The second anniversary of Hurricane Harvey, which was commemorated in a number of different ways Saturday, Aug. 24, had special significance for the Town of Fulton.
Governor Greg Abbott, Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, Rep. Geanie Morrison, and Rep. Todd Hunter were seated together under the roof of the Fulton Convention Center – Paws & Taws, which is under construction, for the signing of two Harvey-related bills and the unique “groundbreaking” for the Fulton Pier.
A large crowd, which included Congressman Michael Cloud, members of the Fulton Town Council, local elected officials, representatives of FEMA, Rebuild Texas, the Texas Parks & Wildlife Foundation (TPWF), YETI, and other organizations, as well as Aransas County residents, were on hand for the momentous occasion.
“Our beloved fishing pier was one of the storm’s casualties, and we’re thrilled to get started on rebuilding it,” said Fulton Mayor Jimmy Kendrick. “We’re very grateful to our many partners who helped us get this project off the ground.”
The pier serves as both a tourist attraction for visitors to the Coastal Bend region and as a recreational outlet for local residents. It is the central feature of the popular Fulton Beach Park, and its strategic location is an important economic driver for local businesses.
The TPWF is managing the $1.9 million project, and the town secured the majority of funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). YETI has pledged $184,000 toward the 10 percent match required for FEMA funding, and TPWF has raised additional dollars from the Sid W. Richardson Foundation for engineering and design of the new pier.
The rebuilding of the pier will mark the final recovery stage for the Town of Fulton, according to Kendrick.
“Two years ago today I came to this spot and watched the waves start rolling in,” he said.
At Saturday’s groundbreaking, Kendrick noted his previous experiences evacuating for storms when he was transportation director for the Aransas County Independent School District.
“We knew how to close down, but we didn’t know how to open back up (because a major hurricane hadn’t struck the area since 1970).
“During the eye of the storm I came down here and half of Paws and Taws was down.
“I’ve learned more about hurricanes than I want to know.
“Look at us today. Is this resilience?” asked Kendrick.
He thanked the elected officials seated at the table, saying, “We wouldn’t be where we are without these people at this table.
“After (we’re finished with the convention center and pier) we’re going to have one hell of a party in (the new) Paws and Taws.
“We’re funding all of our projects without spending a local dime.
“This is a true team effort, working as one.”
Kendrick asked his wife, Shawn, to stand, and thanked her for standing by his side since the day Harvey hit, giving him strength to carry out his role as mayor, despite the personal loses they suffered in the storm.
He praised the late Leslie “Googles” Cole for being a shoulder to lean on prior to and after Harvey, prior to his death.
“Googles always said, ‘Show me the money,’ (whenever we had plans for a project).”
Kendrick introduced the governor recalling a question he asked Abbott when the governor came to Aransas County a couple of days after Harvey’s landfall.
“I asked him, ‘Are we (Fulton) going to die?’”
“He said, ‘No, (you’re going to be rebuilt bigger and better).’”
Abbott opened his remarks saying, “We are stronger together,” adding, “We wouldn’t be here today without Jimmy Kendrick’s leadership.”
Leaning on his deep faith, the governor said, “God does not promise we’ll be free from storms. He promises to walk with us through the storms.”
Abbott announced Texas is to receive $4.5 billion more in federal funding to rebuild more things, better.
“I came here immediately after the storm,” said Abbott. “I was stunned, shocked, and hurt seeing the amount of damage.”
He recalled Bridget Brundrett handing him an American flag that had survived Harvey. It was later learned it came from Rockport city hall, and at Brundrett’s request, was presented to then-mayor C.J. Wax later that day.
“It (flag) was saved because of the honor and dignity of someone in the U.S. military,” said the governor.
Acknowledging the damage and shattered lives left in Harvey’s wake, Abbott said, “As Americans we rebuilt after the Civil War and World War II, and we will after Harvey.”
Before ceremonially signing into law Senate Bill 6 (Kolkhorst/Morrison) and House Bill 6 (Morrison/Hunter/Kolkhorst), Abbott talked about the highlights of each bill, which include new strategies for removing debris after a storm, and funding to help communities rebuild.
SB 6 addresses several recommendations from the Governor’s Commission to Rebuild Texas, including improvements to the state’s disaster response and recovery efforts, as well as establishes a loan program to meet the financial needs of communities recovering from disaster.
HB 6 creates a disaster recovery task force to assist with financial issues related to disaster recovery. It also requires training of emergency management coordinators and for all emergency management programs to provide for catastrophic debris management.
“No state is better organized or better prepared for the next natural disaster,” said Abbott. “There is no storm more powerful than the resiliency that resides in your heart.
“I’m proud of the people in Rockport-Fulton and the state, and how you responded (to such adversity).”
Sen. Kolkhorst said Harvey changed the lives of everyone (in her 21 county coastal district).
“The governor took my calls all the time,” she said.
She praised Aransas County Judge C.H. “Burt” Mills, former Rockport Mayor C.J. Wax, Rockport Mayor Pat Rios, and Mayor Kendrick for “keeping the Harvey story alive” until the legislative session began.
“Everywhere I looked there was destruction. Everywhere I looked there was a willingness to rebuild,” she said.
In regard to pushing through the Harvey-related bills in Austin, Kolkhorst said, “I couldn’t have better colleagues in the House than Rep. Morrison and Rep. Hunter.
“SB 6 and HB 6 set the groundwork for how to recover (from future disasters).
“Today we celebrate in this pavilion, we sign bills (and break ground on a new pier), but we still know the journey is long.
“This was the most successful legislative session (in my approximately 20 years of public service) because you have a voice and it was listened to.
“I’m unabashed in getting money (for those who truly need it), said Kolkhorst, but added, “Government can only do so much … it’s the volunteers (who make such a big difference).”
She noted the two bills are only two in a series of bills signed into law, which address dealing with Harvey, as well as future natural disasters.
“Our governor is an incredible governor,” said Kolkhorst. “He responds … and makes things happen.
“We have been an inspiration to the U.S. and the world.
“Thanks to all of you who carried the message forward.”
In closing, the senator said, “God has been a part of it (recovery) the whole way. He’s part of every breath you take.”
Rep. Morrison reiterated what Kolkhorst said regarding local officials keeping the Harvey story alive in Austin.
“It was important to keep talking about what happened (for months prior to the next legislative session),” said Morrison.
She praised the governor for quickly establishing the Commission to Rebuild Texas after the storm. The commission, under the leadership of John Sharp, produced the Governor’s Eye of the Storm Report, which included 44 recommendations for things the state can do better when the next natural disaster strikes.
“Fourteen bills (signed into law in the last legislative session) covered those recommendations, except for one, and that one can be handled through policy,” said Morrison. “We had to communicate (to state officials not representing coastal areas) these bills weren’t just for Harvey, but for any future disaster in the state.”
She noted the Eye of the Storm Report identified recovery as the weakest part of the state’s emergency management system, prior to Harvey, but thanks to the efforts of Nim Kidd, Chief of Texas Department of Emergency Management, it is now one of the strongest parts.
“Harvey was a different storm. It was a devastating storm,” said Morrison, noting the state learned small communities, including those like Rockport, Fulton, Refugio, and Woodsboro, had a tough time coming up with matching funds for federal grants after Harvey.
She added an amendment to the senate’s version of one bill insuring the state would provide the 10 percent match for such communities.
She noted Kendrick provided emotional testimony before a House Committee, saying, in no uncertain terms, “Fulton has to have it.”
“It is the first disaster recovery loan program,” said Morrison, adding it was only made possible because elected officials and community members stayed in elected officials’ offices.
Hunter, reflecting on Abbott’s role in the Coastal Bend’s recovery, said, “We were first hit, and first forgotten, but there was no statewide officials who came here more and kept up the fight.
“And, he froze TWIA rates when he didn’t have to.”
Hunter’s district no longer includes Aransas County, but he said, “You’re always going to be part of me. I’m always going to be part of you.
“Keep up the resiliency. I’ll always be behind you.”
After signing the ceremonial bills, Abbott, Kolkhorst, Morrison, members of the Fulton Town Council, and representatives of those organizations that provided funding, “cast a line” symbolizing ground breaking for the new Fulton Pier.
Ironically, that action was taken from under the cover of the Fulton Convention Center – Paws and Taws because it was raining.