to like about this simple amendment. Consider this. Many have worried lately about prioritization of flood bond projects, i.e., which would kick off first. Readily available matching funds would give the dredging project a very high priority. That would accelerate execution of the project.

Posted by Bob Rehak on March 25

573 Days after Hurricane Harvey