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our view Phelan bill showcasesbest Harvey response

December 16, 2018

State senators and representatives from Southeast Texas will have plenty of issues to focus on in the next session of the Legislature that begins Jan. 8, but they could help this region the most by uniting behind a bill filed by state Rep. Dade Phelan.

That bill encourages local governments to respond to the devastation of Tropical Storm Harvey and future floods in the smartest, most comprehensive way. Instead of a piecemeal approach that might help one county or another, Phelan’s bill seeks a cooperative effort that would be more logical and effective.

Why? Because water from rainstorms or hurricanes doesn’t respect city limits or stop at the county line. It will flow where it wants to go.

Phelan’s legislation, House Bill 478, addresses this reality for the entire state, not just this region.

The counties in Southeast Texas are not that large, so it doesn’t make much sense for them to act as if they are islands in a storm.

Drainage from Hardin County can affect Jefferson County, and water from Jasper and Newton counties can cause problems for Orange County. If cities, counties and drainage districts are working together on a challenge like this, they will help each entity more — and their neighbors as well.

This effort will cost a lot, perhaps as much as $31.5 billion. But that’s less than the damage caused by Harvey, and no one knows when the next hurricane or tropical storm will duplicate that carnage. Coastal and river flooding is already expected to cause more than $6.8 billion in property losses over the next five years according to the Texas Water Development Board’s flood assessment.

Phelan said one early encouraging sign on this issue is an awareness in the Legislature that fighting future floods will be costly but worthwhile. State officials and lawmakers seem to realize this is not a temporary problem, but the new normal that we must all be prepared to deal with.

While Harvey would have been a back-breaker under any circumstances, it also exposed cities and counties with insufficient drainage and disaster plans. If local governments address that problem now — in a cohesive, united way — they will fare better for years to come.

Phelan is a Republican who represents Orange County and part of Jefferson County. His bill needs support from other Republicans to the north, like state Rep. James White and state Sen. Robert Nichols, as well as Sen. Brandon Creighton in the west. State Rep. Joe Deshotel is a Democrat, but party divisions shouldn’t undermine this bill.

These lawmakers should study this legislation and suggest ways to improve it for the benefit of their constituents and the people in the next district. Texas needs this approach for the next challenge, whenever it might come.

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