By Steve Pittman
ALDINE Celebrating its fifth year of operation, the Aldine Improvement District continues to move forward on a multi-point plan to address water and sewer issues that have plagued the area for decades.
Spearheading the effort as far back as 1997, State Rep. Kevin Bailey (D-140) said that while the scope of the problem remains daunting, recent signs of progress are encouraging. Since his days with the City of Houston and his famous 1991 Bailey Bill which required the city to provide sanitary water and sewer services to residents in more than 100 neighborhoods, until he filed legislation early in his term as a state representative in 1999 to enhance the Harris Countys ability to provide such services, Mr. Bailey has championed the provision of clean drinking water and sanitary sewer services to underserved Houstonians.
In June 2001, that drive resulted in the creation of the Aldine Improvement District (AID), which had development of water and sewer infrastructure as its top priority. This issue is critical to the health and welfare of everyone in Aldine and I believe the key to unlocking our potential for economic growth and stability, said Bailey.
Harris County has contributed a great deal of its time and resources to this effort, and the Aldine Improvement District has truly been the catalyist in bringing many levels of government together to develop solutions. Also, I have been made aware of opportunities to secure additional funding at the state level due to the current budget surplus, so I see a lot of reasons to be optimistic, said Bailey.
Today, working with the State Rep., Harris County, and the city of Houston, the Aldine Improvement District is making strides toward a long-term solution.
A regional study, completed in 2004 and funded by a grant from the Texas Water Development Board secured by Rep. Bailey, found that the area was facing a $200 million infrastructure need. The study concluded that of 11,000 homes within the District, 4,500 utilized septic systems while several thousand drew water from shallow private wells. Health hazards created by this situation were serious: poor water quality, exposure to aquifer contamination, and failing septic systems that sometimes discharged sewage into yards and ditches.
In January 2005, with legislative assistance from Rep. Bailey, the Aldine Improvement District created a local government corporation to develop and implement solutions to the water/sewer issue. Known as the Aldine Water Sewer Authority, the corporation soon crafted a three-part regional plan.
First, the Authority identified priority areas of need and focused on neighborhoods with the highest prevalence of shallow wells and failing septic systems immediately adjacent to city of Houston boundaries. For these areas, AID in partnership with Harris County, developed a model to build water and sewer systems to city of Houston standards utilizing Community Development Block Grants (Federal/HUD) allocated through Harris County. Once built, the city will take over maintenance and operation of the new system, and support that service through affordable usage fees.
The pilot project got underway this October with an interlocal agreement between the District, Harris County, and the city of Houston to bring sewer service to the Tasfield subdivision, a 90-home, low-income neighborhood with commercial water service but no sanitary sewer. Cost to the District was $120,000. Harris County contributed $1.2 million in CDBG funds. Together, they ultimately hope to serve around 700 area homes with this model.
Secondly, the Authority found that new residential development was constrained because developers could not build the necessary water, sewer, drainage, and paving infrastructure without assistance from a municipal utility district or similar mechanism. Rather than forming a new utility district, AID and the Authority were able to draw upon their enabling legislation and employ a concept known as defined area assessment financing.
This innovative approach will reduce the developers administrative and legal costs, provide the necessary return on investment, and offer their new home buyers a level and fixed payment schedule. It will also allow the improvement district to partner with developers to oversize water and sewer lines for service to nearby areas in the future.
Finally, the Aldine Improvement District found a willing partner in the areas largest public service provider, Sunbelt Freshwater Supply District, to upgrade and extend its water/sewer facilities to more homes and neighborhoods in Aldine.
At the end of the day, this is about economic development, said Scott Bean, executive director of the AWS Authority and junior partner with Hawes Hill Calderon, administrative consultant for Aldine Improvement District. Rooftops support commerce, and through these efforts the District is helping to create new and better residential markets in Aldine. Tasfield is a drop in the bucket, so to speak, but were shifting the momentum toward fully addressing this issue strategically with our public and private partners.
More at www.aldinedistrict.org
By Steve Pittman