Community engagement meeting explores NE projects
By Lewis Spearman
On a night when flooding was actually a concern at the Northeast Community Center, last Wednesday, Matt Zee, Director of Operations of the Harris County Flood Control District, and County Commissioner Jack Cagle gave keynote addresses to welcome the public to an open meeting related to asking for a bond to fund a plan to fix flooding, and to discuss public concerns and hear suggestions.
Precinct 2 County Commissioner Jack Morman hosted the event, with staff and county departments offering reading material, drinking water and cookies.
“This is my second meeting in my district and my fourth overall on this subject,” said Morman, Pct. 2 commissioner for the Aldine area.
According to Cagle, Commissioner for the northern most portion of the county, the $2.5 billion dollar bond is the first comprehensive plan to address flooding through all of the county’s flood plains and watersheds from top to bottom.
Cagle said, “The number one reason I am excited about this bond is that for the first time, we are taking an integrated approach. We have a lot of neighborhoods wondering, ‘What is happening for me in my section?’ Which is important. There is this very important concept that I have been taught, that water flows downhill. These projects are about dealing with water up the hill, to detain it and manage it, as best can be done. We are working with these projects in the middle of the hill, where we can spread it out so it doesn’t flood homes and move fairly efficiently through. And trying to do projects at the bottom of the hill because if water doesn’t clear there, it is like a plug at the bottom of a bathtub. At the bottom of the hill we want to take out the plug, and at the top we want an umbrella. So, this countywide approach is to try to make sure that we are taking care of the water at the top, middle and bottom of the hill.
“Most of the time, Commissioner Morman’s area, where we are, is the bottom of the hill. So, where would you like to deal with the water, up in the north or where you are? Or all along the path? That is the best thing about this bond, is that it is an integrated approach.
“Now, one of the things that I have tried to do with waterways in my area is create charts to understand the flows of water,” he said holding up a Flood District Meeting chart. “I have eleven waterways in my area. There are 22 watersheds in Harris County. These are the countywide projects that the bond will fund to handle flooding.”
He went on to show on a chart where funding would go, specifically to account for about $1.6 billion of the bond that begins in his area of Precinct, and about $1.99 billion would be spent related to Precinct 2.
Then Commissioner Morman amplified, “I remind Commissioner Cagle and my other colleagues, it doesn’t matter where rain falls in Harris County. Just because there isn’t a project with the name of their neighborhood, the bond benefits those downstream. We still need input from everyone that lives here to benefit all neighborhoods. A large part of the bond is to be met with federal dollars, and of course you have to meet the federal standards to receive federal dollars. The feds use a cost benefit analysis ratio, and it has to meet a certain ratio to get those federal dollars. There are a lot of projects in Precinct 2 that don’t meet those criteria, so we will be using a big chunk of the bond on local projects to benefit our low income families, our middle income families and our richer families. This is a project designed to benefit everyone. This is going to be one of the most important elections in the history of Harris County, in my opinion. And probably the most important in my life. So we need to get the word out.”
The bond election is to be held August 25 – the one year anniversary of Hurricane Harvey’s landfall. Early voting is to begin August 8th. It is to address Harris County’s most prevalent natural disaster. The total need in the county for flood risk reduction is about $25 billion. The bond is to enable the H.C. Flood Control District to leverage the federal Harvey-related disaster funding that is on its way to Harris County. The cost to taxpayers would be spread over 10 to 15 years for an estimated 2-3 cents per $100 valuation. An over-65 or disabled exemption, and a home worth $200,000 or less, would not pay any additional taxes.