Private businesses aren’t the only ones affected by cumbersome regulations. Stifling red tape has long delayed a project to reopen the mouth of the San Bernard, likely contributing to flooding upriver last week.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality recently approved funding to dredge the silt that has built up at the end of the river, obstructing the flow of water from there to the Gulf of Mexico, but not before Brazoria County officials had to navigate a jungle of federal red tape.
The funds come from RESTORE Act grants, paid for from fines collected after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill set aside for projects along the Gulf. The pot of money for vital projects such as the dredging is welcome, but the process itself needs to have its flow improved.
Proposed uses for the RESTORE money were approved by the state in December 2017, with the list then sent to federal officials for what should have been easy approval. Instead of a rubber stamp, though, the San Bernard project kept being bounced back to local officials.
“I come from a business background and in business I can get up in the morning and make things happen,” Pct. 4 County Commissioner David Linder said. “But in upper-level government, they move at a snail’s pace. It’s just so aggravating. There are so many hurdles to jump and always another hurdle to jump and another hurdle to jump.”
The last hurdles were cleared this month when the appropriate federal agencies signed off on the funding. But don’t expect the river mouth to be open anytime soon. Permits from the Army Corps of Engineers might not even come through until the end of 2020.
While anyone who has dealt with the federal government understands the absence of any sense of urgency among bureaucrats, the molasses-in-Alaska-in-January pace is costly. The closed mouth causes silt buildup at the west floodgate on the Brazos River, harming navigation on that waterway. It also inhibits commercial traffic on the San Bernard, since barges cannot make it into the Gulf, and recreational uses of the river.
Ironically, the federal government likely will bear a significant cost for its own inaction when claims are made on flood policies because of the clog contributing to the river overtopping its banks last week.
After a 2009 dredging of the mouth funded by the Corps failed because a historic drought inhibited water flow sufficient to drive away the silt, local leaders stepped forward to push for reopening the San Bernard and committed dollars to prevent a recurrence of the previous failed effort.
Brazoria County and Port Freeport signed a 25-year agreement to fund maintenance dredging of the river mouth every few years, which should help prevent the need for grants in the future, a notable step in the right direction. The state did its job in recognizing the importance of the project and approving it for its share of RESTORE money.
Just as is the case with money already approved in response to Hurricane Harvey that is sitting unused in Washington, leaders need to be made to understand that haste doesn’t always amount to waste. Delaying approvals hurts average Americans and businesses and costs the federal government more tax dollars it claims to be trying to allocate wisely.
Congress and the administration need to clear the red tape and get the money flowing more quickly before more lives are hurt.