The leaders behind some of the largest Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts say they hope to get a list of high-priority hurricane mitigation projects to Washington before Congress passes a second package of Hurricane Harvey relief funds later this month.
Speaking to the Texas House of Representatives Appropriations Committee on Monday, Texas A&M University Chancellor John Sharp, the state’s appointed hurricane recovery czar, said he had requested lists of projects from cities and counties affected by Harvey’s floods and hurricane-force winds — so that a consolidated presentation could be made to federal officials.
“Anytime you deal with feds, there is a ‘Mother may I’ situation,” Sharp said. “The paperwork is critically, critically important.”
Recovery projects related to mitigation are not expected to begin until next year, and could go on for eight to 10 years after that, Galveston County Judge Mark Henry said.
The county is still focused mostly on providing individual assistance, but did work to complete a list for the commission by last Friday, Henry said.
While communities are still working to clean up debris and assess damage, officials said it was important to get future mitigation projects on the minds of federal officials early. The urgency is increased because it’s expected that future federal funds will also include funding for recovery efforts in Florida and Puerto Rico.
“We completely agree, we understand it being a priority,” Henry said.
At the top of the list for Galveston County is a coastal spine, Henry said. That project is expected to cost $12 billion or more.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said his city was also hoping to receive hundreds of millions of dollars to create new reservoirs and improve existing ones.
Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush — who has been the state’s most visible supporter of the coastal spine project — was scheduled to speak to the appropriations committee, but had to leave before testifying because of another engagement.
In a different hearing Tuesday, Bush told the House Urban Affairs Committee that the first release of money for housing repairs and rebuilding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development could take up to 32 months to be fully approved. The land office is the agency charged with overseeing Texas’ housing recovery.
Congress approved a $15 billion Hurricane Harvey recovery bill last month, just two weeks after the hurricane made landfall near Rockport. That bill has repeatedly been described as a “down payment” for future recovery bills.
Texas communities have received $280 million in advance payments for infrastructure repair from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Another $1.85 billion in individual aid also has been provided by FEMA, the Small Business Administration and the National Flood Insurance Program.
Harvey caused an estimated $150 billion to $180 billion in damage across Texas with its floodwaters and hurricane-force winds.
At the meeting, State Rep. John Zerwas, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, endorsed the idea of tapping into the state’s Rainy Day fund to pay for recovery efforts that are not covered by the federal government. But that would also not happen immediately, Zerwas said.
“We need to understand what the expenses are,” he said.