Sunday, December 21, 2008

IKE Recovery along Texas 146 Bacliff, and San Leon

Recovery along Texas 146 By ROBERT STANTON HOUSTON CHRONICLE Dec. 17, 2008, 11:12PM

Three months after Hurricane Ike slammed into the Texas Gulf Coast, obliterating scores of homes and businesses in its path, the hardy communities along Texas 146 in Galveston County are bouncing back to life.

While well-known communities such as Kemah and Seabrook are well on their way to recovery, the progress is slower in cities like Bacliff and San Leon, which were inundated with about 6 feet of floodwaters from Galveston Bay.

“About 850 homes are gone in San Leon,” said Galveston County Precinct 7 Constable Pam Matranga. “In the beginning, a lot of the resources were sent to Galveston because Galveston and (Port) Bolivar were devastated. They (San Leon residents) were kind of forgotten.”

Today, much of the storm debris is a thing of the past in San Leon, but housing for displaced residents remains a huge issue.

“My biggest concern is for the displaced people,” Matranga said. “I’ve had to deal with questions from residents. My biggest plight is to make sure my people are being placed in homes that need to have homes.

In Bacliff, “We still have residents (living) in tents,” Matranga said. “They were hit harder than the rest. These people are still displaced, and the biggest need is for FEMA assistance.”

To that end, FEMA plans to move up to 300 trailers to the unincorporated community to house storm victims. The site is located in the Chase Park subdivision, known by locals as the redfish farm.

“I’d be a happy camper if FEMA does what it’s supposed to do … provide security,” Matranga said. “The details are being ironed out. We are monitoring the situation and will help out where we can help out.”

Here is how the other communities along Texas 146 are faring:

Kemah With its famed Boardwalk, roller coaster and top-notch restaurants, Kemah is well on the road to recovery, a city official said. While many eateries have reopened and the roller coaster is back in action, many homes still remain damaged and residents are displaced.

“We are moving forward as quickly as bureaucracy will let us,” said City Administrator Bill Kerber. “We are working with residents who suffered damage in the flood plain, trying to give them guidance on (federal emergency housing) requirements.”

Much of the Kemah Boardwalk is back up and running, with the exception of Landry’s restaurant and the Flying Dutchman restaurant, which plan to open next spring, Kerber said. The future of the 65-foot Ferris wheel, however, is still up in the air.

Seabrook The good news in Seabrook is that $1 million in road work has been completed, and renovations are finished at City Hall and the police department. The bad news is that total damages have hit $10 million for a city that operates on a $12 million budget.

Adding insult to injury, many of the just-repaired roads had been reconstructed in August, a month before Ike.

The hurricane storm surge deluged low-lying parts of Seabrook with 17 feet of water, while communities at higher elevations got about a foot of water, City Manager Chuck Pinto said.

“There are 170 homes on the ground, and about 75 percent of those had 4 feet of water inside,” Pinto said. “The majority of our 420 homes either had water underneath or inside. About 75 percent (of residents) are now back in their homes.”

Taylor Lake Village It’s an uphill climb for many of the 4,000 residents of Taylor Lake Village to get their homes repaired and their lives back on track, Mayor Natalie O’Neill said.

“Many have leased homes near their own that didn’t flood,” the mayor said. “They’re trying to get long-term funding. They’re paying their rent for their temporary house, the mortgage on their bad house, and there’s a lot of expenses for things that need to be repaired.”

O’Neill estimated that total damage in the city stands at about $28 million.

“People are trying to rebuild their homes,” the mayor said. “The biggest challenge is for people being able to access their money that FEMA is supposed to help them with.”

Taylor Lake Village took a big hit from Ike because the city is surrounded on three sides by lakes – Taylor Lake, Clear Lake and MUD (Municipal Utility District) Lake. The only landlocked boundary is Armand Bayou in Pasadena.

No residences built after 1960 sustained major damage, but homes in older subdivisions such as Timber Cove (built in 1958) took a punishing hard hit from floodwaters, the mayor said.

O’Neill said she hopes that repairs to the pedestrian section of the bridge leading into the village would be completed in time for Christmas carolers to sing there, continuing the 50-year tradition. The bridge is safe for vehicular traffic, she said.

Clear Lake Shores Much of the rubble is gone, repairs are completed at City Hall, and the police department and most water and sewer facilities run by Galveston County Water Control and Improvement District 12 are back in operation, City Administrator Paul Shelley said.

“Overall we’re looking good,” Shelley said. “We’ve picked up all our debris, all our residents are working with insurance companies to start rebuilding residential areas. We’re working on the infrastructure.”

Sandwiched between Kemah and League City, Clear Lake Shores is known for its eclectic residential community of about 420 homes on an island where residents favor golf carts over cars to get around.

League City League City, the largest city in Galveston County that is home to several waterside communities, has largely recovered from Hurricane Ike, said Jamie Galloway, director of emergency services.

About 300 cubic yards of debris have been removed, wastewater treatment plants are fully operational and structural damage to city buildings has been fixed. Even the city’s Main Street Historic District fared “really well,” Galloway said.

Texas City Thanks to its protective levee system and the Texas City Dike, bragged on by locals as the world’s longest man-made fishing pier, the city fared relatively well despite a 12-foot storm surge that overtopped the dike.

Hurricane Ike took a heavy toll on buildings and piers on the dike, and Dike Road was destroyed.

Bacliff residents upset with mobile home site plans By ROBERT STANTON HOUSTON CHRONICLE Dec. 18, 2008, 9:41AM

Despite assurances from local and federal officials, residents of Bacliff aren’t happy about a FEMA mobile home park that is set to go up in the Edgewater subdivision early next year.

About 125 residents crowded into Bacliff Community Center late Wednesday for a public meeting about the mobile home park, which will be located east of the Chase Park community.

Many residents fear that crime and lower property values would accompany the storm victims whose homes and apartments were destroyed by Hurricane Ike. They said Chase Park Drive, the main entrance into the community, already has enough traffic as it is.

Others expressed concern that the park would include residents of Galveston’s housing projects, but officials said that residents of Bacliff and San Leon would have priority.

“Where is our choice?” asked Tiffany Flores, a Bacliff mother and nurse. “It’s absurd to me that y’all didn’t even give us a choice. This is a done deal.”

David Parks, a housing official with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said about 50 mobile homes would arrive early next year in the unincorporated Galveston County community off Texas 146.

Parks said the mobile home village would be a self-contained community with its own manager, laundry facilities, contracted security patrols and even postal delivery service. About 50 of the mobile homes would arrive first, followed by up to 208 units, depending on the need.

The temporary park would have a security gate and 10-foot wooden fence to obscure it from motorists and adjacent homeowners, Parks said.

Don Normand, another FEMA disaster housing official, said last week that the Bacliff mobile home community would has a design capacity for up to 300 units. Under terms of the FEMA contact, the mobile homes would be in place for 18 months, but county officials could grant an extension to families who are making progress towards returning to their homes or apartments.

“We’re giving them a chance to rebuild their lives,” said Galveston County Commissioner Patrick Doyle. He said a case manager would be assigned to each family to monitor their progress.

Storm evacuees that make no effort to find permanent housing would not be allowed to extend their stay past 18 months, Doyle said.

Galveston County Sheriff-elect Freddie Poor said that FEMA would pay for 75 percent of overtime costs for officers to patrol the area. “We’re committed to providing that service to you,” he said.

Sheriff’s Capt. Ray Tuttoilmondo urged residents to report any suspicious activity in their community, where 21 criminal mischief reports and 20 car burglaries have been reported Jan. 1.

Tuttoilmondo said the sheriff’s office would help to set up a Neighborhood Watch program, and that deputies would respond to every call from residents.

“All of us are accustomed to taking care of our turf, and this is our turf,” he said.

Worries continue When Vern Anderson and his wife, Teresa, moved into their new custom home in Bacliff in June, they believed that more homes soon would be going up to build out the 600-home Edgewater subdivision.

To date, four homes have been constructed in the community, which is about to see its population swell with the addition of up to 300 mobile homes if the Federal Emergency Management Agency gets a final green light.

FEMA officials say the unincorporated Galveston County site, formerly a redfish farm, is well-suited for a temporary community site to house victims of Hurricane Ike. The proposed site also is located east of the Chase Park subdivision.

Don Normand, FEMA’s deputy director of disaster housing operations, said the design of the site is about 50 percent completed. The community park will stay in place for up to 18 months unless local officials request an extension.

“It (Bacliff site) will be developed at groups of 50 at a time,” Normand said. Of the 80,000 residents eligible for FEMA emergency housing, about 1,000 will end up in mobile homes scattered throughout Galveston County, he said.

Other proposed community mobile home sites are High Island (up to 85 units), Shrieber Field near Scholes Field (up to 54 units), and a small parcel of land west of the Galveston County Justice Center on Broadway (up to 30 units).

FEMA also plans to place smaller mobile homes throughout the Island, including in front of residents’ homes that are being repaired.

It usually takes two days to inspect a site and to issue a work order, and another two weeks to complete the permitting process.

From start to finish, it takes about a week to install a mobile home.

While FEMA irons out the details of their emergency housing plans, some residents of Bacliff and San Leon say they have been left in the dark.

“There are a lot of decisions that are being made with regards to the placement of the FEMA trailers, and whatever information we have found out has been because we searched for it,” said Jody McFarlain, 50, an educator who lives in the Edgewater subdivision.

“People just aren’t being kept abreast, and I think it’s caused a lot of apprehension and a sense of anxiety,” she said. “Some of it could have been alleviated if individuals had been informed.”

Teresa Anderson fears property values would slide down if the mobile home community comes in literally next door.

“This community is just really going down, and this neighborhood is not going to make it now,” said Anderson, 51, a homemaker. “We assumed that all of this land would be purchased and nothing else was supposed to go on it.”

Her husband, Vern, 50, also shared concerns.

“If they (FEMA) want to go and write down (stipulations) so we have something in writing, that there will be a fence and adequate security, then that could ease our minds,” said Vern Anderson, who owns a landscaping company.

“These (displaced) residents are down and out and I feel for them,” he said. But there is no guarantee, he said, on how long the community would remain. “It could be two or three years,” he said.

Sturner said the agency would inform the public once a final agreement is reached about the Bacliff site.

“We want people to be informed, but we want to give them accurate information,” Sturner said.

“For us to come out into the community and discuss details about a planned site that has not been finalized is premature.”

Joseph “Butch” Davis of San Leon said the temporary mobile home community is needed in the hard-hit area.

“I’m still homeless as hell,” said Davis, 63, a painter. “I’m staying in a tent on my friend’s property.

“They (FEMA) told me that I qualify … that I had housing and everything coming, but there’s more people who need it more than I do.”

Davis said he’ll keep living in the tent, cold weather and all, rather than deal with federal bureaucratic red tape.

“That’s my life, though. I’d rather be by myself,” he said. “They can bring it in, but seeing is believing. I’m for it, but seeing is believing.”


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