Houston-area officials who thought they would be handed nearly half of a historic $4.3 billion federal investment in Texas flood control projects after Hurricane Harvey will be lucky if they can fight for a quarter of the funds under a proposal from the Texas General Land Office.
The GLO’s 315-page plan outlining how the agency will distribute the long-awaited flood mitigation aid limits local governments seeking some of the $2.1 billion pot meant for Harvey-affected areas to three projects of up to $100 million each. Moreover, cities and counties will have to compete for the funds with thousands of municipal utility districts, state agencies, river authorities, tiny towns and other entities across 49 coastal Texas counties.
Also concerning for local officials is a stipulation in the plan that all applicants must have their first project funded before any entity can get a second project, so the aid could run out well before any entity gets three projects approved.
“The other two are going to sit there in a holding pattern, maybe it’s two months, maybe it’s two years,” said Alan Black, director of operations for the county Flood Control District. “The time is a huge thing.”
Local leaders are expected to air their concerns at a Wednesday night public hearing at Texas Southern University on the GLO plan, part of the process of distributing disaster aid from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The dollars can fund flood control projects such as wider bayous, detention basins and bigger underground drainage pipes, as well as buyouts of flood-prone homes, improvements to facilities such as sewer plants, and some housing investments.
City and county officials have tried to walk a tightrope, seeking to convey their alarm at the plan without railing against state officials, who can distribute the funds as they please as long as they follow HUD rules.
“Did they really mean to write the plan this way? I’d almost read it that it’s written in a way that’s meant to limit us accessing this money,” said Daphne Lemelle, director of Harris County’s Community Services Department. “But for the damage that happened here in Harris County, there wouldn’t be $4 billion coming to the state of Texas.”
GLO Deputy Director Heather Lagrone noted that 34 smaller cities and scores of special districts in Harris County can join the area’s larger governments in submitting project applications. She also clarified that the county and the county Flood Control District will be able to apply separately, a key concern of local leaders.