Aransas County Commissioners held a public hearing Monday, Oct. 19 regarding Aransas County’s application for Community Development Block Grant – Mitigation (CDBG-MIT) projects, including one partnership project, and three single-entity projects.
A fiber optic loop is a proposed project with five other entities.
The three single-entity projects are Ruby Allen drainage, Newcomb Point shoreline preservation, and Fulton Beach Road (FBR) elevation and beach nourishment.
Long Term Recovery Team members Kim Foutz and William Whitson presented an overview of the projects, prior to hearing comments from the public.
(Note: Foutz and Whitson provided details about the projects at the commissioners’ Sept. 28 regular meeting. There was a lengthy report published in the Sept. 30 edition of this newspaper.)
The federal government (HUD) allocated $4.3 billion in CDBG-MIT funding to Texas, disbursed in 11 programs, three of which are competitive.
This round, in which the aforementioned four projects are being entered, has $1 billion in funding allocated. Projects can range between $3 million and $100 million.
Applications are due Oct. 28.
Foutz noted the four projects for which Aransas County is applying for funding, total a little more than $80 million, including almost $48 million for the fiber optic loop, which is labeled an “urgent need”.
Fiber optic loop
The fiber optic loop is a proposed project with five other entities. It has been a priority project since Hurricane Harvey, when communications were down for an extended period of time.
It includes 150 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.
It does not meet the requirement for servicing Low Mod Income (LMI) areas, but it is an urgent need project and the General Land Office, which administers the funds, knows there is a 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, $313,404; City of Rockport, $100,000; Victoria County, $25,000; Refugio County, $15,000; and San Patricio County, $25,000.
(Note: Nueces County was originally included in the application, but chose not to be named as an applicant. It will still provide $25,000 to Aransas County to use as part of the county’s match, hence, Aransas County’s share of the match was increased $25,000 more than what was published in the Sept. 30 edition of this newspaper.)
The application notes it will benefit almost 552,000 people.
Three single entity projects
The three projects, for which the county will go at it alone, include 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 application notes 5,350 beneficiaries, with 3,535 (66.07%) being LMI beneficiaries.
The Newcomb Point project’s goal is to stabilize the shoreline using offshore breakwaters to protect upland habitat while creating new marine habitat. The shoreline in that area has eroded up to nine feet per year the last 10 years.
It is estimated to cost $6,325,728 with a 1% match ($63,257). The match would come from GoMesaFund, from bonds to be decided in the Nov. 3 election, or another source.
The application notes 648 beneficiaries, with 384 (59.34%) being LMI beneficiaries.
(Fulton Beach Road)
The FBR project does not include any of the areas included in the recent proposed FBR project (further south on FBR), 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, from bonds to be decided in the Nov. 3 election, or another source.
The application notes 3,070 beneficiaries, with 1,659 (54.04%) being LMI beneficiaries.
It was noted the county will learn if it receives any of the grants in the next three to five months. If the funds are granted, work will not commence until probably 2022.
Commissioner Charles Smith asked if the cost estimates are solid.
Foutz said the county contracted with Tetra Tech, and its engineers provided the estimated costs.
Whitson noted if the costs are higher, for any reason, then the projects will be scaled back.
Foutz said the county is seeking only one partnership grant (fiber optic loop), and three single-entity grants (Ruby Allen, Newcomb Point, Fulton Beach Road). The county was eligible to seek funding for three partnership grants and three single-entity grants, and chose to seek only one partnership grant, due in part to its size, and need.
Foutz noted the fiber optic loop and Ruby Allen project have the best chance of being funded, based on grant scoring.
Commissioner Bubba Casterline asked if the general public will be able to tie into the fiber optic loop if it is installed.
Whitson said a study about that will be completed by the end of this month.
“Our hope is that the general public could tie in and benefit the private sector,” he said.
Commissioner Jack Chaney asked if easements for the fiber optic loop are secured.
Whitson said all work will be performed in existing rights of way.
Several commissioners then asked for more detailed drawings showing where the line will actually run.
Casterline noted the Ruby Allen project will also provide many people with access to sewer.
County Engineer David Reid said none of the drainage included in the Ruby Allen project will end up in Little Bay.
“All of this is south of Corpus Christi Street,” he said.
One resident questioned the number of people using FBR as outlined in the application, which made her question the validity of other figures used in the applications. The same woman opposed the Newcomb Point project because it was too similar to a previous FBR project, which was rejected by property owners.
Pct. 3 Commissioner-elect Pat Roseau asked for more information about how LMI numbers are defined.
Tetra Tech’s Gina Behnfeldt, speaking remotely, said LMI is defined by HUD, and is determined by individual Census tracts.
“If there is one beneficiary in a Census tract, then the entire tract is included,” she said.
Behnfeldt noted that information is available on the website, but one has to “drill down” to get to it.
John Jackson said the fiber optic loop will provide Aransas County with a competitive advantage, affecting economic growth.
Jeff Hutt said he has a hard time hearing (federal) taxpayers are paying for this (fiber optic loop) and then “we pay more to a third party to use it (as individuals).”
Aransas County Sheriff Bill Mills noted after Hurricane Harvey the county initially looked at just connecting local government buildings, law enforcement, etc. in the county with a fiber optic line.
“When we saw the opportunity to expand to connect to five surrounding areas, the benefits expanded exponentially,” said Mills. “If we get this, I can’t imagine an event that could keep us from communicating.
“We were incredibly limited in communications after Harvey. All the different entities couldn’t communicate with each other.”
The sheriff said he never envisioned something like the proposed fiber optic loop.
“It will be so much better,” he said.
Citizen comments about the four projects can be made at CDBG-MIT@aransascounty.org, or by calling (361) 790-9496.