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Smart rebuilding is best Harvey response

December 4, 2018

Beaumont Mayor Becky Ames is correct to say about Tropical Storm Harvey, “You can’t prepare for 64 inches (of rain).” What Beaumont and every city in the region can do, however, is learn from this disaster and make sure that all rebuilding is as thoughtful and long-term as possible.

Beaumont officials are passing this test by studying five projects that should help the city get through the next major flood whenever it comes, even it isn’t as bad as Harvey.

The projects include building a wall around the Pine Street Surface Water Treatment Plant’s electrical building, which was threatened but not inundated by Harvey’s water, and building a new pump station near the Beaumont Country Club. Another change would expand the chemical storage capacity at the water treatment plant to 30 days from 15 days because Harvey made it difficult (if not impossible) to resupply it for days afterward.

A new raw water pipeline under Pine Street would not only help flood response but provide another benefit. The improved road could bring new life to that section of north Beaumont, which has many older homes and vacant land. It’s reminiscent of another “two-fer” project a few years ago, when drainage was improved along Calder Avenue and the revamped street became more attractive to its current businesses and future ones. The city was even able to add bicycle lanes there.

This is the kind of thinking that city council members and county commissioners need to focus on: If a road needs rebuilding, why not spend a little more money and elevate it? If one public building flooded last time, should its duties and personnel be transferred to others that fared better? This mindset must factor into virtually every decision, from where to park public vehicles when high waters threaten to how to communicate with staff and citizens when bad weather hits.

Granted, all of this costs money, and that limits a city’s or county’s options. But there are state or federal grants that could apply. With these five projects, Beaumont is seeking $28 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Texas Water Development Board to help pay for them. Things like that happen only with a grant application and followup by local officials.

No one can predict the weather, but the facts remain: Southeast Texas has low elevation and it gets lots of rain, and its coastal location makes us vulnerable to tropical storms. Realities like that make the next challenge with flooded streets or homes not just possible but likely. Smart rebuilding now won’t eliminate those problems, but it will reduce them.

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