Harris County Engineer John Blount said the county is focusing on removing debris in front of houses and businesses that sustained flood damage. Blount said Monday the county has removed over 500,000 cubic yards of debris.
The county will pass by every house in affected areas three times to remove debris. The first pass—which is about 50 percent complete—will be completed within 90-120 days of the end of the flood, Blount said.
HCFCD Director Russ Poppe said the district is removing debris within the 2,500 miles of channels throughout Harris County. This process started on Sept. 4 and will take about 3-4 months, he said.
“This [removing debris] is important as it helps us establish overall care and capacity of our channels,” Poppe said.
Poppe also addressed how HCFCD will conduct buyouts in the county. Poppe said the number of homes HCFCD can buy depends on how much overall federal funding the state receives for buyouts and how the state decides to distribute the funds.
Poppe said in the past 20 years HCFCD has bought 3,000 properties through its voluntary buyout program. Since Hurricane Harvey, the HCFCD has received over 3,000 new buyout inquiries from homeowners.
Poppe said it usually takes at least six months for homeowners to receive money from buyouts, but HCFCD is advocating for an expedited timeline so homeowners do not spend time and money rebuilding a home that is eventually purchased by the county.
Although the criteria for buyouts are still being determined, homes that have flood insurance and homes that are located within a 100-year floodplain and have experienced flood damage in the past have a good chance of being purchased, Poppe said.
Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said regardless of when the funding for the buyout program is available, the county will determine the criteria under which homes will get bought out beforehand, so homeowners can plan accordingly.
“Even if the actual buyout doesn’t occur for six months, as long as that person knows not to concern themselves with rebuilding, because they are going to get bought out, then I think that is a much more acceptable approach,” Emmett said.
Poppe said HCFCD is currently working on major projects along four channels in the county: Brays Bayou, White Oak Bayou, Hunting Bayou and Clear Creek. These projects were in place before the recent flooding, but need additional federal funding for their completion to be expedited.
“We are advocating for federal funding up front that will allow us to accelerate the completion of these projects, which will bring additional flood relief to thousands of residents within the city and county,” Poppe said.
Along with these projects, Emmett said there are other long-term solutions that need to be discussed, including building a third reservoir, upgrading current reservoirs, redefining the 100-year and 500-year floodplains and assessing whether the rules and regulations for development are adequate.
“That’s all long-term, but I think those things will happen,” Emmett said. “I don’t think there is any question right now that everybody believes flood control is the most important thing for our region.”
Emmett said these types of decisions have been made before, including the creation of HCFCD in 1937 and the construction of the Addicks and Barker reservoirs in the 1940s. Emmett said it will take a united effort from the county, state and federal government to complete such projects, especially because Harris County only relies on revenue from property taxes for its funding.
“This event shows Harris County is a major urban county,” Emmett said. “We have almost 2 million people living in unincorporated [areas] … we need to find some other way to have revenue come into the county.”