Residents Against Flooding, the oldest nonprofit in Houston working to prevent unnecessary flooding, wants to know the flood prevention platforms of each candidate for Harris County Commission Precinct 3. We reached out to all of the candidates multiple times. Michael Moore and Diana Alexander took the time to answer questions of concern to every Houstonian.

Tom Ramsey answered, “I will respond once my Democratic Opponent is determined. Thank you for the opportunity to engage.”

First, Michael Moore’s answers, followed by Diana Alexander’s.

Michael Moore for Harris County Commissioner, Precinct 3
Responses of Michael Moore to Residents Against Flooding Questionnaire
QUESTIONS:

  1. Harris County has asked the City of Houston to adopt the same flood
    regulations. Residents Against Flooding (RAF) feels that having both the city and the county on the same page is sorely needed, since floodwater doesn’t recognize changes in flood rules just because it flows into the city limits. Would you work to harmonize rules between the City of Houston as well as counties adjacent to Harris?
    Yes, absolutely, the rules of these various jurisdictions should work together.
  2. No one knows the impact of flooding better than those who have experienced it firsthand yet there is no County forum for these survivors to be heard in a public manner. The conditions of their neighborhoods and situations that exacerbate flooding are immense and incredibly diverse. Even small neighborhood problems, unrecognized by officials, are influential when added to the whole. Would you be willing to establish a method to regularly allow representatives of flood prevention and environmental groups, as well as community groups and concerned citizens, to ask questions in a public setting of the Precinct 3 Commissioner and representatives of the Harris County Flood Control District? At present, the only options are public speaking at Commissioners Court for 3 minutes, or at a Town Hall with no Q and A (only speeches and PowerPoint presentations). Those affected by storms should be heard, in person, by those charged to protect them.
    Yes. The entire process would benefit from improved citizen input and communication.If elected commissioner I will organize public meetings with HCFD to hear community input. There will most likely need to schedule multiple meetings in different parts of the precinct.
  3. Would you consider a Flood Prevention Hotline for residents to report
    perceived violations or problems that should be addressed by County Flood Control?
    Yes, I support an enhanced reporting system that connects concerns directly to Harris County Flood Control District. As county commissioner I will request that precinct 3 staff review these reports.
  4. How do you feel about a more stringent construction and development permitting process and better enforcement of regulations regarding drainage? Currently, County Flood Control is a “Cooperating Technical Partner” with FEMA and therefore doesn’t get intense scrutiny. Residents Against Flooding believes policing oneself is not in the best interest of citizens. RAF has found instances of insufficient drainage, lack of detention, and even flood map manipulation that allow development which could have an adverse impact on the surrounding communities. What would you do about this?
    We should not tolerate violations of existing regulations. Enforcement must be stepped up. If the existing construction and permitting process needs improvement, I would support that as well.
  5. When properties are elevated with fill dirt, higher than the surrounding areas, what do you think would be the best way, engineering and policy wise, to keep water that runs off those properties from flowing onto neighbors’ lands?
    One property owner should not be allowed to use another property owner’s land as drainage or make an existing drainage problem worse. If the exemptions to the permitting process allow more than a minor impact on a neighbor’s land, they should be revised.
  6. Do you agree that studies of surrounding drainage systems, tributaries, and bayous should be completed prior to new construction that might impact them? (An example is the TIRZ 17 Memorial Drive Redevelopment Project where Ditch W153 (a natural tributary) and Buffalo Bayou, both already overtaxed, will be impacted. County Flood Control’s study, F81, of Ditch W153 has not been completed nor has a public comment session been scheduled, yet the Memorial Drive road project is expected to commence this summer).
    Yes, studies should be completed before projects are commenced, but I would want to see how such studies could be completed faster. We should get the information, but not allow studies to become a tool for delays.
  7. How do you feel about using incentives to encourage builders and developers to include sufficient drainage in their projects? Cutting corners and using loopholes will save them money but at the expense of flooding others.
    I fully support incentivizing builders and developers to exceed their regulations should be encouraged to the upmost extent.
  8. When County Flood Control refuses to satisfactorily address residents’
    concerns, how would you improve this situation? (For example, north of I-10 near Bunker Hill, a concrete ramp has been added into a drainage ditch which will decrease the rate of flow of stormwater downstream and cause the ditch to backup and overflow into the neighborhoods – which have already flooded multiple times. HCFCD officials stand by their reasoning for the ramp and have effectively said the case is closed, but desperate residents can see with their own eyes that this will cause a flooding issue, after all, they live with it every day.) Shouldn’t there be more of an effort for HCFCD to understand their public’s concerns and work to resolve their fears?
    Yes. Commissioner’s Court controls the budget of HCFCD. We should use that leverage to make sure they are being responsive to residents and resolve any concerns they may have. Taking resident experiences into account absolutely matters and would be a part of this process. I would have an experienced precinct 3 member of my staff working with the community and Flood Control District to resolve issues like this.
  9. Its obvious more detention basins are desperately needed, however would you also actively encourage smaller efforts like cisterns, bioswales, and rain barrels to add to flood prevention attempts? Many people are not aware of smaller efforts that would help.
    Yes, I absolutely agree with this approach. Incentives should be looked at for individual property owner solutions such as these. “Green” drainage works and saves the county money. The Flood Control District has been working on bioswales as a pilot program
    and I support this effort as well as the efforts of the Katy Prairie Conservancy. We can be “green” and “efficient” at the same time.
  10. Do you believe enough priority has been given to flood prevention so far? Historically, NO. Hurricane Harvey was a wakeup call, but there is always a new crisis to divert attention. Most flood prevention solutions are long-term and must remain a high priority and would be a priority of mine as commissioner.
  11. In summary, what improvements could the County Commission make that would seriously improve drainage and prevent flooding? What would you change if elected?
    Protecting our homes and families from flooding is at the top of my list. I will work to save the Katy Prairie and push for green infrastructure, like wildlife habitats, parks and recreation fields that hold stormwater during major flood events. I will prioritize basic
    drainage maintenance for roads, ditches and storm sewers and demand greater accountability from partner agencies like the Army Corps of Engineers. I will work to increase funding for the Flood Control District and make sure that funds from the flood bond passed in 2017 are spent wisely. I have been endorsed by the Houston Chronicle, flooding expert Jim Blackburn, former Mayors Bill White and Annise Parker for County Commissioner, among many others.
    Michael Moore

Diana Alexander for Harris County Commissioner, Precinct 3
Responses of Diana Alexander to Residents Against Flooding Questionnaire

1.       Harris County has asked the City of Houston to adopt the same flood regulations.  Residents Against Flooding (RAF) feels that having both the city and the county on the same page is sorely needed, since flood water doesn’t recognize changes in flood rules just because it flows into the city limits. Would you work to harmonize rules between the City of Houston as well as counties adjacent to Harris?  

It is absolutely essential to build consistency between municipalities including the City of Houston and other cities within the county, and I will focus on bringing those stakeholders to discussion in finding common ground.  Commissioners Court has already made strides in late May with a vote about basing flood bond project approval on adhering to unified building standards.  This is a critical step in addressing long term solutions to the climate crisis and strengthening regulations countywide.

2.       No one knows the impact of flooding better than those who have experienced it firsthand yet there is no County forum for these survivors to be heard in a public manner. The conditions of their neighborhoods and situations that exacerbate flooding are immense and incredibly diverse. Even small neighborhood problems, unrecognized by officials, are influential when added to the whole. Would you be willing to establish a method to regularly allow representatives of flood prevention and environmental groups, as well as community groups and concerned citizens, to ask questions in a public setting of the Precinct 3 Commissioner and representatives of the Harris County Flood Control District? At present, the only options are public speaking at Commissioners Court for 3 minutes, or at a Town Hall with no Q and A (only speeches and PowerPoint presentations). Those affected by storms should be heard, in person, by those charged to protect them.

Yes, I agree that we need to hear the challenges and experiences of those affected by flooding, so I pledge to devote at least one day monthly to hear concerns from community groups and residents of precinct 3.  If the need warrants, then we may move for additional time for public feedback.  Furthermore, I plan to establish a Community Liaison to focus on Environmental Equity.

3.       Would you consider a Flood Prevention Hotline for residents to report perceived violations or problems that should be addressed by Country Flood Control?  

Yes, I plan to support this type of hotline.  The Harris County Pollution Control Department already has such a mechanism to hear of potential issues with pollutants and violations, and we need to invest the same resources in circumventing potential hotspots.

4.       How do you feel about a more stringent construction and development permitting process and better enforcement of regulations regarding drainage? Currently, County Flood Control is a “Cooperating Technical Partner” with FEMA and therefore doesn’t get intense scrutiny. Residents Against Flooding believes policing oneself is not in the best interest of citizens. RAF has found instances of insufficient drainage, lack of detention, and even flood map manipulation that allow development which could have an adverse impact on the surrounding communities. What would you do about this?   First of all, I have been following RAF for quite some time and I would like to hear specifics about concerns to create an action plan.  I have seen firsthand the devastation in Spring Branch due to development.  Oversight is key in preventing further impact to established communities.

5.       When properties are elevated with fill dirt, higher than the surrounding areas, what do you think would be the best way, engineering and policy wise, to keep water that runs off those properties from flowing onto neighbors’ lands?  The focus should be on the ways to expand greenspace opportunities by adhering to environmental data and impact studies; namely, increasing biking and walking infrastructure needs to be prioritized in conjunction with other governmental entities when applicable. Techniques should integrate green strategies (i.e. bioretention methods for flood mitigation, using native plants to filter water runoff, while working with conservation groups to educate residents/HOAs, multi-family management groups to encourage bioswales, etc.). 

6.       Do you agree that studies of surrounding drainage systems, tributaries, and bayous should be completed prior to new construction that might impact them? (An example is the TIRZ 17 Memorial Drive Redevelopment Project where Ditch W153 (a natural tributary) and Buffalo Bayou, both already overtaxed, will be impacted. County Flood Control’s study, F81, of Ditch W153 has not been completed nor has a public comment session been scheduled, yet the Memorial Drive road project is expected to commence this summer).  I do not feel assured at all with this solitary statement, “We have performed the necessary due diligence, studies and planning to determine the benefits and cost associated with regional solution alternatives.”  I need data, numbers, and solid information that this is the best path forward.  I live close to that area and it is prone to flooding, so beyond the financial impact to retail centers, how will families be affected?  I need to know more before this project goes forth.  http://www.houstontirz17.org/#:~:text=TIRZ%2017%20is%20a%20tax,particularly%20road%20and%20drainage%20infrastructure.

7.       How do you feel about using incentives to encourage builders and developers to include sufficient drainage in their projects?  Cutting corners and using loopholes will save them money but at the expense of flooding others.  I am open to reasonable options when creating drainage, using the most ecologically sound strategies, native plants, and innovative materials such as permeable concrete.

8.       When County Flood Control refuses to satisfactorily address residents’ concerns, how would you improve this situation? (For example, north of I-10 near Bunker Hill, a concrete ramp has been added into a drainage ditch which will decrease the rate of flow of stormwater downstream and cause the ditch to backup and overflow into the neighborhoods – which have already flooded multiple times. HCFCD officials stand by their reasoning for the ramp and have effectively said the case is closed, but desperate residents can see with their own eyes that this will cause a flooding issue, after all, they live with it every day.) Shouldn’t there be more of an effort for HCFCD to understand their public’s concerns and work to resolve their fears?

I absolutely agree.  The area between Witte and Blalock has had numerous flooding events since the HEB was built, and this community deserves real solutions, not platitudes or dismissals of their concerns.  Effective data needs to be presented (if any) or collected on weak points and targeted solutions instead of proceeding with the ramp.

9.    It’s obvious more detention basins are desperately needed, however would you also actively encourage smaller efforts like cisterns, bioswales, and rain barrels to add to flood prevention attempts? Many people are not aware of smaller efforts that would help.  Yes, I already have many of those strategies as part of my climate crisis plan.  For example, I aim to launch a rain barrel initiative to encourage their use precinct-wide.

10.   Do you believe enough priority has been given to flood prevention so far?  I think progress has been made, but the county is still operating from a place of reaction rather than being proactive.  A clear plan to address the climate crisis needs to be implemented countywide.  Harris County can work with other governmental entities to broaden the impact of green policy (starting with the Houston climate plan).  We can be leaders instead of followers to address the inevitable disaster events in our community, and build a framework of flood mitigation and the root cause of climate change, our carbon footprint.

11.  In summary, what improvements could the County Commission make that would seriously improve drainage and prevent flooding? What would you change if elected?  

GOAL 1:

More Ecological Land Usage:

  • Bicycle network (more economical)
  • Community garden expansion (particularly in food deserts)
  • Creating green space wherever possible
  • Connecting park areas (increase walkability)

GOAL 2:

Improving Infrastructure:

  • “Area may flood” signs to warn public
  • Permeable pavement
  • Bioretention areas with native landscapes
  • Evaluate traffic patterns to help with lights/flow
  • Evaluate facilities in Pct. 3/ countywide to streamline operations, incorporate green strategies

Goal 3: 

Community Efforts

  • Encouraging tele-commuting (incentive program to encourage ppl to work from home)
  • Encouraging carpooling
  • Informing renters/possible home owners of flood risk
  • Sharing nearest community facilities based on neighborhood
  • Education education education
  • Rain barrel initiative
  • Community Liaison to focus on Environmental Equity
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