Neblett: Growth being handled well
Editor's note: With the emerging new year – a time when people traditionally look ahead with renewed hope and predictions – the South Jetty is publishing a seven-part series of interviews with the current and past Port Aransas mayors reflecting on the state of our island town and its future. The first article in the series was an interview with Claude Brown, the town's current mayor. Following is the second article in the series, an interview with former Mayor Georgia Neblett. Later articles will feature interviews conducted in December and January with former mayors Glenn Martin, Jim Sherrill, Dale Bietendorf, Charlie Brown (no relation to Claude Brown) and Bob Flood.
Georgia Neblett has lived in Port Aransas for 30 years. She was mayor from 2004 to 2006 and ran for reelection but was defeated by current mayor Claude Brown. Neblett also is a former chair of the Corpus Christi Regional Transportation Authority. She currently is executive director of the Mission Aransas Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve – one of 27 such reserves operated around the country under a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration program that conducts research and education in coastal states. Neblett also is a member of the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association Board of Directors.
South Jetty: What is the state of Port Aransas?
Neblett: I think we're doing well. I think the town has been going through significant growing pains and handling those with a lot of class. We have reached a position, because of growth, where our sleepy fishing village character is there, but adapting to the changes. I think those who are attracted to our eclectic community are still attracted. I think the population is much the same as it has always been. There are just more of us. And that diversity that we are enjoying through the growth is bringing new ideas and new ways of doing things. Change is difficult for people. But, typical of Port Aransas, we're handling that change in a good way. I'm reminded of other changes we went through in the past, like in the .80s, when the bottom fell out of the real estate market, and Port Aransas adapted and moved forward.
SJ: What do you think should be done in the future to keep Port Aransas on the right track?
Neblett: We have to support our city-manager form of government – in that the council sets policy, and city staff and the city manager implement that policy. They are the ones that are educated to run a city and to help us avoid pitfalls that those who are not trained specifically for that duty might allow the city to fall into. I also think we have to keep our sense of humor. There are things we will try that will be extremely successful and things we will try that will be marginally successful, and we have to keep that in perspective. I think we can look forward. We have to continue to develop our eco-tourism and make our nature preserve one of our shining stars, much as the voters were promised when they authorized that venture.
SJ: How is our beach doing? What should be our number one priority there?
Neblett: I think they're doing exceptional. I don't think you will find better beaches where there is a community, a viable community, anywhere on any coast. I was active in American Shore and Beach, and through American Shore and Beach, I had a real opportunity to find out the condition and problems and situations with other beach communities and their shore. I think our beaches, as far as the health of the beaches, are second to none.
SJ: How should we handle the controversial issue of moving sand and seaweed?
Neblett: I think it has to be a two-pronged approach. I think it has to be a healthy and safe beach for the beach users, and I also think the other prong has to be that … we have to keep it in that condition in the most environmentally friendly way it can be done. When you have people and public use, you will always have a compromise with nature. I think in the 30 years I've been here, there have been a lot of approaches tried, and what we're currently doing is the best approach. I think we have a new standard. … Because of the children and public using the beaches, we keep them clean; but we don't remove the seaweed from the beach, in keeping with the current GLO (General Land Office) rules. But we're working with the GLO to find other options that are good for the beach and good for the public. (Public Works Director) Crockett Moreno worked for the city a very long time and has experienced some of the different methods tried over the years, and I certainly think you have to listen to him, the GLO and the real beach experts. But everything is a compromise.
SJ: We've seen a lot of growth the past several years. Has it been good, bad or somewhere in the middle?
Neblett: I think growth is good, because growth represents change, and growth brings in new people, new ways of doing things. And I think it keeps the town alive and vibrant. That is not to say growth for the sake of growth is good. But I think, through the city's ordinances and planning and zoning reviewing that growth and how it's being done, we have had good growth. When I look back at the faces over the past 30 years, we have had a great many new faces over that period who have been wonderful contributors to the island.
SJ: What do you say to people who worry that Port Aransas is losing its small-town ambience and is becoming a metropolis?
Neblett: I think you can always look at things as either being a glass half-full or half-empty. I think there are some people who are very reluctant to accept change. I am always somewhat amused that some of the loudest voices are those who have lived here the shortest period of time. I believe we will always maintain our eclectic makeup. Certain types of people are attracted to live in Port Aransas. Port Aransas is attractive to a special group of people, and it's not going to be attractive to people who really want a metropolis.
SJ: Corpus Christi residents recently went to the polls and defeated a proposition to close a portion of that city's beach to vehicles. The issue came up because a developer said his planned resort would not be built unless the beach is closed to traffic. In your opinion, how should Port Aransas react if a developer ever seeks to have a beach closed inside the city limits?
Neblett: Port Aransas is a resort community. Anyone who doesn't believe that really isn't very familiar with where they live. People who come to Port Aransas come to fish and enjoy our beaches, and I think that is the economic engine that drives the city. I think at some point, because of simple traffic congestion, there probably will be an area of the beach within the city limits that is pedestrian friendly – whether that means a parking lot adjacent to the beach or some sort of a public transportation vehicle that gets people and their dogs and children to the beach. I think time will be the thing that will determine that. Everything changes, and everything adapts to the conditions of the time. I don't think Port Aransas is any different. I don't think the city will ever go out and seek developers who want to close the beach … I don't believe Port Aransas is going to be faced with this question in the imminent future, anyway. I believe the tracts of land left to develop for a single resort are insufficient to allow the beaches to be closed to vehicular traffic. Relevant to the current GLO rules … for every (specific amount) you close, you have to provide a certain number of parking spaces. Tracts of land in Port Aransas are not sufficient to meet that parking demand.