The feud between Houston-area government officials and the Texas General Land Office continued this week following months of acrimony.
On Wednesday, Mayor Sylvester Turner and Stephen Costello, the city’s chief recovery officer, said in a letter to the GLO, “It is unconscionable that the State would expect that this amount in any way represents an amount that is sufficient to address the extensive mitigation needs in Houston and elsewhere in Harris County.”
In written testimony to the U.S. House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation in July, Mayor Turner scolded The GLO for a “demonstrably flawed process” that awarded no flood mitigation funds to the city most affected by Hurricane Harvey.
The testimony continues to make the case: “When members of the U.S. House and Senate approved an aid package in February of 2018 for the region battered by Hurricane Harvey, do you believe they intended for those dollars to be funneled to the cities and counties least affected?”
“Aransas and Nueces County, coastal counties where Harvey made landfall, received nothing.”
Jefferson County, which endured the highest total rainfall? Again, nothing.”
“The City of Houston and Harris County, which suffered 50 percent of the damage from Hurricane Harvey? The GLO process awarded nothing.”
“This clown car must be stopped.”
The GLO attempted to repair some of the fallout by retroactively awarding $750 million to Harris County, but still nothing for Houston. Given that Congress – in a bi-partisan vote and signed by President Trump – appropriated $4.3 billion in flood mitigation dollars for Texas. The Houston-Harris County region endured half the damage in the State of Texas. The numbers just don’t add up.
Bush has repeatedly made false statements regarding Harvey mitigation funds. He has repeatedly claimed that federal rules tied his hands. A Houston Chronicle analysis showed this is false: “Not only does the federal government grant states significant discretion to decide how to spend their funds, but the criteria Bush’s General Land Office developed discriminated against populous areas.”
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) responded by stating clearly, “the formula for allocation was created by the State of Texas. They have full responsibility and jurisdiction over who gets the money that was allocated to the state for flood mitigation.”
Harris County Administrator Dave Berry told the Houston Chronicle that county leaders support Houston’s request for a $1 billion allocation.
“The majority of the amount the State of Texas (federal) allocation — by far — was due to Hurricane Harvey and the documented damage suffered in Harris County and the city of Houston,” Berry wrote. “Congress clearly intended for this money to go to communities most impacted and distressed by Harvey.”
The situation is extremely consequential for Houston residents. The city is trying to improve drainage to mitigate urban flooding so houses don’t flood before stormwater can reach the bayous. The federal government appropriated these funds for precisely this purpose – and to protect investments already made in recovery costs. Yet, the GLO appears determined to avoid allocating the Houston-Harris County region an appropriate share of funds that could help Houstonians stay dry in the next flood.