[Originally Posted by Houston Chronicle Editorial Board, Aug. 5, 2018 ]
That’s one of the most important lessons we need to learn from Hurricane Harvey. One year ago today, we had no idea what was about to hit us —literally. One year later, the magnitude of it all — both physical and emotional — may have faded a bit.
Maybe the reasons to complain in neighborhoods across Harris County have dwindled now that debris has been hauled away, repairs have been made and a lot of people have moved back into their homes. Maybe the blazing anger and deep frustration felt by many flood victims has dissipated, allowing people to get on with their lives. In many ways, that’s good news.
But it could be bad news for efforts to pass monumental flood control reforms. Don’t let a sense of normalcy return us to complacency. Don’t let healing and rebuilding erase a central lesson of Harvey: our government officials — local, state, and federal — failed over many decades to do all they could to protect this region from catastrophic flooding. Now, many current officials are trying to do right by people in the Houston area.
Harris County Judge Ed Emmett and the county commissioners are among them. Early voting begins this week in connection with the $2.5 billion bond issue Harris County flood control officials have proposed in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. If voters give their approval, the bonds would pay for a long list of flood related projects throughout all of the county’s 23 watersheds, everything from major infrastructure improvements to home buyouts to a new flood warning system.
“This is our chance to tell the world we’re going to get serious about flood control,” Emmett told the Editorial Board, adding that “2.8 cents is not enough for flood control. It’s got to increase.”
Though the years, Harris County government has earned a reputation for doing far too much of its business out of the public eye, but the process involved in preparing for this bond issue has been remarkably different. Flood control authorities led by Emmett welcomed anybody and everybody to a series of public events in all of the county’s watersheds. They not only presented detailed plans for all of their proposed flood mitigation projects, they listened and took suggestions from taxpayers with good ideas on how the plans could be improved. These weren’t meaningless dog-and-pony shows rolled out by bureaucrats who’d already made up their minds. Dozens of changes have gone onto the drawing boards based upon the thoughtful recommendations people brought to these neighborhood meetings. If you haven’t already seen them, you can look at the projects proposed for your watershed at https://www.hcfcd.org/bond-program/.
The bond issue in its first year would cost the average single-family homeowner about five bucks, scaling up to a little less than five bucks a month over the course of 15years. It’s important to note that homeowners over 65 living in houses worth less than $200,000 wouldn’t pay a nickel more in taxes for these bonds.
It’s also important to point out why a certain two aging reservoirs — Addicks and Barker — are missing from the bond package. Emmett says a lot of people have been asking. The reason is that Harris County can’t work on the reservoirs because they’re maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — that’s the federal government.
And that’s one of the main issues voters need to keep in mind when they go to the polls for the general election in November, when we elect our representatives to Congress. November will also give Texans their first chance to pass judgment on the disaster response mounted by state elected officials, from the governor to the lieutenant governor to the land commissioner.
Don’t let the hard lessons we all learned last year be forgotten. Remember that another Harvey could be around the corner. Remember what at least some folks in Cypress seem to keenly recall.
“There were people showing up, they were real angry,” Emmett said, describing one community engagement meeting. “You know, saying ‘You haven’t done anything for Cypress, you’ve got to do something.’ We say, that’s why we need the bond.”
Yes we do. Vote for the Harris County flood bonds this month. And in November, when we hold other officials accountable, remember these two words: Stay mad.