Harris County DA

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Harris County accepts $750M in Harvey relief from GLO

Workers expand and deepen Hunting Bayou at Hutcheson Park in Houston on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021. The project is part of a four mile stretch to help the neighborhoods around the bayou from flooding.
Workers expand and deepen Hunting Bayou at Hutcheson Park in Houston on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021. The project is part of a four mile stretch to help the neighborhoods around the bayou from flooding.

Elizabeth Conley, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer

Harris County Commissioners Court unanimously approved an agreement Wednesday with the Texas General Land Office to receive $750 million in federal flood mitigation funding, and called on the agency for an additional $250 million the county had expected to receive.

The funding from the Texas General Land Office — the state agency charged with distributing Hurricane Harvey relief from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development — comes more than a year after the GLO awarded the county and the city of Houston zero dollars in its first round of grants even though the area accounted for half the damage from Hurricane Harvey.

The county last year revealed a $1.4 billion gap in funding to supplement the $2.5 billion flood bond approved by voters in 2018. County officials attributed the shortfall to expected funding from state and local partners that had not materialized.

The new funding from GLO will help narrow that gap, which now is down to $400 million, according to Harris County Budget Director Daniel Ramos. However, Ramos said the county’s plans were based on the assumption it would receive $1 billion from the GLO.

“We’re building billions of dollars worth of new infrastructure and it costs money to maintain it,” Ramos said.

County officials said they will continue negotiating with the GLO for the remainder of the money they expected.

A spokesperson for the GLO did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The vote to approve the agreement was 4-0; Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey was absent.

Republican Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle joined his Democratic colleagues in calling on the GLO to allocate an additional $250 million to Harris County, as well as $1 billion to the city of Houston, which has yet to receive any of the Harvey mitigation funding from HUD.

“In a rare show of bipartisanship, yes, we need the $1 billion,” Cagle said. “We need to help the city get their $1 billion. I’m grateful that we at least got the $750 million, but we still need the additional $250 million to complete the projects.”

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo called the $750 million allocation good news, but not enough.

“When the bond was passed, it didn’t account for increases in cost,” Hidalgo said. “It didn’t account for increases in maintenance costs. So, we need additional funds to make sure we can complete everything.”

Despite the delay in receiving funds from GLO, Harris County Flood Control District Director Tina Petersen said flood mitigation projects have continued on schedule, thanks to the Flood Resilience Trust the county created last year to address the funding gap.

The trust is funded with Harris County Toll Road Authority revenues.

“We’re pleased to move forward with the agreement, but this still drastically underfunds our needs,” County Administrator David Berry said. “Harris County was impacted by the devastation of Hurricane Harvey more than any other county, and the allocation of funds should reflect that,” Berry said. “We continue to advocate for additional funds for both the county and the city of Houston.”

Though the county has approved the agreement with the GLO, it could be months before projects are able to move forward using that funding. The GLO will need to approve the county’s final plan to distribute the money, which could happen in January at the earliest, according to the Harris County Community Services Department.

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