The House Committee on Land & Resource Management met to hear testimony from the General Land Office regarding programs offered by the Veterans Land Board. The Committee will also hear testimony regarding the GLO’s coastal management programs.

This report is intended to give you an overview and highlight of the discussions on the various topics the committee took up. This report is not a verbatim transcript of the hearing; it is based upon what was audible or understandable to the observer and the desire to get details out as quickly as possible with few errors or omissions.

 

Invited Testimony

Testimony regarding the GLO’s coastal management programs. 

 

David Green, Deputy Director Coastal Resources, GLO

  • Coastal resources division manages the coast for the state of TX
  • They handle the Coastal Erosion Protection Response Act where they do studies and monitor erosion along the coast and provide grants that are state funds that are used to help alleviate that erosion
  • They also handle the Dune Protection Act where they monitor dunes along the coast, work with communities to develop dune protection plans, and then monitor construction along those dunes
  • Last session they were awarded $14 million to the CEPRA program
  • Due to Harvey most of those funds have been dedicated to marine debris and beach debris removal
  • Waiting to get FEMA reimbursement funds before starting those projects
  • Have been working on the Coastal Master Plan which is a policy and strategic plan for how they can manage the coast and institute projects better
  • Also work with the Corps of Engineers on permitting and studies of the coast
  • Currently conducting TX Coastal Study with the Corps of Engineers which is a 5 ½ year $20 million study
  • About halfway through it and have a plan that they’re working on publishing with the Corps around mid-may
  • Have an oil spill response program that responds to about 600 oil spills every year
  • Chairman Herrero – You did not mention it, but regarding the Deep Water Horizon funds – how much have received the $10 million and what’s the projection moving forward?
    • The state is going to receive over a billion dollars total from the Deep Water Horizons funds that have been set up for that
    • There are the Natural Resource Damages Act funds and GLO is one of 3 trustees that’s administering those funds – believes there’s around $300 million
    • Working now to put together plans and projects for instituting those funds
    • There are also the National Fish and Wildlife Funds where the state is receiving around $200 million from that
    • They’ve spent most of those funds already, there’s one more year left of those funds and state trustees help select those projects
    • There are also the Restore Act funds and the TCEQ Commissioner Baker is the Governor’s designee for administration of those funds
    • There’s a different amount of funds that comes through every year and it’s a 16-year payoff
    • Chairman Herrero – Is that for the total amount or just that subgroup?
    • Just for that sub-group – there’s around $300 million for that group of funds through the Restore Act but there are five different pots of funds within that
  • Blanco – Can you tell us what exactly was the mark from Congress to begin the construction of the coastal barrier?
    • We did a previous study with the Corps called the Sabine to Galveston study that was looking at updating and expanding some coastal storm risk management, which was published last year
    • With Harvey, the supplemental was supposed to provide those funds to us for the construction of those projects which is around $3.2 billion
    • The Corps would pay that cost up front but then local or state government would have to pay back 35% after construction
    • Blanco – What percentage of the $3.2 billion does that cover?
    • It’s 65%
    • Blanco – What was the total cost?
    • Believes it was $3.2 billion
  • Faircloth – You’re saying the construction costs $3.2 billion for the coastal spine?
    • Not for the coastal spine, it’s for Freeport, Port Arthur, and Orange County
    • For the Coastal TX Study, those costs will be much higher and that report is expected to be published in 2 years
    • Faircloth – That’s not environmental impact as well is it?
    • It will include environmental impact and mitigation costs too
    • Faircloth – If Congress were to fund it, would construction commence or would you have to wait for the study to be completed?
    • Would have to wait for the study to be completed because it would have to go through the preliminary engineering design process
    • Faircloth – So where we are today, that project has still not been funded?
    • No
  • Bell – Does the agency have a plan to locate existing and future pipelines from offshore drilling/transport for the purpose of mitigating and preserving from damage?
    • Does not know that we have a specific plan for the development and mitigation of those pipelines
    • They do have leases for all the pipelines out in coastal waters and they analyze those any time they have a project
    • They have a program set up to remove/get funding for the removal of pipelines that are abandoned/no longer in use
    • Bell – Do we feel like we have a good idea of where all those pipelines are?
    • Not sure that we’re completely comfortable with it, but the Commissioner does have a big priority of identifying all structures out in the bay and the gulf
  • Chairman Herrero – Can you give us a brief overview of the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act and how those funds are used?
    • The GOMESA is a grant program provided through the Bureau of Energy Management and those are funds that come back to the states for offshore energy revenue
    • We never really know how much money the state is going to get every year, but usually receive those funds by the end of April 18
    • They use those funds like CEPRA funds
    • Anticipating receiving around $10 million and counties also receive a percentage of those funds
    • Chairman Herrero – So is it like a royalty based on production and if we stop production then the funds stop?
    • Yes, there’s a cap on the amount each state receives, but if there’s a higher production then the state will receive higher royalties
  • Blanco – Can you tell us about the timeline for the construction of the coastal barrier?
    • There’s not a timeline for that, the Sabine to Galveston study has been completed, but they still have to get the funds for that and complete the preliminary engineering design process
    • For the actual TX Coastal study and the Galveston Bay area system, there are 2 years left on that study and the projection of actual completion of construction and everything would be about 20 years
  • Faircloth – With the GOMESA program, do we have any idea of what the funds have been used for recently and if they’ve been earmarked for Harvey?
    • We haven’t used them specifically for hurricane protection
    • We’ve just used those funds to supplement already existing projects like barrier erosion, etc. which can help with hurricane protection
    • Faircloth – There’s still potential to expand those leases further west into the gulf?
    • Yes
    • Faircloth – Are there funds retained for that 35% match?
    • The state does not currently have existing funds for those and the local governments would have to fund that unless the state came up with a plan to provide funds
  • Chairman Herrero – What is your department’s budget, where does it come from, and where are y’all on expenditures?
    • Most of our funding comes through federal grants, generally our state funds we receive are through the CEPRA program
    • Chairman Herrero – How many full-time employees?
    • There’s a little over 100 employees in coastal protection – 50 response officers and 50 in funding management and also about 25 employees that work on coastal leasing
    • Chairman Herrero – Is any of your budget generated from fees?
    • Do have some oil spill penalties that goes back to the Coastal Protection fund
    • The money they get from coastal leasing goes back to the Permanent School fund

 

Cyrus Reed, Sierra Club

  • Back in 2016, the GLO started to take our management plan and turned it into a focused resiliency plan which is important
  • Resulted in a 2017 coastal resiliency master plan
  • Their concern with needed storm surge construction along the coast is making sure they go through the proper processes since they fear construction making things worse if it’s not built correctly
  • Appreciate that the GLO has been open to meeting and working with them on resiliency plans
  • Chairman Herrero – Are the concerns about project construction that not enough environmental studies have been done?
    • The premise is the concern that we want the law followed, all the alternatives looked at, and the environmental impact really understood
    • Chairman Herrero – So if there’s a way to do it naturally, that’s what your organization would want?
    • Yes

 

Heather Lagrone, Deputy Directory for Community Development & Revitalization, GLO

  • The Hurricane Harvey action plan has been published and is for $5.024 billion
  • It sets aside about $4 billion for the 16 most impacted counties and 11 most impacted zip codes as defined by HUD
  • 70% of that allocation does have to be used on low to moderate income individuals
  • HUD has added emphasis to these funds for housing activities like the Homeowner Assistance program, Homeowner Reimbursement program, Homelessness Prevention program, Affordable Rental program, Local Infrastructure program, etc.
  • They have a $100 million Economic Revitalization program which will be deferred forgivable loans to small businesses
  • Have a State Planning Activity where they’re looking to plan studies across the region
  • All the programs mentioned will be implemented by the GLO and will total to about $2.5 billion of the $5 billion
  • The other almost $2.5 billion is coming off of the top and is being allocated at about $1.1 billion a piece to Harris County and the City of Houston
  • The GLO will directly administer all single-family housing programs except for those in Harris County and the City of Houston
  • The Infrastructure and Local Buyout Acquisition programs will be administered through the Council of Governments
  • Action plan is currently out for public comment period, which will expire April 26
  • The GLO will then respond to each comment, which they estimate will take about a week
  • At the end of that, they will submit action plan to HUD and they will have 45 days to approve it
  • City of Houston and Harris County will be submitting their action plans at later date and will not be a part of the GLO’s document
  • They’ve been made aware of an additional $5 billion that’s coming to the state of TX
  • One part will come in conventionally like the dollars just discussed $652 million
  • The other almost $4 billion will come to us in a mitigation program, but HUD has not yet determined the rules or requirements on those funds
  • They’re continuing to wrap up their Short Term Recovery program and are procuring all the resources they need for that $5 billion program once HUD approves it
  • Chairman Herrero – The $5 billion that we have now with the action plan – $2.5 billion will be earmarked for Harris County and Houston?
    • Yes, they’re getting a little over $1.1 billion a piece
    • The action plan right now is what the GLO will do with the remaining money
    • Chairman Herrero – Out of the $2.5 billion I’ve got the $100 million, where’s the rest of it?
    • It’s divided into those programs
    • Chairman Herrero – How do you see the coordination of these communities being able to use planning funds?
    • We’ll do almost an application of sorts for a request for information, where each community is telling us about their particular planning needs
    • Chairman Herrero – What will the GLO then do with that info and how will y’all prioritize that?
    • Have not yet gotten into the specifics or requirements for that, but there are obvious communities that will need help first
    • Chairman Herrero – So the GLO will continue to reach out to these communities?
    • Yes
    • Chairman Herrero – Will the COG be the entity for all the state that administers the Local Buyout program?
    • They won’t be actually implementing the program, they’ll just be allocating those moneys
    • Chairman Herrero – Will the recipients of that program be the actual homeowners?
    • The Buyout program will be allocated to entities who have eminent domain authority
    • Chairman Herrero – Has the state done a study or is there something that exists that relates to flooding along coastal communities?
    • They haven’t done one in CDR across the entire affected area
  • Blanco – We know there’s a labor shortage, especially in construction, how has the shortage affected the GLO’s ability to administer some of the HUD funds?
    • None of these programs have started yet from a construction aspect
    • For their Short-Term Housing program, they had more than enough builders respond to their procurement for their two Direct Repair programs
    • They continue to remind contractors that they will be building thousands of homes and are looking to the future to make sure they continue to have good relationships with them
  • Chairman Herrero – What’s the next important date coming up?
    • The master plan public comment period closes April 26 and the week after that they’ll submit the plan to HUD for approval
  • Faircloth – Are the Sever Loss and Buyout programs a part of that Houston and Harris County separations?
    • They can choose to use their billion dollars for a buyout program, but the money described for the GLO’s program will not be used for them
    • Faircloth – Can a city decide whether or not they want to participate in the Buyout program?
    • Yes, and some communities decide to use a volunteer program and some communities can decide to use their eminent domain authority to take properties if need be
    • Have also seen some communities who are looking at an acquisition program

 

Testimony from the General Land Office regarding programs offered by the Veterans Land Board.

 Matt Elledge, Senior Deputy Director, Veterans Land Board

  • Went over history and eligibility of the VLB
  • For their housing loans, they match the VA limit of $453,100
  • With their home improvement loans, they’re currently offering $50,000
  • The State Veterans Homes program is currently located in 9 cities across TX and services disabled veterans
  • They run 4 state veteran cemeteries
  • The Voices of Veterans program captures the stories of veterans’ stories for history, also host the Dog Tag podcast, and also run the statewide Veterans Service Call Center
  • Chairman Herrero – Regarding the State Veterans Homes program funding, the state is 35% responsible, the fed is 65% responsible right?
    • Correct
    • Chairman Herrero – How could his Corpus Christi community move forward in trying to get a home for veterans?
    • There’s a demand for veteran homes all over the state, they’re limited by the cap amount of 11 homes that the legislature has allowed us to have and they’re also limited in their funds
    • For areas that want to have a home, the first thing is the donated land and the second thing is the need
    • If there is not a home within a 75 mile radius and there’s a great need then they begin to push for that home
    • Chairman Herrero – So after the Houston home is finished, you estimate about 5-10 years before y’all can begin construction on a new home?
    • Correct, depending on revenue
    • Chairman Herrero – So there’s a fee charged to the veteran or family member?
    • It’s a flat rate to the veteran of about $50 a day, unless they are 70% or more disabled, then the VA pays for it
    • Chairman Herrero – Another way to get to where you’re ready to build a new home would be if the state were to allocate more funds for that specific purpose?
    • They are self-generating so they try to not have to go back to the state
    • Chairman Herrero – Is that because of policies the VLB has or is it a statutory that exists?
    • Can’t answer that question at the time
    • Chairman Herrero – So if a community wants a home, how soon could they get land donated and what would be the process if they wanted to donate right now?
    • They know where the pockets of veterans are in the state, so wherever the highest demand is, is where they’ll go
    • Because they’re limited to 11 and they’re coming up on 9 homes, they have to be judicious in where the next construction will be
    • Chairman Herrero – Assumes that the 11 cap can be statutorily changed based on growing need and wants to look at that
  • Blanco – For San Antonio and Ft. Hood area where’s the closest home?
    • Floresville for San Antonio and Temple for Ft. Hood
    • Blanco – You mentioned the majority of veterans in the homes are male, are there special accommodations then for females?
    • We’re starting to see an increase in female veterans and there are some special accommodations for females, there’s not a separate wing
    • Blanco – What’s the ratio between retired officers and enlisted within the homes?
    • Does not have a specific answer
  • Stucky – HB 2766 was to help bring more money back to homes and was referred to as the “Granny Tax,” are you aware of how that affected State Veterans Homes?
    • It wouldn’t have affected our homes
  • Bailes – Where else could we find more information on the Voices of Veterans program?
    • At texasveterans.com or on Facebook
  • Faircloth – What are the requirements for donated land?
    • Had some land donated in Coastal Bend area and when the ground was tested it didn’t meet our standards
    • As far as specifics, will have to get back to committee
  • Bell – In order for us to contemplate the 35% 65% split, what is the budget for the Houston home?
    • Will get the exact cost
  • Chairman Herrero – Would like to know what has been the 35% total for the homes constructed to date.
  • Blanco – Under the Land & Housing program, how many borrowers were affected by Harvey?
    • They did not see a huge uptake, believes it was less than 10 veterans
    • Blanco – Did those vets go into default?
    • Not that he knows of, they gave them time to get back on their feet before asking for more payments
    • Blanco – The VLB does not refinance right?
    • No
    • Blanco – Is there a need for that?
    • Not that they’ve seen
    • Blanco – How did the VLB handle cases in the Harvey affected area?
    • The 1-800-252-VETS center was down there to make sure vets knew they were there to help and answer questions, also made them aware through social media
  • Faircloth – The standard home is about 120 beds, is that by design?
    • This was the VA blueprint, they have not considered building larger
  • Chairman Herrero – How could listen in to the podcast?
    • They’re on the website and also on iTunes
    • Chairman Herrero – On the state cemeteries, who gets to be buried there?
    • A veteran, spouse, and a dependent
    • Chairman Herrero – Is there a limit to the number of dependents?
    • No limits as long as they meet guidelines
    • Chairman Herrero – On the financing for homes, what does the VLB do with respect to homes tied up in divorce proceedings?
    • Will have to check with his team on that, is unsure if they’ve had that difficulty
    • As long as their on the title, they can use the program as many times as they want to use it, but they have to pay off that loan
  • Bailes – As far as the land loans, is there any restriction as to what that land can be used for?
    • Yes, it can’t be used for a commercial property and that regulation holds for 3 years

 

Leonel Rios Jr., Veteran

  • There is a strong need for a home in Corpus Christi
  • In the surrounding area they have around 37,000 veterans and around 15,750 of those are registered with the VA in Corpus Christi and a large amount of that population is quickly aging