Houston has needed new dams for decades, built stadiums instead

I may have noted to The Nation’s Dave Zirin last week that building tons of sports venues and giving the surplus ones to megachurch operators who balked at opening them up to disaster victims was an inefficient way for Houston to get hurricane shelters, but I didn’t suggest that Houston’s flood damage could be directly linked to its stadium spending spree or anything. Washington Post sports columnist Kevin Blackistone, though, has no such qualms:

Two Januarys ago, the City of Houston, after a delay of at least seven years, finally started a critical long-term project. It was patchwork on two dams constructed during the post-World War II era to protect the city from catastrophic flood and deemed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to have fallen into as dangerous state of disrepair as possible. The cost: $72 million in federal funds.

Two decades ago, Houston found itself without a professional football team for the first time in seemingly forever. There was no holdup. There was no skimping.

Okay, so it’s not like Houston had a simple choice between fixing dams and building stadiums, and decided, “Stadiums it is, on the double!” But as Blackistone points out, there’s been no shortage of editorials and the like pointing out that aging dams needed to be shored up — or else “floodwaters could submerge downtown, west and south Houston and the Texas Medical Center,” in the words of one Houston Chronicle editorial last year — but the city’s response has been to wait for federal money to pay for the work. Meanwhile, Houston area taxpayers have spent around $1.4 billion on new buildings for the Astros, Texans, and Rockets in recent years (per the numbers in Judith Grant Long’s book with the really long name). As the kids today say, that’s not a good look.


11 comments on “Houston has needed new dams for decades, built stadiums instead

  1. I mean this is sort of the problem with representative government. There is a constituency both on the supply side and the demand side for stadiums and both can put pressure eon elected officials.

    There is no natural constituency for “avoiding nebulous small percentage chance of serious negative outcome”. Comparatively no one is getting all fired up about dam repair/improvement projects except construction interests.

    I am starting to think representative government is a bad idea for most of societies decisions.

    • “I mean this is sort of the problem with representative government.”
      __________
      Doubtful any other type of government would have worked any better. A single dictator or oligarchy is even more prone to being influenced and a direct public vote probably would have left them without new dams even if it also shot down the stadium deals. “I think we’re due for a 500-year flood” wasn’t likely to win at the polls.

  2. First, as much as I dislike prosperity gospel purveyor Joel Osteen, the city sold the Summit/Compaq Center to Lakewood Church.

    Second, the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs are owned and operated by the US Army Corp of Engineers. Those reservoirs release to Buffalo Bayou that is managed by Harris County Flood Control.

    Third, the tax revenue used to build and manage stadiums was raised from specific taxes approved by voters for the express purpose of building stadiums. If those facilities weren’t constructed, those dollars would not have been spent on any flood control structures.

    I’m not a fan of the COH and its mayor. In certainly not a fan of County Judge Ed Emmett. Your accusations are based on an uninformed view and misguided assumption.

    • 1) Are you saying this is the city’s fault, not Osteen’s? Because if so, we’re in agreement.

      2) See the Chronicle editorial linked above. The proposal was to supplement the dams with state-funded floodways that would help take pressure off them without letting water pour everywhere willy-nilly.

      3) There is nothing magic about the taxes used for the stadiums that say they couldn’t have been used for something else. It just would have needed legislative and/or voter approval.

    • “Third, the tax revenue used to build and manage stadiums was raised from specific taxes approved by voters for the express purpose of building stadiums. If those facilities weren’t constructed, those dollars would not have been spent on any flood control structures.”

      They absolutely could have been. It would have been up to the voters, though, and if the ones in Houston are anything like the ones I saw up close and personal for so many years in Tampa Bay, they wouldn’t have voted for a tax increase *unless* a stadium was included in it somewhere.

  3. Moderately related: the state has elected to (at this time) not use the $10billion literal rainy day fund to do anything about cleanup or repairs. Instead they’ll keep that for other uses and rely on the Feds for money. There is something very wrong here (and everywhere)…priorities are so whacked.

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