HOUSTON (AP) — Flood control projects approved by Houston area voters in 2018 in response to Hurricane Harvey are facing a $1.4 billion shortfall that could delay their completion, officials have announced.
The projects in need of the most funding are in some of the area’s poorest neighborhoods that have repeatedly flooded in recent decades and have not received the same amount of funding for flood mitigation as other local communities, according to experts and community advocates.
That has reinforced the belief by many residents of low-income areas in eastern Harris County along Greens and Halls bayous, which have repeatedly flooded, that they will continue to be left behind and forgotten about, said Iris Gonzalez, director of the Coalition for Environment, Equity, and Resilience, a Houston-based advocacy group.
“A lot of the questions that the community has for … our elected officials is, ‘When is the investment going to come?’ How many hurricane seasons do they have to face before they can feel and see the level of protection that they deserve,” Gonzalez said Wednesday.
Hurricane Harvey, which made landfall as a powerful Category 4 storm on Aug. 25, 2017, killed 68 people and caused an estimated $125 billion in damage in Texas. Thirty-six of the deaths were in the low-lying Houston area, where days of torrential rainfall and decades of unchecked development contributed to the flooding of more than 150,000 homes and 300,000 vehicles.
More than 24,000 homes along Greens and Halls bayous flooded.
In 2018, voters in Harris County, where Houston is located, approved the issuance of $2.5 billion in bonds to fund flood-control projects that might mitigate the damage caused by future storms.
Officials said the $2.5 billion bond referendum would be supplemented by another $2.5 billion in state and federal funding to help complete more than 180 projects, most of which are underway. But Harris County Budget Director David Berry told county commissioners on Tuesday $1.4 billion of that state and federal funding has yet to come through.
“The hope after Hurricane Harvey that federal and state partners would really be focused on Harris County, where we saw the worst damage from Harvey, has not altogether turned out to be true,” Berry said. “We do have a real issue to work through.”
In 2019, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said the state would allocate more than $4 billion in federal funding awarded for flood mitigation after Harvey. Officials in Houston and Harris County had hoped the funding would have been directly awarded to local governments.
Local communities are having to compete with one another by applying for grants through the Texas General Land Office for the funding. Harris County has applied for $900 million from the state, but it’s unclear if it will get all of that funding.
The flood control projects along Halls and Greens bayous still need about 75% of their funding.
Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis said he worried that if officials can’t make up that shortfall, “We would be telling people in these neighborhoods, Greens and Halls, … ‘That’s all you’re going to get. We can give you swimming lessons.’”
The Harris County Flood Control District, which is building the various projects, was directed to create a plan by June 30 to secure funds to make up for the shortfall.
Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter at www.twitter.com/juanlozano70