Houston mayor proposes first post-Harvey flood control measures
- Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner has proposed the city's first flood-related building codes since Hurricane Harvey devastated the city in August, according to the Houston Chronicle.
- The mayor has recommended that all new buildings within city limits and outside of Houston's floodplain be constructed two feet above ground. Turner said structures within the 500-year floodplain should be built two feet above the estimated 500-year flood levels. Under the new regulations, developers of properties larger than 15,000 square feet would have to provide stormwater detention sites for previously paved areas, as well as newly paved sections under certain conditions.
- Harris County, which encompasses Houston, has implemented similar rules, though the city was exempted from those regulations. Theoretically, property within a 500-year floodplain has a 0.2% chance of flooding, but Houston has seen a 500-year storm each year for the last three years.
In Harris County, most new homes and certain other types of buildings, effective Jan. 1, must be built to 500-year-floodplain standards if they are within a 100-year floodplain. Some critics of the new rules say they would result in some homes having to be elevated up to eight feet above ground, increasing home prices by thousands of dollars.
But that issue is secondary to the shortage of contractors available to build homes in the first place. Driven by an industry-wide labor shortage — plus Gulf Coast construction crews staying home to tend to their own post-disaster rebuilding efforts — some Houston contractors are telling customers that it will be years before they can expect their home repairs or reconstruction to be completed.
But there is proof that tighter building codes can work. Immediately after Hurricane Irma passed through Florida in September, The Wall Street Journal reported that homes upgraded or built to newer, more stringent building codes had generally held up better in the storm. According to the National Real Estate Investor, commercial property managers in the state also credited limited building damage and speedy floodwater drainage to the changes in construction standards implemented after Hurricane Andrew tore through Florida in 1992.
Texas, however, is looking at more than just building codes to prevent another flooding disaster like it saw after Harvey. State officials are pushing for a $61 billion plan that would see the state build reservoirs, buy out homes in flood-prone areas and install a system of at least three "coastal spines," or storm surge barriers.
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