Wharton County commissioners learned last week that repairs to the Wharton County Historical Museum damaged by Hurricane Harvey’s flooding waters may have been delayed due to state legislation.

Officials were told it could take one to two years before any federal funds are available, if they are even available at all.

“GrantWorks recently notified the auditor’s office and myself that our previously-approved museum renovation project does not qualify with (Federal Emergency Management Agency) for using the (Community Development Block Grant) funds designated from Hurricane Harvey flood relief,” County Judge Phillip Spenrath said during the meeting. “The project does not qualify due to not meeting flood elevation level requirements.”

FEMA told the county it has to either sign on and move forward with the project or to withdraw from the project entirely.

The highest part of the museum is half a foot below the FEMA-based flood elevation. The lowest part of the museum is two feet below the flood elevation. Harvey caused the museum to be under nearly four feet of water in August 2017.

This means that the county will not be doing any work using funds through the Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Recovery.

There are several ways this would change. The first is if flood proof walls and/or barrier walls (berm) were erected around the entire building, and the second is if the entire structure was elevated two feet above the FEMA published flood point (101 feet above sea level).

The 86th Legislature

Bruce Spitzengel, president of GrantWorks, said there has been “another complication” since the last time the museum was discussed during a commissioners court meeting in February.

Legislators have since passed Senate Bill 7 and now awaits Gov. Greg Abbott’s signature to making in binding. The $1.7 billion would draw from the state’s “rainy day fund” to pay for flood control projects across the state that are related to FEMA Public Assistance (PA) matches and Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) matches. He said part of SB 7 would pay for eligible drainage projects, which could benefit the museum in the future.

But, Spitzengel said Senate Bill 500, which is the “appropriations” for SB 7 funds and projects appears to have some conflicting language that could hinder museum repairs.

“Using CDBG funds as match becomes a problem because now the state has come up and provided the match for FEMA-PA and HMGP,” Spitzengel said of the 25 percent match programs. “CDBG funds are funds of last resort so that means if there is another source, that source has to be utilized first. In this particular case, we’re now looking at SB 7 and SB 500 as a source that will provide funding for these type of projects.”

Spitzengel said “timing” is working against the county now that the senate bills passed because applications are due Aug. 31 and it’s preceded by a 30-day “comment” period in July. He said the county doesn’t have something to get it qualified.

It resulted in various scenarios being presented, even seeking Hurricane Ike funding through the Texas Water Development Board and the Texas Department of Emergency Management. Spitzengel said $4.3 billion passed by Congress and approved by President Donald Trump for use through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Office of Management and Budget. This would be mitigation funding that is slow moving and new to HUD.

Three months ago, it was announced that $450,000 would be needed to fix the museum. Insurance would pay $120,000, leaving a remainder of around $330,000 to fix the building.

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