WHAT’S ON THE TABLE IN HARRIS COUNTY’S FLOOD BOND MEGA VOTE, STARTING TOMORROW
Included in the flood control bond package county residents are about to start voting on: $1.2 billion for channel improvements, $401 million for detention basins, $242 million for floodplain land purchases, $184 million (coupled with $500 million in outside funding) for 3,600 home buyouts, $12.5 million for new floodplain mapping, and $1.25 million for a better flood warning system — according to totals the Chronicle’s Zach Despart summed up from the master list of 237 individual projects. Not included: money for a third reservoir, although $750,000 is on the table to help the Army Corps study the possibility of one. Taken together, the $2.5 billion proposal‘s price tag is more than 20 times the Harris County Flood Control District’s annual budget of $120 million. Voting wraps up on Saturday, August 25, the anniversary of Harvey’s arrival in Houston. [Houston Chronicle ($); full list (PDF); previously on Swamplot] Photo of flooding at Creech Elementary School, 4242 S. Mason Rd., Katy:: Breta Gatlin
On-the-ground footage from KHOU reporter David Gonzalez shows just how much water the Johnny Steele Dog Park — redone and reopened 3 weeks ago following its last flood — took on yesterday. By the end of the downpour, floodwaters had risen up a few steps from where the park begins at the foot of the staircase leading to Allen Pkwy., as shown in the photo above.
That left these 2 out of luck:
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Mayor Turner had already cancelled all Freedom Over Texas events yesterday — save for the fireworks — by the time the HOUSTON sign planted in Eleanor Tinsley Park got caught up in the flow of things and began drifting downstream, away from the Bud Light Beer Garden that it originally fronted. Despite the disorder, the letters managed to stay afloat during their time on the water, captured by Chronicle photographer Yi-Chin Lee.
They ended up making landfall in the middle of the lawn:
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COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE SLEEPY STREETS HARRIS COUNTY FLOOD BUYOUTS LEFT BEHIND
There is a community close to 290 and Windfern, on Cole Creek Dr. and another near Fairbanks and Hollister on Woodland West. Deep in the flood neighborhoods that were bought back by Harris County Flood [Control District] a while ago. All of the roads, utilities and everything are there. Just no homes or homeowners. Made a great place to take a post-lunch car nap when I worked close by. [bocepus, commenting on The Latest Wave of Harris County Home Buyouts, Mapped] Illustration: Lulu
Now that a second, $51 million round of FEMA funding for home buyouts has come through, here’s the map of where the latest government snatch-ups are planned, 294 total. As indicated by the red dots above, they’re all outside the Loop — with a good portion grouped in 3 distinct clusters along Cypress Creek (which drowned out previous flooding records along nearly its entire length during Harvey). Other hotspots include several along White Oak Bayou, as well as a Greens-Bayou-adjacent bunch off Beltway 8 just north of Aldine and a San Jacinto River-side group south of Hwy. 90, near Highlands.
The money Harris County Flood Control District expects to receive for these purchases supplements an earlier $25.6 million FEMA committed to it on June 4. That previous check (along with an $8.6 million match the Harris County Commissioners okayed in order to get it) will be spent on about 169 buyouts, mapped out below:
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Along the Bayous
THE ONGOING TRAVELS OF CITY HALL’S FLOODED-OUT BASEMENT EMPLOYEES
Shell has been allowing the city’s procurement staff to stay for free in 74,000 sq. ft. at One Shell Plaza, across Smith St. from the City Hall basement they were forced out of by Harvey’s floodwaters. (They’re joined in the office tower by IT employees from the city’s 611 Walker facility, which suffered its own water damage when its sprinkler system malfunctioned in December). But the free ride is coming to an end this month, reports the Chronicle’s Mike Morris: Shell is charging $70,074 for June rent. Now, the city plans to move its refugee employees again — this time to Enterprise Plaza (pictured above) at 1100 Louisiana where they’ll stay from July 1 to the end of next year at a rate of $93,380 per month for 69,000 sq. ft. (about $1.7 million total). After that, they’ll head back to 611 Walker, which the city plans to have ready for permanent residents by then. As for the damaged City Hall basement and the tunnel connecting it to the adjacent annex across Bagby St., their interiors “remain stripped, the walls peeling or patched with plywood, the wood veneers in one stairwell warped to mark the water line just below the annex’s first floor.” [Houston Chronicle] Photo of 1100 Louisiana St.: Hines
HOW TO PICK OUT THE RIGHT BOAT AND ONBOARD GEAR FOR HOUSTON’S NEXT FLOOD
“A good, 16-to-22 foot aluminum boat, it can take a lot of abuse if you were to hit a mailbox or something like that without doing damage,” says the Premiere Boating Center’s Mark Kuchera, speaking to Houston Public Media’s Gail Delaughter. He’s one of many exhibitors at the 4-day Houston Summer Boat Show where in addition to normal window shopping, many folks are either looking to replace boats lost or damaged in Harvey — or hunting for something that’ll do well in the next storm. Fishing boats are a good bet for floods, too, says David Christian of the LMC Marine Center (next door to Kuchera’s shop on I-45 near E. Airtex Dr.). Because your typical model is designed for shallow water, it “also happens to be what you need to float down a street.” Then there’s the equipment you’ll want to have aboard: “a spotlight and GPS are helpful for night rescues,” says Christian, and “A hydraulic jack plate can protect your outboard motor in shallow water.” Lower-tech devices aren’t bad either: “a long rod or stick can help you determine the depth of the water in unfamiliar places.” [Houston Public Media] Photo of Houston Summer Boat Show 2018: Houston Summer Boat Show
The final page of the Harris County Flood Control District’s final report on Hurricane Harvey includes the map above, with orange indicating where bayous, rivers, creeks, and gullies set new high water marks between August 25 and 29. Aside from Sims Bayou and a handful of smaller waterways, every other liquid landmark in the county outdid itself along some portion during the storm. Several — such as Cypress Creek and Carpenters Bayou (shown in detail above) — set new flood records along their entire lengths.
Less distinguished are White Oak and Little White Oak bayous, which broke records along only tiny stretches near Buffalo Bayou:
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Watery Award Tour
Hillocks of dirt dot the landscape west of T.C. Jester, adjacent to the train tracks near the end of Shirkmere Dr. where Lovett Homes is now elevating some of the 77 lots that’ll make up its new Stanley Park subdivision. Since receiving a commercial fill permit from the city in April, the developer has stacked soil across the site — which lies entirely within White Oak Bayou’s 100-year floodplain and has never before been built on.
Also included in that flood-designated realm: the Timbergrove Manor neighborhood just north of the development. Its southernmost street, Queenswood Ln., had it up to here during Harvey:
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Next to Timbergrove Manor
The Tree Tops at Post Oak apartment complex on Briar Hollow Pl. has been abandoned since August, “with many windows and doors open as well as no maintenance to the yards,” writes a reader. Also noted: survey markers, like the one stuck between the fence and the curb in the photo included. First floor units at the complex sit below street level, and had water “up to the ceilings,” during Harvey.
From the corner of Briar Hollow and Post Oak Park Dr., you can see wooden scaffolding fronting the lower-level units, behind the fence — and the overgrowth — that separates them from the street:
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Out of Order
COMMENT OF THE DAY: COULD A THIRD RESERVOIR, UP NORTH, HOLD WATER?
“Make a reservoir or lake north of the city, just west of Humble at the confluence of Spring Creek and Cypress Creek, as well as the San Jacinto River just a bit to the east. This land is still undeveloped. These three major tributaries coming together in short order accentuates the flooding issues. If the water has nowhere to go it’s going to cause flooding. While a reservoir in west Harris County will hold that water back from surging downstream, it does absolutely nothing for the rainfall that falls on the hundreds of square miles of land in the Spring Creek, downstream Cypress Creek and San Jacinto River watersheds. The main intent of the proposed third dam is to keep the water from overflowing into Barker and Addicks. Creating a lake here could serve not only flood control issues, but also provide for another source of drinking water.” [Thomas, commenting on Abbott Signs Off on Harris County’s Harvey Anniversary Flood Bond Vote] Photo of the confluence of Spring and Willow Creeks: Northampton MUD
HOW SOME BIG INVESTMENT FIRMS ARE READYING HOUSTON FOR THE NEXT FLOOD
Whether homes flooded by Harvey are sold to investors or not makes a big difference, argue the Chronicle’s David Hunn and Matt Dempsey. For one thing, a sale closes the door to a county buyout — which often takes much longer to complete than a private purchase. Since Harvey, the reporters note, 88 houses Harris County had hoped to buy and demolish have already been snatched up by private parties, often for rehab and rental. Investment firms, by the writers’ count, have bought about 150 Harvey-flooded homes so far. Since about 2013, larger firms have been bundling rental homes in order to “sell the securities on Wall Street as a way to borrow money, fueling the purchase of even more homes.” But by maintaining the supply of floodable housing, Harris County Flood Control District’s Matt Zeve tells the writers, “All we’re doing is perpetuating a cycle of flooding.” At a national scale, according to university researchers quoted by Hunn and Dempsey, “rent-backed loans are already exhibiting characteristics of mortgage-backed securities” — the keynotes of the 2008 U.S. financial mess: “they’ve transferred the risk of default to taxpayers, stockholders and investors.” But investors seeking info about such rent bundles may be hard-pressed to get it: “While U.S. securities laws require funds to disclose significant risks about their investments, there are no specific requirements regarding flooded homes.” Hunn and Dempsey’s review of documents put out by public companies invested in flooded Houston houses shows that few of them, “if any,” have voluntarily told shareholders that they own such assets. [Houston Chronicle ($)] Photo of Harvey cleanup in Bellaire: Russell Hancock via Swamplot Flickr Pool
ABBOTT SIGNS OFF ON HARRIS COUNTY’S HARVEY ANNIVERSARY FLOOD BOND VOTE
In a letter to the Commissioners Court yesterday, Gov. Abbott approved Harris County’s request to hold an August 25 bond election that would pay for a long, not-yet-finalized lineup of flood control projects. On the short list so far: “the buy-out of all of the county’s high-priority areas at highest-risk of flooding, approximately 5,500 properties,” Judge Emmett tells the Chronicle’s Mihir Zaveri — as well as the financing of “some portions a much-discussed third reservoir northwest of the city,” and “numerous bayou and creek widening projects.” Also included: a handful of detention basins and drainage improvements to waterways in both Houston and the MUDs of unincorporated Harris County, according to the flood control district. The district now has about 4 months to compile the list, during which time Harris County “plans to launch a public outreach campaign to seek input on what to include in the bond package, as well as drum up support for the measure.” [Houston Chronicle ($), previously on Swamplot] Photo of Sesquicentennial Park and Franklin St. during Harvey: Kelsie H. Dos Santos
ORTHODOX SYNAGOGUE MULLS CROSSING THE LOOP TO SOMEWHAT HIGHER GROUND
The roughly 820 homeowners in Willow Meadows are now voting on a deed restriction change that — if passed — would allow the United Orthodox Synagogue to build a new structure outside The Loop, in place of 5 houses that sit 3 quarters of a mile south down Greenwillow St. from the congregation’s previous home at the corner of S. Braeswood. Many congregants walk to the synagogue — which could soon be leaving the 100-year floodplain for the 500 after flooding 6 times in the last 25 years, including 3 in the last 3. “According to preliminary renderings,” reports the Jewish Herald Voice’s Michael C. Duke on Studio Red’s proposed design, “the synagogue would be a single-story structure, measuring an ultimate height of 30 feet. Based on new building codes, the finished floor of the building would be built some 3 feet above curb height, and the building itself would have the same 25-foot setback as homes in Willow Meadows.” Passage of the proposal “would prompt Houston’s largest Orthodox congregation to hold its own congregation-wide vote on whether to stay at its current location north of I-610 South and rebuild portions of its campus at a significantly higher elevation; or, to move.” Most of the congregation’s 57-year-old building was demolished last month, except for a few portions including its social hall and mikvah. [Jewish Herald Voice; previously on Swamplot] Photo of United Orthodox Synagogue’s demolition, 9001 Greenwillow St.: United Orthodox Synagogues of Houston
HARRIS COUNTY OPTS TO SCHEDULE FLOOD BOND VOTE FOR HARVEY’S ANNIVERSARY
The Harris County Commissioners Court voted this morning to move forward with scheduling a multi-billion-dollar flood control bond referendum — to fund property buyouts, bayou widening, and other mitigation efforts — for August 25. “Why August 25?” Judge Ed Emmett asked the room — which included the Chronicle’s Mihir Zaveri — “It’s the 1-year anniversary of Harvey. It’s got a certain sex appeal to it.” Commissioner Rodney Ellis at first opposed the commemorative date, fearing voter turnout could be weak during the summer. “If it is one shot that we have, I just want to make sure we get it right,” he said. (If the referendum fails, the earliest the court could hold another one would be in May 2019.) He argued instead for a date during November’s mid-term elections but changed his mind “for the sake of unity” after an appeal from fellow Commissioner Steve Radack — putting a unanimous finishing touch on the back-and-forth. What’s now needed in order to get it on the calendar? Governor Greg Abbott’s sign-off, followed by a vote from Harris County making the date official. [Houston Chronicle; more] Photo of Buffalo Bayou flooded by Hurricane Harvey: Adam Brackman