With a financing plan Mayor Sylvester Turner called "imaginative" and multi-agency collaboration he called "unprecedented," city and county officials announced Tuesday they would expedite the long-awaited Project Brays, which they say would reduce flooding in Meyerland.
With the help of the City of Houston as well as state and federal agencies, the Harris County Flood Control District will finally receive the $43 million needed to finish widening the bayou and replace bridges. Once complete, the district will begin improving channels along the Hunting and White Oak bayous, and the city also intends to study potential detention and channel improvements along the Keegans Bayou, a Brays Bayou tributary. All in all, the projects are expected to cost $130 million (potential Keegans improvements aside).
Widening Brays Bayou is expected to take two-and-a-half years, with bridge replacements expected to be finished by 2021.
"We can never guarantee that we can eliminate flooding, but certainly we can work to mitigate the risk," Turner said, adding, "My hope is that, after this is completed, you will no longer have to rush to get furniture and carpet off the floor when heavy rain is forecast. Once we finish here, we will move to the other areas of Houston that have suffered, and my goal is to do as much as possible to keep water out of people's homes and businesses."
The financing for the Project Brays completion is a bit convoluted. On Thursday, City Council is expected to approve a $43 million loan application Mayor Turner will submit to the Texas Water Development Board. Once the loan is granted, the city will hand over the cash to the flood control district to finish Project Brays. Finally, at its completion, the feds will reimburse Harris County of that $43 million, and the county will then give it back to the City of Houston.
Still, despite local officials' enthusiasm about the creative plan, Meyerland residents deluged with repeated flooding expressed skepticism that the bayou improvements will really solve the problem. Once Turner and Harris County Judge Ed Emmett concluded their statements, the residents mostly stole the show from reporters, shouting their questions and concerns from the crowd. Primarily, residents were concerned that severe street flooding from drainage problems would continue, despite bayou improvements.
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"It's the drain water that starts coming into our houses, not the bayou," Sri Rajagopalan, who's lived on South Braeswood along the bayou for 30 years, told the Houston Press afterward. "But why? This never used to happen."
Emmett, who went to Bellaire High School and said he is no stranger to the Meyerland area, also acknowledged the fact that Meyerland never used to flood this severely, saying, "something is fundamentally wrong, and we need to fix it."
Yet residents would not let officials off the hook, pressing them on whether they would further investigate any possible negligence in the design of bayou and drainage work. Shelli Rechstein, whose home was not salvageable after the Memorial Day floods of 2015 and was later demolished, said the county's commitment to fast-tracking Project Brays was encouraging — but that she hoped officials would give more attention to what she and others see as the most threatening factor causing flooding.
"The biggest problem is they are not confronting the other main issue, and that issue is how are they gonna handle the drainage," she said. "The pipes they have put in are not working. If [the floods] keep happening, there's obviously something wrong."