Friendwood’s public works building is still standing on Deepwood Drive. But these days, it’s not getting much use.
Fifteen months ago, Hurricane Harvey flooded Friendswood and surrounding areas. The water inundated the building, where about 50 people normally work. It was considered a total loss almost immediately, City Manager Morad Kabiri said.
The building’s damage was so apparent, it was among a list of dozens of projects the state of Texas sent to federal leaders Oct. 31, 2017, seeking immediate assistance in rebuilding from the storm. The list totaled $61 billion, including more than $230 million in Galveston County.
A year since that list was sent, Friendswood is no closer to getting a new public works building, Kabiri said.
“Nothing’s been funded yet in Friendswood,” he said. In fact, the Federal Emergency Management Agency hasn’t even finished a damage assessment of the building.
It puts a strain on city services, he said.
“I have a department of close to 50 employees operating in a manner that’s not very efficient because we still haven’t got an answer from the feds,” he said.
Hurricane Harvey caused an estimated $120 billion in damage across Texas. Since the storm, which struck in August last year, there has been a substantial amount of federal aid sent to the state, including more than $1 billion in individual housing aid from FEMA, and close to $10 billion in disaster recovery block grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
More money is expected to come, eventually, but local leaders say they expect that money will come through the process of applying for disaster recovery money — despite the state’s 2017 request for special appropriations to certain projects.
One year after making the $61 billion request to Congress for hurricane recovery, most of the local projects on the state’s list are either unfunded and waiting for federal bureaucracy to be approved or outright canceled, a review by The Daily News found.
In October 2017, two months after Hurricane Harvey devastated Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott flew to Washington D.C. to press federal leaders with the request for federal aid for the state.
The money was needed on top of funds expected from FEMA and the housing department, officials said.
“This level of additional federal assistance is vital to restoring the economy of the Texas Gulf Coast and is consistent with federal aid in past disasters such as Hurricane Katrina,” the request stated.
Abbott’s office did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
The request sought $12 billion from the federal government for a coastal barrier on Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula, and another $230 million for other projects around Galveston County.
The single largest request in the proposal was $12 billion for a coastal spine project to protect communities around Galveston Bay from storm surges in future hurricanes.
Long dreamt about by local leaders, the barrier project hasn’t been funded, but recently received an updated plan, and higher price tag, from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The corps estimated the project, which includes 76 miles of barriers around Galveston Bay, would require between $23 billion and $30 billion to complete.
That the barrier hasn’t been funded isn’t a surprise. Its supporters have said the project would need its own separate act of Congress to be funded and built.
Other local projects on the state list have been completed — without special appropriations — and are awaiting the federal government to be refunded.
For instance, the state had asked for $1.15 million to make repairs to Dickinson Independent School District facilities because of severe flood damage at Colony Elementary, Gator Academy and an annex building, officials said.
Those repairs have been finished for a long time, and were made with the district’s own insurance money, Dickinson ISD spokeswoman Tammy Dowdy said. The repairs totaled $1.6 million, she said. The district is still waiting for FEMA to reimburse it for the work, however. That process could take months.
Other projects on the state list don’t appear to be in the works at all.
While the state had asked for $1 million to elevate water systems in Santa Fe, that plan is no longer being worked on, James Newman, superintendent of Water Control and Improvement District No. 8, said last week.
Four projects in Galveston County — aside from the coastal spine — are in various stages of planning, but haven’t been funded yet, Galveston County Judge Mark Henry said. The county’s list included new bridges to Pelican Island and across the San Luis Pass.
“All of these projects are important to Galveston County and are on our radar for long-term planning,” Henry said. “Addressing these large-scale projects is not an overnight process and can take time. There are a lot of moving parts.”
In Friendswood, Kabiri was confident a new public works building would come through, eventually, he said. For now, the city has an 18-month lease on a building for his employees to work in, he said.
Looking back at the state’s request for the project, Kabiri wouldn’t put too much stock in the idea that it would act as some sort of final, master list of local infrastructure projects, he said.
The list was meant to just be a way to get attention, he said.
“It was simply an exercise in identifying the needs, it wasn’t tied to any funding stream,” he said.