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Town meetings explain upcoming county bond election for drainage

“Passing this bond issue is not a choice, it is a necessity. While voting for the bond issue may raise taxes by $25 a year, that is nothing compared to the cost of losing one’s home and possibly life in the flooding that would occur. We need to get the word out to make people understand how critical the drainage issue is,” said Dr. Gloria Egli of Weslaco, at the Weslaco Town meeting on the upcoming $184 million bond election to address drainage issues.

The $25 Elgi referred to was based on the value of a property valuation of $100,000. At a tax increase of $0.025, the average increase to property owners would be $25 per year. The average property in Hidalgo County is valued at slightly less than $100,000.

Egli was moved to make the statement after seeing a map prepared by Dannenbaum Engineering that showed the flooding that would have occurred had the newly repaired levees not held during the flooding caused by Hurricane Alex two years ago. The map showed the entire southeastern part of Hidalgo County underwater.

The area from Peñitas to the east and south to the river to the eastern Hidalgo County line south of the Mission Ridge was also shown as being underwater. The Mission Ridge is a natural line that divides the flow of water in the county. Expressway 83 moving east to west across the valley follows the Mission Ridge as closely as possible because it is a natural high point that keeps the highway from flooding.

Anything south of the ridge flows south into Mexico and the Rio Grande River basin. Anything north of the ridge flows northward. Currently there are no outfalls that take the water to the gulf, so in the north water cannot escape and creates lakes in low-lying areas.

The map showed floodwaters in Peñitas, Mission and McAllen areas going as far north as Business 83.

“Mission residents were very lucky the newly rebuilt levees held under the pressure of being totally filled for several weeks,” said Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia. “The area where Cimarron and Shary Plantation are located would be completely flooded along with other areas that are not quite so exclusive and high-priced. Prior to the rebuilding of the levees, the Mission area was one where the levees were considered to be the weakest,” he said.

In the Pharr-San Juan area, the floodwaters were nearly to SH 107. Further east the water went through Weslaco and into Elsa and most of southeastern Hidalgo County.

The map projected a level one hurricane. Should there be a Katrina the loss of life and property would be incredible, according to the county’s presentation.

According to Garcia, drainage is the number one issue the county faces. He compared the county to 1967 and Hurricane Beulah when there were only 150,000 people. Approximately $250 million in damage was done to property and through loss of agriculture crops. Some fields were underwater for as long as a year because of lack of drainage. Today, much of the land that was formerly used for agriculture is filled with subdivisions, both commercial and residential.

The proposed $184 million bond election will double the county’s outfall capacity to move water away from the cities. The project is divided into two parts.

The major expenditure is from a new outlet to the Laguna Madre that will run in the northern part of Hidalgo County Drainage District No.1, with a northern border that runs east to west near San Manuel on SH 281 through Willacy County to the Laguna Madre. According to Jim Darling, co-chair of the Hidalgo County Drainage Committee, the estimated cost of the new drain is $100 million to $110 million. Most of this cost will be funded through a federal grant. Funding has been attached to a congressional bill that, if passed, Congress will allocate 90 percent the money for the project. Money would be given to the Texas Water Development Board for administration of the construction of the new Raymondville Drain. It would be their responsibility to assure that money from the bond election is spent on the bond election projects and not on any other projects.

Darling said Texas State Attorney General Greg Abbott has already approved the sale of the bonds once there is congressional approval of the project. However, Hidalgo County Commissioners stated in their resolution calling for the bond election that unless Congress allocates the funds, the Raymondville Drain to the Laguna Madre will not be built.

The second part of the project includes an estimated $84 million in proposed projects referred to as short-term improvements. The county would issue bonds in 2013 to finance these projects. These projects include the cost of acquiring the system to create the new channel, figured at $10 million, and a Delta Area Watershed Project, valued at $10 million.

Because this is the lowest area in the county and water tends to pool there, plans are to create a 400-acre lake to hold water. It 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. The lake can also potentially be used for recreation including boating, fishing and water sports.

A list of other projects included in the $84 million bond issue are listed in a brochure posted online at www.hcdrainage.org.

Mission, Palmhurst and Sharyland area residents will have a town hall meeting on Thursday, Oct. 4 at 6 p.m. at Mission City hall, 1201 E. 8th Street. A meeting for residents of La Joya, Peñitas, Palmview and Sullivan City will be held Wednesday, Oct. 10, at 6 p.m. at the Precinct 3 Community Center, 724 N. Breyfogle Road in Palmview.

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CoverageAreaThe 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.

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