Tuesday, September 23, 2014
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Local Weather

IWBC will not pay to fix Peñitas levee problem

Hidalgo-County-SealIt may take years to obtain the funding to fix flooding around Peñitas, a project that was supposed to be completed by the International Water and Boundary Commission when the levee system was repaired.

Godfrey Garza, manager of Hidalgo County Drainage District No. 1, told the Commissioners Court in a Dec. 10 meeting he had met with Commissioner Edward Drusina of the International Water and Boundary Commission on the problems with the Peñitas pump station that were part of the project to fix the levees in Hidalgo County several years ago. Repairs that were not made there were supposed to be funded with the $260 million upgrade to the levee system. Because the repairs were not made, much of Hidalgo County is still likely to face heavy flooding in the event of a hurricane.

Drusina took responsibility for the error, which occurred because a subcontractor did not do the preliminary job to specifications and the contractor in charge refused to complete the job. As a result, when all the other levees in Hidalgo County were repaired, the area around Penitas was never completed.

Drusina said IWBC does not have money available to fix the mistake and it could take several years to budget for the funds. Then, Drusina reminded Garza and those at the meeting that FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) would not insure Hidalgo County in case of a disaster until the problem was fixed.

Judge Ramon Garcia said there was no question that repairs needed to be made. Otherwise, the county cannot get FEMA insurance. He asked Garza how long it would take, saying it needed to be done before hurricane season started.

Garza said the levees belonged to the IWBC, so the county would have to get the commission’s permission to fix the mistake. The land where the levees are located belongs to the Hidalgo County Irrigation District, so the district also would have to give permission for the project. Finally, the funding and plans for repairs would have to be approved by Hidalgo County Commissioners Court before work could begin. The actual work would take 25 to 30 days, but the process could take up to five months, putting completion of the project right up against the beginning of hurricane season.

Virginia Townsend, with OWLS (Objective Watchers of the Legal System), asked if it would be possible to sue IWBC to regain the lost funds?

“They admit they made the mistake but are holding FEMA over our heads to make us pay for their mistake,” Townsend reasoned.

She also expressed hope the repairs could be made at a time when farmers did not need irrigation water so much so the project would not interfere with agricultural production.

IWBC is a branch of the federal government, and its commissioners are appointed by the President of the United States, so there very likely will not be any recourse except to dip into Hidalgo County Drainage District reserve funds to pay for the project.

“In spite of the cost of finishing the work that was not done,” Judge Garcia said. “We cannot afford to take the chance nothing will happen in the next two to three years waiting for IBWC to come up with the money.”

The actual cost of the project will not be known until the engineers start the design phase and get into the levee and pumphouse to know just how much work will need to be done to fix the problem.

In other drainage district action, the commissioners approved a letter for Water Management Strategy to include the Delta Watershed Bond Project in the 22107 Rio Grande Regional Water Planning Group (RGRWPG) (Region M) for inclusion into the state Water Plan through the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) under Proposition 6.

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