It took only about 90 seconds for long-running drainage and flooding problems to come up during a city council meeting Tuesday.
The drainage talk, delivered to a packed house of flood-weary residents by an engineering firm that has been hired to fix Dickinson’s clogged-up bayous, overgrown ditches and inadequate culverts, dug deep into the weeds of the city’s drainage issues for one reason — to assure impatient residents, some of whom have spent the past couple of weeks filling potholes and cleaning out ditches without the city’s help, that officials had heard their concerns and were working on a solution.
“My purpose for this is to give some insight into what we’re doing,” City Manager Chris Heard said.
The city, where hundreds of houses and businesses were badly flooded during Hurricane Harvey in August last year, was still in the planning stages of solving its drainage problems as it waited to apply for federal money that could help, he said.
“They’re not definitive solutions, but there’s a lot of planning going on, and it’s an opportunity to see what’s been going on.”
Then Michael Tehrani, a vice president and hydrologist for Huitt-Zollars, which the city hired in August on a one-year, not-to-exceed $370,000 contract to help it deal with the drainage issues, used a city map to explain street-by-street what had been done so far.
Basically, the city was still in the surveying phase, he explained.
Contractors with Huitt-Zollars, along with city staff, had been busy walking flood-prone roads on recent rainy days to talk with residents about the problem, as well as using mapping technology to determine where the flooding was worse and what the priority should be for fixing it, he said.
The conclusion was culverts should be replaced, ditches should be cleaned out and dug deeper and some kind of regional plan needs to be hammered out between Dickinson officials and the governments of nearby cities, Tehrani said.
“This is the first step,” Tehrani said. “Just looking and talking to people so we can see how much we’ve learned. There’s a process the city needs to go through.”
Heard jumped in to add that the city is meeting with the company every two weeks to identify problem areas and sort them into what he called “situations” — small drainage and flood issues that could be grouped together into “projects” that eventually will be paired with a funding source.
“We’re up to a little more than 100 situations,” Heard said, pointing to the areas around Hughes Road and Baker Drive as priorities. “Once we identify and scope out a project that looks viable, we’ll lay out probable costs and also lay out alternatives.”
It was similar to the explanation he gave earlier this month after some residents called for the city to ask Texas City and League City to stop signing off on new housing developments that use Dickinson Bayou as a drainage receptacle. A request for a building moratorium in other cities would not only be unsuccessful, it also wouldn’t address the entire problem, he said.
“We need a holistic solution,” he told The Daily News, adding that thorough planning is necessary if the city wants to be eligible for federal project dollars. “People are blaming new developments in other cities, but that’s only a part of what’s going on.”
Still, Dickinson Mayor Julie Masters has scheduled a meeting of local government and drainage district representatives to talk about these issues —new developments in other cities, mostly — that Dickinson can’t address on its own and doesn’t want to spend too much money on, Masters said.
“How much of the taxpayer’s money do we want to spend on improving a drainage area that’s not even in the city?” Tehrani asked council members, before being asked himself if he had billed Dickinson for even mapping out drainage issues in a nearby Texas City development.
“It only took the computer a few seconds,” he assured council members.
Masters said the meeting is tentatively set for later this month, which might not be fast enough for some elected officials and city residents, who vented about drainage woes during the meeting’s public comment session.
“I know a lot of people who aren’t happy,” Councilman Charles Suderman said.
“They’re already preparing for homes to go up on the west side of I-45,” Councilman William King said, referring to a new development in Texas City. “It’s coming and we don’t have much time.”