HOUSTON – (By Michelle Leigh Smith, Realty News Report) – Harris County Judge Ed Emmett believes state and local officials need to accelerate flood control measures, by building a third reservoir and transforming some of the Katy Prairie west of town into a nature preserve.
In his tenth annual State of the County Address sponsored by the Greater Houston Partnership, Emmett told a large crowd at NRG Center that Houstonians need to think differently about the waterways that brought destruction during Hurricane Harvey.
Emmett said he’s concerned that people around the country and world only perceive Houston and Harris County as a flood-prone swamp.
“We should turn a perceived vulnerability into an asset,” he said. “Our overriding vision should be to convert the area rivers, bayous, creeks and flood mitigation features into nature preserves or recreational and tourist areas. As County Judge, I might not have the power to bring all these proposals to fruition, but I can certainly be the loud voice making sure they are pursued and not forgotten. We should leverage and coordinate resources and planning at all levels – from federal to local, from Congress tall the way to the municipal utility districts.”
During his speech, he said there are many projects FEMA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers need to finish. He said the state could accomplish projects like building a third reservoir and creating a permanent nature preserve on the Katy Prairie, using some of the $10 billion from the “Rainy Day Fund.”
He suggested converting Lake Houston and Lake Conroe into a flood control facility in addition to a water supply. The existing Barker and Addicks reservoirs were forced to make major water releases following the hurricane, prompting experts to call for building another flood control reservoir.
Harris County taxpayers will be asked to fund a specific list of flood control projects through a bond. He said he believes it could be more than $1 billion worth in projects.
Emmett said it wouldn’t be until 2018 that a bond package would go before voters, but he said he wants it to be very clear what they’re asking for before it heads to the taxpayers.
“I know we’re looking over a billion dollars, probably two, maybe more, but people want us to do something and for them to vote for it they’re going to need to know exactly what they’re voting for,” said Emmett.
“Harris County has low taxes and exemplary financial ratings, but some state officials want more restrictions on our ability to meet the needs of our residents,” Emmett said. “Those same state leaders have shifted the public school tax burden more and more from the state onto local school districts. In an effort to stir up voters, they attack counties and other local governments, all the while offering no real solutions. Organizations like the GHP should say, “’Enough is enough. I urge you to support vision, not pandering.’”
Emmett, 68, became county judge on March 6, 2007. He is expected to run again next year. He suffered a mild stroke in August, but worked long hours and made numerous TV appearances during Hurricane Harvey press conferences.
A graduate of Bellaire High School and Rice University, Emmett served in the Texas House of Representatives for four terms, beginning in 1978.
Emmett, who spearheaded an effort to preserve and redevelop the Astrodome, was named 2016 Houstonian of the Year by Realty News Report.
Emmett was introduced at the NRG event by outgoing Texas Speaker of the House Joe Strauss.