The city’s chief recovery officer/flood czar Steve Costello made this stunning admission this week:
“When people ask us today if we’re more prepared now than we were
prepared for Harvey, the answer, unfortunately is no. . .”
It is hard for me to get my brain around this statement. Nearly two years after the worst flood in the city’s history and we have made zero progress toward getting our city any better prepared? How can that be possible? It is a colossal dereliction of the city’s duty to protect its citizens and a massive breach of their trust.
Of course, Costello quickly went on to blame the federal government for not doling out aid to Houston fast enough. Click here to read the story. But he failed to mention the hundreds of millions that have been available to the city over the last two years to begin to address our flooding problems and recovery. Let me remind you of those.
1. Aid Already Received. The city has already received $368 million in Harvey recovery funds but had only spent $225 million as of the end of May, according to this report, leaving an unspent balance of $142 million. Of the $225 million that has been spent, $21 million was spent on “administrative costs” and another $25 million was used to pay an insurance premium. Both appear to be transfers to help “balance” the budget and I suspect are only tangentially related to flooding or recovery.
It is also clear that the city has significantly contributed to the delay in receiving federal funds. For example, the city dragged its feet for months in getting a study of the San Jacinto River mouth bar done, which was necessary to determine how much money would be available to dredge it. The delays were so bad that Congressman Dan Crenshaw chided the city about the lack of action. Click here to read the story. FEMA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers finally gave up on the city and have proceeded on a limited dredging based on the information they had. That will probably result in only about 25% of the mouth bar being removed.
2. Drainage Fees. Nor does Costello mention anything about the more than $200 million paid by Houstonians in drainage fees just since Harvey. As I have previously documented, at least half of the drainage fees have been diverted in the past to other uses. Click here to read my previous post. You would think that having 100,000 homes flooded in our city might have prompted the city to use 100% of the drainage fees on drainage. Sadly, that has not been the case.
3. Storm Water Fund. Many years ago, the city set up a Storm Water Fund to do routine maintenance of drainage facilities. Each year the Combined Utility System (the water & sewer department) transfers about $50-60 million to the Storm Water Fund for this purpose. How has that money been spent?
If you add all this up, you come up with something in the range of $700 million in revenue that the Turner administration has had available since Harvey that was either specifically earmarked for recovery or could have been used of that purpose. And what have Houstonians gotten for that $700 million? Well, according to flood czar Steve Costello, zero.
[i] “This report appears to indicate a large drop in revenue from 2018. However, the difference relates to the fact that pension bonds issued last year were shown as revenue on some City reports. Don’t ask me why.”