Leaders still don't have Harvey recovery details
Nov. 11, 2017 at 9:27 p.m.
More than 11 weeks after Hurricane Harvey, some officials in communities battered by the storm say they still don't know who will get help or when from federal and state agencies in charge of rebuilding lives and homes.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency hasn't provided data showing exactly which homes were damaged, according to officials who oversee regions from Victoria to Corpus Christi.
Meanwhile, the Texas General Land Office - the state agency in charge of rolling out some of FEMA's recovery programs - hasn't finalized agreements with local government agencies tasked with helping their residents recover.
This comes after federal and state officials in September signed off on a recovery plan touted as the first of its kind, which seeks to give local governments more control in rebuilding their own communities.
In previous disasters, FEMA was the main public agency in charge of disaster recovery programs. But under the new plan for Texas, the feds decide who qualifies for help and provide funding, while the Texas General Land Office and local councils of governments - agencies that oversee multiple counties - are supposed to work together to aid local residents, according to state and federal officials.
"This is the first time that we've ever had these programs available," said Pete Phillips, who works for the state land office. "This is the first time that a state agency has been designated to oversee (recovery) programs."
Those recovery programs include giving people temporary housing in the form of mobile homes and recreational vehicles in addition to paying for more permanent home repairs.
But some local officials say they have yet to see those benefits in their communities and are unclear on when they might come.
"The rollout of the GLO effort has been a rough start, obviously," Victoria County Judge Ben Zeller said. "And that's caused issues all the way down the line."
Last week, the county judge participated in his first weekly conference call with officials from the General Land Office. This came a week after a GLO official told members of the Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Relations that communication with local leaders needed to improve.
"Obviously, we're not doing enough outreach, and we realize that," said Phillips, adding the General Land Office would start weekly calls with local leaders.
Months after Harvey devastated towns along the Texas Gulf Coast, skeletons of homes and RVs lying on their sides are still a common sight miles from where the storm made landfall.
"Nobody has seen a house being put on the ground by FEMA or anything else yet," said John Buckner, who oversees the Coastal Bend Council of Governments.
Buckner's territory includes Rockport and Port Aransas, where winds of more than 130 mph tore apart businesses and ripped roofs from homes. Some coastal residents are getting sick of waiting for more help, and about 800 have decided to rebuild without FEMA's help, he said.
In Bayside, a Refugio County coastal town of just 300 people, Buckner heard estimates that 50 people just packed up and left.
"People have even given up or moved out of town," Buckner said.
The process to get help hasn't been easy for governments either. Buckner's group approved a draft of an agreement with the state that outlines recovery efforts in late October, but Buckner has yet to receive a final version back, he said.
He was told by state officials that the final version might be ready by Nov. 17, he said.
"I guess you can say the officials are in the dark," Buckner said.
The situation is all too similar for officials in Victoria, where the Golden Crescent Regional Planning Commission is the agency tasked to work with the state on recovery. Victoria County is home to about 32,000 households, more than 19,000 of which applied for some type of disaster assistance, according to FEMA.
In early October, the agency's executive director, Joe Brannan, said he wished he had more details about recovery plans. Last week, he said nothing had changed since he made those comments.
Although the GLO has yet to finalize paperwork with local groups of governments throughout the Texas Gulf Coast region, Phillips said the GLO is planning to hire new employees to help staff those agencies. FEMA also will be sending people to help, he said.
"This really is a robust approach to disaster recovery," Phillips said.
Phillips said Harvey's recovery process is moving faster than in other recent disasters such as floods. For example, the first manufactured home used for temporary housing was placed Oct. 5 - about six weeks after the storm, he said.
"The programs have already started rolling out," Phillips said.
In many communities, however, residents are still struggling to find places to call home.
State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, whose district includes Victoria and the coastal community where Harvey made landfall, said there is no more time for waiting. She's been working to press FEMA and the land office for answers but has been told the federal agency must still adopt rules, she said.
"There's no more time for waiting," Kolkhorst said. "We are dealing with people's homes and lives. The time for action is now."
Day 1: Here comes Harvey
Day 2: Brace yourself
Day 3: 'Prayers protect us'
Day 5: 'At least God let us live'
Day 6: 'It's the luck of the draw'
Day 10: The Long Road Ahead (w/video)
Day 12: For some, normal still far away
Day 15: FEMA frustrates Harvey victims
Day 16: Displaced and in disarray
Day 18: Nature interrupted (w/video)
Day 19: 'It was like we had been bombed'
Day 42: 'Harvey broke me'
Day 55: Special delivery
Day 63: Housing after Harvey (w/video)