AUSTIN — Help-is-on-the-way announcements from the governor’s office came last week as residents of hard-hit counties of the state labored to pull themselves out the watery mire and windblown nightmare of Hurricane Harvey.
On Sept. 14, Gov. Greg Abbott spotlighted Texas Department of Transportation contractors’ efforts to remove debris along state roadways in the Coastal Bend, the area that took a full frontal assault from the deadly storm that plowed ashore and battered Texas in late August and early September.
“The cleanup in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey is a job that will take months for Texans to complete,” Abbott said, “but our state agencies have been poised and ready to begin the work of clearing our roads and public spaces of the oftentimes dangerous debris left by this storm.”
TxDOT, with its initial focus on Aransas, Nueces, Refugio and San Patricio counties, worked to ensure roads and bridges were safe for travel. In addition to debris removal, the work included damage assessments, reopening roads, replacing and reactivating traffic signals, reinstalling stop, yield and one-way signs and resuming ferry service in Port Aransas.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality continue to coordinate recovery efforts. As of Sept. 14, the TCEQ reported that of 2,238 drinking water systems affected by Harvey, some 2,014 systems are fully operational, 77 have boil-water notices and 19 were shut down. Also, the TCEQ said its personnel had made contact with 1,219 wastewater treatment plants in the 58 counties within the governor’s disaster declaration, and 31 of those were inoperable.
Special day is proclaimed
Gov. Abbott proclaimed Sept. 12 as “Hand-In-Hand Day” and encouraged Texans to keep “the true nature of Texans on full display” by continuing to help hurricane victims. He noted that Texans had responded generously. “But there is even more we can do,” he added. “Now that the rescues are over, the response must continue. Thousands of Texans still need our help. … At this time, I encourage my fellow Texans to consider the many ways they can extend their hand of support to those impacted by Hurricane Harvey and show their generosity to those affected by Hurricane Irma.” Irma ravaged the Caribbean islands before striking Florida with catastrophic force as Texas and Louisiana reeled from Hurricane Harvey.
Executive order is issued
Many Texans found themselves unable to work and earn their usual paychecks because of Hurricane Harvey.
Gov. Abbott responded on Sept. 13 by issuing an executive order suspending the seven-day waiting period requirement imposed under the state’s labor law and immediately authorizing benefits to residents who became unemployed as a direct result of the natural disaster.
AG alleges price gouging
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Sept. 12 filed lawsuits against two gas stations and a motel, alleging unlawful price gouging while consumers were in need of fuel, shelter and other essentials as a result of Hurricane Harvey.
“It’s unconscionable that any business would take advantage of Texans at their most vulnerable: those who are displaced from their homes, have limited resources and are in desperate need of fuel, shelter and the basic necessities of life,” Paxton said.
“Texas has tough price-gouging laws, and my office will continue to aggressively investigate and prosecute cases arising from Hurricane Harvey.”
Straus issues list of charges
Texas House Speaker Joe Straus on Sept. 14 directed the House committees on Appropriations, Public Education and Natural Resources to begin studying issues related to Hurricane Harvey and state preparations for future natural disasters.
Findings from the committees’ studies will figure into deliberations in the next regular legislative session, which will begin in January 2019.
“The importance of getting these issues right when we meet again demands that we start working on them now,” Straus wrote in a letter to the committees. “I also hope you’ll point us in a direction that will lead to new and innovative solutions, even as we confront familiar challenges.”
AG cheers election ruling
Attorney General Paxton released a statement on Sept. 12 after the U.S. Supreme Court blocked two lower-court rulings that recently invalidated parts of Texas’ House and congressional maps.
The high court rulings should enable Texas to continue to use maps that the state used in the last three election cycles, Paxton said.
Ed Sterling is Director of Member Services for Texas Press Association.