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EDINBURG — Getting proper drainage for Hidalgo County is the No. 1 one issue facing Hidalgo County, making the county’s proposed multi-million dollar drainage project a critical need, said Judge Ramon Garcia at the first of several open forums to discuss the proposed project which will go before voters in November.
The $184 million bond issue project will connect the rapidly developing northern area of McAllen to the Raymondville Drainage Ditch, a $250 million channel located in the northern park of the county.
The meeting was held at the University of Texas-Pan American on Aug. 22. Fourteen more meetings will be held across the county before Election Day.
“The $184 million is just the down payment on the total project estimated to cost $600 million designed to move floodwaters out of the Valley at a rapid pace and prevent the type of flood damage that occurred in McAllen after the recent 6-inch rain and hail storm,” Garcia said. “Much of the damage that occurred from flood was because when the canals and drainage ditches filled up, there was nowhere for the water to go.”
Because the Valley is a delta, it has elevations from 370 feet in the west to 33 feet above sea level in the Delta area. Water automatically flows to the lowest area.
The area to benefit most from the new drainage system is north of Expressway 83 and extends from Peñitas east to Mission, McAllen and Edinburg, where flooding often occurs after heavy rains. It is a heavily populated area
“The bottom line is floodwater has no place to go,” explained Godfrey Garza, Hidalgo County Drainage District manager. “As we grow there are more rooftops and more asphalt from new streets leaving less land to soak up floodwaters. New ditches and waterways are needed to move water quickly to the Laguna Madre.”
Willacy County will benefit from the project because it will be able to drain into the system. However, Willacy County will have to create its own drain system to get the water to the new major drain, according to Garza.
In addition to the new ditches, new pumps would be added to move the water faster. Garza said 60 percent of the route to Port Mansfield already existed. The bond election would provide another 40 percent to the system through creation of new lines and a canal system and the widening of the existing lines to carry water off more efficiently.
If the bond issue is passed and federal funding is made available for the project, construction could start within 12-to-18 months and would take five-to-six years to complete.
Garcia gave perspective to the current need for a new system by reminding the community about Hurricane Beulah in 1967, which dropped 27 inches of rain on Hidalgo County and created “one big lake” around the courthouse in Edinburg. Rural areas from McCook east across the county had been underwater for months devastating the agricultural area of the county. Some smaller communities were isolated for weeks because the roads were underwater. Although the population was much smaller, the damage done in today’s dollars amounted to $1 billion, he said.
Of the current bond election, $100 million would actually be spent on creation of the new ditch to Port Mansfield. The other $84 million will be for drainage improvements throughout the county in areas around colonias known for flooding.
During Hurricane Dolly in 2008 16-20 inches of rain fell in the Delta area. A total of 327 homes were destroyed and another 8,637 were affected. Hurricane Alex in 2010 left 24 inches of rain and damaged 8,554 homes and 27 businesses. There were $10 million in agriculture losses.
The county spent $260 million to repair the levies along the Rio Grande River before Hurricane Alex. The levies held and prevented much damage in South McAllen, Sharyland Plantation and Cimarron and western Mission, county officials said.
A major expense for the project is the $110 million allocation for the Raymondville Drain. In addition, the cost of acquiring the system to create the new channel, figured at $10 million, a Delta Area Watershed Project, valued at $10 million, would be of great value to the county, according to Garcia. This drain is projected to capture up to 15 million gallons of water that can be reused by the county. The water can be sold to cities that need water, creating a revenue base that will possibly help fund additional improvements to the system in the future.
Amidst talk of a tax hike, Garcia said there was no good time for the project and the longer it’s delayed, the more costly it would be.
The federal government has also agreed to fund 90 percent of the project. When asked if the federal government had the money to do the project, the judge assured the audience that if the government should decide not to fund the project, no money would be spent.
“Because of the promised federal funding the cost of the project would only add $0.025 per $100 valuation to the drainage tax,” said Garcia. “The cost to the owner of a $100,000 property would only be $22.50.”
Objective Watchers of the Legal System (OWLS) member Fern McClaugherty said that added tax would be took much.
Hidalgo County taxes are currently $0.59 and projected to rise slightly this year. McClaugherty anticipated more increases in the future with the county considering approval of an $11 million deficit budget for the coming year.
“I know people who simply cannot pay another penny of taxes,” she said.
Garcia said the amount of damage done to homes in North McAllen due to the recent flooding and to the Delta Area in the past two hurricanes was far more expensive than the cost of the additional taxes. He said the farmers whose crops were destroyed would not mind paying the tax to keep it from happening again.
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The Progress Times is the hometown newspaper for the local communities of Mission, Sharyland, Alton, Palmview, La Joya and surrounding areas in Western Hidalgo County. We have a staff of veteran reporters who work diligently every week to bring our readers the latest news as it affects their hometown area and people.