Aransas County Commissioners, at their regular meeting Monday, Sept. 28, heard a report from Long Term Recovery Team (LTRT) members Kim Foutz and William Whitson, regarding Community Development Block Grant – Mitigation (CDBG-MIT) projects on which the team is working.

Foutz explained the county can seek up to three projects in partnership with other entities, using one pot of designated money, as well as three single entity projects, using another pot of designated funds.

The team is focusing on the proposed fiber optic loop as its lone partnership project.

It has singled out three single entity projects, including Ruby Allen drainage, streets, utilities; Newcomb Point shoreline preservation; and Fulton Beach Road elevation and beach nourishment.

The applications for grant funding are due before Oct. 28.

Fiber optic loop

The fiber optic loop is a proposed project with five other entities.

This has always been a priority project since Hurricane Harvey, when communications were down for an extended period of time.

It includes 113 miles of fiber optic line, ensuring connectively and redundancy. It is a protected and reliable emergency management communications system linking critical facilities.

The project cost is estimated at $47,840,441, and includes a dedicated fiber optic line stretching from Victoria, through Refugio and then Aransas County. It then continues south through San Patricio County to the Nueces Bay Bridge.

Foutz said it does not meet the requirement for servicing Low Mod Income areas (since entire counties are used, not parts of counties), but noted it is an urgent need project and the General Land Office (GLO), which administers the funds, is keenly aware of the need for such a system.

If awarded, the grant requires a 1% match, or approximately $478,404. The projected amounts included entities will pay are Aransas County, $288,404; City of Rockport, $100,000; Victoria County, $25,000; Refugio County, $15,000; San Patricio County, $25,000; and Nueces County, $25,000.

Foutz noted Nueces and San Patricio counties are working on their own “loop” systems in their areas, which could be funded with future mitigation funding, and eventually tied into the system.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” she said.

Commissioner Charles Smith asked if the project has been engineered, and what happens if the cost estimate is low.

Foutz noted the number is only an estimate, and other funding sources will have to be found if the matching amounts are higher.

Commissioner Jack Chaney asked what the fiber optic loop (actually only loops in Aransas County, connecting different entities) will provide the county above what it can already do.

“We had no communication for nine hours (after Harvey),” said County Judge C.H. “Burt” Mills. “We don’t want to do that again.”

In addition to providing “hard” connections between communication towers, the fiber optic loop will all but guarantee communication is not interrupted.

Aransas County Sheriff Bill Mills talked about some of the issues local law enforcement agencies had talking to one another, as well as to agencies that came to Aransas County to help in Harvey’s aftermath.

“In a disaster, you have to be able to talk to anybody,” he said. “This fiber optic loop will tie everything together, hard-wired.”

Whitson said the system will provide “two points out to the Internet”, adding, “There’s practically no way (for it) to fail.”

Casterline asked what entity will be in charge of maintenance, administration, etc. of the system once it’s in place.

Foutz said everything will be hammered out via intergovernmental agreements, but Aransas County is the lead county/applicant.

The interlocal agreement will address maintenance, operation, and ownership, and all legal matters, such as indemnity, warranty, and immunity.

Whitson noted any excess space on the line could possibly be leased to other entities/groups.

Commissioner Wendy Laubach asked where the county will get its matching funds.

Foutz said money for “administration”, which is included in the grant application, will also cover the county’s match.

Chaney asked what the burden on county employees will be once the system is up and running.

The county recently received funds from the GLO for a study to help determine breakdown in costs/responsibilities.

“Ideally, we would have wanted the study to already be done, but the GLO didn’t give us the money until recently,” said Whitson.

He noted the possibility of additional revenue by leasing available space on the system.

County IT Director Collin Jackson noted the monthly fees from Spectrum and AT&T will go away once the fiber optic loop is in place.

Foutz said the LTRT would come back to the court once the study is completed and additional information is available.

Chaney said a government entity needs to be in control of the system.

“I’d have heartburn if a private company is in charge,” he said.

Whitson said the county will own it.

A brief discussion followed about what exactly the commissioners were being asked to approve.

“What we’re suggesting is that (partnering) entities adopt the interlocal agreement, contingent upon approval of each entity’s legal team,” said Foutz.

“I just want to see it (again) before final approval,” said Laubach.

The court then approved an Intergovernmental Agreement between Aransas, Nueces, Refugio, San Patricio and Victoria counties, and the City of Rockport for the purpose of submitting a multi-jurisdictional Community Development Block Grant – Mitigation (CDBG-MIT) grant application to construct a fiber optic loop communication system.

Three single entity projects

Foutz then outlined the three projects for which the county will go at it alone, including Ruby Allen drainage, Newcomb Point shoreline preservation, and Fulton Beach Road elevation and beach nourishment.

The Ruby Allen project is estimated at $21,360,944 with a 1% match ($215,767). The match would come from the county’s drainage fund.

The project will include a stormwater system with 24” and 60” pipe, and concrete slope; pavement and curbing in designated areas; a 10” water line and fire hydrants; various sized sewer lines, and two lift stations.

The primary improvements are bound by W. Corpus Christi, 12th, San Antonio, and Hardee streets.

The project area is broken into two parts. One was about 62% LMI, and the other has about 89% LMI. This project will score well on the application based on servicing a high LMI area.

The Newcomb Point project’s goal is to stabilize the shoreline using offshore breakwaters to protect upland habitat while creating new marine habitat.

It is estimated to cost $6,325,728 with a 1% match ($63,257). The match would come from GoMesaFund, or from bonds to be decided in the Nov. 3 election.

County Project Manager John Strothman said the county is working with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department because they control the project area.

“Nobody lives there. It’s in front of the point,” said Strothman. “We want to save the point. By saving the point, you save the habitat.”

The project area is about 59% LMI.

The Fulton Beach Road project does not include any of the area included in the recent proposed FBR project, which was rejected by property owners.

It includes a one-mile living breakwater reef, raising the roadway one foot, and drainage improvements.

The project area is between Beachwood and the Fulton town limits.

It is estimated to cost $5,432,934 with a 1% match ($54,329). The match would come from GoMesaFund, or from bonds to be decided in the Nov. 3 election.

After hearing the report about the three projects, the court unanimously approved three additional items, including:

• An amendment to the Aransas County Citizen Participation Plan for GLO CDBG-MIT Program and COVID CARES Act Provisions. Precinct 3 Commissioner-elect Pat Rousseau encouraged the court to offer public hearings, considering recent outcry from the public about not having the opportunity to voice their opinion.

• Authorizing Judge Mills to sign an Affidavit of Public Notice Posting for Community Development and Revitalization of the GLO. Aransas County will submit four CDBG-MIT applications pursuant to Resolution #R-39-2020 to the GLO. This Affidavit of Public Notice will be posted on the County’s website and the bulletin board in the main lobby of the Aransas County Courthouse from October 5-18.

• Resolution #R-39-2020, a Resolution authorizing the submission of a CDBG-MIT application to the GLO and authorizing Judge Mills to act as the county’s executive officer and authorized representative in all matters pertaining to the county’s participation in the CDBG-MIT Program, contingent upon any comments that may be received during the 14 day comment period ending Oct. 18.

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