2017-10-11 / Front Page

Long-awaited drainage upgrade to begin

BY ALLEN ESSEX
Reporter


AN 18-WHEEL TRACTOR-TRAILER RIG crosses the Raymondville North Drain, a channel to be enlarged in a $400 million drainage project led by Hidalgo County. 
(Photo by Allen Essex) AN 18-WHEEL TRACTOR-TRAILER RIG crosses the Raymondville North Drain, a channel to be enlarged in a $400 million drainage project led by Hidalgo County. (Photo by Allen Essex) A $400 million project to dig a 63-mile drainage ditch from Hidalgo County to a point south of Port Mansfield will include enlarging and deepening the Raymondville North Drain to carry water from Hidalgo and Willacy Counties to the Laguna Madre.

Earlier refusal by Willacy County officials to sign a memorandum of understanding that would have prevented Willacy officials from going into debt for separate drainage projects did not prevent Hidalgo County officials from getting the funding to build the project said Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia.

“We will not flood Willacy County with our (storm) water,” Garcia said Monday. The project will enlarge the Raymondville North Drain to a width of 350 feet.

Willacy County Judge Aurelio “Keter” Guerra said officials in Willacy never opposed the project, but they balked at signing a legal commitment to refrain from applying for drainage grants for other projects in the county.

“We didn’t agree with the memorandum of understanding, not allowing us to do anymore projects.”

But Garcia said there is cooperation with Willacy officials and the project will be carried out in cooperation with all agencies. “We have an agreement,” he said.

The Army Corps of Engineers began studying drainage needs of northern Hidalgo and Willacy County in the mid- 1980s and now funding has been approved on a reimbursement basis and will take place in phases, officials said.

The Hidalgo County project announced Friday at a groundbreaking ceremony at Farm-to-Market Road 2812 at Edinburg will cost $4 million and, so far, $17.1 million in state funds secured by state Sens. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa and Eddie Lucio Jr. that include a $4.5 million grant from the Texas Water Development Board.

Funding will be 75 percent federal and 25 percent state and local funding, officials said.

Flooding, even from just locally heavy rain, has plagued northern Hidalgo County and Willacy County for decades. Cities such as Raymondville, as well as thousands of acres of farmland, is slow to drain off but eventually must move to the northeast from all over the Rio Grande Valley, where it drains into the Laguna Madre just south of Port Mansfield, Greenhill said in a recent interview.

Garcia said the new project will start in Hidalgo County and gradually proceed toward Willacy County, where the Raymondville North Drain will be enlarged, deepened and widened to become a second major floodway for the Rio Grande Valley.

Garcia and Guerra said Willacy County towns, the county seat of Raymondville, and farmland and the intricate network of ditches that already exist will all drain into the enlarged Raymondville North Drain.

South and east of Raymondville, using only its own employees, machinery and funding, Willacy County- Drainage Districts No. 1 and No. 2 are completing a project in the San Perlita and Santa Monica area that will also be of great benefit, cleaning out and enlarging existing ditches, as well as making modifications and repairs to systems in the districts

But that funding comes from property taxes collected by the two districts, said Paul Greenhill, manager of District One. District Two is smaller and it contributes its resources to District One, which carries out the work “in-house,” he said. By working with District Two, his district was able to buy machinery and add another worker.

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