City evaluates response to storm threat
Evaluating the city's response to the threat of Hurricane Ike and assessing damage, City Manager Michael Kovacs met with department heads and is putting together a list of strengths and weaknesses while attending to visible damages.
His primary concern in terms of the impact of the hurricane that went ashore at Galveston early Saturday morning, Sept. 13, is the beach.
Hurricane Ike "rearranged the profile of the beach, and until we get a low tide it will be hard to see what's happened. We're hoping for a wider beach," Kovacs said.
Some dunes were lost, but whether the sand washed away or served to widen the beach remains unknown. Tides are still up from Hurricane Gustav, which also missed this area earlier this month, Kovacs said.
"The Gulf of Mexico is full of water. It's amazing how long it takes to drain. It could be a couple of weeks," he said.
Whether Ike improved and widened the beach or "sucked the dunes into the sandbar system," we don't know, Kovacs said.
City crews are cleaning up the beach access roads and sidewalks where sand was pushed. That sand is being returned to the beach.
Also, some debris washed up into the areas where there are dune walkovers (to condominiums or residential developments). Some of the walkovers have been damaged or destroyed, and the homeowners associations are responsible for re- pairs. One of the walkovers is now in violation of the Open Beaches Act since the storm "peeled back about 40 feet" of dunes beneath the structure, Kovacs said.
A lot of seaweed washed up, but high tides have taken it away.
The "entire beach profile was shaved down at the parking bollards and was shoved up into the roadway. Crews are concentrating on moving the sand off the roadway to the pedestrian area inside the bollards," Kovacs said.
Sand that was shoved up to the roadway is drying out, and unless a vehicle has four-wheel drive, "you might be in trouble," the city manager said.
The sand on the roadway south of Beach Access Road 1A is being left there depending on the size of weekend crowds.
"We are concentrating on the bollard-pedestrian safety areas and making sure roads are passable there," Kovacs said.
City crews are also picking up trash that washed up on the beach.
Kovacs is asking homeowners who experienced flooding to notify city hall at 749-4111.
The Turtle Cove area experienced some flooding, and since so many of those homeowners are absentee, the city has put fliers on every door possible asking them to notify the city if their homes were flooded.
Kovacs said that among the city's strengths in its response to the hurricane threat were successfully making alternate arrangements when the motel in Seguin where an agreement to provide city staff with rooms was not honored, and having to scramble to find a rental truck to transport city equipment.
Interim Police Chief "James Stokes and (city secretary) Esther (Arzola) did a good job of that," Kovacs said.
More formalized agreements with a motel and truck rental agency are on the city's "to do" list.
"Having to play 'beat the crowd," is not something we want to do again," Kovacs said.
Also, for the first time, the city had an IT (information technology) staffer on board to help with backing up data and who put up a link to the South Jetty's Web site because the city didn't have the manpower to (update the city's Web site), Kovacs said.
"Before, everyone took care of their own data issues - that can be really intense," he added.
Boarding and securing city facilities took eight hours, down from 12 in 2005 when Hurricane Rita threatened. Parks and Recreation Director Gary Mysorski wants to get that down to six hours.
Regional coordination didn't work as well as it did in 2005, Kovacs said.
"We had a new study and we didn't use it, as a region," he said.
"Here, people like to get ahead of traffic . . . the new study says, 'wait, then go, go, go!' You don't move hundreds of miles, you move 10s of miles - out of the flood zone," Kovacs said.
"You have to know your plan, and we're not familiar with our plan - we just got it," he added.
The phased evacuation system didn't work perfectly, but tourists and owners of RVs and other high profile vehicles went well.
Nueces County Judge Loyd Neal called for evacuation of Mustang and Padre islands, but Port Aransas never made that call, according to Mayor Claude Brown and Kovacs.
Another area the city will explore is the disaster card system that shows proof that an individual is a resident of Port Aransas so they may return after a storm. Since May, 9,000 cards have been issued, 2,000 of them last week, Kovacs said.
That takes a lot of manpower and necessitated closing the library so those staff members could assist city hall staffers in issuing the cards.
Next time, Kovacs said the city will at least do a better job of getting people to get the cards early.
"There are always things to improve. As we get better, we get more nit-picky," Kovacs said.
The mayor was so pleased with the city and community's response to the hurricane threat he intends to present a proclamation commending their efforts at tonight's (Thursday, Sept. 18) city council meeting.
"The citizens of Port Aransas made a very noble effort to take precautions and move equipment," Brown said. He wants to publicly thank the city's department heads, the police, constable, water district and city manager "for keeping everyone in line throughout" the process.
Brown also expressed appreciation to the businesses that stayed open to make sure people had gas and supplies.
The mayor said he was not ready to call for an evacuation of Port Aransas when the storm was four days out.
"There are a lot of decisions I'd rather make than to ask people to leave their homes and business. That's probably one of the toughest prats of this job," Brown said.
For videos, photos and a timeline of Hurricane Ike's approach, go to the South Jetty Web site, www.portasouthjetty. com. Click on the Hurricane Info bar at the top of the menu on the left side of the screen. All information contained under Hurricane Info is available free to the public.