Buyout program for flood-prone areas of Liberty County still under way

At a meeting in May 2019, Pct. 2 Commissioner Greg Arthur (left) reviewed maps of flood-prone communities with Tyler Smith with GrantWorks.

The novel coronavirus has caused a slight delay in Liberty County’s plans to buy out flood-prone properties, but applications are still being accepted, according to David Douglas, engineering administrator and grant coordinator for Liberty County.

“If we had not run into a little thing called COVID-19 (caused by the coronavirus), then we would have been ready to move forward by the end of May, but as it stands now, it’s going to be late summer, possibly August,” Douglas said. “We are going to get cracking as soon as possible.”

Through its grant administrator, Grant Works of Austin, the County is focusing on the neighborhoods of Sam Houston Lake Estates, New River Lake Estates, Knights Forest and Snake River. With roughly $5.9 million in FEMA grant funding after administrative costs, the County is hoping to buyout dozens of homeowners.

Douglas said his office has received complaints from residents in other flood-prone areas that are not part of the initial focus. They have expressed an interest in the buyout program as well.

“If we have enough money, we will keep moving down the Trinity River. We want to stay in that Trinity River footprint because these are the areas of the county that normally get flooded,” he said. “A lot of the homes in these areas are not fancy, so I am thinking we will be able to buy a lot of them.”

The prices for the homes will not be set by Grant Works or the County, Douglas said. An independent auditor will assess the home’s pre-Hurricane Harvey value, which will be used to make an offer on the property. There will be no haggling on the price. If the homeowner accepts the offer, the process will move forward. Once the contract is signed, the property owner will be given a set amount of time to move before the home is demolished. Liens and mortgages will be paid from the proceeds of the sale.

The land that is purchased in the buyout will never again be sold to private owners. Instead it will be set aside as a natural area for wildlife.

Anyone with an interest in the buyout program is asked to contact Tyler Smith, grant administrator at Grant Works, by calling 512-420-0303 ext. 401 or sending email to tyler@grantworks.net.

Liberty County is also anxiously waiting to get started on another $4.6 million in grant funding for infrastructure projects, Douglas said. The money will be dispersed to the Road and Bridge precincts based on a prioritized list of projects compiled by the commissioners many months ago. The projects include new culvert and bridge placements, and drainage and road improvements.

“Right now our consultants are just beginning to do the environmental studies. They are anticipating this will take up to 12 months to complete,” Douglas said. “When you are dealing with big federal and state agencies, they have their own time schedules even though we may be wanting to move ahead quickly.”

As proof that the government wheels spin slowly, Douglas added the fact that Liberty County recently finished some grant money projects related to 2008’s Hurricane Ike.

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