March 26, 2018

Post-Harvey Flood Hazard Mitigation Plan Adopted

Our citizen Task Force, in fulfilling its expanded charge following Hurricane Harvey, has gone well beyond the basic requirements for our continued participation in the National Flood Insurance Program Community Rating System.  Its hefty final report is reflective of the broad citizen input received throughout the process, and incorporates a variety of ideas for further evaluation in our ongoing flood mitigation efforts.  At this stage there are still more questions than answers, but the Task Force’s recommendations provide the necessary roadmap for the work yet to come.  The City Council’s formal adoption last week of the updated Flood Hazard Mitigation Plan sets in motion the development of specific actions and projects, with timelines for their potential implementation.

Soon after Harvey we set an aggressive schedule for the Task Force, which progressed diligently through eight working meetings and a public hearing and delivered its report right on time.  While adoption of the Plan concludes its primary assignment, the Task Force is by no means done.  The members have committed to continue meeting periodically to monitor the City’s progress in implementing the Plan and to update its recommendations as needed.

The process started with the identification and risk assessment of flood hazards in Bellaire, leading to a statement of overarching goals:

  • Continue to enforce and establish policies, procedures and activities for the safety and assurance of the citizens of Bellaire.
  • Develop, fund, design and construct infrastructure improvements to mitigate the effects of flooding.
  • Evaluate and establish the City’s position in floodplain regulation in terms of policies and management.

In furtherance of these goals, the Task Force put together an action plan to guide the evaluation and development of potential mitigation projects, policies and procedures for possible implementation.  The 38 recommended activities address each of the focus areas previously established—local, regulatory and regional—and are grouped into six categories of general mitigation strategies:

  • Preventive
  • Floodplain management regulation
  • Property protection
  • Emergency services
  • Structural projects
  • Public information

One of the main suggestions coming out of the Task Force is to explore opportunities to increase our surface detention capacity, both on identified properties already owned by the City and on land we might acquire for that purpose.  We’ll be analyzing the various options presented, to determine their feasibility and effectiveness from an engineering standpoint as well as the cost-benefit.  Another highlight from the report is that the Task Force confirmed the importance of strict adherence to our regulations on building in the floodplain.  However, it expressed interest in reevaluating our current approach concerning the cumulation of past flood repair costs in applying the 50% Rule, so as not to unduly constrain homeowners’ options, such as for non-flood-related remodeling.  The City's floodplain administrator discussed some possible alternatives with the Task Force and will continue reviewing the subject.

Our immediate next steps will include prioritizing recommended mitigation projects for inclusion in the City’s Capital Improvement Plan, as well as identifying sources of funding to pay for them.  These priority items will likely be a combination of the most urgent needs as well as the low-hanging fruit.  We’ll also be prioritizing and working on the non-CIP recommendations at the departmental level and in the preparation of upcoming annual budgets.  The Plan designates which departments are responsible for each activity and in what timeframe.  (Note that the activity schedules were carefully determined with Federal Emergency Management Agency oversight and reporting in mind, but do not in any way limit our ability to complete activities sooner than indicated.)

All of this will involve ongoing discussion and public input.  The City Council recognizes that communication of our flood control plans is key, and that featured prominently in our deliberation.  We hope you’ll stay engaged with the Task Force and Council as individual recommendations come back for approval.

A word of caution in setting expectations.  It’s important to view the Plan in the proper context, as a starting point.  Its purpose is to provide a blueprint for continued study, evaluation and planning.  It’s not a work plan, and not all of the recommended projects will necessarily be funded and implemented.  Indeed, some may prove not even feasible, or at least not as presently contemplated.  But we’ve got to start somewhere, and the Plan encourages us to think outside the box.  It also further validates our current approach under the Bonds for Better Bellaire 2016 infrastructure program of upsizing the storm sewers in strategic locations for additional underground detention.  We won’t be slowing down on that as we work through the Plan; if anything the Plan supports accelerating those projects.

The adopted Plan is now on its way to FEMA for its review and approval, to preserve both our CRS rating and our eligibility to apply to FEMA for flood hazard mitigation grants.  Beyond that it underscores our commitment to addressing our flooding problem as a top priority, informed by our experience and lessons learned in Harvey.