HCFCD Spending Slows; More Went to Buyouts than Flood Reduction
Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) released its November report on Flood-Bond progress to Commissioners Court yesterday. The report covered through October 2022. I had two major take-aways:
- The slowdown in bond spending continues. HCFCD initiated no new construction projects during the month of October.
- HCFCD spent more money on buyouts than flood reduction.
The major announcement: the District advertised bids for the construction of a stormwater detention basin in Inwood Forest. The project encompasses property owned by the City of Houston located both east and west of Antoine where Vogel Creek outfalls into White Oak Bayou (the old Inwood Forest Golf Course). It will eventually have a total of 12 interconnected compartments.
Funding of this project comes from the 2018 Bond, FEMA and the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM). HCFCD hopes construction will begin in winter 2022-23. But let’s look at what has happened, instead of what will.
Since the last update, HCFCD:
- Awarded NO construction projects
- Awarded 9 non-construction agreements totaling $33 million
- Paid $1.2 million for professional services.
- Completed 28 home buyouts valued at approximately $5 million
- Spent a total of $9.9 million since the last update.
Those last two bullet points mean…
HCFCD uses some buyouts for right-of-way (ROW) acquisition to build detention ponds or widen channels. But many buyouts simply avoid repetitive losses. The latest update does not specify which category October buyouts fell into.
Schedule performance indicators (the SPI index) for the month remained at .95 – behind schedule. HCFCD says the bond program is 23.8% completed – an increase of 0.3% from the previous month. That’s at 50 months out of a planned 120 month program or 41.6% of the way into the bond program.
Where the Money Has Gone
Only three projects out of 181 in the Bond changed stages. One went into preliminary engineering and two went from preliminary engineering into right-of-way acquisition. All are in the Cedar Bayou watershed.
The map below shows where $1.14 billion spent to date has gone.
In table form, that looks like this. I provided three months of data so you can see whether the needle is moving in your watershed. Five watersheds received no money in October.
Spending Trend Still Down
Last month I wrote about this downward trend in bond spending at a time when it should be increasing. Notice the trend in recent months:
- July spending was $66.4 million.
- August spending was $20.7 million.
- September spending was only $8.1 million.
- October’s $9.9 million was only slightly better than September.
Project Phasing Influences Spending Rates
Projects typically go through phases that comprise different percentages of the total budget. In flood control, upfront spending on studies typically comprises only 13% of the total. The big spending – 79% – happens for right-of-way acquisition and construction. Looking back at all phases of all projects since 2000…
Here’s how the breakdown looks:
HCFCD typically spends six times more on Rights-of-Way and Construction, than upfront Feasibility Studies, Preliminary Engineering Reviews and Design.
More than four years into the bond, many projects should be entering the more expensive phases. So you would expect spending to increase. And July totals reflected that. But then a precipitous decline set in.
Why the Slowdown?
HCFCD has not yet explained the slowdown except to say that, during the course of major programs like the Flood Bond, sometimes you hit lulls between major projects. But this slowdown has persisted for three months. No construction projects started last month. And Inwood-Forest stormwater-detention-basin construction likely won’t start for several more months.
At this point, explanations are in order. Last month, I suggested several:
Management Turnover – HCFCD recently lost its top three leaders who architected the Flood Bond: Russ Poppe, Matt Zeve, and Alan Black.
Less Experienced Management – Poppe was replaced by an academic who formerly managed the Subsidence District which has a budget one-thousandth the size of the 2018 flood bond.
More Layers of Management – There’s now a whole new department – County Administration – between Flood Control and Commissioners Court.
Delays in Other Departments – Community Services has failed to submit a plan for how to spend $750 million allocated to Harris County for flood mitigation by the Texas General Land Office and HUD.
Drawdown of Flood Resilience Trust Funds – The County is already running out of money in the Flood Resilience Trust Fund – a backup to keep projects moving in case grants, such as the $750 million, were delayed.
Yesterday HCFCD recommended pursuing a grant for Greens Bayou that would consume the current balance in the Flood Resilience Trust.
Bottom line: County Judge Lina Hidalgo needs to provide an explanation for the slowdown. This affects all Harris County residents, not just those in particular watersheds.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/30/2022
1919 Days since Hurricane Harvey
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