MAVERICK COUNTY, TX – Shelby Park, located by the Rio Grande River in the city of Eagle Pass, is currently used for fun activities such as soccer, football, and big 4th of July celebrations. But this hasn’t always been the case; there were once homes and businesses that flooded often, endangering lives and damaging properties.
Shelby Park was named after General Joseph Orville Shelby, known as the undefeated rebel, who buried the last confederate flag in the country in the Rio Grande River at Eagle Pass in 1865. Currently, in addition to being used for outdoor activities, the Park contributes to border security as it is located next to the Eagle Pass-Piedras Negras International Bridge.
In 1998, after a major flood, the city of Eagle Pass applied for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA's) Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) to be used for the acquisition of 14 homes and 1 business; the area was cleared and turned into Shelby Park. The total cost for the acquisition project was $531,139 with 75 percent ($398,355) coming from FEMA and 25 percent ($132,784) coming from local and state funding.
The HMGP is available to states and local governments after a major disaster declaration to implement long-term hazard mitigation measures that help reduce the loss of life and property. The Texas Division of Emergency Management administers the HMGP for the State of Texas.
“It’s the easiest way to do it,” said the county judge’s assistant John Sullivan, regarding acquisitions. “But it ought to be done by being sure you have experts; it’s always important to have experienced people. Nobody can control the way the water is going to come out of the Mexican side,” he added.
In July 2010, Hurricane Alex dumped a large amount of rain in Mexico and South Texas. Water was released from dams along the border, resulting in flooding along the Rio Grande River, including the area where Shelby Park is located. The event was the most recent reminder that the Eagle Pass acquisition was a successful mitigation action. If there were homes still there, they would have flooded again more.
“That area has flooded two or three times in the past six years, as I remember,” said Mariebelle Rodriguez, Eagle Pass planning associate. “Those streets were closed during the last floods, no one was allowed there.”
“Residential development is not a good use for land protected by a levee,” said the State Hazard Mitigation Officer Greg Pekar. “The Eagle Pass buyouts saved the affected citizens the misery of flood recovery, saved the city money in flood response costs, and saved the taxpayers money by eliminating the potential for paying flood insurance claims.”