More than 150 area residents, most of whom suffered major flood damage as a result of Hurricane Harvey, crowded into the large public room of the Kingwood Community Center Monday, June 11, for an update and description of the dredging project by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The project is about to get underway on the West Fork of the San Jacinto River. With so much at stake, namely the ongoing threat to their homes and lives, the crowd paid close attention and, for the most part, heard good news.
$50 million project starts July 5
Bob Rehak, of Kingwood, who has been instrumental in getting the dredging project justified and underway, introduced the project team from the Army Corps of Engineers. It is they who are making the project become a reality in record time.
“We are extremely lucky tonight to have with us some of the representatives of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. I am not sure if you realize it, but the project they are about to undertake in the San Jacinto River, the Emergency Dredging Project, is probably going to be the first resulting from Harvey within the Houston area. These gentlemen have been scrambling with the project since they got it assigned to them by FEMA,” said Rehak. He then introduced Chief of Public Affairs Lt. Col. Mark Williford, Project Manager Eduardo Irigoyen and Hydraulic Engineer Mikael Garske.
As Rehak was completing his introductions, a resident stood up and loudly said, “Bob, before you put down that mike, I just want to thank you for your leadership and all the work you have done.” His last words were drowned out by the roar of applause and cheers of thanks that erupted from the audience.
Following the applause, Irigoyen explained the details of the project using a slide show to point out the specific locations of the planned work to be done. If all goes as planned, dredging will begin as early as July 5, and be completed by the end of the year.
“A study of this magnitude for the Corps (Army Corps of Engineers) usually takes three years. We did this in two weeks,” said Irigoyen. He went over each phase of the planning process, describing how quickly it had been done compared to the time it normally took. He pointed out that normally the bidding process for a job of this size would not have started until later this fall with actual dredging not completed until at least October 2020.
Irigoyen explained that the job was originally estimated to cost $25 million but has risen to more than $50 million as the specifics and magnitude has been fully developed for job bidding purposes. The entire cost, because of its emergency designation, is being handled as part of overall FEMA recovery costs allocated for Harvey and is already fully authorized. The project will result in returning the riverbed channel to pre-Harvey levels from the U.S. Highway 59 bridge to the area where the river opens into Lake Houston east of the W. Lake Houston Pkwy. bridge just past Kings Harbor.
“We want to be in there and out by the spring rains. That’s our goal,” Irigoyen said. He noted it is a very aggressive schedule and everyone involved understands the urgency, but meeting the goal will also depend on how the hurricane season plays out this year in the Gulf Coast area.
Following Irigoyen’s presentation, Garske explained the myriad of facts and figures, data and historic studies that have been used in determining the dredging plans and specific locations. He pointed out where the river radically changed as a result of the storm and explained the methodology used to determine the actual dredging requirements and where they will occur, including the depths and widths of the area to be dredged.
In addition to dredging, the status of other related subjects were provided. Area resident Mark Micheletti, who was appointed to the San Jacinto River Authority (SJCA) Board of Directors following the storm, explained the Lake Conroe lake-level situation. In spite of a delay due to objections from the Lake Conroe Association, Lake Conroe is going to be lowered periodically during high rain-event periods in the spring and during hurricane threats as originally approved by the SJCA. He explained that the objection was made to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality which manages the allocation of drinking water between the City of Houston, Conroe and other users. It must approve all changes regarding available lake water. It has been more than 45 days since the level issue was originally approved by SJCA, and it’s still waiting on the required commission's approval.
“Governor [Greg] Abbott and TCEQ are working to make sure all the legal issues are covered. From my understanding we are real close and I am reasonably confident that by the time we get to Aug. 1, we will see Lake Conroe starting to be lowered,” said Micheletti.
Bill Bauer of the Harris County Appraisal District explained Harris County tax reappraisals for both 2017 and 2018. He pointed out that the 2017 Flood Damage Reappraisal letters apply only to Humble ISD taxes and not to city, county and other taxes for the purpose of calculating 2017 tax year refunds. He emphasized that the 2018 tax assessments should be based on the market value of the property as of Jan. 1, 2018. If no repairs or improvements had been made by that time, the value should logically be the same as the assessed values declared on the 2017 reappraisal that was based on the date the flooding occurred. However, if work had actually been started before Jan. 1, that portion completed in 2017 may increase the market value above the 2017 reappraised value for 2018.
Jonathan Holley of the Harris County Flood Control District explained the upcoming Harris County Flood Mitigation Bond election. The Harris County Commissioners Court plans to call a bond election for Aug. 25 for the Harris County Flood Control District. Registered voters in Harris County will be asked to vote on what could be $2.5 billion in bonds for flood risk-reduction projects throughout the county.
“The purpose of the bond election is to identify additional funding for flood control and general drainage in Harris County,” said Holley. He emphasized that this is not related to the Army Corp of Engineers Project and is completely separate in terms of funding. He asked everyone to become familiar with the projects and provide input about the program lists through the district’s web page, hcfcd.org. He said the bond program access is displayed on the district’s website home page. By selecting it, one can access the 150-plus projects already listed for consideration, along with an interaction map to view the projects by area and location.