By Aurora Flores, TAC Legislative Staff
On Tuesday, March 27, the Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Relations (IGR) convened to hear testimony on the Hurricane Harvey Response Interim charges. The IGR Capitol meeting was a continuation of the November 2017 hearing held in Victoria.
The hurricane response charges include determining ways to improve the coordination of rebuilding housing and infrastructure; developing recommendations for any statutory changes necessary to improve the efficiency of disaster recovery efforts; recommending options to expedite debris removal; and recommendations for training programs for local officials to equip them to efficiently interact with state and federal agencies.
During the March meeting, the IGR committee heard from various entities regarding hurricane response and the need for post-storm housing and infrastructure, debris removal and ideas to improve local officials communications with state and federal agencies.
Jim Allison, representing the County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas, testified that in some coastal areas, recovery resources have been inadequate and the lack of state and federal assets has delayed the recovery effort. He stressed the need to implement significant improvements in plans and procedures now, before another catastrophe hits and the necessity of immediate access to resources after a natural disaster.
The efforts of counties in removing debris such as trees, vehicles and demolished buildings are essential to providing access for emergency vehicles and utility restoration work. However, these expenditures associated with these essential efforts left some areas in financial peril.
San Patricio County has spent $4.5 million on Harvey-related debris removal to date and has only received $65,000 in reimbursement. FEMA provides only partial reimbursement, and those partial reimbursements are often delayed. Allison maintained the state should have a fund to provide for immediate support to local entities for debris removal of this magnitude.
Predatory practices, increased prices and abandoned contract commitments were other post-Harvey problems that many county officials relayed. Counties would benefit from state agencies pre-qualifying debris removal contractors, providing bonding requirements to prevent price-gouging and pooling debris removal assets at the state level to ensure proper allocation.
Emergency housing is vital. The issue of residential and other housing recovery needs improvement also. In order to expedite the process of damage appraisal and grants or loans, identifying all types of housing needs should be an immediate priority after a storm.
Hurricane Harvey has also provided the opportunity to examine the idea of a single state agency responsible for training local officials and providing immediate response specialists to assist local officials in coordinating with state and FEMA following a disaster. Immediate consultation, clear instruction to implement recovery effort and a state fund to support local disaster recovery when federal participation thresholds are not reached in a county are ways in which the state could begin to respond to local government needs after a disaster. For more information, contact Aurora Flores at (800) 456-5974.