Politics & Government

Tarrant County eligible to compete for slice of $53M in federal funds to mitigate flooding

Because of heavy rains and flooding in 2015 that submerged roads and opened a sinkhole at the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, Tarrant County is eligible to compete for a portion of nearly $53 million in federal funds to mitigate future natural disasters.

But it will likely be months before the county will know what projects may fit the criteria to apply.

Gov. Greg Abbott announced Friday that Commissioner George P. Bush and the Texas General Land Office will lead a statewide plan to distribute nearly $4.4 billion. Appropriated by Congress in February 2018, the money comes from the Community Development Block Grant for Mitigation from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

According to a news release, “large-scale, regional projects” will be prioritized, with the goal of saving lives and improving the state’s resiliency in the face of hurricanes and other natural disasters.

The bulk will go toward areas affected by Hurricane Harvey, but Houston and Harris County did not receive funding directly for Harvey recovery efforts like they have in the past.

“HUD did not provide that this time for them, so they left it to the state to decide whether or not to do that,” said Brittany Eck, a spokeswoman for the Texas General Land Office. “Governor Abbott decided that we would not do direct allocations for a multitude of reasons, but one of them being that we want to look beyond just city and county borders.”

Eck said the emphasis will be on projects that can benefit affected areas, regardless of where they are based.

A spokesman for the governor’s office told KTRK in Houston that Houston and Harris County’s ”lack of movement” on housing recovery in the wake of Hurricane Harvey was a reason the city and county did not receive direct allocations.

“The state of Texas is committed to making our communities more resilient to natural disasters,” Abbott said in Friday’s news release. “Today we are pushing forward with the single-largest mitigation program our state has ever seen.”

Tarrant County is eligible to apply for a portion of the nearly $53 million allocation because of 2015 floods that local officials estimated caused up to $14.3 million in damage. The May 2015 floods killed 31 people, with 27 of them in Texas and four in Oklahoma, according to a Texas General Land Office report.

However, it’s too early to say what local projects may be eligible to receive money, Tarrant County spokesman Bill Hanna said. The county will have to wait until the Texas General Land Office receives federal approval of a state action plan, a process expected to take nine months or more to complete, according to the news release.

The state was able to begin drafting a plan after HUD published rules for the funds in late August. The action plan is already around 300 pages long, Eck said.

Flash flooding has been a persistent issue in Fort Worth, with residents sharing fearful accounts of navigating rising waters. Michelle Gutt, a spokeswoman for the city, said it is still determining possible opportunities.

In November, voters will have the opportunity to vote on Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment that, if approved, would establish a flood infrastructure fund to assist in the financing of drainage, flood mitigation and flood control projects.

Have you experienced flash flooding in Fort Worth? We want to hear your story. Click here.

“Texas’ top disaster preparedness and recovery leaders are focused on accomplishing broad, wide ranging projects that will benefit the most Texans,” Bush said in the news release. “I am committed to maximizing this historic funding by prioritizing regional partnerships to protect Texans from future storms.”

Altogether, 140 counties will be eligible to apply for a portion of the funds.

Reporter Luke Ranker contributed to this story.
Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram

Tessa Weinberg is a state government for the Star-Telegram. Based in Austin, she covers all things policy and politics with a focus on Tarrant County. She previously covered the Missouri legislature where her reporting prompted an investigation by the Attorney General’s office. A California native and graduate of the University of Missouri, she’s made her way across the U.S. and landed in Texas in May 2019.