Gov. Abbott asks Congress for $61 billion for Harvey damage


Highlights

Gov. Greg Abbott is asking Congress for an additional $61 billion in Harvey relief funding.

The projects are big and small, from repairing rural bridges to the $12 billion “Ike Dike.”

Abbott met with congressional leaders and the Texas delegation on Tuesday in Washington.

Fifteen million dollars to repair and replace damaged Port Aransas schools. About $12 billion to build a storm surge barrier in Galveston Bay. More than $21 million to replace 170 trailer homes destroyed in La Grange.

Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday delivered a $61 billion, 282-project wish list to congressional leaders, asking for federal aid for repairs to public infrastructure damaged by Hurricane Harvey and projects aimed at protecting Texas from future disasters.

About 61 percent of the requested money would fund flood-control projects, while 33 percent would go to housing. The biggest proposed sources of funding would be $36.6 billion from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, $15.3 billion from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grants and $6.3 billion from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

A vast majority of the money — more than $52 billion — would be earmarked for local governments in the Houston-Galveston area.

SEARCH: Projects Texas is asking to fund for Harvey recovery.

Abbott has estimated the total cost of Hurricane Harvey to the state, including damage to private property, to be as much as $180 billion.

In October, Congress approved $36.5 billion for disaster relief, with the money being divvied up between the victims of wildfires in California and Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria in Texas, Louisiana, Florida and Puerto Rico.

That package did not go far enough for Abbott, who called Texas lawmakers “spineless” for not insisting on more money for the Lone Star State. His criticism won a commitment from congressional leaders to take up another disaster relief bill this fall.

In Washington on Tuesday, Abbott met with House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Texas delegation.

RELATED: On the Texas coast, a hurricane recovery haunted by the past

The Governor’s Commission to Rebuild Texas, which is chaired by Texas A&M University Chancellor John Sharp, compiled the list of proposed projects after asking cities, counties, school districts and other local government entities to submit their repair needs and to propose flood mitigation projects.

“Future-proofing the state’s coastal areas requires a long-term commitment and investment to improve the resiliency of our communities and institutions. To succeed, the task needs both the continued partnership and financial support of the federal government,” Sharp said in a statement.

Bastrop County requested $500,000 to repair the Hector Road bridge over Gravelly Creek near Smithville.

The city of La Grange, which saw devastating flooding along the Colorado River, is asking for $24.4 million for five projects, including $2 million to repair 80 homes and $750,000 to fix electrical components of well water facilities damaged in the storm. Fayette County, meanwhile, wants $1.5 million to buy out property owners in flood-prone areas.

Houston area

More than $52 billion in proposed projects target a 13-county area that includes Harris, Galveston, Montgomery and Brazoria counties. The proposals include building reservoirs, buying properties in flood-prone areas and replacing old infrastructure.

The city of Houston is asking for $9 billion to deal with 85,000 single and multifamily housing units damaged during the hurricane. The money would be used for things such as repairing structures, mortgage help and temporary rental assistance.

Another large proposal is for a $12 billion effort known as the “Ike Dike.” Named for Hurricane Ike — which caused approximately $30 billion in damage, numerous deaths and damage to the natural environment — the project would construct a coastal barrier that would protect Galveston Bay from hurricane storm surge. Since the region is hit by a major hurricane about every 15 years, the report states, it is hoped the coastal project would protect the Port of Houston, which is the second-busiest and fourth-largest port in the United States.

“This investment provides mitigation for impacts to the financial, energy production, shipping, and economic stability of both Texas and the nation,” the report states.

SPECIAL REPORT: In small-town Texas, Hurricane Harvey’s overlooked victims face unique challenges

A $6 billion flood control project involves Buffalo Bayou and the Addicks and Barker reservoirs. The money would be used to buy land, easements and rights-of-way in those areas. The reservoirs, the report states, were designed to “protect downtown Houston from extinction-level flooding.” But during Harvey, it says, they overflowed.

In Brazoria County, officials want $2.6 billion to modernize the Freeport hurricane flood protection system. More than 71 miles of levees and five pump stations would be built. The project would, among other things, protect 45,000 people and prevent disruption of the $20 billion petrochemical industry, the report states.

Officials also seek to obtain $1.6 billion to build a new reservoir system in Montgomery County.

They also want $800 million to buy 5,000 parcels of land recently flooded by the hurricane “to eliminate future costs of rebuilding houses and infrastructure, as well as reduce the need for costly water rescues in the area,” the document states.

Coastal projects

In the coastal areas where Harvey first made landfall, most funding requests were aimed at rebuilding courthouses, schools, seawalls and roads destroyed or damaged by the hurricane. In Port Aransas, the iconic beach town just south of where the eye made landfall, city officials asked for $17 million to repair or replace a library, parks, police station and firehouse, as well as public docks at the marina.

Tiny Bayside, which sits on Copano Bay and suffered catastrophic damage from the storm, asked for $5.2 million to replace its fire department building and other municipal structures. Austwell, population 149, sought $2 million to fix its water and wastewater systems.

Not all the requests in the report were updated or accurate. For example, Aransas County’s request for funding to repair and replace government buildings was just $370,000. The county, which took a direct hit from Hurricane Harvey and suffered catastrophic damage in cities like Rockport and Fulton, said the request might contain a typo and that the actual number is many times that amount. (Aransas County officials on Nov. 3 confirmed that they need $30.7 million for building repairs, and that the initial estimate they submitted was incomplete.)

Refugio County sought $30 million over 10 years to offset losses to its tax base, though it wasn’t immediately clear what the money would be spent on. Many smaller cities and counties in the region fear dramatic cuts in tax revenue as residents leave the area or the appraised value of damaged properties plummets.

RELATED: In South Texas, students await return to hurricane-ravaged schools

Schools along the battered coast sought more than $120 million to fix and replace damaged buildings and equipment, including $54 million for the Aransas County school district, which includes the heavily damaged Rockport-Fulton High School. The Port Aransas school district sought $15.5 million.

Some requests in the report involve projects that local governments have long sought federal funding for and which pre-date Hurricane Harvey, in some cases by years. Others seem to have a tenuous connection to Hurricane Harvey recovery. For example, officials included a request for $231 million for the long-planned Brazos Island Harbor Channel.

Officials said the dredging project would help larger vessels navigate the Brownsville Ship Channel and Congress authorized the improvement project last year. The project does not have a connection to Hurricane Harvey, but appears to be connected to strengthening hurricane resiliency at Texas ports, according to officials at the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council.



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