Local elected officials and agency representatives provided two-year updates regarding Hurricane Harvey recovery Monday, Aug. 26 at the Aransas County Emergency Operations Center.
Aransas County Judge C.H. “Burt” Mills opened the meeting saying, “Two years ago we were told our recovery would take eight to 10 years. I put the task on our Long Term Recovery Team (LTRT) at three to five years.”
He noted Aransas County is recovering at a faster rate than expected.
Rockport Mayor Pat Rios said, as he scanned the room, “I see so many people who are instrumental in our recovery.
“You might get frustrated, but when you look at where we were and where we are now (it’s amazing).”
Fulton Mayor Jimmy Kendrick noted much has been accomplished, but added, “There are still recovery areas we need to work on. We have to work through the bureaucracy.
“With everyone’s patience and resilience, we’ll get through it.”
Aransas County Navigation District Chairman Malcolm Dieckow said, “We couldn’t have done this without all of you. We still have a lot to do, but what we’re going to be is stronger and better.”
Mills, introducing Aransas County LTRT member William Whitson, said, “One of the reasons we’ve been able to move so quick is because of the Sid Richardson Foundation funding the LTRT. It has been in place since October after the storm.”
Whitson said the team couldn’t do its job without everyone’s support.
“The agencies (we work with) have their challenges, but there are a lot of good people.
“We’ve achieved a lot working together.”
He noted this is the seventh hurricane recovery operation he has worked, and this experience has been great.
One of the team’s primary functions is to track down funding sources and secure money for the millions of dollars in projects in Aransas County.
“The judge told me (early on), ‘Go find the money,’” said Whitson.
He said the Aug. 31 deadline for the CDBG-DR projects targeted for the county (including all entities) will be met.
“I’m excited about the fiber optic loop feasibility study,” said Whitson. “We had no communication after the storm. I promised the judge I would fight for this to protect first responders.”
Looking to the future, he asked, “Where do we go from here? Forward. We have a lot of things we can be proud of, but still much work to do.
“Harvey ripped apart the fabric of this community. We are going to put it back together in an acceptable time frame.”
He provided general information about damage received in the storm, the development of the long-term recovery plan, sources of funding, and a list of projects funded through CDBG-DR grants and FEMA Mitigation funding.
To review all projects and projected costs visit the Aransas County website at aransascountytx.gov and click on the Aransas County Harvey Relief and Recovery Website link.
FEMA Region VI TRO Brian Slie said he has made lasting friendships, and many heartfelt interactions during this recovery process.
“I’ve not had this type of experience in 12 years with the agency,” he said.
FEMA has spent $70 million in public assistance (PA). There are 48 PA projects. Thirty-seven have been awarded and 11 are in various stages of being awarded.
Texas Department of Emergency Management (TDEM)
TDEM State Coordinator A.A. “Tony” Pena Jr. noted he is in charge of 27 south Texas counties.
“We’ve had flooding, fires, and wind events all in the last 24 hours,” he said.
Pena, recalling the first hours after the storm, said, “I thought some of you had perished because there was no communications.
“I’ll be honest, when I heard that, I broke down.
“The way this community has come together and works as one with outside agencies … I’ve never seen it in my career.”
TDEM, as part of the agency’s restructuring after the storm, is no longer under the Department of Public Safety. It is now a separate agency operating under the Texas A&M University System.
“I’m really proud of all of you,” said Pena. “Each of you is a rock star in your areas of expertise.”
General Land Office (GLO)
GLO Director of Community Development – Revitalization Division Heather Lagrone noted the state is amazing at response (after natural disasters), but many new things have been learned and are being implemented due to lessons learned after Harvey.
“We’re here to help you recover without you having to use your general revenues,” said Lagrone. “There is $65 million coming here for infrastructure.
“There have been 482 Homeowner Assistance Program (HAP) applications.”
She also noted the GLO’s homeowner reimbursement program has also been active, helping families that went into their own pockets (even cashing in retirement funds) to do the right thing.
That program pays up to $50,000 for qualifying families.
She recognized the loss of affordable workforce housing, and efforts to get funds to the area for rebuilding such housing.
Lagrone also mentioned the more than $4 billion in additional funding coming down the pipe for mitigation projects (projects that will lessen the impact of future storms).
She said most of the time her job requires her to be in an office.
“The best part of my job is to go out and see what’s being accomplished,” said Lagrone.
of Commerce (RFCC)
RFCC President/CEO Diane Probst said the Chamber’s mission immediately after the storm was philanthropic, then providing information, and now the focus is on the economy.
She recalled setting up the Go Fund Me account the day after Harvey’s landfall, and how the first $500 donation from New York grew to more than $1.4 million.
John Jackson, who was asked to oversee unsolicited donations after the storm, talked about how the Rockport-Fulton Chamber Foundation (RFCF) served as the bank for incoming donations, and how it eventually worked with the Coastal Bend Disaster Recovery Group (CBDRG), a group Aransas County was not a member of, but is today. Jackson serves on that board.
He noted every penny given to Aransas County came back to Aransas County, and more.
Jackson said the CBDRG has 180 projects, 102 of which have been completed.
The CBDRG has allocated $124 million for projects, with $6 million being spent in Aransas County.
“The CBDRG works with the GLO with their programs, (as well as with the many other non-profit agencies providing services to Aransas County),” said Jackson.
He noted the value of volunteer time spent in Aransas County was $2.13 million in 2018, and is at $1.1 million this year.
“It was a good decision to join the CBDRG,” said Jackson. “It took a lot of pressure off the county and others.”
General stats provided by Probst included:
• Aransas County has an available workforce of 10,097 people with 9,653 employed.
• Sales tax collections are higher this year, compared to what they were at this time in 2017, but about eight percent down, compared to last year due to all the reconstruction activity in 2018.
• All but two hotels have reopened, that planned to reopen.
• More than 90 percent of businesses are back in business, but are operating roughly 30 percent lower.
• The average sales price for homes is $298,326, which is up from $258,607 for the 12-month period ending July 2018.
• Chamber membership is at 827, an 18 percent increase.
• The RFCF has awarded 150 grants to businesses totaling just under $450,000. This was made possible with matching funds from the Rebuild Texas Fund.
“The chamber has positioned itself to be of help wherever called,” said Probst.