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“A DEFINING MOMENT FOR HOUSTON:”

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Mayor praises Council adoption of flood prevention reforms as major first step toward strengthening city
HOUSTON – Mayor Sylvester Turner said the City Council’s approval of his flood protection reform proposals today was a major step forward for protecting lives and property in any future Houston floods. He also said the vote will send a strong signal to the nation about how the city plans for its future.

“It is a positive day and a defining moment for Houston. We are being transformational, becoming a more resilient city, and that means doing business in a way we have not done before,” Mayor Turner remarked.

The new rules for future construction of homes and buildings in flood plains will take effect Sept. 1, close to the 1-year anniversary of Hurricane Harvey, which brought record-high rainfall to Houston, flooded hundreds of thousands of dwellings and triggered the deaths of dozens of people in Harris County.

New construction will have to sit two feet above the 500-year flood-plain, which is land predicted to flood during a once-every-500-years storm (17-19 inches of rain in 24 hours). The soon-to-expire standard was set at one foot above the 100-year flood plain, land that is predicted to flood during a once-every-100-years (13-14 inches of rain in 24 hours).

The current regulations proved inadequate for Harvey, which dumped up to 51inches of rain on the area. The new rules would have protected 90 percent of the Houston homes that flooded last August, excluding those affected by water released from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reservoirs.

The new ordinances will also require development expansion projects to follow updated rules on providing rainwater retention areas.

Mayor Turner said the city will now shift to developing ordinance changes this year for areas outside the flood plain and construction of infrastructure and drainage projects. The city will also continue to work with county, state and federal governments to fund and build flood mitigation projects such as bayou widening and a third reservoir.

Roy Wright, FEMA’s deputy associate administrator for insurance and mitigation, wrote to the mayor, “For the nation to be more resilient, many communities will take these forward-leaning steps. We will be looking to Houston to lead the nation in its resilience and capacity to shape policies that keep citizens safe through all hazards.”

The mayor acknowledged that some local business interests opposed today’s City Council action with the argument that new construction will cost more. But, he said, saving lives is worth the extra cost, and the reforms will assure new residents and businesses that Houston is more prepared for the next storms.

“Unless we take constructive steps to mitigate the risk of flooding, why would business owners want to make a significant investment inside the city of Houston? They at least want to see us doing things that will protect them and their investment,” he said. “We are not going to put profit over the lives of people.”


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