Equity, Green Infrastructure, and Controversy
August 12, 2020
Harris County Commissioners have approved a new Community Flood Resilience Task Force.
The new task force, which passed Tuesday, Aug. 11, by a vote of 3-2, replaces the Flood Control Task Force established as a citizens’ advisory group nearly fifty years ago in response to environmental concerns about flood control district practices. Ultimately dominated by developer and engineering interests, that task force lost its purpose.
The new task force, though met with strong disapproval and reservations even from supporters, is nevertheless a laudable effort to provide oversight to the district. It is apparently an initiative of County Judge Lina Hidalgo, who with some exasperation urged participants to “keep trying to make it successful.”
Her staff had done a “lot of research” and looked at best practices of similar task forces around the country, she said at the meeting. Among other things, having a representative from each of the 22 watersheds, as some had demanded, would be too large, she said.
With Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle and outgoing Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack voting nay, the approval came near the end of another marathon virtual meeting, though at 6 hours 42 minutes, the meeting was only half as long as prior meetings. Discussion and public comments begin around 5:16:40 on the video.
The approved bylaws add the word “Flood” to the name of the Resilience Task Force, include a conflict of interest provision, open meetings to the public, and move the task force out of the county engineering department to a temporary home in Hidalgo’s office.
Iris Gonzalez, director of the Coalition for Equity, Environment, and Resilience (CEER), called the bylaws “a step backwards.” She said they “fail to truly implement the Harris Thrives resolution” which the coalition had helped to pass in August 2019.
That resolution calls for the flood control district to, among other things, “bolster community engagement related to flood control by revamping the roles and responsibilities of the Harris County Flood Control District Task Force and ensuring that a geographically diverse range of community members is represented.”
Evelyn Merz of the Houston Sierra Club objected that as constituted there was still “no one really there with a background in green infrastructure, or green space, particularly in the natural sciences.”
Bob Rehak of Reduce Flooding Now, a Humble-Kingwood area group, urged the commissioners to “kill the proposal.” He said the task force “goes against the will of the voters who voted in the bond program.”
Harris County voters in 2018 approved the issuance for $2.5 billion in bonds to fund flood risk reduction projects.
Precinct commissioners will now proceed with developing nominations in order to begin the task force work in the fall, according to Hidalgo’s office.
At the end of the commissioners court meeting, one of the last public speakers demanded a Lamborghini, which he said the county owed him.