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Funding will help finish Houston-area flood-control projects

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By JUAN A. LOZANO
Associated Press

HOUSTON (AP) - Officials in the Texas county hardest hit by Hurricane Harvey said Monday that $5 billion in federal funding that's been awarded to Texas in the wake of last year's deadly storm will finally help them finish major flood control projects, some of which have been under construction for years.

Harris County, where Houston is located, is getting about $500 million to finish the widening and other modifications of four watersheds.

The federal government is also providing nearly $14 million to pay for several studies that will look at ways of making the Houston-area more flood resilient, including one that will review the possibility of building a third reservoir in the area.

Local officials say the funding is critical to supporting flood-control efforts after Harvey.

The hurricane and the devastating rain that followed last summer caused an estimated $125 billion in damage statewide and flooded thousands of homes in the Houston area.

"It takes money. We all have to recognize that. There's no flood-control fairy that's going to come down and build these projects," said Harris County Judge Ed Emmett.

U.S. Rep John Culberson, R-Houston, said the new funding will be enough to "not only to finish every federally authorized flood control project in Harris County but finish them at full federal expense."

Harris County is also working to persuade voters to approve a $2.5 billion bond package in August that would pay for a variety of other flood-control measures, including home buyouts and building additional stormwater detention basins.

Emmett, the county's top elected official, said it's important that the Houston-area is seen as focusing on making flood control the top priority after Harvey and other major local flood events in 2015 and 2016.

"If we're going to continue to grow as a community, as a county, as a region, people are going to keep moving into areas where people haven't lived before," Emmett said. "And guess what? They are going to discover that they live on the Gulf Coast and we are going to have to protect them and we take that job very seriously."

About $3.9 billion of the funding that the federal government awarded to Texas last week will be used to improve a system of levees and seawalls in the southeast Texas cities of Freeport and Port Arthur and build 27 miles of new levees and flood walls in Orange County. This project has been in the works since 2004.

The levee improvements would reduce flood risk for both residents and commercial structures and industry , including refineries located in this part of the state, said Sharon Tirpak, deputy chief of project management for the Galveston District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

"What's important to remember is that (with) any of these projects we can't stop flooding, but now at least we have the funding to begin work with our local and state partners to help reduce the flood risk," Tirpak said.

Also included in the federal funding was $1.9 million to continue studying the feasibility of a project known as the coastal spine, which was first proposed after Hurricane Ike in 2008. That $6 billion to $10 billion project - also called the "Ike Dike" - proposes barriers to protect the area from storm surge coming into Galveston Bay, southeast of Houston.

A draft report and an environmental impact statement on the Ike Dike proposal are expected by late September, followed by public meetings. A final report isn't expected until April 2021.

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Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter at www.twitter.com/juanlozano70

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