Author Topic: Residents worry about flood project priorities as equity issue divides Commissioners Court  (Read 144 times)

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Offline Elderberry

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Houston Chronicle by  Zach Despart and Jasper Scherer 2/28/2019

Harris County Commissioners Court members agree projects from the flood control district’s $2.5 billion bond program should equally benefit rich and poor watersheds, though their disagreement over what equity means — and which projects should be completed first — has fueled suspicions in neighborhoods across the county that they will be left behind.

County Judge Lina Hidalgo this week blamed a television news report she said was inaccurate for sparking confusion about the bond program among state lawmakers and Houston City Council, and has sought to reassure residents each of the 237 bond projects will be completed over the next decade. She said the massive size of the program, however, means the flood control district must rank each project by priority.

“All the projects on the bond list are getting done, and they’re getting done as quickly as we can,” Hidalgo said.

The equity discussion touches a nerve for many residents, who want their watershed projects pushed to the front of the line as the second hurricane season since Hurricane Harvey looms and the county has built little new flood infrastructure since that storm. It also highlights the balancing act Houston and Harris County leaders must perform as they manage federal dollars — some of which can be spent only in affluent neighborhoods — while attempting to steer local money to poor ones, for which there is no other funding source.

The squabbling threatens to divide Commissioners Court for the first time over the bond program, which the previous court unanimously drafted last summer and campaigned to secure its passage. A prolonged fight over how to manage the bond, the largest flood program in county history, could undermine public confidence in the flood control district at a time the county can ill-afford it. With cost estimates to fully protect Harris County from 100-year storms as high as $30 billion, Commissioners Court may need to persuade voters to pass another bond in the future.

Hidalgo said much of the current confusion about the program can be traced to a misleading story aired by KRIV Fox 26 on Feb. 21, that said her administration was proposing changes to the bond program that could affect how the money is spent. A group of 11 Houston state legislators cited the report in a letter to Hidalgo on Wednesday expressing concern her office was changing the way projects are prioritized.

The letter, authored by Rep. Jim Murphy, R-Houston, urged Hidalgo not to prioritize bond projects based on “neighborhood and/or individual income levels,” warning that doing so could undermine the Legislature’s efforts to provide billions in state aid to Harris County.

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