Some Galveston County residents will have to rebuild Hurricane Harvey-flooded homes to higher standards, and soon they will get this news as Federal Emergency Management Agency officials complete damage surveys.
In League City, 58 homes fall in this category, building official Bob Kinsey said Friday.
The city is enforcing strict ordinances on where property owners can build and how they do it, or else the city can become ineligible to participate in the National Flood Insurance Program, officials said.
If a city or other community doesn’t participate in the program, residents who live inside the boundaries can’t get National Flood Insurance and have to turn to private insurers for coverage, a FEMA representative said.
“No law requires that they participate,” FEMA spokesman John Miles said Friday. “If they do participate, they have to have ordinances that meet standards, and they have to enforce them.”
The intent is to keep people from building in hazardous places, Miles said. Depending on where the property is, the remedy might be to build an elevated structure or to demolish an existing one, he said.
“Telling people they can’t build the way they want to can be upsetting,” Miles said.
Kinsey also is aware of that, and he is already expecting complaints to his office and to elected officials, he said.
The National Flood Insurance Program had 90,000 claims in Texas after Hurricane Harvey, and the program has paid 55 percent of them at a total cost of $5 billion, Miles said.
“The average claim is $95,000,” he said. “Smaller claims get paid quicker.”
FEMA’s preliminary assessments identified 1,165 properties in League City that might be substantially damaged, Kinsey said.
After FEMA representatives inspected these properties, the agency confirmed that out of the 1,165 properties, 274 had a percentage of damage. Of those, 216 properties had less than 50 percent overall damage to the property, but the other 58 had 50 percent or more overall damage, Kinsey said.
The benefits of participating in the National Flood Insurance Program is more than just flood insurance coverage, Kinsey said. It also includes opportunities for grants and loans, disaster assistance and federally backed mortgages.
The program has a built-in mechanism to mitigate structures in the floodplain, Kinsey said.
“It is called substantial damage, or more commonly known as the 50-percent rule,” Kinsey said. “It will help end the damage cycle of build-flood, build-flood, build-flood.”
Substantial damage means damage to a structure that results in the cost of restoring the structure to its previous condition equaling or exceeding 50 percent of the market value of the structure before the damage occurred, Kinsey said.
When the cost of the work reaches 50 percent, the structure must be brought into compliance with current ordinances and codes, he said.
At the federal level, the program identifies risks with floodplain maps. This is starting to include maps of entire watersheds rather than isolated communities, Miles said.
The program’s federal staff members also come up with the building standards that later become city ordinances once city councils or other official bodies adopt them. Federal employees also can assist and advise cities, Miles said.
At the community level, local officials and floodplain administrators adopt and enforce floodplain management ordinances that comply with federal and state laws, Kinsey said. As a building official and a floodplain administrator, Kinsey can allow or deny development in League City.
Only one business fell into the substantial-damage category in League City, and that business was an apartment complex, Kinsey said.
The 50-percent rule applies to business, also, Miles said.
Flood mitigation for a business can be different, however, both Kinsey and Miles said. A business at which no one sleeps at night might have less strict guidelines depending on where it is located, Miles said.
Kinsey is sending letters to property owners to notify them of substantial damage or non-substantial damage, he said.
He and his staff members are documenting substantial damage in the city’s permit system to make sure all departments are on the same page when property owners seek permission to build or make improvements.
Kinsey’s office also will provide advice to the 58 owners of substantially damaged properties on their options for elevation, relocation or demolition, he said.
At the same time, the city will encourage those property owners not in the substantial damage group to consider ways to mitigate flood damage. The city would still allow permits to rebuild under those circumstances, Kinsey said.
And the property owners can appeal either the substantial damage determination for repair costs or for the market value, he said.
“Harvey was one-third larger than Katrina,” Miles said. “Private insurance is not lining up for this risk.”
Texas leaders say they want a coastal barrier to protect the Houston and Galveston areas from a massively damaging hurricane, and have increasingly called for Washington’s support for what could be one of the largest and most expensive public works project in U.S. history.
But a federal study being conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — one that offers the clearest path to a coastal barrier plan being approved — is analyzing versions of coastal barriers that differ significantly from the way the project is typically described and marketed.
At a presentation to the Texas Legislature’s Joint Committee on a Coastal Barrier System in October, Army Corps officials provided an update on a $19 million Coastal Protection and Restoration study, and showed a slide that presented four different alternatives to the coastal barrier.
The first alternative is familiar to people who’ve followed surge-mitigation plans for years, with a barrier running along the length of Galveston Island and the Bolivar Peninsula. The three other alternatives the Army Corps presented show barriers built farther in the interior of Galveston Bay, including one that starts near Texas City and another “nonstructural” alternative that runs along the perimeter of Galveston Bay.
All four proposals include a ring levee around the more-populated east side of Galveston Island, with a flood gate across the mouth of Offatts Bayou. Three of the four alternatives put no barrier on Galveston’s West End.
The drawings, part of an extensive study being conducted by the corps, offer different versions of what a coastal barrier system might look like and differ from plans that have been widely promoted since Hurricane Harvey spurred more talk about hurricane protection in the Houston region.
Kelly Burks-Copes, a project manager with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said all of the proposals are considered equal now and a final recommendation is still months away.
“We’re in the middle of sausage-making,” Burks-Copes said. “Some of it is still being adjusted as we learn more information.”
The different alternatives are being judged on how feasible they are, their cost-effectiveness and their potential environmental consequences, she said.
Conversations about ring levees and inner-bay barriers have come up before, and have raised concerns from some people about being left outside of whatever protective barrier is ultimately built.
When the Gulf Coast Community Protection and Recovery District received public comments on its proposal in 2016, a design that called for levees along FM 2004 drew skepticism, because it would have left some communities between the wall and Galveston Bay.
That proposal was not the one the recovery district chose when it released its recommendation later in the year. The report recommended a coastal barrier, ring levee and a flood gate near Clear Lake.
Since the recovery district’s report was released in June 2016, local and state support for a barrier along the coast has coalesced.
The Texas General Land Office in April asked the Trump administration to support funding of the coastal barrier system. Land Commissioner George P. Bush has said he supports a plan that calls for a barrier on Galveston Island as opposed to farther up the bay.
That barrier was one of the dozens of projects, costing a proposed $61 billion, the state of Texas in October asked federal officials to fund with Hurricane Harvey recovery money.
While all four of corps’ alternatives call for a ring levee around parts of Galveston Island, they don’t specify exactly how the barrier might be built — a berm, for example or something more like a wall — or fine details about where exactly the barrier would be placed.
It’s unclear, for instance, whether a coastal barrier would be built immediately adjacent to highways along the coast, which some have suggested would be more affordable, or along the dune line, which would potentially protect more beach front homes.
Brittany Eck, a spokeswoman for the land office, said the agency had not yet recommended such specific details. The land office, which is helping pay for the corps’ study, will name a “locally preferred plan” eventually, Eck said. If that doesn’t match what the corps’ recommends, the state will be required to pay for the cost of the difference.
But the land office is not making its official preference known until the corps study is complete.
“It’s really impossible to state what you prefer,” Eck said. “At this time, the General Land Office doesn’t have an opinion, we’re just supporting the corps process.”
The Army Corps’ tentatively selected plan will be released some time around May 2018, Burks-Copes said. That release will be followed by a series of public hearings to gather input on the project.
Congress would have to approve whatever plan the corps recommends before the project could get underway.
Even after a plan is determined from among the alternatives, many details would remain to be worked out. Only about 10 percent of the engineering work will have been completed by the time a plan is chosen, for example, Burks-Copes said.
“Once the plan is selected and authorized, we do detailed engineering and design,” Burks-Copes said. “The alignments could shift slightly then, too.”
The number of young children enrolled in programs to help with disabilities and developmental delays has decreased in the past five years along the Texas Gulf Coast, despite the area’s increased population, according to a new report.
The report, by Texans Care for Children, a children’s advocacy group, said the number of children receiving early childhood intervention care in 10 Houston-area counties, including Galveston, has decreased by 21 percent since 2011.
The report puts part of the blame for the reduced service on state funding cuts to intervention programs since 2011.
“It’s heartbreaking to know that children are missing these opportunities due to state cuts,” said Stephanie Rubin, the CEO of Texans Care for Children.
Early Childhood Intervention programs help families learn to cope with children who have autism, speech delays, Down syndrome or other disabilities. State funding for such programs have fallen from $166 million in the 2011 fiscal year to $148 million in 2018.
The number of Galveston County children enrolled in Early Childhood Intervention programs actually grew by 7 percent over the past five years, according to the report, from 487 children in 2011 to 519 in 2016. But the numbers don’t reflect recent local changes to how the service is provided in Galveston County.
In May, the University of Texas Medical Branch announced it would no longer participate in the state-funded Early Childhood Intervention program. Officials cited state restrictions on which patients were eligible for the program and a decrease in reimbursements from the state as reasons for leaving the program.
The funding constraints caused high staff turnover at the medical branch, which led to the decision to leave the program, according to the report.
High turnover can make intervention programs less effective, according to the report.
“The difficulty maintaining adequate staff makes it harder for contractors to meet the cultural and linguistic needs of families,” according to the report.
At the time it closed, the 300 children served by the Galveston-based program were transferred to a different contractor in Beaumont, about 80 miles away.
The medical branch was the fourth Early Childhood Intervention program in the Houston-area to drop out of the state-funded program since 2009.
Rubin said it’s possible that with the closure of the Galveston program, some families may have lost the services they had been receiving.
“There are kids and families that fall through the cracks during the transition,” Rubin said. “Families don’t know there’s a new provider or pediatricians aren’t sure where to refer and that ends up putting downward pressure on access.”
When the medical branch announced its departure from the state Early Childhood Intervention program, officials said they would start their own version of the program.
That program began in November, said Dr. Oscar Brown, a professor and the vice chair for Clinical Affairs in the medical branch’s pediatrics department, and has already had more than 70 children referred to it.
The medical branch’s program, known as Kids Launch, is open to children that might have qualified for the state Early Childhood Intervention program, including children up to age 7.
“We can operate on a more liberal criteria,” Brown said. “We’re going to have more that we can provide services to.”
For five days in November, Cindy Schulz didn’t receive her mail, she said.
She wasn’t the only one in her West End neighborhood. Nearly 10 others in a neighborhood Facebook group said the same happened to them.
“We were sort of up in arms,” Schulz said. “I’m not sure what’s going on with mail in Galveston.”
Several Campeche Cove residents, over the phone and on Facebook, said they received mail Nov. 20 and didn’t receive it again until Nov. 25.
The Galveston Post Office is working to address problems with service, said Kanickewa Johnson, a U.S. Postal Service strategic communications specialist.
“We sincerely apologize for any service issues that customers in the Campeche Cove community may have experienced,” Johnson said in an email. “Local postal management at the Galveston Post Office is taking steps to resolve any service issues brought to our attention.”
Some of the residents in Campeche Cove, which is off Cove View Boulevard, said they were aware staffing was an issue. Johnson confirmed that the service issues involved staffing.
“This includes making enhancements in our staffing,” Johnson said.
Still, other residents around the island have also complained of increased issues with the U.S. Postal Service, even if they are still receiving their mail.
District 2 Councilman Craig Brown, who represents the southeast end of the island, said he has heard an increase in complaints from constituents, even though Galveston City Council members can’t directly influence how mail is received.
“It’s been spotty for years,” Brown said. “It’s always been kind of up and down but never to the point where it seems it’s been in the last three or four months.”
Midtown resident Priscilla Files experienced issues with sending mail, she said. Invitations she sent took weeks to be received, Files said.
“It’s been interesting,” Files said. “I’m a little anxious to know if things I sent, like checks, made it.”
Other times, the mail carrier has missed a day or two of delivering mail, Files said.
“We’ve had two deliveries in a day or no deliveries at all, or all of a sudden, the mailbox will be jammed full,” Files said. “It’s been very erratic.”
Angela Crummett, who lives on the East End, said she had the same experience as Files. It has improved in the past several weeks, however, she said.
“The worst part was you never knew if you were going to get mail,” Crummett said. “But it has gotten better.”
More Galveston County school districts received less than perfect marks for their special education services in the recently released 2016-17 Texas Academic Performance Report.
Texas school districts are rated as “meets requirements,” “needs assistance,” “needs intervention” or “needs substantial intervention.”
About 1,006 school districts in Texas received the best rating, “meets requirements,” in the most recent ratings, compared to 1,023 in 2015-16, said DeEtta Culbertson, spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency.
But several area school districts fell short.
Texas City ISD received the second-most severe rating from the Texas Education Agency for its low passing rates on State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness tests for students in special education services.
Texas City ISD officials said they were concerned about how special education services are evaluated by the state education agency.
“The district has ongoing concerns that the state is testing students with disabilities on the same rigorous test as their non-disabled peers without sufficient supports to compensate for their identified disabilities,” Melissa Tortorici, spokeswoman for the district, said.
This is the second year in a row Texas City has been rated “needs intervention.”
Although Texas City was the only Galveston County school district rated “needs intervention,” several other districts were given “needs assistance” ratings.
Those districts included Dickinson, Santa Fe and Hitchcock.
Culbertson was not aware of any recent changes that would have made it harder for districts to receive “meets requirements” ratings for special education services, she said.
One Galveston County district made positive gains in the ratings, with Galveston ISD moving from “needs intervention” up to “meets requirements” in the most recent ratings.
“We credit our progress to the collective efforts of our teachers, special education staff, our campus administrators and our community partners,” said Paula Franklin, special education specialist with the district.
District officials also have emphasized programs to track student progress to personalize learning experiences in special education services, Franklin said.
Texas special education services in districts across the state have faced criticism in recent months because some critics assert there was an arbitrary cap instituted by the Texas Education Agency that limits the percentage of student population that can receive special education services at 8.5 percent.
Various school districts across the state have been accused of deliberately excluding students from receiving special education services as a means to reduce costs and meet the 8.5 percent target.
Criticism culminated with the U.S. Department of Education telling Texas officials to remove the target or show the policy has not prevented students from receiving special education services.
The Texas legislature in May approved Senate Bill 160, which Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law prohibiting the use of a cap for special education services.
The number of students receiving special education services has gone up by about 14,000 students from 2015-16 to 2016-17, according to Texas Education Agency data.