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Phelan bill would encourage cooperation on flood projects

December 7, 2018

A bill to encourage local governments to cooperate on large-scale flood planning and mitigation projects is just one indicator the state may be ready to take on lessons learned during Hurricane Harvey.

House Bill 478, filed Thursday by state Rep. Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, suggests a new way for local governments to request money to fund such projects.

Meanwhile, the Texas Water Development Board on Thursday provided recommendations that showed it likely will cost more than $31.5 billion over the next 10 years to curtail damaging flooding across Texas. The recommendations include moving away from piecemeal projects to focus one regional ones — something Phelan’s bill encourages.

The Legislature found that the creation of a fund specifically to award or loan state dollars to government bodies that cooperate with each other would “encourage the development of nonstructural and structural flood mitigation in the state,” according to the bill text.

To be eligible the group has to have “acted cooperatively with other political subdivisions to address flood control needs in the area.” Additionally, all governmental bodies substantially affected by the project must participate in developing the projects, conduct public meetings and meet other requirements. The bill didn’t specify how much cooperation is enough or what qualifies as substantially affected.

Although Phelan’s bill comes after Harvey, which first made landfall near Port Aransas as a Category 4 hurricane, and Phelan hails from an area devastated by subsequent flooding, he said in an interview that the measure is designed so the entire state can benefit from the flood mitigation opportunities.

Bodies that cooperate could get a loan at or below market interest rates or a grant to provide matching funds for federal programs. They could also have other opportunities.

The program is proposed to be funded by appropriations from the Legislature, proceeds of general obligation bonds issued for the program and repayments of loans made from the fund, among other sources.

“I don’t want to say there won’t be a problem with funding, but there’s more than enough sentiment” to use state dollars for hurricane recovery, Phelan said.

For the program to be successful, he said, the state will need to provide leadership, funding must be available and local government officials must be willing to trust the state and their peers.

Coastal and river flooding alone is expected to cause more than $6.8 billion in property losses over the next five years, according to an Associated Press report about the Water Development Board’s flood assessment.

The agency suggests a three-pronged approach: updating flood mapping and modeling, establishing comprehensive planning instead of piecemeal efforts and enacting policies and procedures to aid mitigation.

Enacting the agency’s recommendations would lay the foundation for managing flood threats, Water Development Board spokeswoman Merry Klonower told the AP.

“Due to a combination of population growth and related development, Texas can be certain that without proper planning, flood events will impact more lives and cause more damage in the future,” the report said. “This statement is just as true on the High Plains near Post as it is along Dickinson Bayou near Galveston.”

Phelan told the Enterprise that he also expects school funding and school safety to be important issues this legislative session.

The Legislature meets Jan. 8 through May 27.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

kaitlin.bain@beaumontenterprise.com

twitter.com/KaitlinBain

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