A standing-room-only crowd of Kingwood area residents filled the main meeting room at the Kingwood Community Center to attend Houston City Councilman Dave Martin’s Town Hall Meeting March 21.
- Mayor Turner assures residents flooding is a priority -
Martin opened the meeting by formally introducing Kingwood’s U.S. Congressman Dan Crenshaw, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and other City of Houston and officials present.
Crenshaw went straight to the main topic at hand. “I’m going to talk a little bit about some of the updates on the federal level on the flooding issue that you really care about,” he said.
Crenshaw pointed out since Harvey there have been 14,789 FEMA claims in just four zip codes. Congressional District Two was hit from all sides, he said, and had 167,000 residents make FEMA claims that total over $700 million; that does not include businesses with insurance. He explained that because the local community and Houston have made meaningful changes to minimize these kinds of damage in the future, many matching programs and funds are being made available. He highlighted that since January, the federal government has awarded money for the San Jacinto Watershed Study, including an Army Corps of Engineers study, a flood warning system and $400,000 to investigate the feasibility of building a flood tunnel system.
Turner and his team of administrators updated the residents on capital investment efforts underway in the Kingwood area. He explained that with the approvals of the $2.5 billion Harris County Bond Issue and the funds dedicated from Rebuild Houston Initiative, things are moving forward. Turner announced he is changing the name of the Rebuild Houston Initiative to “Build Houston Forward” to better reflect the forward-looking objectives of the program.
Turner explained the Northpark Mobility project is a part of the Build Houston Forward effort and through the hard work of Chairman Stan Sarman and the community, working with Martin, the funding has been worked out and construction on the Northpark Mobility Project is scheduled to begin in 2020 with completion in 2021. It will provide an overpass over the Union Pacific railroad tracks and Loop 494.
He then addressed the Lake Houston Dam project and said, “We are partnering with the Harris County Flood Control District and the Coastal Water Authority and requesting funding from FEMA under the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program to move this vital project forward.”
Turner explained that the $48.5 million project will add 10 gates to the existing dam structure and will enable Houston to efficiently and timely control the release and level of lake water prior to storms. He said, “The goal is to protect Kingwood and the other areas around the lake from flooding.”
Stephen Costello, Houston’s chief resilience officer, described the San Jacinto River dredging project along with updates on all of the financing coordination and the drainage issues being addressed in the San Jacinto River watershed. He highlighted the challenge of what has become known as the “Mouthbar” of sand that impedes the flow of the river into Lake Houston and pointed out that there is as much material removal and dredging required there as there is in the rest of the dredging project already well underway.
“The estimate is a million-and-a-half yards for the Mouthbar Project,” he said and described the coordination effort going on now to get the additional funding approvals needed to do that work. He expressed confidence that it will get done.
Following the presentations, questions from residents were mainly about the dredging or flooding recovery projects. However, one was from a concerned resident about a story she had heard about the Forest Cove Fire Station possibly closing.
Turner said, “No one has ever discussed with me about closing any fire station in the City of Houston. I have not signed off on anything. I have not discussed the closing of anything.”
The resident then asked about stories of possible firefighter layoffs and the mayor pointed out those stories are true. He explained there is a high risk of layoffs due to the well-publicized predictions of the impact of last November’s voter approval of Proposition B that mandates a 29 percent pay increase with no additional funding source.