Harris County Commissioners Court
October 13, 2009, 10 am
Houston Tomorrow publishes notes from public meetings to help local governments in their mission to provide transparency and to allow a greater pool of citizens to participate in important policy discussions. These notes are not official meeting minutes, nor do they necessarily record every agenda item.
Note: The Commissioners Court covers a wide variety of topics. Questions or comments regarding agenda items are discussed during the meeting, and some items may be removed. At the end the commissioners vote on the agenda as a whole.
The first item on the agenda was a proposal to remove Segment E of the Grand Parkway from the list of TxDOT stimulus projects. TxDOT had originally allocated $181 million to Segment E, hoping to jump-start development on the entire Grand Parkway. However, Art Storey, executive director of the Harris County Public Infrastructure Department, requested that the money be reallocated last week as a result of permitting delays. Storey concluded that Segment E might never receive the necessary wetlands permit from the US Army Corps of Engineers.
At the request of the Harris County Attorney’s Office, the agenda item was referred back to it for “wordsmithing” regarding right-of-way and other land issues. However, the County Attorney’s Office concurred with Storey’s assessment from last week, and the parties all agreed that the $181 million would still revert to TxDOT. The item will appear before the Court again in two weeks. Judge Ed Emmett emphasized that it must not be delayed any more than that, because TxDOT needs an official answer by early November.
The commissioners also removed the Fairmont Parkway Tollway from the Harris County Toll Road Authority’s project list after strenuous local opposition. KUHF reports that nearby residents were concerned that converting the parkway to a tollway would hurt property values and limit access to local retail shops.
The commissioners approved a plan to demolish the old county jail at 1301 Franklin. Commissioner Sylvia Garcia (Precinct 2) voted against the proposal. One speaker, who worked with a mental health task force, suggested refurbishing the old jail and turning it into a reintegration center to help former inmates with mental health problems transition back into society. The center would provide help with transportation, housing, and applications for Social Security, Medicaid, and other programs. However, the speaker said that the recommendations were not dependent on a specific location. Judge Emmett said he supported the idea of a reintegration center, but that it would cost $37 million to refurbish the old jail, as opposed to $6 million to demolish it.
Commissioner Garcia disputed those figures, saying that a new study said that it would only cost $19 million to refurbish the jail, and that refurbishing it would alleviate other costs associated with moving expenses. Commissioner Jerry Eversole (Precinct 4) said that the jail had been studied for decades, and he said that he fully supported the reintegration facility, but that the jail needed to be torn down. Judge Emmett and Commissioner Eversole said that the reintegration center will be built one way or another, just not at that location.
The commissioners unanimously approved the creation of a multiagency task force to develop a master plan to address the Clinton Road particulate problem. The issue was first brought to the attention of local officials at the August Technical Advisory Committee meeting and again the following week at the Transportation Policy Council. The issue is that one air quality monitor at Clinton Drive and Clinton Park Avenue in eastern Houston, just outside the 610 Loop, exceeds the fine particulate standards established by the Environmental Protection Agency. After investigating the matter, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality determined that the source of the particulates was excessive dust caused by poor road maintenance and nearby unpaved surfaces. The monitor must be brought into compliance, or else the entire region could be designated as a federal nonattainment area for fine particulates.
At the end of the meeting, one speaker expressed concern about stray current corrosion in the Harris County Public Administration building, which houses the Commissioners Court, due to the adjacent electrified light rail line. He said that the City of Houston and the Texas Medical Center have both signed agreements with METRO in recent months to protect nearby buildings, and that Harris County should do the same. Another speaker asked for help finding an attorney, and a third expressed opposition to a contract rate increase regarding a constable program serving his area. However, Commissioner Eversole said that the only options were for the county to increase the rates or to terminate the program entirely.