As we approach the 18 month anniversary of Harvey next week, I am struck by how little we have actually accomplished in terms of flood mitigation. And as the election season heats up, I am also forced to wonder whether changes at City Hall could accelerate the effort.
Looking Back at the Effort to Date
After Harvey, it took several months to analyze the causes of flooding, identify possible solutions, and build political consensus around them. We did that. As a community, we identified four major improvements that we needed: additional flood gates for Lake Houston, additional dredging (through the mouth bar), additional upstream detention, and ditch repairs.
We met with the Mayor who agreed and promised to deliver. We met met with the County Judge and the Flood Control District. They worked the community’s requests into the flood bond last August. Kingwood voters turned out in record numbers to support it. And we had five of the top eight precincts in the county in terms of turnout percentage.
…And Then Nothing
We actually got Phase 1 of the dredging started. And then…nothing. We’ve had six months of virtually nothing. That leads me to wonder whether people were simply telling us what we wanted to hear. Worse, some of the hard won gains seem to be drifting away. For instance…
Change in Direction at County Level
Instead of attacking projects on a worst-first basis, the new county judge has asked the flood control district to reorder priorities for project implementation. Next week, the judge and commissioners will review a protocol that favors neighborhoods with low to moderate income and gives no weight whatsoever to massive infrastructure damage, such as Kingwood sustained. The loss of:
- An interstate highway bridge for ten months.
- A high school and three other school district facilities totaling $100,000,000
- Two-thirds of the buildings at Kingwood College costing $60 million and taking 18 months to repair.
- 100% of the businesses in two major commercial centers (Kings Harbor and Town Center)
- Most of a third commercial district (US 59) destroyed up to FM1960
- Damage to 3,300 businesses that employed a large percentage of the local population – 44% of all the business in the Lake Houston Area Chamber of Commerce
- Memorial Hermann’s new hospital facility that was days away from opening
- Disruption of northbound rail traffic out of the City of Houston for months
- Nursing homes and senior assisted living devastated
…all that suddenly counts for nothing now…unless the prevailing political winds change.
Flooding is a public safety issue. We wouldn’t allow the county to say, “affluent neighborhoods don’t deserve police protection for the next 10-15 years.” When it comes to safety, neither rich nor poor, should be disadvantaged. But that’s our next battle. I digress.
Meanwhile, Back at City Hall
What have we gotten? Approval of a $2+ million study of the entire river basin that will take at least a year to complete. Astoundingly, approving the grant took almost a year in itself.
At what point do you say, “The system is no longer working for me. It’s time for officials to deliver. We need to hold them accountable”? When do you say, “It’s time to bet on someone new to get results”?
It’s Time to Deliver or Else
We may not be there yet. But inevitably, election season raises these questions. One thing is certain. If incumbents don’t show results between now and November, I’m voting for change. I’m not going to cut people slack for four more years. The risk is too high.
Kingwood Has the Power to Change the Outcome
In that regard, someone reminded me today about how close the last mayoral campaign actually was. And how Kingwood could have easily changed the outcome.
Only 4,000 votes City-wide determined the winner of the last election. 28,000 registered Kingwood voters did not vote.
Turner beat King by about 4000 votes city wide in the runoff election of 2015. But 28,747 registered voters in Kingwood didn’t bother to vote – about three fourths of all those registered. That’s significant because King carried Kingwood by more than a 6 to 1 margin. Clearly, Kingwood could have swung the election to King had more people voted.
I’m not saying Turner has ignored Kingwood. The cleanup was impressive. But we’ve had several opportunities to jumpstart mitigation projects such as additional gates and dredging that have sputtered since then. And the City is trying to turn over ditch maintenance to the County, whose marching orders suddenly favor low-to-moderate income.
Turner has several months to turn things around. If he can’t, I suspect a much higher percentage of Kingwood voters will turn out in November. And we clearly have the capacity to change the outcome if we choose.