Harris Co. delays consideration of flood project standards amid growing concern

"The worst first."

When it comes to prioritizing locally funded flood control projects, those three words amount to the marching orders of Harris County's leadership.

On Thursday,  Fox 26 learned a scheduled vote by County Commissioners next Tuesday on guidelines for deciding the construction order of flood control projects has been postponed.

It's the latest development related to the $2.5 billion bond issue approved by voters last August.

Also on Thursday, a public meeting aimed at helping define what "worst first" means was abruptly canceled because the Harris County Flood Control District couldn't accommodate all the citizens who wanted to attend.

"So we are going to postpone it and schedule it for a later date, at a place that can accommodate the expected crowd," said Matt Zeve, the deputy director of HCFCD.

Zeve confirmed that the issue drawing public concern is the new formula for deciding "worst first" and the impact it will have on the order projects will be undertaken.

On Feb. 28, Fox 26 reported that low to medium income neighborhoods which are frequently denied federal projects would get a competitive advantage under draft "equity" guidelines supported by Judge Lina Hidalgo.

The revelation triggered an outcry from some state lawmakers and stakeholders across the county.

"The decision was made, because there was a report, I think your report, that got a lot of public, I guess, feedback, concern, input and so the decision was made. Let's leave out low to moderate income mapping that we had done and change it to lack of service," said Zeve, in response to a question from Fox 26.

In the latest draft guidelines, communities which haven't had a new flood project in the past ten years get additional points in the competition to break ground sooner rather than later.

 "We need to come up with a way to get at the hardest hit, the most vulnerable communities, worst hit communities first and that's what this process is about," said Judge Hidalgo in a recent interview with Fox 26.

Zeve confirmed that the "equity" standard commissioners eventually adopt will also apply to any future flood control projects funded with the $500 million currently held in reserve.