Proposed $1.25 million flood study raises numerous concerns about SJRA, Commissioners Court, and feds

Source: San Jacinto River Authority.

Conroe, October 20 – The Montgomery County Commissioners Court voted unanimously at the October 10, 2017, Commissioners Court meeting to authorized County Judge Craig Doyal to write a letter to United States Congressman Kevin Brady (R-The Woodlands) requesting $1.25 million of federal government funding to conduct a flood mitigation study for Montgomery County. In its haste to do something after the terrible flooding after the Tropical Storm Harvey/San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA) disaster in late August and early September, the Commissioners Court may have asked for the wrong amount of funds and may have asked for the wrong study.

There’s nothing wrong with bringing federal dollars that Montgomery County taxpayers have paid to the federal government back into the community. But Congressman Brady and Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack should probably re-examine the subject of the request for money. Fortunately, when the Commissioners Court voted to request the money for the study, Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Meador included a proviso in the resolution that the Commissioners Court had not approved any particular vendor actually to conduct the study but requested the funds to make a later determination of the appropriate vendor.

The decision of an engineering firm to perform the study should come out of a competitive proposal and bidding process. Noack did a lot of work with Huitt-Zollars, Inc., an engineering firm that provided a proposal for a flood mitigation plan for Montgomery County, Texas, at a proposed cost of $1.25 million. The proposal has some unusual features that the Commissioners Court will need to re-examine. First, the proposal does not identify evaluating the effect of runoff from Peach Creek, Caney Creek, and the East Fork of the San Jacinto River among its Study Phase Tasks. Second, the proposal does not include the San Jacinto River Authority (the local authority that has a duty “to provide flood control”) among the agencies with which the County should coordinate. Third, the proposal seeks funding from the federal government for the study but leaves open who will fund the implementation.

During an October 18, 2017, speech, Noack told a group of supporters that he believes funding a flood mitigation plan would cost at least $90 million, with that estimate only for construction and operation of a giant reservoir to hold water.

Some members of the Commissioners Court and others have discussed the need for a flood control district similar to the one which Harris County has.

In truth, Montgomery County already has a flood control district, but it’s just not a group of people who have instilled much confidence in their judgment: the San Jacinto River Authority whose “service area” includes all of Montgomery County and beyond and whose duty “to provide flood control” encompasses the entire San Jacinto River Basin, including, without limitation, both the West Fork and the East Fork and all tributaries into the San Jacinto River. (See SJRA map above.)

SJRA also has massive financial resources. Their 2016, Consolidated Annual Financial Report showed a total “net position” of $169.912 million with cash of $30.143 million and at least $38.519 million in available unrestricted resources readily available for the flood control which SJRA has a duty to provide. In its Fiscal Year 2018 Budget, which SJRA passed after the Harvey storm, SJRA projected net revenue, i.e. profit (!), of $27.046 million between October 1, 2017, and September 30, 2018.

In other words, SJRA has the money and, more importantly, the credit to pay for all of the studies and even Noack’s $90 million reservoir. What’s missing is the public’s trust of SJRA, its Board, its General Manager, and its other leadership. General Manager Jace Houston’s testimony on Monday, October 16, to the Senate Agriculture, Water, and Rural Development Committee’s investigation hearing in New Caney was awful. State Senator Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) said, “I’m embarrassed the public has to hear that answer,” when Houston told the Committee that SJRA has the power but not the duty to provide flood control under its Enabling Act.

Clearly, SJRA should provide the funding for the flood control mitigation implementation. They have the financial resources. While the County Commissioners Court and the federal government (whose money we’ll gladly use) should control the request for proposal, the bidding, and the selection of an appropriate engineering firm to conduct the study to determine what should be done, the Commissioners Court and SJRA should select a means by which SJRA would provide the financing for the implementation along with substantial, and possibly formal, citizen oversight over the process.

 

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