Many Rio Grande Valley residents continue to deal with the aftermath of the late June floods that affected many parts of the region. County, state and federal disasters have been declared for the Valley, making funds available to many people whose flood damage qualifies for assistance.
By and large, local officials have done admirable jobs of dealing with the issue; most have dealt with such things before, as we live in the Rio Grande floodplain and in the Atlantic hurricane corridor. Still, officials should pay attention to residents’ input; they can offer valuable ideas and, more importantly, a view of public perceptions and feelings.
Several cities, as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, have held public forums to disseminate information and answer any questions that residents might have. In some cases, they’ve also become sounding boards for public sentiment.
One meeting last week in Weslaco drew an overflow crowd of residents, many of them upset over the problems they’ve had to endure. This is understandable, as the floods hit their area the hardest.
Officials were right to tell the residents that such problems can’t be eliminated totally, due to our location. But they should always look for ways to improve drainage and other basic infrastructure and services. Maintain dialog with other Valley cities that deal with similar challenges, and share information about what works and what doesn’t.
Most importantly, they should commit whatever resources are necessary to make whatever improvements they can. Inaction could prove more costly than the investment.
One resident at the July 11 forum in Weslaco said the floods made her regret moving to Weslaco. Others said they were thinking about moving out of town.
To be sure, some things are said in the heat of a crisis that may not come to fruition, but these statements should remind officials that public dissatisfaction with basic services could affect their population, which in turn affects business investment, tax revenues and economic activity.
And it isn’t just about improving drainage. Streets must be maintained. Neighborhoods should be properly lit. Traffic lights must be in good working order.
Local cities deserve credit for creating lanes for cyclists and pedestrians. They offer safer conditions that can attract more people to use them. That safety is compromised, however, if cars steer into them to avoid potholes in the street, or debris in the bike lane pushes cyclists back into the street.
Major investment — new civic centers, sports parks, commercial centers — might attract atten-tion from people who are looking to relocate. But in the end, it’s the most basic things — drain-age, drinkable water, public safety — that determine whether people decide to stay.