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Two views of the flood bond referendum

View One, from Joe B. Allen and Jim Blackburn: Vote for it because there’s no real alternative.

Proposition A — the proposal to allow Harris County to issue $2.5 billion in flood control bonds — will be on the ballot in Harris County on Aug. 25, the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Harvey. We agree that this bond issue is essential to the future of our community.

[…]

With the passage of $2.5 billion in bonds and an estimated $7.5 billion in matching federal funds, HCFCD would be able to spend $1 billion per year for the next 10 years on flood management. This will not solve all of our drainage problems, but it would represent a dramatic improvement.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has announced funding for four federally approved and permitted projects: Brays Bayou, Clear Creek, Hunting Bayou and White Oak Bayou. All four projects have a significant local match requirement. If the bonds are approved, these projects could start immediately.

[…]

There is no Plan B. Either this bond election passes or the current flooding conditions continue. The world watched as we came together to help one another in the aftermath of Harvey. Now is the time to come together to show the world that we are willing and able to solve major problems to ensure the long-term success of the place we proudly call home.

We plan to vote FOR Prop. A, and we urge you to do the same. Early voting begins Aug. 8.

Jim Blackburn is a well-respected and very outspoken authority on flooding and related environmental matters, so his endorsement of the referendum carries a lot of weight.

View Two, from Roger Gingell: More flood detention basins, please!

If voters approve Harris County’s proposed $2.5 billion flood control bonds, the County Flood Control District will have more than 41 times its annual budget to spend on flood mitigation. That’s great news if the money is used wisely.

A wise use of the bond money would include water detention basins in neighborhoods that flood, built on land already owned by the public.

Recently, myself and a few others had a private showing of the flood bond proposals for our older neighborhoods in Spring Branch. A friendly gentleman from Flood Control showed us a map with purple circles and green triangles representing projects. If you are lucky, your neighborhood is awarded a purple circle which represents a bigger project. A green triangle on the other hand could be just a tiny, micro-project like fixing some unspecified damage to a drain. None of the projects, however, are set in stone. That is how the bond is being sold — citizens can influence or even add projects.

During that hour intensely staring at a map of triangles and circles, it became clear that the biggest thing missing from the bond proposal was water detention basins actually being located inside the neighborhoods that have flooding problems. There wasn’t a single proposed water detention basin inside the neighborhoods surrounding Memorial City, which flood heavily.

[…]

Having a budget 41 times your existing yearly budget means that new responsibilities will follow. With a bond of this size, Flood Control can’t just be in charge of the bayou while a financially distressed city of Houston is in charge of drainage to the bayou. Thinking must be done outside the box. The institutional mindset of Flood Control must change and grow for the better.

To serve all tax payers who would potentially be paying for the $2.5 billion bond, county planners must take the innovative approach and look for publicly owned land inside neighborhoods that flood. These are the places that water detention basins must be built to save neighborhoods inside the city.

Gingell is the general counsel for Residents Against Flooding, a nonprofit that filed suit against the city in 2016 for approving commercial development in the Memorial City area without requiring adequate storm water mitigation. He doesn’t explicitly say he’s against the bond, but you can see he has reservations. I don’t have anything to add to these, I just wanted to flag them for those of you who still want to know more about this referendum. I’ll have a couple of interviews next week to add on.

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16 Comments

  1. Manny Barrera says:

    The link to Jim Blackburn was not working, https://www.texasobserver.org/environmental-attorney-jim-blackburn-houston-harvey-flooding/

    link to map where projects will occur, http://www.harriscountyfemt.org/cb

    Not sure how storm damage repair helps prevent flooding, all those little triangles are storm repair, the one along Buffalo Bayou seem to be where Tinsley Park is.

    Because of my age, it is not the tax money, I just hate voting for tax increases if it does not look that it will help flooding.

    Storage and holding ponds are needed, and the City and developers have already shown that building is paramount in Houston, and I would assume Harris County.

    http://swamplot.com/city-council-approves-mud-for-800-new-homes-on-pine-crest-golf-course/2018-04-25/

    But sometimes they do the right thing, https://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/politics/houston/article/Inwood-golf-course-to-become-stormwater-detention-10935683.php

  2. Bill Daniels says:

    Harris County taxpayers should expect to be told honestly how much this is going to cost them. Give them figures, so they can calculate exactly how much it will cost. Are they 30 year bonds? That’s 30 years of higher taxes. I don’t have a dog in the hunt, but if I did, I’d want those questions specifically answered before I considered voting for this.

    The suggestion about digging big retention ponds in neighborhoods seems a little like peeing in a rain storm, in that it won’t be enough to do anything negligible, and then there’s the consideration of what happens to the excavated dirt. We benefited from hundreds of truckloads of free county dirt when we raised our property. So great, our shop is less likely to flood, but at whose expense?

  3. Manny,

    Why is everybody a racist?

  4. Bill Daniels says:

    Manny, I’m going to admit I might be wrong about the detention pond idea in neighborhoods, based on your links. I will say, though, that most subdivisions don’t have big chunks of land to make a flood lagoon out of, so this isn’t the solution for everyone.

  5. Bill Daniels says:

    Paul,

    Hillary spent over a billion dollars trying to convince people that half the country is racist. That message was bound to sink in with someone.

    There you go.

  6. Manny Barrera says:

    Paul, why do use words like everybody. You know that is not true, so the next question why do you resort to lying all the time like the Russian puppet you support?

  7. Manny Barrera says:

    Bill, I don’t want to feed the troll, but you would be surprised how much land there is for use. That does not include parks that could be lowered by one or two feet to catch water.

    Brays Bayou has two golf courses, one is or was for sale, that is what we were told. That could be purchased and used a detention or retention pond. The County or the City could consider buying it for detention. https://water.usgs.gov/edu/watercyclegwstorage.html

    Capturing water will also help refill the ground water that we have pumped from underneath us, Houston. Some areas in Houston have sunk over 10 feet.

    https://www.uh.edu/news-events/stories/2010articles/Sept2010/09282010KhanFaultLines.php

    https://www.chron.com/news/article/New-app-shows-exactly-where-Houston-is-sinking-11300108.php

    The article on Jersey Village and where flooding occurred go hand in hand. Jersey Village however has been working on the problem, https://communityimpact.com/houston/city-county/2017/10/20/city-jersey-village-invests-big-flood-prevention-2018-cyf/

    In our neighborhood the city has added about four inches of asphalt to concrete streets. I bring that up because most of the houses that took in water here got about one or two inches of water in them.

    The news focuses on the houses that received three feet or more of water, most houses did not get that much water.

  8. Manny Barrera says:

    Paul my words of “every time” is not true, so why do you use words like “everyone”? You are a lawyer, words are suppose to be your tools so why misuse them?

  9. C.L. says:

    @Manny… why do you continue to respond back to Bill ? That may be the definition of insanity… Take the higher ground, brother.

  10. Manny Barrera says:

    C.L. he needed information on Detention and Retention ponds, he admitted he could be wrong, flooding is not political it effects people regardless of any party affiliation.

    I came to Houston in the 60s and fell in love with it, I ain’t moving but some long term flooding problems have to be addressed. What is missing is that the State should be part of the team to solve the problems. We have worthless corrupt people leading the state. Harris County is now seriously looking at the problem, all those Republican areas flooding got their attention. Think they cared about Meyerland?

  11. Manny Barrera says:

    C.L. I have been complaining since the 90s about the lack of long term planning in regards to flooding.

  12. C.L. says:

    @Manny, he goads you and you goad him and the next thing you know Kubosh is chiming in. It’s a downward spiral.

    Re: “I will say, though, that most subdivisions don’t have big chunks of land to make a flood lagoon out of, so this isn’t the solution for everyone.” Now THAT’S the problem. There ARE ‘big chunks’ of land available in new subdivisions, but (1) it’s the developers that don’t set aside these chunks for flood pond purposes…because our inept City/County leaders don’t require them to do it in most cases, and (2) the land is too valuable to the developer to do anything but build on – why put a retention pond on 10 acres if you can build 60+ homes in the same space ?

  13. Bill Daniels says:

    C.L.:

    You can legislate that developers leave project land undeveloped, for storm water retention purposes, but that’s already being done, somewhat. I live in a smaller subdivision, and we had a small detention pond built to take some of our stormwater runoff, and I’ve been here 20+ years.

    I could be OK with requirements for MORE set aside land for storm water retention, just know that that increases the cost of the house or business property you buy. If it was guaranteed not to flood, it would be worth the extra cost, but this is Houston, and there are no guarantees.

    There’s also no future planning, no matter how much you try. Each time you develop a new area, or take the fill dirt from a new detention pond somewhere else, you’ve changed the topography and who knows where the flood water will devastate next time.

    Finally, kudos to Manny for recognizing that despite TDS, there are things that don’t NEED to be political. Flood control is one of those things. We may have biases, see color, see rich or poor, whatever. Flood water doesn’t see any of that. Flood water doesn’t give a shit about Russians, borders, or hating America, or socialized health care, or any of that….it just destroys, indiscriminately.

    He informed and changed my mind about the potential value of detention ponds in neighborhoods, and good for him for that.

  14. C.L. says:

    @Bill… If the CoH truly cared about unfettered development’s effect on the flooding problem in this City, my neighbors to the west, in the Timbergrove Manor Subdivision, wouldn’t be waging the war they’re waging.

    But you raise any interesting question, at least on my part: How exactly does setting aside more land for storm water retention increase the cost of the home of business an individual is looking to purchase ? Is the theory, that could be land better utilized to generate some form of tax revenue ? If that’s the case, I’d bet massive amounts of land would have to be set aside for ponds before it ever had an a discernible effect on the overall tax revenue. Will Developers change more for a home if only ten are built on two acres, with an acre set aside for a pond ? Probably, but that would offset the reduced tax base from the loss of the other five ‘missing’ homes. I think folks are getting a bit tired of the whole density thing, and would welcome some vacant space interspersed among them.

    Land Developers have ruled Houston for years, bending the ears of City Council members, maintaining the whole ‘no zoning’ thing, etc. As long as no one stands up to their outrageous demands/requirements, requested tax breaks, the disgruntled homeowners will continue to wage their wars with these modern day carpetbaggers. I’m involved in the real estate/mortgage industry, and spent the other day looking at plans and specs for new housing being built in the West 20 something streets in the Heights. One home I looked at is being built 9” above base flood level (57’7”) at the site. 9”. He (developer) wanted to get started before the CoH change for new construction come Sept 1st when the requirement changes to 2’. There’s not a retention pond or water catchment or giant hole in the Earth anywhere even remotely close to the build site. Just a matter of time….

  15. Manny Barrera says:

    C.L. there is no short term solution. I agree that the City should look long term, but how will they get developers to give them campaign money?

    Color me stupid, but I have two small bogs in my back yard. The principle that if I don’t litter it helps a little. https://homeguides.sfgate.com/ponds-solutions-wet-backyard-56542.html

    C.L. as to new home, the city should require small detentions ponds for all displacement, but they ain’t going to do that. All that displacement will go directly to the street.

    When they enlarged a city parking lot near a bayou, I complained that they were adding to the flooding. They had the audacity to tell me that the concrete lot was a detention pond because it was connected directly to a storm sewer line.

    They could build more freeways the way they did I 10 and 288, lower so they act as a detention pond. At certain locations.

    One of the things New York City has done, https://csengineermag.com/nyc-completes-largest-ever-expansion-bluebelt-system-staten-island/

    We can land a man in the moon, but here in Houston, we don’t seem to have good flooding engineers and the fortitude to do what is necessary to make sure Houston remains a strong vibrant City.

    By the way, New York City also gave away rain barrels to people to catch rain water.