Liberty County commissioners on Tuesday, Aug. 10, approved the creation of a drainage district to serve the entire county. The first step in the process was the appointment of five volunteer board members – Heck Etheridge, Jay Rice, Barry Graves, Randy Ellis and Dustin Fregia. The members were selected to represent all parts of Liberty County, explained County Judge Jay Knight.
The County and this new board will work with LJA Engineering, the consulting engineer firm hired by the County for various matters, to establish bylaws for the drainage district. However, the district must still be approved by voters. Knight said he expects it to be on the ballots next May.
“This was just the first step. The goal is to mitigate flooding and enhance drainage in the entire county,” Knight explained. “There were once six drainage districts that served parts of Liberty County. Only three of those are in operation now. They were formed many years ago to help with water for farms.”
If voters approve the county-wide drainage district, the remaining three districts will be absorbed. Commissioners Court’s only involvement is the formation of the board – such as how many members will serve – and the naming of the initial board members. Future board members to replace the appointees will be selected by voters, the judge explained.
As this will be a taxing entity, Knight estimates that ad valorem taxes collected will be less than 10 cents per $100 of property value. These taxes will pay for maintenance and operation, and the County will still seek grant funding to pay for major drainage improvement projects.
When asked if the drainage improvement plans first will involve cleaning out existing ditches and drains, Knight said that will be an ongoing process.
“We need a drainage study for the entire county. We started on this after Hurricane Harvey when the General Land Office was working with us on $2.2 million in grant funding for the study. The contiguous counties saw that we were making headway and they wanted to get involved, too. That turned into a regional drainage study instead of a county study, but the county study is still needed,” Knight said.
Once a study is complete and projects are prioritized, the County’s engineering firm will ensure that the County’s drainage plans work in conjunction with other drainage studies that impact Liberty County. The County is already enjoined with Chambers County and the Trinity Bay Conservation District in a Spindletop Bayou drainage project that should benefit Devers, Anahuac and Winnie.
In January 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic really kicked off, Liberty County and seven other Southeast Texas counties formed the Southeast Texas Flood Control District. Other participating entities are Chambers, Jefferson, Newton, Orange, Tyler, Jasper and Hardin counties, Sabine River Authority, Lower Neches Valley Authority, and the Angelina and Neches River Authority.
The County also is part of the Cedar Bayou Flood Control District, which is being managed through the Harris County Flood Control District. The area west of Dayton, along the county line that borders Harris County, is included in this district.
While being included in the other drainage districts and studies should positively impact Liberty County, none have covered the entirety of Liberty County, which is why the new drainage district is crucial, according to Knight.
With unprecedented growth occurring in Liberty County right now, Knight said it is imperative to get the drainage study finished before new subdivisions and industrial development add to the burden on existing drainage infrastructure.
“I don’t want Liberty County to be in the same situation as Harris County is in now with its drainage problems. Now is the time for Liberty County while drainage improvements can be done cheaper and while land acquisition for those plans is much easier,” Knight said. “It will be much more expensive if we wait. Once this new study is in place, any new development will have to adhere to the drainage study and plan. This gives us another way to make developers behave. I just wish it had been in place 20 years ago.”