Additional flood mitigation funds approved, bail bond case settlement discussed: 5 takeaways from Harris County Commissioners Court, March 13

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More than six months after Hurricane Harvey hit the Greater Houston area in August, the Harris County Flood Control District continues planning projects to improve watersheds throughout the county. Harris County Commissioners approved more than $1.2 million in additional funding for flood mitigation projects on Tuesday during the court’s regular meeting.

1. Flood mitigation funding

Commissioners approved amendments to agreements for various design, engineering and construction services to improve flood mitigation in the Greens Bayou, Addicks and Barker, and Little Cypress Creek watersheds.

“I think it’s important that we get that word out so that people know that projects are actually underway,” County Judge Ed Emmett said. “On this agenda alone, there’s millions of dollars being spent on desilting and detention basins and things like that.”

Funding for the four projects includes:

  • An additional $507,730 to ISD Engineering Group Inc. for engineering services for a desilting project in the Addicks and Barker watersheds in precincts 3 and 4
  • An additional $471,872 to Lockwood, Andres & Newnam Inc. for engineering and related services to create a detailed master plan across the Little Cypress Creek watershed in precincts 3 and 4
  • An additional $170,630 to Halff Associates Inc. for design, bidding and construction engineering services to make embankment, control structure and other site improvements in the Greens Bayou Watershed in Precinct 1
  • An additional $80,000 to Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam Inc. for engineering, design, bidding and construction engineering services for a stormwater detention basin on Lauder Road in the Greens Bayou Watershed in Precinct 2

The commissioners court also approved five tracts in Precinct 2 for Hurricane Harvey home buyouts as well as a tract in Precinct 4 for Phase 6 of the Spring Creek Greenway project.

 

2. Bail bond case

After hearing from two Harris County criminal court judges at the county’s Feb. 27 meeting, county commissioners again discussed the court case filed in 2016 over the county’s bail bond system. At the February meeting, the judges urged commissioners to settle the court case.

The matter began with a lawsuit known as the ODonnell case, which alleged the county unfairly jails those who cannot afford to pay cash bail. The suit alleged that a “wealth-based pretrial detention system” violates the equal protection and due process clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

On Feb. 14, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal’s April 2017 ruling that the county’s bail practices are unconstitutional.

“I think [this case]is as big as Brown v. Board of Education,” Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis said Tuesday, referring to the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court Case that declared separate public schools for black and white students to be unconstitutional. “In Harris County, we are violating the equal protection clause.”

On Tuesday, Emmett said the plaintiff has not yet accepted the county’s offer to settle the case.

 

“We’ve got an offer pending that has not been responded to at all,” Emmett said.

County officials said Tuesday that as of February, Harris County has spent $5.2 million on legal services throughout this lawsuit over the last year.

“If the 5th Circuit [decision]was such a confirmation of the plaintiff’s case, then why are they not responding to our offer to settle on it?” Emmett said. “If the 5th Circuit ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, then why are they not at least willing to talk to our county attorney about settling? They need to respond.”

3. Road projects

Commissioners approved a study reported by CivilTech Engineering Inc. for construction of Gessner Road between Beltway 8 and West Road in Precinct 4. The project now moves to the design phase.

Additionally, commissioners authorized Emmett to execute an agreement with Amani Engineering Inc. for engineering services to improve Schiel Road from west of Fairfield Place Drive to west of Mason Road in Precinct 3. The agreement for engineering services totals $510,019, according to the court agenda.

4. Low-Income Vehicle Repair Assistance Program

Emmett said $6 from each vehicle registration in the county goes to fund the state’s Low-Income Vehicle Repair Assistance Program, and as the county does not receive any of those funds, commissioners moved Tuesday to terminate the program in Harris County. This means drivers in Harris County will no longer pay the added $6 fee. The county will work with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to terminate the collection of the fee in Harris County.

5. Acquisition of Riverside General Hospital

After convening into executive session, commissioners unanimously approved the county’s acquisition of Riverside General Hospital, located at 3204 Ennis St., Houston.

View Tuesday’s full agenda here.

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  1. Why was the cost of the greenway left out. It has nothing to do with flood control, just more wasted tax dollars.
    The commissioners court also approved five tracts in Precinct 2 for Hurricane Harvey home buyouts as well as a tract in Precinct 4 for Phase 6 of the Spring Creek Greenway project.

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Anna Dembowski
Anna joined Community Impact Newspaper as a reporter in May 2016 after graduating with a degree in journalism from Cedarville University in Cedarville, Ohio. In July 2017, she transitioned to editor. Anna covers education, local government, transportation, business, real estate development and nonprofits in the Tomball and Magnolia communities. Prior to CI, Anna served as editor-in-chief of Cedars, interned with the National Journalism Center in Washington, D.C., and spent time writing for the Springfield News-Sun and Xenia Daily Gazette.
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