Early voting has begun for the $2.5 billion Harris County Flood Control District bond election set to coincide with the anniversary of Hurricane Harvey's landfall on Aug. 25. Many of the projects on the table, however, are items planned well before that unprecedented storm.
"It's always been OK, how do we afford to solve these problems?" Matt Zeve, the district's operations director told the Houston Chronicle. "With the bond, we'll have funds to solve some of these drainage and flooding issues."
Of the 237 projects listed, nearly half of the funding, $1.2 billion, would go toward channel improvements, according to the Chronicle, with another "$401 million for detention basins, $242 million for floodplain land acquisition, $12.5 million for new floodplain mapping and $1.25 million for an improved early flood warning system. The flood control district created an interactive map to display the projects. The bond also includes some $500 million of unallocated funding for future projects over the bond's lifespan.
The list itself is subject to change. On the flood control district's website, it notes that "the estimated total cost of projects on the list exceeds $2.5 billion, and there must be some flexibility in maintaining this list as projects are defined, designed and constructed." Adding that, "Over the next several years, projects on the list could be altered based upon community input or design constraints, be removed, or new projects added, depending on future unknown conditions including right-of-way availability, changing environmental regulations and funding that may come available from other partners."
There appears to be strong support for the measure, which would raise property taxes by 1.4 percent for the average homeowner.
A University of Houston Hobby School of Public Affairs poll conducted between June and July before the project list was released found that 55 percent of Harris County residents said they supported the bond, while 35 percent said they were unsure and 10 percent said they did not support it. Importantly for a likely-to-be low turnout day, respondents who said they were certain to vote were even more in favor of the measure at 62 percent, than respondents who said they were unsure whether they'd vote.
Support for the measure was more or less even among respondents who said they had experienced flooding between 2001 and present and those who hadn't at 56 percent and 55 percent respectively.
But beneath that support, there's a fair amount of skepticism.
Roughly half of Harris County respondents were either extremely or very concerned "that much of the money from the $2.5 billion bond issue will go primarily to politically connected developers and construction firms instead of directly to flood risk reduction projects." And only 7 percent were very confident that local leaders knew how to address flooding compared to 39 percent who said they were either not confident or not confident at all.