Five years later

City facilities still recovering from Hurricane Harvey’s punch


Photographed on Wednesday, Aug. 10, workers install the pilings that will hold a new boardwalk under construction at the Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center in Port Aransas. The boardwalk will replace one that was destroyed by Hurricane Harvey in 2017. A new boardwalk was built after the hurricane, but it is off to the left of where the original one was. The new one will follow the same footprint as the original. FEMA is paying for it. Staff photo by Lee Harrison

Photographed on Wednesday, Aug. 10, workers install the pilings that will hold a new boardwalk under construction at the Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center in Port Aransas. The boardwalk will replace one that was destroyed by Hurricane Harvey in 2017. A new boardwalk was built after the hurricane, but it is off to the left of where the original one was. The new one will follow the same footprint as the original. FEMA is paying for it. Staff photo by Lee Harrison

Editor’s note: While nearly all Port Aransas residents and businesses have finished rebuilding in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, reconstruction of certain city facilities such as the police station remain in the works. This report describes what’s left to be done and how it’s being pursued.

Five years after Hurricane Harvey struck Port Aransas dead-on with 132 mph winds and a six-foot storm surge on Aug. 25, city officials are still fighting to collect some $25 million in reconstruction funding from FEMA.

Total damage to city property climbed to $110 million, and to date FEMA has either delivered or promised to send a total of $85 million, City Manager David Parsons said. The remaining balance is in arbitration before a 3-judge panel that represents the cost of reconstructing three buildings to house the police department, the fire department and EMS and public works, he said.

“We hope we win it, and they give us a big chunk of money,” Parsons said.

Members of the Port Aransas Volunteer Fire Department confer around a table in their temporary quarters on Avenue C, just east of Alister Street, on a recent day. Clockwise from left are Toby Smith, Adam Maldonado, Vinton James, Noah Swindle, Nathan Kelley, Pete Arzola and Nathan Arnold. The fire department has been operating out of temporary quarters since Hurricane Harvey hit Port Aransas in 2017. The city is working on plans to build a new fire station. Staff photo by Lee Harrison

Members of the Port Aransas Volunteer Fire Department confer around a table in their temporary quarters on Avenue C, just east of Alister Street, on a recent day. Clockwise from left are Toby Smith, Adam Maldonado, Vinton James, Noah Swindle, Nathan Kelley, Pete Arzola and Nathan Arnold. The fire department has been operating out of temporary quarters since Hurricane Harvey hit Port Aransas in 2017. The city is working on plans to build a new fire station. Staff photo by Lee Harrison

Although city officials are still waiting on the funds, planning is well underway to construct the new buildings, Parsons noted.

The first project to be tackled will be a 12,500-square-foot public safety building for police. The city received a $5 million community development loan after the hurricane from the federal government that was forgiven this year in January, leading to the city council’s decision to start building.

“That’s what spurred us to move forward,” Parsons said. “We got $5 million to throw at the public safety building.”

Parsons said city officials hope to put out bids on the new building in the fall and to break ground in early 2023. The design of the project is more than half-finished, he said.

The second project will be a 16,000-square-foot building to house the fire department and EMS, and the design on it is also more than half-finished, Parsons said. There is hope that it could be built on the same schedule as the public safety building, and that could be accomplished with a $10 million tax anticipation note the council will consider, he said.

“We’re trying to figure out how to fund it,” Parsons said. “We’re out of the easy money. The fire station is taking us a little longer to figure out.”

The public works building will take longer to complete, but it could get underway more quickly if the arbitration is successful, Parsons said.

In November, city officials plan to put a $6.5 million bond before voters to fund streets and drainage improvements.

Other projects noted by Parsons now underway are the construction of new fishing piers: the Ancel Brundrett Pier at the foot of Station Street, J. P. Luby Pier at Roberts Point Park and Charlie’s Pasture Pier on Port Street. Also, the bulk- head is being reconstructed at Charlie’s Pasture, as well as the nature trails that run from the State Highway 361 entrance near the Palladium through the nature preserve and through the Collection Station and the Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center.

The construction of a new system of natural gas pipelines is also well underway after it was inundated by saltwater from the hurricane’s surge. A new 9.7-mile high pressure line was completed this year, and the installation of a new network of low pressure lines and gas meters to residences and businesses began on Aug. 15.

Mayor Wendy Moore said that as a community and as an island the recovery from Hurricane Harvey has been remarkable.

“When I think back about those first days and weeks and months afterwards and how everyone was so displaced and the school was destroyed, and the infrastructure was a disaster and so many people were not in their homes and were not even living close to Port Aransas, it just breaks my heart to think about it again,” Moore said. “It’s hard to imagine we even went through any of that.”

A tremendous amount of recovery has occurred, but there is still a lot of expensive work to do, Moore added.

“We’re working towards that,” she said. “It’s all about getting the money to get it built back, but we have plans in place. What we’re rebuilding I think is more sound, is more resilient, is better, and stronger and will be able to help us be better prepared for the next one, which we hope is no time soon.”

Parsons said that the recovery from a hurricane like Harvey should have taken 10 years, and the city’s repairs are on schedule to be completed much sooner than that. “As bad as Harvey was, we think we are doing pretty darn good,” he said. “The citizens and the private sector are way ahead of us with rebuilding now, but we’re going to be right there with them.”

Parsons added that all the city’s facilities that were destroyed — the fishing piers, the marina and the public buildings — had aged considerably before the hurricane struck. Some were 50 years old, he said.

“We’re going to come out of this looking really good,” Parsons said. “The citizens are not going to be taxed for it. As horrible as Harvey was we’re going to come out of this better and stronger than before.”

Contact David Webb at reporter@portasouthjetty.com

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