City on the way to new storm plan

Residents call for 50-year design to help curb flooding

Maricela Rodriguez/Valley Morning Star A truck makes its way through the flooded intersection June 20 at North 7th Street and U.S. Business 77.

HARLINGEN — After months of debate, city commissioners voted 3-2 to take the first step to approve an ordinance officials say would upgrade drainage standards while passing developers’ guidelines aimed at improving subdivision drainage designs.

In a two-hour special meeting, Commissioners Frank Puente and Richard Uribe voted against passing the first reading of an ordinance which officials say would upgrade drainage standards from five-year storm designs to 25-year storm plans.

During two public comment periods, residents opposed the proposals, calling on commissioners to boost standards to 50-year storm plans such as those adopted in Weslaco, McAllen and Hidalgo County.

“What we’re dealing with today is improving the future and making subdivisions better,” Mayor Chris Boswell said during the live-streamed videoconference.

In the past 10 years, the city has helped fund about $20 million worth of projects aimed at upgrading drainage, Boswell said.

“These are not band-aids,” he said. “They have resulted in significant improvements. I think the evidence is Hurricane Hannah. We had minimal flooding.”

But Uribe opposed the proposal which officials say would boost drainage standards from five-year storm designs to 25-year storm plans.

“Going to a 10-year or 25-year — I don’t think it’s enough,” Uribe said, calling the drainage issue the hottest he’s handled since taking office about five years ago. “I don’t want just minimum standards for Harlingen.”

Uribe described the proposal as “a compromise” with developers.

“We failed at the city level when we signed off on Adams Crossing,” Uribe said.

Residents speak out

Across town, hundreds of homes flooded during so-called 100-year storms, or storms with 100-year frequencies, in June 2018 and June 2019.

During the meeting’s public comment period, John Lane told commissioners floodwaters have rushed into his home in the Adams Crossing subdivision.

“We’ve had flooding throughout the time I’ve lived in Harlingen and it continues to happen,” Lane said during a telephone call. “We need something legitimate — not just a temporary solution. We need to think about our citizens.”

Resident Jerry Howell called on commissioners “to do something dramatic — not just baby steps.”

Call for 50-year plan

During the public comment period, resident J.V. Garcia, a civil engineer who works on drainage projects, called the new Harlingen Subdivision Development Guide “deceptive” because it bills itself as boosting drainage standards from five-year storm designs to 25-year storm plans which he argued have become standard here but continue to lead to flooding.

“The 25-year design is not new,” Garcia, who launched a residents’ group’s new Facebook page Reinvent Harlingen Drainage, told commissioners. “The 25-year storm design in Harlingen still floods. The ordinance is going to flood existing subdivisions worse than they are now.”

Garcia said a 25-year design was used to develop the Stuart Crossing shopping center, which has led to flooding in the nearby Wildwood subdivision.

For months, residents have called for expanded drainage ditches and wider storm sewer pipes along with bigger retention ponds at new subdivisions to capture floodwaters dumped during so-called 50-year storms.

While Commissioner Michael Mezmar described the cost of boosting standards to 50-year-design levels “cost-prohibitive,” Garcia said such improvements would boost individual subdivision lot prices an additional $200.