Harvey recovery czar faces limits to ‘future-proofing’ Texas

The man tasked with overseeing Texas’ Hurricane Harvey rebuilding efforts sees his job as “future-proofing” before the next disaster, but he isn’t empowered on his own to reshape flood-prone Houston or the state’s vulnerable coastline, which has been walloped by three major hurricanes since 2006.

Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp will face the same political and bureaucratic challenges that have long stalled meaningful improvements in storm protections, and some doubt that even Harvey’s record flooding and huge price tag will bring about real change.

“It doesn’t give me very much confidence at all,” Houston resident Steve Sacks said of the prospects that the government will get the recovery right. Sacks’s home has flooded four times since 2012, and even before Harvey’s floodwaters near the rooftops in his Meyerland neighborhood, he was frustrated by delays and what he believes is the mismanagement of a government project to elevate homes in the city.

“It’s all spur of the moment and not thought out. It’s just, ‘Let’s go ahead and react now to make it look good,'” said the 46-year-old Sacks.

Sharp, who was appointed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, follows a line of fix-it men charged with picking up the pieces following major storms in recent years, including Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Superstorm Sandy in 2012. He has won early bipartisan praise as a practical choice to preside over the efforts to recover from Harvey, which killed more than 70 people and damaged or destroyed more than 200,000 homes.

The Associated Press
Greg Abbott, John Sharp

Sharp is the rare Democrat with sustained relevance in Republican-controlled Texas. He is former lawmaker and state comptroller who was U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s college roommate at Texas A&M, which Sharp has led since 2011 and will continue to lead while overseeing the rebuilding effort. Abbott joked that he’s now getting calls, texts and emails from Sharp “up to and sometimes well after midnight.”

Sharp hasn’t laid out a long-term rebuilding plan yet and most of his public comments so far have been aimed at reassuring hard-hit communities that he won’t be a bureaucratic cog. But he has indicated that he’s thinking about the next disaster, saying “one of the guiding principles will be to future-proof what is being rebuilt so as to mitigate future risks as much as possible.”

Abbott spokesman John Wittman said Sharp will be involved in developing a rebuilding plan to “minimize the impact” of future…

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