AP NEWS

Local leaders expect new county judge, commissioner to make flooding a top priority

January 3, 2019

Although a new Harris County Judge and commissioner were sworn in Jan. 1, Lake Houston area legislators and officials hope to see the same focus on flood mitigation.

After meeting with new Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia at the Elected Officials Breakfast Reception held on Dec. 11, chamber officials were pleased to know that his top priority is Hurricane Harvey recovery. Precinct 2 includes much of Atascocita in addition to Huffman and Crosby.

“He’s open to coming up to the area and really looking in-depth at what happened during and post-Harvey, what the needs are and then understanding how all that fits in with the projects within the bond referendum,” said Mark Mitchell, who serves as president of the Lake Houston Area Economic Development Partnership.

Shared goals

Meetings to brief Garcia and new county judge Lina Hidalgo on the region’s latest happenings are in the works, said Jenna Armstrong, president of the Lake Houston Area Chamber of Commerce.

She said the importance of executing projects in the area with the $2.5 billion voter-approved bond — which could include additional dredging projects, detention and more gates on Lake Houston — would be the message they will convey to the new officials.

She also noted that before the projects can be tackled they will have to receive final approval from the Harris County Commissioners Court.

“That’s something we want to make sure we’ll see through,” Armstrong said.

Armstrong and her office have been in a similar scenario before. In August 2018 the chamber lobbied for Lake Houston area projects to be included in the $2.5 billion flood infrastructure bond that was presented to Harris County voters. It was approved by 86 percent of voters on the one-year anniversary of Harvey.

Mitchell credited Ed Emmett, the county judge at the time, and former Precinct 2 Commissioner Jack Morman for being key figures in addressing the Lake Houston area’s needs.

Mitchell said he hopes new county leadership will be able to hold the same course.

“Flood control and the safety of our community will always be my top priority,” Hidalgo said in an email on New Year’s Eve. “We recently held a gathering and emergency run through at the Office of Emergency Management with dozens of partners from law enforcement, to the Red Cross, and industry who come together in the event of a disaster.”

Regarding challenges in navigating the flooding issue, Hidalgo said that the aforementioned flood bond’s funds “are significant, but not enough.” She added that this is a chance for her to exercise transparency, specifically about how and when the money is spent.

“It’s hard to hold government accountable if you don’t know what it does or how it works,” she said.

Emmett was not available to provide a comment for this story.

Chance to change

Garcia expressed his wish to seek fresh ideas in brewing flood-mitigation techniques.

“Our society has given birth to more innovative and brighter engineers that have a different perspective on this issue, and I want to bring that creativity to the table,” he said.

Garcia considered his win over two-term Republican incumbent Morman as a chance to cooperate with the community.

“For this particular area I want to make sure that we’re not playing politics with people’s homes or businesses,” he said. “If we don’t get it right, we’ll be putting our economy in peril.”

On the eve of 2018’s Small Business Saturday, or Nov. 24, Armstrong said in an email that support for local small businesses is necessary since the community is still trying to return to its pre-Hurricane Harvey state.

Although Garcia understood that there will be challenges down the road, a point that Armstrong also echoed, he cited his interactions with officials — seasoned and new — along with past experience as Harris County’s sheriff and mayor pro-tempore as preperation for whatever is ahead.

“There will always be things that we will not foresee, but I feel very confident that we can deal with those issues as they come,” Garcia said.

In an email, Rep. Dan Huberty said he saw no issues in working with newly elected members and will meet them at the beginning of their session. In August, he said that flood control and prevention will be the leading subject on his agenda for the upcoming Texas Legislative Session.

He also reiterated a point made in March about illegal sand mining operations on the river being the main cause for the region’s flooding.

Past midnight on New Years Day, 81 Harris County officials were sworn into office, and like Hidalgo and Garcia most are of the Democratic party.

Mayor Turner was also at the swearing-in ceremony, where he said he will collaborate with Hidalgo on flood-control matters.

nguyen.le@chron.com

AP RADIO
Update hourly