Officials in the Texas county hardest hit by Hurricane Harvey announced Wednesday they will seek the public’s input before finalizing a list of critical flood-control projects voters will be asked to approve during an estimated $2.5 billion bond referendum.
Harris County – home to Houston – plans to hold at least 23 community meetings before the Aug. 25 bond election.
Harris County Judge Ed Emmett called the election one of the most important decisions in the county’s history.
“We need to make sure that the public feels like they were part of designing this process. Just as the public was part of rescuing their neighbors, the public was part of helping their neighbors recover. Ultimate recovery is mitigation like this, making the community resilient,” said Emmett, the county’s top elected official. “We’re all in this together. It’s critical that they be involved.”
The August special election would fall on the one-year anniversary of Harvey’s Texas landfall. Harvey’s torrential rainfall made it to the Houston area a day later.
The hurricane and the devastating rain that followed last summer caused an estimated $125 billion in damage statewide and flooded thousands of homes in the Houston area.
If the bond referendum is approved, most homeowners would see their overall property tax bill increase by no more than 1.4 percent over a 15 year period, no more than 2 or 3 cents per $100 of a home’s assessed valuation, Emmett said.
Projects being considered include the widening of local bayous, voluntary home buyouts, building additional stormwater detention basins and improving drainage systems through partnerships with area cities and utility districts.
Many of the flood control projects being proposed have been discussed for years but have either remained partially completed or confined to the pages of sketches and blueprints due to a lack of money or political will.
One of the most widely discussed flood control projects after Harvey – a new reservoir – was not set to be included in the list.
Russell Poppe, executive director of the Harris County Flood Control District, said funding would be included in the bond proposal to help pay for a study looking at the possibility of building a third reservoir or improving the capacity of the county’s two existing reservoirs, which filled to capacity during Harvey and contributed to flooding hundreds of homes. A new reservoir would likely have to be built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which maintains the county’s two other reservoirs.
At a symposium on hurricane preparedness earlier Wednesday, Roy Wright, the former director of the National Flood Insurance Program, praised the efforts of Harris County, saying that lessening a community’s risk during a natural disaster has to be done through actions, like the proposed bond referendum, that have an impact on a neighborhood and community scale.
Harris County commissioners were expected to formally call for the election during their June 12 meeting.
The county needed to get permission to hold the special election from Gov. Greg Abbott, who granted it earlier this month.
Various community and environmental groups have implored commissioners to ensure that the projects proposed by the bond referendum also help mitigate flooding in lower-income neighborhoods.
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