Harris County approves new guideline for prioritizing flood control

By a 3-2 vote, Harris County Commissioners approved a new set of guidelines for prioritizing locally funded flood control projects.

"We will work in a way that is fast, that is fair, that is smart," said Judge Lina Hidalgo, who was joined in the majority by Commissioners Rodney Ellis and Adrian Garcia.

But with 238 projects approved by voters last August, the process of deciding which goes first and which follows was certain to trigger controversy.

Houstonians like Shirley Ronquillo say flood protection in her Aldine neighborhood has been long neglected in favor of more affluent neighborhoods, putting lives at risk.

"Residents off Gulf Bank grabbed their children in fear and walked toward Airline fearful of the strong Halls Bayou current," said Ronquillo to Commissioners.

It's why Hidalgo and her allies on the court support a metric known as the "social vulnerability index" as 20 percent of the total formula for prioritizing flood control projects.

Developed by the Centers for Disease Control, the measurement gauges which communities suffer a greater degree of human devastation in the wake of disaster.

Houston City Councilman Greg Travis is a vocal critic, claiming the SVI shortchanges his largely middle class, Hurricane Harvey hammered west side district.

"It appears to be rigged in favor of certain projects other than others, because this a very subjective standard," said Travis who further claims half the proposed projects on Buffalo Bayou have dropped in priority as a result of the new guidelines.

Commissioner Steve Radack continued the push back, accusing Hidalgo of discriminating against his constituents.

"The reality is you have neglected the people of Precinct 3 and Precinct 4 and I'm not going to sit here much longer and put up with it," said Radack.

Speaking to reporters, Hidalgo emphasized that 146 voter-approved projects are already under way and that all 238 would be completed, with no projects dropped from the list.

"The difference between the first project being started and the last is two years. This will be transparent. It is smart and we hope it will be an example for the nation," said Hidalgo.