A mere two days before early voting begins, Harris County has finally released its long-awaited project list for the $2.5 billion county flood bond. However, according to the Harris County Flood Control District Website, the district won’t even be presenting the list or the summary report of community input until August 14.

There are about 240 projects in total expected to be funded through the bond, either directly or through combination of cost sharing and local match dollars. The projects include buyouts of flood-prone homes, widening of bayous and channel restorations, and infrastructure repairs. The biggest ticket item listed, though, is $500 million in unallocated funds for “variations in project costs and opportunities identified through public input,” there’s another $175 million for unspecified “partnership projects.”

A few of the projects included are:

  • $20 million for preliminary engineering of large-diameter conveyance tunnels
  • $400,000 for an update to a 2003 Cypress Creek Tributary Study
  • $30 million for replacement bridges along Buffalo Bayou
  • Upgrade to the Harris County Flood Warning System

But while Houstonians agree that flood prevention infrastructure does need to be updated — especially in the wake of Hurricane Harvey — there is some hesitation even among advocates.

A recent poll by University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs found that 55% of those polled were supportive of the bond, but 48% are concerned that much of the money will “go primarily to politically connected developers and construction firms instead of directly to flood risk reduction projects.” The number of skeptics goes even higher when only those likely to vote are polled; of those, 59% are concerned about funding being diverted.

Houston Residents Against Flooding, a group that has long advocated for local officials to address flooding issues, recently said, “Flood Control must listen to flooding advocates and not attempt to go it alone when creating a plan. Also, why is there not a plan?”

The organization also had some concerns regarding the quality of the community meetings held around the county and the responses given to them by officials who were present. They felt some of the officials were uninformed on the projects in various watersheds.

The $2.5 billion bond, which doesn’t include interest, is going to be backed by tax dollars, but local officials claim there may not be a need to issue all $2.5 billion depending on what other sources of funding become available. The bonds are going to be sold in increments over at least 10 to 15 years, so the actual timing of projects will vary.

County officials estimate the bond will cost taxpayers, at most, 3 cents per $100 of valuation.

Early Voting begins on Wednesday, August 8, and locations can be found on the county clerk’s website. Election Day is Saturday, August 25 — the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Harvey’s landfall in Houston.

Charles Blain

Charles Blain is the president of Urban Reform and Urban Reform Institute. A native of New Jersey, he is based in Houston and writes on municipal finance and other urban issues.