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WESLACO, RGV – The Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council is the first council of government in Texas to successfully complete single family housing disaster recovery efforts related to hurricanes Dolly and Ike.

Officials with the Texas General Land Office presented a certificate to the LRGVDC on Wednesday “for their extraordinary efforts in the delivery of quality homes.” LRGVDC successfully rehabilitated and reconstructed 777 homes damaged by Hurricane Dolly in 2008 and assisted eligible homeowners within the three counties it covers – Hidalgo, Cameron and Willacy.

“On behalf of George P. Bush, our great land commissioner, Mr. Phillips and I are here to present this certificate,” said Doralicia Rivera, before presenting the award to Darling. Rivera manages housing recovery efforts for the GLO. Her official title is Residential Activities Disaster Recovery Manager at the Texas General Land Office.

Doralicia Rivera
Doralicia Rivera

“This is a huge accomplishment. The COG is the first in our disaster recovery efforts for Hurricane Dolly and Ike to be at the forefront in closing their programs. As a result of their work and the staff we were able to provide recovery to 777 houses and 2,300 families affected by Hurricane Dolly. It was an amazing effort,” Rivera added.

Hurricane Dolly hit the lower Texas coast on July 23, 2008, and Hurricane Ike hit the upper Texas coast on September 13, 2008. Combined, the two hurricanes negatively impacted hundreds of communities, with an estimated 11 million Texans affected.

After receiving two Presidential disaster declarations, Congress approved the Consolidated Security, Disaster Assistance and Continuing Appropriations Act, 2009, appropriating funds through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Community Development Block Grant program “for necessary expenses related to disaster recovery, long-term recovery and restoration of infrastructure, housing and economic revitalization in areas affected by hurricanes, floods and other natural disasters.”

Of the $65 million appropriated, HUD allocated a total of $3 billion to Texas for Hurricanes Dolly and Ike in two rounds: $1.3 billion in February 2009 and $17 billion in August 2009. In March, 2009, HUD approved the Texas Disaster Recovery Action Plan for the first round of funding. The Texas General Land Office administers, on behalf of the State of Texas, community development block grant-disaster recovery funds from HUD. It allocated a $106 million grant to LRGVDC for Hurricane Dolly homeowner housing recovery efforts.

LRGVDC President Darling, who is also mayor of McAllen, accepted the GLO certificate at Wednesday’s meeting. He said: “We thank the GLO for their help. Hopefully, we will not have to have you help us again.”

Ken Jones, executive director of LRGVDC, said: “Building an airplane while it is in the air was a necessity, unfortunately. We had to go through a multitude of challenges.”

Edcouch Mayor Pro Tem Eddy Gonzalez is a member of the LRGVDC’s housing recovery subcommittee. He echoed Jones’ remarks. “It was hard work but the cooperation we had was amazing.”

Pete Phillips, GLO Deputy Director for Disaster Recovery, was with Rivera at the LRGVDC meeting, which was held at the RGV Transportation Center in Weslaco. “The success of this project highlights the significant collaboration that exists between local, state and federal partners in the Lower Rio Grande Valley,” Phillips said, in a news release issued later by the GLO. “Commissioner Bush has prioritized working together in order to have a positive effect on the lives of more than a thousand residents in this thriving community.”

In the GLO news release, LRGVDC’s Jones said: “The successful completion of this effort could not have been accomplished without regional support from Valley elected officials, the LRGVDC Board of Directors, and support from the Texas General Land Office and HUD. This was truly a team effort at all levels of government.”

On February 3, 2016, LRGVD Executive Director Jones testified about Hurricane Dolly disaster recovery work when he appeared before the Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Relations in Austin, Texas. The committee is chaired by state Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., of Brownsville.

At the legislative hearing, Jones made a number of recommendations to enhance future disaster funding implementation. The recommendations were:

1)    For Texas to continue the designation of the General Land Office as the lead State Agency for managing disaster recovery grants through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The agency’s management of disaster recovery grants provides local governments a single point of contact, reduces red tape and administrative costs.
2)    Continue to include Regional Councils of Government in the Distribution and Implementation of the Disaster Recovery Programs.
3)    Build on the successful processes established with the Hurricane Ike/Dolly disaster recovery efforts to ensure implementation consistency regarding future disaster funding and not reinventing implementation procedures with such new disaster. In order to expedite the process of future programs of this magnitude, whether programmatic or infrastructure projects, strong consideration should be taken in utilizing well established programs that are already in place. As an example, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Hazard Mitigation Grant Program and Texas Division of Emergency Management, Hazard Mitigation Office, which collects damage assessment data submitted by local governments after a large scale disaster and has procedures in place on numerous building/construction projects, to include environment history preservation guidelines, would reduce the time in establishing guidelines. The adoption of existing criteria or even modification of existing criteria, to an extent, ultimately would improve the efficiency of program milestones and funding expenditures leading to a successful completion of projects.
4)    Allow grant recipient the option to be responsible for executing all contracts required for project implementation. For example, with the Housing Program the LRGVDC was the Grant Recipient; however, the GLO executed separate contacts directly for implementation of our program, which included:
•    Grant Administrator (GA) – URS now AECOM’
•    Outreach and Eligibility – Sub-contractor under GA
•    Mobility Counselors – MFR
•    Title Issues – UT Austin
Having the grant recipient in control of all contracts would promote economies of scale and increased time efficiencies.
If these four recommendations were in place prior to Ike/Dolly funding, an estimated time savings of 50 percent could have been achieved, which is equivalent to approximately three years.