City officials invested $2 million in flood mitigation projects in the fiscal year 2017-18 budget, which was adopted Sept. 18. Flood mitigation is the largest area of spending in the capital improvements budget this year, making up more than two-fifths of the $4.9 million that will be spent.
"Flood mitigation is a priority in Jersey Village because it affects the quality of life for residents," Mayor Justin Ray said. "From the City Council’s perspective, we had the priority of making sure we handle what we can do as fast as we can do it and get some shovels in the dirt.”
Budget expenses increased from $11.1 million in the FY 2016-17 budget to $16.7 million in the FY 2017-18 budget, which City Manager Austin Bleess said he attributed to the implementation of the flood study as well as citywide salary adjustments and building improvements.
The city’s property tax rate will also remain at 74.25 cents per $100 valuation. With overall revenue projected at $14.3 million, Bleess said the city will dip into its reserves—which sat at $12.3 million before this year’s budget—to make up the difference.
“The city has a very healthy fund balance,” Bleess said. “Over the years, the city has built that up knowing we would have to spend some money on some large projects coming up. So this year, we will be drawing down on our reserves.”
Although Jersey Village residents were spared from flooding during Hurricane Harvey—when White Oak Bayou came just short of overflowing—some homeowners are still reeling from the damage during flooding that look place last April.
Known as the Tax Day Flood, the rainfall on April 18, 2016, caused 238 homes within Jersey Village to flood and spurred city officials to pursue a long-term flood recovery study at the cost of $650,000. The study concluded in July and was adopted by the council at its August meeting.
The council took the first steps toward implementing the recommendations from that study when it passed its 2017-18 budget. Funding was included to construct an earth berm, or raised barrier, around the Jersey Meadow Golf Course and to begin engineering work on street drainage improvements on several of the city’s most flood-prone streets, including Wall Street.
Construction on the berm will be carried out by Dannenbaum Engineering Corporation at an estimated cost of $750,000 and is expected to begin in 2018. Dannenbaum was identified as the ideal candidate because it conducted the flood study, which would save the city time and money, Bleess said.
Because the golf course is not self-contained, water flows freely during large storms into nearby streets, such as Rio Grande and Wall streets, Dannenbaum Division Manager Alejandro Flores said.
The berm would allow the golf course to retain water during floods, which could be held and released to a nearby tributary to minimize flooding. During a 100-year flood event, Dannenbaum officials estimated the berm would prevent about $757,000 in damage once installed.
City officials are pursuing several other recommendations to reduce flooding in the city, including home elevations and deepening and widening parts of White Oak Bayou.
Addressing White Oak Bayou provides the city with the greatest opportunity for preventing damages incurred by the city and its residents, according to the Dannenbaum study, but it also comes with additional challenges.
Jersey Village would need to work with the Harris County Flood Control District on any modifications. HCFCD would need to secure the funding, and county officials said they already have several projects in line ahead of those in Jersey Village.
Bleess said he reached out to HCFCD and was told the district would need to complete widening work downstream before work in Jersey Village could begin. No timeline has been set for work in Jersey Village.
“Even if we were to put money toward the channel improvements today, flood control would still not be able to get to that until everything else downstream is completed,” Bleess said.
However, the city has moved forward on home elevations. After meeting with residents, city officials identified 18 houses to include on a grant application to the Texas Water Development Board that was submitted in mid-October. Another $400,000 was included in the FY 2017-18 budget for elevations.
After TWDB reviews the city’s application, the board will finalize it and send it to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA could award grants by February or March at the earliest, Bleess said.
Once all concepts are implemented, fewer homes in the city would flood during a 100-year storm event, Ray said. He said he believes the city’s good luck during Harvey should not slow its resolve, and concentrated rainfall over a short period of time can still overwhelm White Oak Bayou.
“Though many of us breathed a sigh of relief, that does not mean continued flood mitigation should not be a top priority,” Ray said.