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I.C. MURRELL — Post-Harvey recovery becomes more complex

The news is disheartening enough. Citizens of Port Arthur have been turned down for reimbursement of funds spent on rebuilding their homes and lives from a natural disaster that occurred two years ago.

The cause-and-effect doesn’t seem to be that clear-cut.

According to the Texas General Land Office, some — or many — homes in Port Arthur are located within a 100-year floodplain, meaning by city code those structures must be built 1 foot higher than required elevation in relation to mean sea level. The GLO, citing Housing and Urban Development rules in administering funds through its Homeowner Reimbursement Program, require homes that are located within the floodplain that were “substantially damaged” must be elevated at 2 feet above mean sea level, meaning such homes in Port Arthur must be elevated 3 feet above.

There’s just one problem: The floodplain map the GLO uses is different from the one Port Arthur uses. The city says some homes are not in a floodplain, and the GLO has cited a map from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

What’s a homeowner to do now?

It’s a concerning thought in a pivotal point in time for one of America’s ports. Businesses are investing downtown, and if any resulting prosperity can grow north and east from there, those who work here, pay taxes here and raise families here could help Port Arthur stay above the 50,000 population threshold. To fall short of that would be to risk funding from Community Development Block Grants, although smaller cities could receive Rural Cooperative Development Grants, according to the U.S. Census.

Until this week, that was the prevalent concern for post-Harvey Port Arthur.

Whether a home is located in a floodplain — no matter what authority drew up the floodplain — is no more an issue than the fact that people who’ve either built a great life, were just starting one or were just getting by saw their lives change thanks to a so-called 1,000-year flood.

If that was the case, no 100- or 500-year floodplain could protect our citizens.

A spokesperson for the Texas General Land Office has said: “The GLO is working ever day to help get as many people as possible approved for the Homeowner Reimbursement Program as well as the Homeowner Assistance Program.”

While some in Port Arthur have been approved according to GLO data, the problem that exists is much more complex.

For the benefit of Texas and Port Arthur, a simpler solution is necessary.

I.C. Murrell is the editor of the Port Arthur News. He can be reached at ic.murrell@panews.com  

About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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