Gov. Greg Abbott discusses Harvey recovery efforts with Kingwood community leaders

KINGWOOD, Texas – Gov. Greg Abbott took an aerial tour of the San Jacinto River on Thursday afternoon and announced several steps to help with Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts and flood prevention in the Kingwood area.

He said the Texas Department of Emergency Management, TDEM, has approved $3 million to “jump-start” the engineering and permitting process to figure out where dredging should happen on the San Jacinto River.

Dozens of homeowners held signs outside the Kingwood Community Center asking the governor for funding to remove sediment and debris from the river bed.

“Dredging needs to be done at the appropriate locations up and down the San Jacinto River,” Abbott said.

He said the money comes from hazard mitigation funds.

In addition, he said TDEM has given the green light for a $2 million regional study that would be focused on the San Jacinto River watershed to prevent future flooding.

Many believe debris such as sand is causing backups in the river, causing rainwater to pile up rather than drain.

Others also put the blame on sand-mining along the river banks.

“I think that’s fabulous,” said Debbie Prucha about the governor’s announcement. “I live on the lake and we have so much sand on the lake and every time it rains .. there’s islands that pop up. It’s horrible.”

Abbott said the state is looking into sand-mining operations that may be operating illegally and will take action.

List of actions Gov. Abbott laid out:

  • Instructing the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to investigate and take action against sand mining operations violating regulations.
  • Directing the San Jacinto River Authority to immediately identify what can be done to prevent flood events along the West Fork of the river.
  • Directing the SJRA to implement immediate and long-term solutions to protect lives and property of Texans living in the watershed.
  • Directing the SJRA to identify funding to implement a long-term plan that better protects areas downstream of Lake Conroe.

He didn’t say specifically where, but Abbott said FEMA approved more than 900 voluntary buyouts in Harris County, 134 in the Kingwood-Forest Cove area.

Still recovering

All across Kingwood, homeowners and business owners are still remodeling and working to get their property back to normal.

“‘Take a deep breath and I always say, I cannot believe this is our house, I cannot believe it,” said Mary Elizabeth Sylvester.

She and her husband Dirk and 5-year-old son have been living out of an RV in their driveway while their home remains without plasterboard.

“We call it Harvey the RV,” said Sylvester about their temporary home.

They even decorated it for their son’s fifth birthday Thursday.

“After seven months our framing is almost done, our electrical and plumbing almost finished and hopefully we’ll see sheet rock next week,” Sylvester said. “We had close to five feet (of water), we went to bed around 4:30 in the morning with a little of water in our house and woke up at 7 with our son saying, ‘Oh my goodness this can’t be good.'”

She said she was happy to learn Abbott was in town.

“That just warms my heart and everybody is so excited. What I would really love to see is acknowledgement again. So many children that have been displaced, the fear of flooding,” Sylvester said.

“I would love some attention on the flood gates and the drudging of the river and there’s so much. It's just very exciting to Kingwood that we’re getting some attention.”

The family of three is trying to keep life as normal as possible. Their garage has become their game room, which was where they’ve hosted many celebrations including a New Year’s Eve party, Astros watch parties and Thursday night, their son’s birthday.

“It’s difficult but mama’s getting a new kitchen,” said Sylvester as she tried to make light of the situation. “We want to be excited about moving back home.”