Shared from the 8/7/2018 Houston Chronicle eEdition

County reveals projects in $2.5B flood bond

Poll shows most voters back plan, which tackles long-standing issues

10 largest flood bond line-items*

• $175 million for partnerships with cities, authorities and other Harris County districts.

• $100 million for Cypress Creek land acquisition and flood plain preservation.

• $100 million for partnerships with the Harris County Engineering Department.

• $74 million for Cedar Bayou land acquisition, channel improvements and a stormwater detention basin.

• $60 million for major maintenance of Cypress Creek and tributaries.

• $50 million for countywide flood plain preservation and land acquisition.

• $50 million to restore Sims Bayou channel capacity.

• $50 million for Spring Creek land acquisition and flood plain preservation.

• $35 million for White Oak Bayou land acquisition and channel improvements along Brickhouse Gully.

• $33 million for Cedar Bayou land acquisition and channel improvements along Magee Gully.

*Excludes $500 million that has yet to be allocated

The Harris County Flood Control District on Monday released its complete list of projects that would be funded by the county’s $2.5 billion flood infrastructure bond proposal, hours after a University of Houston poll showed a majority of voters support the plan.

The 237 projects include $1.2 billion for channel improvements, $401 million for detention basins, $242 million for flood plain land acquisition, $12.5 million for new flood plain mapping and $1.25 million for an improved early flood warning system.

Matt Zeve, the flood control district’s operations director, said the vast majority of projects will address problems engineers identified years or decades ago but lacked the funding to tackle. The flood control district’s budget totals$120 million annually.

“It’s always been, OK, how do we afford to solve these problems?” Zeve said. “With the bond, we’ll have funds to solve some of these drainage and flooding issues.”

Voting begins Wednesday and concludes on Saturday, Aug. 25, the first anniversary of Hurricane Harvey’s landfall.

If approved, the bond would be the largest local investment in flood infrastructure since the storm inundated more than 154,000 Harris County homes a year ago.

The bond also would use $184 million, coupled with more than $500 million in outside funding, to purchase around 3,600 buildings in the flood plain. It would not pay for a third reservoir to complement the Addicks and Barker dams in west Houston, but would chip in $750,000 to help the Army Corps of Engineers study the idea.

Thirty-eight projects were added to the flood control district’s list, based on ideas from residents at more than two-dozen public meetings this summer. Among them: $6 million to improve flow in Horsepen Bayou, $15 million to do the same in Brays Bayou, and $30 million to design and build new bridges over Buffalo Bayou.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said the additions proved the flood control district was serious about incorporating ideas from residents.

“We said from the start that we recognized that this effort was going to have to be as transparent as anything the county has ever done,” he said in a statement.

More than 4,500 residents attended the meetings, according to the flood control district’s headcount. They submitted around 2,400 comments and made 682 requests for flood infrastructure maintenance.

The flood control district left $500 million unallocated on the projects list. Zeve said that while engineers initially planned to draw down that sum as more projects were added, the flood control district decided to leave room for new projects over the 10- to 15-year life span of the bond.

“We want to give ourselves some wiggle room,” Zeve said.

A poll released by the University of Houston on Monday found 62 percent of likely voters plan to cast ballots in favor of the flood bond, compared to 55 percent of all respondents. Just 10 percent said they opposed the bond, while a third remained unsure.

“People see flooding as a Houston and Harris County problem, not a problem affecting only certain neighborhoods or people,” Jim Granato, executive director of UH’s Hobby School of Public Affairs, said in a statement. “They believe the region’s future will be decided, at least in part, by how we respond.”

The Hobby School of Public Affairs polled 815 residents between June 26 and July 31. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.4 percent. Only 36 percent of respondents said they definitely will cast a ballot.

Residents who suffered property damage from Hurricane Harvey were slightly more likely to support the bond than those who remained dry, 60 percent to 52 percent.

Partisanship appears to play little role in respondents’ views on the bond, as 58 percent of Republicans and 63 percent of Democrats support the proposal, which has wide support among elected officials from both parties.

Just 18 percent of the youngest polling cohort, residents 18 to 25, said they support the bond, though 59 percent professed they remain unsure.

Harris County residents found most agreement when asked whether Austin should help the region’s recovery by tapping into the state’s rainy day fund, a reserve fund comprised of excess oil and gas taxes. Almost 88 percent said the Abbott administration should.

The Hobby School also polled residents on flood mitigation strategies in February. In that round of questions, athird of residents said they suffered serious flood damage from Harvey, and more than half said the monster storm negatively affected their household finances.

The bond proposal is a gamble by Harris County Commissioners Court, whose members are betting residents see the value in a significant investment in the area’s flood management system. There is no option for skeptical voters to approve a smaller sum. Either residents will approve $2.5 billion, or they will approve zero.

If different funding sources become available, such as through the state or federal government, the county may not need to borrow the full $2.5 billion. Emmett said last month that $700 to $900 million of the bond would be used to secure federal matching funds, potentially netting the county an additional $2 billion to spend on flood infrastructure.

The bond will increase property taxes for homeowners by 2 to 3 cents per $100 of assessed value, according to county budget analysts. Those who are disabled or above the age of 65, and whose home is worth less than $200,000, would pay no additional taxes.

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