The County Connection
Lina Hidalgo | Harris County Judge
Last month, an explosion at a manufacturing plant rattled a large portion of Harris County at 4:30 in the morning, shifting the ground beneath houses and jolting people awake. Two employees were killed and homes were damaged for miles around. Over the past year alone, we’ve had more than half a dozen major industrial disasters in Harris County. On average, there is a major chemical incident in the Houston area every six weeks. This is not normal, and this is not compatible with raising safe, healthy families.
We expect businesses operating within Harris County to be good neighbors. We can certainly co-exist, but the status quo is not working for the residents of Harris County. This latest incident is yet another example of why we cannot leave the safeguarding of our environment to industry or state and federal agencies.
Last September, we began implementing the most significant expansion of the County’s ability to protect residents from environmental threats in at least 30 years. The expansion will fund additional positions and new equipment across three County departments to significantly increase monitoring, response, and enforcement capacity. Late last month, we approved another $395,000 as part of our plan to purchase state-of-the-art monitoring equipment and software that can be used for investigations and emergency response. And just last week, we also filed a lawsuit against the company involved in the blast.
We must do everything within our power to push back against this status quo. That’s why we are looking at ways to break down state legislative barriers so that we can crack down on violators and require industry to be required to report what harmful chemicals they store and use onsite. Harris County will not stop pushing for progress on this issue, for the quality of our environment and the safety of our families.
Early Childhood Initiative Kicks Off with Series of Community Conversations
One of Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s top priorities for 2020 is early childhood development, which research has repeatedly shown to have one of the strongest returns on investment for any type of public program. The County Judge’s Office is in the early stages of planning this new initiative, and would like to build Harris County’s vision alongside the families, practitioners, and other stakeholders who think about early childhood development in Harris County every day.
We hope you’ll join one or more of our upcoming Early Childhood Community Conversations to help inform our efforts. Our first listening session is coming up on Saturday, February 15th from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Health Museum at 1515 Hermann Drive, Houston, TX 77004. Please RSVP here as space may be limited for this first event. Food will be provided. For more information, please go to www.HarrisCountyKids.com.
Risk of Coronavirus Low; Harris County Public Health Monitoring Situation
Health officials are continuing to closely monitor the coronavirus outbreak, which originated in China and has since spread to other countries. We have no reported cases here in Harris County and the current risk to the general public is considered to be low.
Still, this is an important reminder that it is flu season and there are simple actions we all should take to prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses. Here are some everyday tips from the Centers for Disease Control:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, following with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick
- Stay home when you are sick
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces
Harris County officials have been working with healthcare providers and the City of Houston to ensure we are prepared for any issues. We will promptly report any confirmed cases of Coronavirus and will continue to work with local and state health agencies to monitor this evolving situation. In the meantime, visit readyharris.org or Harris County Public Health’s website for the latest information.
Harris County Launches 24/7 Hotline to Combat Fraud, Waste, and Abuse
The Harris County Auditor’s Office has launched an anonymous reporting system to help identify instances of fraud, waste, or abuse in county government. The hotline, accessible 24/7 via phone or secure website, allows an individual to report suspicious activity such as forgery and excessive or improper use of county assets.
“If you saw suspicious activity in your checking account, you would report it right away,” said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo. “We seek the same urgency from our employees, vendors, and community members who are often the first to notice signs of potential fraud.”
The reporting system, available in English and Spanish, will be managed by a third party to ensure confidentiality. The Auditor’s Office will review new cases within 72 hours and may request additional information through the third party’s anonymous follow-up process. Credible cases will be investigated by the County Auditor’s Office, referred to the appropriate internal division, or escalated to the County Attorney’s Office. To report cases of fraud, waste, or abuse related to Harris County government funds and resources:
- Call 866-556-8181 and follow the voice prompts, or
- Visit www.harriscounty.ethicspoint.com to fill out an online form.
Harris County Judge Urges Residents to Purchase Flood Insurance in 2020
Do you have flood insurance? While flooding is the most common and costly disaster, standard homeowners and renters insurance does not typically cover flood damage. Yet, of Harris County residents who responded to a survey following Tropical Storm Imelda, over 77% self-reported not having flood insurance. While you may not think you are at risk for flooding, many flood claims come from outside of high-risk flood zones: of the 3,990 homes flooded from Imelda, 2,479 (62%) were outside the 100-year floodplain. Harris County is working with FEMA to update floodplain maps, but it will take some time for that process to work itself through the federal bureaucracy. And don’t wait for the next big storm to roll in — there is typically a 30-day waiting period for the policy to go into effect. Still not convinced? According to FEMA, just one inch of water can cause $25,000 in damage. Protect yourself financially and invest in flood insurance.
Harris County Orders Studies to Determine Causes of Flooding in Northeast and Unincorporated Subdivisions
In early January, Harris County Commissioner’s Court approved several studies to determine the causes of flooding in eight Northeast Harris County subdivisions that flooded during Tropical Storm Imelda for the first time. The studies will determine what specific engineering improvements are needed to prevent future flooding. Subdivisions include: Spanish Cove, Forest Manor, Lake Houston Woodland Terrace, Fairgreen, Eastex Freeway Forest, Newport Section 10, Lake Shadows, and Happy Hide a Way. Additional studies will examine flooding on Gum Gully Road, West Stroker Road, and Wigwam Lane.
The Court also approved the last five studies of 105 previously identified subdivision drainage projects to address flooding in unincorporated areas that flooded not because of bayou overflows, but because of poor drainage. Those studies are scheduled for Beaumont Place, Greensbrook, Greensbrook Place, Northfield Place, Parkway, and Kingslake Forest Subdivisions. Drainage projects with completed studies will now be moving into the design and construction phases. These 105 projects have all been sped up, to be completed in a third of the time.
Commissioner’s Court Approves New Meyerland Detention Basin on Brays Bayou
In late January, Harris County Commissioner’s Court approved funds for engineering services for the design and construction of the Meyerland Detention Basin north of Brays Bayou, and adjacent to Braeswood Boulevard and Loop 610. The new detention basin will be built on the site of the former Meyergrove Apartments, which were completely flooded during Hurricane Harvey. Harris County Flood Control District purchased the land to construct the detention basin, which will address flooding issues in the area.
To stay up to date on all flood projects across the county, visit HarrisThrives.org.
West Mount Houston Road Community Meeting
Every Harris County community should have access to safe streets and sidewalks for everyone to use. For that reason, Precinct One is proposing new improvements along W. Mount Houston road to improve safety and better connect our neighborhoods. The Office of Precinct One Commissioner Rodney Ellis will be hosting a special community meeting on February 5, 2020 at 6:00 pm at Klein Intermediate to discuss the proposed project, which would significantly improve parts of W. Mount Houston Road, W. Montgomery Road and TC Jester Boulevard by adding sidewalks, shared-use paths, and a bikeway.
Public Meeting on the Widening and Deepening of Armand Bayou at Sam Houston Tollway East
The Harris County Flood Control District will hold a Public Meeting on the status of the Widening and Deepening of Armand Bayou at Sam Houston Tollway East project. The project is a partnership between the Flood Control District and the Harris County Toll Road Authority (HCTRA) and will widen and deepen a segment of Armand Bayou from Sam Houston Tollway East to Spencer Highway in connection with a HCTRA project to expand the toll road. Channel improvements along this 2,300-foot section of Armand Bayou will mitigate the expected increase in stormwater flows as a result of the road project.
The Public Meeting will be held on Wednesday, February 12, 2020 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the East Harris County Activity Center located at 7340 Spencer Highway, Pasadena, TX 77505. For questions, please contact the Flood Control District at 346-286-4000, or fill out the comment form located here.
Upcoming Commissioners Court Meetings
As part of the County Judge’s Office initiative to make local government more transparent and accessible, we invite you to get involved by viewing or attending Commissioners Court meetings. The meetings are held at 1001 Preston Street, Suite 934, Houston, TX 77002. You can check here to see the meeting schedule, or watch the official close captioned livestream here.
Upcoming Flood Control Bond Project Meetings
Though Hurricane season does not begin until June, Harris County never stops preparing for the next big storm. And while the 2018 Harris County Flood Control District Bond Program is in full swing, we continue to seek input from community members as we implement projects in watersheds across the County. If you have a comment about a particular project, we invite you to attend the corresponding meeting and be part of the planning process. Learn more about upcoming 2018 Bond Program Community Engagement Meetings here.
About Judge Hidalgo
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo is the head of Harris County’s governing body and Director of the Harris County’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. Judge Hidalgo, alongside four County Precinct Commissioners, oversees a budget of approximately $5 billion that funds services and institutions for the third-largest county in the nation, home to nearly 5 million people.
For more information about Harris County and the Office of the County Judge, click here.