San Marcos weighs options for $25 million disaster recovery grant

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The city of San Marcos will spell out on Aug. 19 how it plans to use $25.08 million in federal reliefs funds stemming from two destructive floods in 2015.

A draft plan detailing how the funds will be used has been in the works since February, when it was announced that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development would allocate disaster relief funds to help the city recover from last year’s floods. Residents will have two weeks to comment on the draft plan before a final version is submitted to HUD on Sept. 8.

Council held a workshop July 25 to discuss the action plan and receive updates from AECom, the city’s consultant, on an assessment of unmet needs within the community.

AECom estimated there is about $47.75 million of unmet needs in the community due to the Memorial Day weekend and All Saint’s Day floods in 2015. Those needs include housing and infrastructure assistance that has not been addressed by the Federal Emergency Management Administration, Small Business Administration or National Flood Insurance Program.

“The $25 million [grant]is a nice effort, but to me it’s a number that we will leverage to do what we promised to do, which is to fix this [flooding]problem for everybody,” Council Member Scott Gregson said.

City Council’s options for how to use the $25 million include addressing housing—through a variety of strategies, including buyouts, relocations, or assistance elevating homes—repairing infrastructure and economic development for businesses affected by the floods.

AECom has recommended the city dedicate 5 percent of the funds to administer the grant money, 15 percent to planning projects, 50 percent to housing projects and 30 percent to infrastructure projects.

The consultants’ assessment found that 15 businesses affected by the two floods in 2015 received loans from the Small Business Administration totaling $3.5 million. Their recommendation does not include an economic development component for the affected businesses.

San Marcos City Manager Jared Miller described council’s initial task as a “first blush” at creating the action plan. Miller said the direction council gives—as to whether to pursue housing, infrastructure or economic development—can be modified.

“This is an initial survey,” Miller said of the council’s July 25 discussion. “When we’re talking about drainage, we’re not talking about [a specific project]. We’re talking about a number of different projects.”

The funds, known as Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery, or CDBG-DR, funds, come with a variety of requirements. At least 70 percent of the funds used must address low- or moderate-income areas of the city. AECom representative Lael Holton, who presented the consultant’s plan to City Council said every area that sustained heavy damage during the two floods is considered a low- or moderate-income area.

Additionally, any substantially or severely damaged unit—meaning the residence sustained damage totaling at least 50 percent of the property’s total value—receiving CDBG-DR funds must be elevated two feet above the base flood elevation—or assumed peak water level during a 100-year flood—when construction is complete.

All funds must also be spent to address the two flood events.

The city has previously discussed potentially using a portion of the funds on an Army Corps of Engineers project that would build an overflow channel east of I-35 to carry water during heavy flooding events. Participation in that project may be complicated though, as Miller said federal regulations limit the amount of HUD funds that can be contributed to an Army Corps of Engineers project to $250,000.

Miller said a HUD director indicated there may be some flexibility on that restriction, but he said he did not feel it is something the city should “bank on.”

“If that is the best bang-for-the-buck project, they can probably make that happen or find a way to make that happen,” Miller said.

Miller said the overflow project still has quite a few challenges aside from the “funding vagaries,” including right of way acquisition for the project.

AECom estimates it would cost about $33,064,838 to elevate 300 homes out of the floodplain.

Holton said AECom estimated that about 25 percent of the 1,246 homes in the Blanco Gardens that sustained damage would need to be elevated, based on the CDBG-DR requirement that homes having sustained “substantial” or “severe” damage be elevated two feet above the base flood elevation.

Gregson said he is skeptical that elevating homes is the best use of the CDBG-DR funds. If the city used the entirety of the CDBG-DR funds to elevate homes, many residents who experienced less than substantial or severe flooding would still own property at risk of future flooding.

“If they weren’t severely damaged but they were still flooded, we’re leaving them subject to flooding by not elevating them,” Gregson said. “My gut tells me elevation doesn’t get us anywhere other than to defer a problem to the future we’re going to have again.”

Important dates

Aug. 2
Public hearing to authorize the creation of an action plan

Aug. 19
Draft action plan submitted for public comment

Sept. 2
Comment period closes

Sept. 6
City Council workshop to be briefed on comments and responses

Sept. 8
City submits action plan to HUD

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Brett Thorne reported on education, business, economic development and city government in San Marcos, Kyle and Buda from 2012 to 2017. Thorne attended Texas State University in San Marcos, where he graduated in 2010. He joined Community Impact Newspaper as a reporter in 2012 and was promoted to editor in 2013.
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