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20120411-Hidalgo-County-LOGOMcALLEN — Members of the Hidalgo County Drainage District No. 1 Advisory Committee are looking forward on plans to call for a bond referendum on drainage improvements here by brainstorming how they can publicize the county’s drainage needs for voter approval in November.

While the group hasn’t proposed to Hidalgo County commissioners that they call for a bond election just yet, the needs of the county – with the cost rumored to be around $500 million – are known and the 25-member group is making the necessary steps toward being transparent on the call for the bond.

Meanwhile, a regional plan being developed by the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council that includes a list of vital drainage projects throughout the Rio Grande Valley is near completion. Around 160 projects will be identified, from small to big efforts, with a price tag of nearly $1 billion.

The projects included in the list, which will be publicized in May, are projects identified that are crucial to the RGV’s economic well-being, officials said.

On Wednesday, the group said the March 30 storm, which flooded parts of McAllen with over six inches of rain, highlighted the county’s needs for drainage improvement.

“We just saw an event where the system failed,” said Godfrey Garza, the district manager.

The City of McAllen and the county’s drainage district currently don’t have the type of drainage system to handle storm events like the rain event from a few weeks ago.

The rainfall in McAllen was classified as a 100-year storm. The county is looking to make improvements that will prepare the system to handle a 30-year storm event.

The rain fell so quickly it also dismantled a Willacy County weir that prompted county leaders to declare an emergency to repair the system. The county is working on approving contracts before design aspects can begin. Following the design, it could take the district about four months to repair the weir, which is the peak of hurricane season.

The weirs control the water levels to allow downstream neighbors to move their water at the same time and not flood other cities, said Garza.

Parts of the capital improvements in the county include adding more gates and holes to existing weirs, he added. Additionally, another half dozen weirs need to be repaired.

“The volume of water we move is tremendous” during heavy rainfall, Garza explained.

With public frustration in flooding events, the issue of drainage needs becomes a highly discussed topic, which committee members want to capitalize on, especially with the hurricane season inching closer.

“When you have an event like this, it gets everybody’s attention,” said Garza.

In 2006, voters approved a $100 million bond issue, most of which was used for levee improvements. Committee members said the plans for the bond weren’t detailed enough for the public. That lack of communication has them eager to work on meeting with the public as soon as possible.

As the group focused on transparency, Dr. Francisco Guajardo, a professor from the University of Texas-Pan American and co-chair of the committee, said it was important that all of the committee members be devoted to the group and its efforts. At Wednesday’s meeting, less than a dozen of the 25 members were present.

Guajardo said he was concerned about the role of the committee in getting information out to the public if they weren’t at the meetings.

“It’s part of why we’re all here,” he said.

Along with getting the entire group to participate, the members asked their media consultant to begin efforts on establishing a campaign to publicize the potential bond election.

Judge Ramon Garcia said the group should operate the movement similar to a political campaign with mail outs, newspaper ads, television public service announcements and press conferences to publicize the district’s proposed improvement plans.

He also suggested the county hold precinct forms to discuss the projects proposed and answer any questions the public may have.

“We’re going to have a major (voter) turnout in November,” Garcia said. “For the most part, people want to take care of drainage.”

While public outreach is part of the contract established between the district and its media consultant, the proposed plans could cost extra money. Still, the group was in favor of beginning outreach efforts.

The group’s next meeting is May 9 and there are discussions about hosting meetings in other parts of the county to invite local leaders to meetings to introduce them to the drainage proposals to help publicize the district’s ongoing work.

“The purpose is to engage the community,” Guajardo said.

The committee is still working on cost estimates. On Wednesday, the group created a finance subcommittee that will meet regularly to discuss project costs so the group can meet the July deadline to have the county call for a November election.

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