EDINBURG — Hidalgo County is about to get a large chunk of money from the $190 million bond voters approved last year as it moves forward with the 40 drainage projects it was meant to fund.
Hidalgo County commissioners recently approved the sale of approximately $82 million in bonds for Hidalgo County Drainage District No. 1 and the money will be available July 17, District Manager Raul Sesin said.
“As of today, we’ve issued 27 contracts out of the possible 40 to engineering firms,” Sesin said on Tuesday. “And out of that, we have two under construction and one is particularly in the Las Brisas/Chapa area.”
That area, which is located near Mile 9 and Farm-to-Market Road 1015 in Weslaco, has been heavily hit by thunderstorms twice in a year’s time — and almost to the exact date. In June 2018, dozens of homes were damaged by torrential rains, and the same thing happened earlier this week, albeit to a lesser degree.
Both storms appear to have taken most by surprise, including longtime meteorologist Tim Smith, who said as much in a Facebook post earlier this week.
“Nearly 14 (inches) of rain in just a few short hours,” Smith wrote. “This one we didn’t see coming. Not to this magnitude.”
With more than a foot of water in a short amount of time and widespread flooding, some residents have expressed frustration.
But these types of projects take time to develop, design and construct, Sesin said.
“I know it’s hurricane season, it’s one year later, but we’re moving efficiently, I believe, and assertively, making sure that we get these projects developed on a timely manner,” he said.
The improvements must be designed, studied, and if the county doesn’t already own the property, it must acquire rights-of-way before the actual construction takes place. Not to mention the bidding process that state law requires.
Still, the drainage district is not sitting idly by, Sesin said. Instead, it is using its own equipment to get ahead in the Las Brisas/Chapa project. The $11 million project will create a 10-acre regional detention facility capable of holding 10 million gallons of water, and the county is already clearing the land using its own resources.
“In this one we’re using our equipment because we didn’t have the full plan in place and we wanted to immediately start after the groundbreaking,” Sesin said about a symbolic ceremony last month. “And we thought that we could do that project to have an immediate impact to residents to give them some type of relief.”
The rest of the work there, including the ditch widening, the installation of a structure at the levy and work inside the Las Brisas Subdivision, will be bid out.
The county is also pursuing a $4.5 million grant from the Texas Department of Emergency Management to help cover the cost of the project.
“We’re not just stopping at the money voters approved,” Sesin said.
His office is also looking at ways to leverage taxpayer funds through the Texas Water Development Board, which offers low-interest loans for drainage and other water projects.
“With the bond, we now have the ability to enter into loans for long-term commitment. With the district, you can only enter into a one-year commitment without voter approval,” Sesin said. “So if we wanted to take out a loan, we could take it out for one year. And I mean, that doesn’t do anything for us. We can’t do much.”
But that all changed when voters approved the $190 bond issuance in November 2018.
“With voter approval, we can look at borrowing money now,” he said. “Instead of going to the market, you commit (the money) to the water development board and now you can obtain a low interest loan and also qualify for loan forgiveness because we’re an economically disadvantaged county.”
Sesin hopes to have all projects under construction by the end of next year and in the meantime, expects flooding to continue. But his crews will also continue to work to minimize its impact.
“It’s not a matter of ‘If we’re going to flood.’ We’re going to have flooding issues. But we want to protect the residents and the businesses and their investment,” he said. “If we have water in the streets or in their yards, that’s manageable. We just don’t want to have it in their homes or businesses.”