Senate bills are finally meeting Harvey needs
Thousands of Texans along the Gulf Coast were looking for a special session of the Legislature to respond to the devastation of Hurricane Harvey in 2017, as well as support from the Rainy Day Fund. Neither happened, but the regular session rolled around this year, and lawmakers are finally responding.
The state Senate approved three bills this week that would address needs still lingering from Harvey as well as try to reduce damage from future storms. They would create a disaster recovery blueprint for government officials, establish an infrastructure fund and require the state to update mapping techniques and develop a state flood plan every five years.
All seem justified, and in fact should have been in place before Harvey hit. That storm was a record-breaker, but hurricanes and floods were hardly unknown in Texas before August 2017. When storms did strike, from Carla to Rita, the response by government was often to address the damage but not take on any major changes in infrastructure or drainage. At long last, local and state government seem to realize that the possibility of severe weather is the new normal, not something that happens every decade or two.
For example, Senate Bill 7 would establish a “Texas Infrastructure Resiliency Fund” to pay for expenses like floodplain management and projects related to Harvey. Senate Bill 8 would organize government agencies to share flood prevention plans to “make sure one municipality is not moving their flood mitigation programs to other towns or counties.”
That’s important, because water doesn’t respect city or county lines. It will always flow downhill, so one drainage system should tie into a neighboring one as well as possible. This point was evident in Jefferson County during Harvey, when Port Arthur suffered the worst damage, partly because it received water that flowed south from Beaumont and Mid-County. Port Arthur has the lowest overall elevation in the country, so some of that was unavoidable. But better planning might have minimized the damage and saved more homes.
These three bills passed the Senate 31-0, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick called them some of the most important in this year’s session. The House must consider them seriously.
The victims of Harvey are still struggling. Keep in mind that the Port Arthur Public Library only reopened this week, 18 months after the building was flooded. That’s too long for a major public facility like this, and elected officials must do all they can to ensure something like that doesn’t happen again.