During the October general membership meeting of the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership, attendees learned from Galveston County Judge Mark Henry and Harris County Judge Ed Emmett that the economic state of each county is as fine as the beautiful fall weather that everyone was enjoying the day of the event on Oct. 14th at Lakewood Yacht Club in Seabrook, Texas.
Storm surge suppression remains at forefront
Galveston County Commissioner Ken Clark introduced Judge Henry who related that storm surge suppression continues to be an important topic. He heads the Gulf Coast Community Protection and Recovery District committee. The GCCPRD’s final recommendations for a storm surge protection system are due in June 2016. Henry thanked BAHEP for its long involvement in this important issue. Once studies are completed and a plan is finalized that includes additional recommendations by Rice University and Texas A & M University at Galveston, then Congress will be asked to provide the approximately $10 billion needed for construction. Henry acknowledged that this sounds like a lot of money, but he reminded everyone that Hurricane Ike caused $30 billion in damages.
Clean water and infrastructure are priorities
A guaranteed, sustainable clean water supply is another major issue. Expressing a concern that the county’s "painful growth rate” will create a problem in the delivery of fresh water, he said that long term solutions are needed that may well include desalinization. In closing, Henry reported on several infrastructure projects including development of available land along the Hwy. 6 corridor and a large expansion to Hw. 146, which has just been designated a hurricane evacuation route. This is of major importance to Galveston County, because the Texas Department of Transportation will cover the cost of $10 million in right-of-way acquisitions. Formerly, TXDoT looked to the county to absorb this cost.
Emmett reports on county’s challenges
Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Jack Morman then introduced Judge Emmett who declared that "the state of Harris County is pretty darn good, and the reason is we’re engaged in governing not politics.” There are problems that must be addressed, however, such as transportation. Emmett feels that the most important transportation project looming in the future is the I-69 bypass. The bypass will serve the ports of Freeport, Galveston and Houston. The judge stated, "I’ve looked at every road map there is, and I see no other corridor except the 146 corridor. That’s got to be the priority, and it’s got to be a state wide priority.” Indigent healthcare is another huge issue. He also spoke of mental health care reporting that he’s often said the largest mental health facility in the state of Texas is the Harris County Jail. That’s fundamentally wrong, he stated, and the county is working to change that.
TranStar facility finest in nation
Flood control was Emmett’s next topic that presents ongoing challenges for the county. He spoke of the new TranStar facility, calling it the best office of emergency management facility in the country. The Houston TranStar consortium is a partnership between the City of Houston, Harris County, the Metropolitan Transit Authority and TXDoT which is responsible for providing transportation management and emergency management services to the Greater Houston Region.
What’s happening with the Astrodome?
Emmett also addressed the questions surrounding the Astrodome and what to do with it. Although the "Dome” is fully paid for, it costs about $166,000 each year to keep it maintained. It can’t be torn down, because it’s currently being protected by the Texas Historical Commission due to a pending application designating it as an antiquities landmark. The current plan in the works, Emmett explained, is to raise the floor to ground level, put two levels of parking underneath to generate revenue, and use the indoor space for festivals and other events.
Bond issues critical for growth
Additionally, he stressed the critical need for approving the four bond issues on the upcoming November ballot. Road bonds in the amount of $700 million, a park bond, a flood control bond, and $24 million for much-needed improvements to the animal shelter are all necessary to keep Harris County moving forward. In closing, he talked about a recent cost-cutting idea by that state that would put a revenue cap on counties. "It’s a horrible idea. Local officials have done a really good job of managing the finances of Harris County. That’s why we have a AAA bond rating. The worst thing that can happen to us is for somebody from outside to come in and say, ‘No, you can’t manage the way you have in the past,’” Emmett concluded. BAHEP hosts the Harris and Galveston county judges annually to better inform its members about issues that affect their jobs and families. It is just one of numerous benefits provided by BAHEP to its valued members.
Galveston County Judge Mark Henry (left) and Harris County Judge Ed Emmett