Leaders need to help residents exit floodplain
By the Advocate Editorial Board
Sept. 5, 2017 at 4:21 p.m.
Updated Sept. 6, 2017 at 6 a.m.
When Harvey pierced the Texas coastline, many elements about the storm defied prediction.
How long would it remain in the region? How strong would the winds become? How much rain would the Category 4 hurricane drop?
However, one life-threatening scenario was certain to happen - based on historic regional weather patterns. Greens Addition residents living near the Guadalupe River in the southern part of Victoria would endure the wrath of floodwater. This old neighborhood floods every time the region gets heavy rains.
The same is true for Old Town, which is south of Constitution Street and west of Southwest Moody Street behind Moo-Moo, and the area in and around F.W. Gross Elementary School.
Throughout the past weekend - more than eight days after Harvey made landfall - residents who owned and some who rented properties in flood-prone neighborhoods returned to try to make their dwellings livable again. The hurricane and ensuing flood left most homes standing but severely damaged them with mud, water, burgeoning mold and thriving mosquitoes.
These hardworking Victorians trying to salvage their belongings and their houses is a disheartening but familiar scene.
The city, the state and federal governments must work together to find a better solution.
On Sunday, when two congressional members visited Victoria, Mayor Paul Polasek said he wanted to revisit a buyout program for residents who live in the Guadalupe River floodplain to give them a chance to permanently relocate.
That's an excellent idea worth pushing hard.
Our neighbors in Greens Addition and others in the floodplain are in harm's way, and a government buyout program would give them a chance to abandon their homes that have endured recurring floods in the past decades. Any buyout plan would have to be sufficient to place these residents in suitable new homes.
A buyout program also would serve as an investment to save taxpayers' money in the long term by reducing the number of Victoria properties needing money to recover from future floods.
But the primary reason such a program must happen is saving lives.
We were blessed that no one died as Harvey pounded the Crossroads and as the Guadalupe River left its banks. But had Harvey dumped 40 inches of rain in the Crossroads - as some reports had predicted - the result would have been deadly, especially to those living in the floodplain. More than 60 people died in Houston, which received the heavy rains Victoria was predicted to get.
"We're lucky we didn't get 40 inches of rain," Polasek said. Such a downpour would have "overwhelmed our neighborhoods in ways the city would never have anticipated."
This week, Congress is expected to take up a $15 billion hurricane relief bill to help residents recover from Harvey.
Polasek said he intends to continue the dialogue about a buyout program with state officials and the federal officials he met Sunday - Congressmen Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, and Majority House Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.
After the historic 1998 floods, Federal Emergency Management Agency funds were used for a one-time buyout of properties in the floodplain. Many did not take the deal.
John Johnston, who is Victoria's floodplain administrator, recalled Tuesday those conversations after the '98 flood.
"What I discovered after numerous face-to-face conversations was that their grandparents owned the house, their parents owned the house, and now they own the house. . It was a community of family that had evolved and developed over decades," Johnston said, "and they weren't interested at that time."
This time, the city needs to reconsider issuing any reconstruction permits for property in the floodplain. Victoria also needs stricter guidelines for any construction in the floodplain.
These changes won't be easy. To some residents, the area has always been home and leaving might seem unacceptable.
But one day that area will flood again - just as surely as it will rain again.
The residents know that. Our city leaders know that.
A buyout program that helps residents relocate would be a life preserver. If necessary, the city and county should consider condemning some properties. In that CASE, all residents and property owners should receive a fair offer for relocating.
If we don't act, eventually we will be reporting about the drowning deaths of residents in these parts of south Victoria. The answer to Houston's flooding could require billions of dollars.
The solutions in Victoria will be daunting, too, but they aren't so big we can't get our arms around them. Congressman Farenthold has pledged his support to be sure Victoria isn't forgotten.
The people in the Greens Addition and other low-lying areas have been forgotten too long. Their lives depend upon action in the days ahead.
This opinion reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.