Hurricane Harvey's handiwork, aka the reason Texas is asking for $61 billion.
Hurricane Harvey's handiwork, aka the reason Texas is asking for $61 billion.
Photo by Doogie Roux

Abbott Has Asked For $61 Billion in Harvey Aid, But Will Texas Get It?

It's been more than two months since Hurricane Harvey plowed into the Texas Gulf Coast, unleashing trillions of gallons of water on Houston and other cities in its path, and while Congress kicked some money to Texas, Governor Greg Abbott flew to Washington D.C. this week to request an additional $61 billion to get the Texas coast rebuilt.

If the federal government approves Abbott's funding request, the additional money is slated to be used to both rebuild and, in some cases, revamp existing infrastructure. A large portion of it would also go toward flood control, including $6 billion to purchase land, easements and right-of-way along Buffalo Bayou and the Addicks and Barker reservoirs, $2 billion for "coast-wide critical infrastructure protection," including flood control and mitigation projects to protect things like power plants and communications networks during the next inevitable storm.

There is also a request to "create resiliency" for the Port of Houston and to reinforce the Houston Ship Channel, because Harvey was enough of a reminder of what the nightmare scenario of an even bigger and more devastating hurricane sweeping up the channel and wreaking havoc on the heart of the petrochemical industry to make state officials a whole lot more interested in protecting these areas than they have been in the past, apparently.

And of course, a request for $12 billion to finally construct the Galveston Coastal Spine Project (nicknamed and better known as the "Ike Dike"). As we noted in our cover story last year, Bill Merrell, a professor at Texas A&M University-Galveston and the brain behind the Ike Dike plan ever since Hurricane Ike hit in 2008, has maintained that at this point it would take a major storm to garner enough interest and political will to finally get the Coastal Spine funded, and it looks like he was right.

Abbott went to Washington with a 300-page report from the Governor's Commission to Rebuild Texas — the group convened to figure out how to both repair the damage from Harvey and to ensure that the lessons learned from this hurricane will not be wasted, that Texas will actually do something about its flooding issues and other vulnerabilities — and he plans to return on November 13 to once again make his case that Texas needs this money.

But Senator John Cornyn is already raising concerns that the federal government isn't being nearly as responsive as the state needs it to be to get the funding together and start the major overhaul that is going to come with rebuilding. On Wednesday night Cornyn, the second ranking Republican in the Senate, criticized the Trump administration for delaying the state's funding requests, a move that could throw Texas into the shark tank that is the annual year-end spending battles in Congress.

"As a result of the administration and the House, frankly, kicking the can down the road, and keep promising us the next time, the next time, the next time, it's going to be a challenge to make sure we get what Texas needs and deserves," Cornyn told Washington reporters.

Abbott isn't quite that concerned yet, although he has already admitted he doesn't expect to get all of the funding he has requested. His optimism is downright impressive, honestly, considering the fact that the Trump administration has yet to deal with Abbott's previous request for $18 billion in special funds for Texas.

Somehow Abbott has remained sanguine, confident that Texas will get the bulk of the $61 billion requested before November is over. Let's hope he does, because if the request doesn't move through Congress before then it will fall into the quagmire of the spending bill for 2018, which hits its deadline December 8.

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