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In League City, regional solution needed for drainage

LEAGUE CITY

Improving drainage in neighborhoods will depend as much on regional flood-control plans as it will on smaller, local fixes, League City officials said.

Residents want both. Marika Fuller, who lives in the Bayridge neighborhood, also wants work that was planned years ago to be done before the next flood, she said.

“We need Gum Bayou to be dredged, deepened and widened all the way from highway 96 down to Dickinson Bayou, not just the section south of FM 646,” Fuller said.

Hurricane Harvey hit Galveston County on Aug. 25, 2017, and over four days dumped 50 inches of rain, overwhelming drainage systems and flooding 7,700 homes in League City.

Widening ditches, installing pumps and building berms will correct some problems in particular neighborhoods and can be done sooner than larger projects, but improving the entire Dickinson Bayou watershed will require working with other cities, the county and the state, officials said.

“Floodwaters come down Dickinson Bayou and Clear Creek from way up in Houston,” Mayor Pat Hallisey said.

Working with Galveston, Harris and other counties is necessary to prevent flooding in the future, he said. Working with the state and the federal governments also is necessary, he said.

Some proposed projects are simply too big for League City to manage alone, Hallisey said.

At one extreme is a $5.8 billion coastal spine that League City officials believe they need to survive a future storm surge in Galveston Bay. The proposed spine would include a massive gate that during hurricanes or other threatening tidal events would close off the mouth of Galveston Bay, about 25 miles south of League City.

Meanwhile, residents are looking for hyperlocal solutions to drainage problems on their block.

SIX STUDIES

City officials are compiling a comprehensive drainage program based in part on six specific area studies from four engineering firms, Assistant City Manager Bo Bass said.

The city already has presented preliminary engineering reports to two neighborhoods, Bayridge and Oaks at Clear Creek.

The next two public meetings about specific area drainage studies will address the Bay Colony neighborhood and how it drains into Magnolia Creek and Bordens Gully and also the Dove Meadows and Meadows neighborhoods and how they drain into Robinson Bayou.

Two other studies will address the Hidden Oaks neighborhood and how it drains into Kelly’s Ditch and Clear Creek and also the Landing, Rustic Oaks and Countryside neighborhoods and how they drain into Magnolia Creek and Landing Ditch.

The Dickinson Bayou watershed is a huge concern for League City, officials said.

A large part of Oaks of Clear Creek drains to the south to Bradshaw Ditch, then into Benson’s Bayou, which in turn drains to Dickinson Bayou.

Bayridge drains into Gum Bayou which also drains into Dickinson Bayou.

FIXING GUM BAYOU

Plans to improve Gum Bayou farther south won’t help Bayridge this coming hurricane season, Fuller said.

“Clearing and de-snagging south of FM 646 will mainly help Mar Bella, Hidden Lakes, Whispering Lakes and the future Quail Pointe,” Fuller said. “The point is that starting that far down in Gum Bayou will not benefit us to near the same extent as it will benefit all the other neighborhoods.”

Galveston County already is working on improving Gum Bayou using Federal Emergency Management Funds allocated after Hurricane Ike for flood mitigation. Ike hit Galveston County in 2008.

“Flood control is coming,” Galveston County Commissioner Ken Clark, who represents the area, said. “We are working with city administrations to figure out how we can make drainage improvements that benefit the entire region.”

For three years, the county’s engineering department has attempted to secure land along Gum Bayou south of FM 646 and south of 20th Street in an unincorporated area near Dickinson, County Engineer Michael Shannon said. The project will widen the bayou and slope its banks in an area affecting about 9,800 people, Shannon said.

The effort is among Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery projects approved after Hurricane Ike, according to county documents. The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development allocated about $3.2 million toward the project, which was administered through the state’s general land office, according to documents.

The aim is to widen the banks along part of Gum Bayou, a tributary of Dickinson Bayou, to push more water through more quickly during heavy rains to prevent flooding, Shannon said.

The six engineering studies will help city officials decide how to prioritize projects and decide which ones will have the most bang for the buck, City Manager John Baumgartner said. He and his staff will fine-tune their criteria to determine an order of magnitude for drainage and flood-control projects, he said.

“It’s a multi-million-dollar decision,” Baumgartner said.

The resulting program that comes out of that prioritizing will include suggestions on funding sources, Bass said. It will take a combination of state and federal help to find money to pay for the drainage needed, he said.

“We’re going to turn over every rock we can find,” Bass said.


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Tall ships sail into Galveston for weekend festival

GALVESTON

Five tall ships will sail to the island and join the Elissa this week for the first leg of a festival series organizers expected to attract more than 60,000 visitors.

Galveston is the first of three ports hosting the Tall Ships Challenge this month, the first tall ship series held in the Gulf of Mexico. After leaving Galveston on April 9, the ships will sail to Pensacola, Fla., from April 12-15 and then to New Orleans from April 19-22.

The Oliver Hazard Perry, a 200-foot ship with 20 sails, was docked Wednesday alongside the Elissa at Pier 22 preparing for the festival. The ship, completed in 2015, is the first ocean-going, full-rigged ship to be built in the United States in more than 100 years, Galveston Historical Foundation officials said.

The Elissa is participating as one of the oldest ships of its kind still sailing. The Galveston Historical Foundation brought the Elissa, an 1877 square-rigged iron barque, from a harbor in Greece to Galveston to begin restoration in 1978. That renovation was completed by foundation staff and volunteers in 1982 and the ship has been maintained and actively sailing since then, according to the foundation.

Four other tall ships were expected to arrive this morning, said Will Wright, director of communication and special events at the Galveston Historical Foundation. The foundation anticipated having more than 60,000 festival visitors, he said.

“The response to this has been amazing,” Wright said. “If it goes well, we’re hoping to host it every three years.”

The foundation is hosting the festival in a partnership with Tall Ships America and has organized a series of events throughout the festival, including tall ship harbor tours, a parade of tall ships off the Gulf-side of the island and a sunset party on one of the ships.

Businesses along the seawall were advertising tall ship parade viewing parties to catch glimpses of the sailing ships today offshore.

The main area of the festival will be from 20th to 22nd streets from Harborside Drive to the water, Wright said. Festivalgoers can visit the ships in port within those bounds at Pier 21 and Pier 22, he said.

Each ship has its own education program and mission, which the individual crews will be sharing with visitors, according to the foundation.

“It’s a rare opportunity to step aboard a historic tall ship and learn about our maritime history,” said Dwayne Jones, CEO of the foundation.

Sailing conditions Wednesday looked favorable, if they stayed the same through today, said James Andrews, director of operations for the Galveston–Texas City Pilots Association. Pilots were guiding in the two foreign-flagged vessels, as required by law, he said.

“The winds should give them ships a chance to get moving and stretch their legs a bit,” Andrews said.


Sophia Loren


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Planning commission takes up land-use revisions

GALVESTON

The planning commission this week started working through the Galveston Regional Chamber of Commerce’s recommendations on a long list of proposed changes to the city’s land-use development rules — a document dictating terms about how isle homeowners and businesses use and develop their properties.

In a Tuesday meeting, the commission made it through about 12 of more than 35 proposals from outside stakeholders who had weighed in with recommendations or comments. Proposals that didn’t have comments from the chamber or general public but had already been hashed out by the commission will go before the city council later this month.

Those include a recommendation to allow a new zoning district called “neighborhood services.” The new designation would allow a person seeking to open a business in an area that abuts a residential neighborhood and commercial zone to apply for a zoning designation other than commercial or resort, which are the current options, Mayor pro tem Terrilyn Tarlton-Shannon said.

The planning commission will eventually send the other proposals to the city council for a vote after deciding whether to adopt the recommendations, keep the originals or adopt compromises, officials said.

In some cases, the planning commission agreed on the chamber’s recommendations. In others, it kept its original proposals and in some it asked for more information about what changes were being requested.

For example, the planning commission had originally proposed allowing planned unit developments on properties of at least 20,000 square feet, or about half an acre. The chamber had proposed allowing planned unit developments on 5,000 square feet, the size of a typical Galveston lot, according to the planning department.

Planned unit developments are designations used to approve projects that might not otherwise meet all the land-use development regulations, according to the city. They’re meant to allow flexibility in development standards that are approved for specific uses on specific sites.

The city has passed nine PUDs for projects, including Galveston College’s new residential housing, Tarlton-Shannon said.

“In the majority of the comments we received from different owners, they’d like this to be used as a vehicle to develop their property,” said John Rocky Sullivan, co-chair of the Galveston Regional Chamber of Commerce’s subcommittee studying the proposals.

The Galveston College lot size was smaller and the residential housing wouldn’t have been possible under the new rules as proposed, said Tarlton-Shannon, who also co-chaired the chamber committee.

“It’s a wonderful technique to be able to have and to continue,” she said. “I think a half acre would prevent us from being able to do Galveston College, Jack in the Box, some others.”

The commission settled on 10,000 square feet, or about the size of two lots, it said. Smaller lots could allow too much variance, said Tim Tietjens, director of planning for the city.

In another case, the planning commission stuck to an original proposal allowing no more than one “accessory dwelling,” such as a garage apartment, in single-family residential-zoned areas. The chamber committee had recommended allowing more than one, according to planning documents.

The commission also kept its recommendation for barring duplexes in area’s zoned R-1, or single-family residential. The chamber had recommended allowing duplexes in those districts. Many people already have converted homes into duplexes, Tarlton-Shannon said. The commission’s consensus was to maintain the prohibition.

“We don’t need more, we’ve got plenty of converted homes already,” said Bruce Reinhart, chairman of the planning commission. “This would encourage people doing it.”

The commission also declined to adopt a chamber recommendation to allow condominium properties in R-2 zoned areas, which allow some types of multifamily residences, according to the planning department. Members generally had concerns about parking and high density on small lots, they said.

The commission hasn’t officially voted on the changes yet.

The city’s planning department has been working with designers, residents and other stakeholders on additional refining of the document for two years after city council in March 2015 voted to approve an overhaul of the document. The document hadn’t previously been fully revised since 1991.

The planning commission voted to approve those changes in October after a series of public hearings and workshops beginning in June. The chamber’s subcommittee asked for more time to review and make recommendations to the plan.

The chamber put out calls for comments from its more than 600 members, Sullivan said. A group of about 10 met frequently to go through the document line by line and give input, he said. The group also met with planning staff weekly to go over the recommendations, Sullivan said.

“We had certain people who had specific projects that needed things changed, needed them done,” Sullivan said. “We had people who were just well-intentioned citizens who wanted to see something changed.”

The committee had taken comments from dozens of isle business owners and homeowners to come up with its recommendations, he said.

“We want to get this document pro-neighborhood and pro-business,” Sullivan said.

Kathy Matteson, an isle homeowner near the Galveston Yacht Basin, questioned during the meeting whether Sullivan’s involvement in the process presented a conflict of interest because of future development plans for his business.

Neighbors, including two present at the meeting, have said they worry Sullivan could advocate for land-use development changes that could affect future development of the yacht basin, such as the possible development of an RV park in the basin’s parking lot or potential industrial development on the property.

The yacht basin has not submitted plans to have an RV park and has better uses for the property, Sullivan said at the meeting. The owners had purchased the property to develop it within the permissible uses in city, state and federal laws, he said.

“We want to be good owners and neighbors,” Sullivan said. “It does us no good to devalue anyone’s property but we also don’t want to have our property rights infringed upon.”

The commission is next scheduled to meet April 17 to go through more of the proposals that the chamber and public have commented on, according to the city.


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Friendswood denied $12M for buyout of flooded homes

FRIENDSWOOD

The city of Friendswood won’t get a $12 million flood mitigation grant that would have allowed it to offer buyouts to owners of 44 properties that have repeatedly flooded, leaving officials to search for new options and homeowners in limbo, city officials said.

City officials weren’t given an official reason why their application was denied, Assistant City Manager Morad Kabiri said.

But it’s likely that Friendswood’s buyout plan was too expensive, Kabiri said.

“The only local city, aside from the city of Houston, that got buyout dollars through the Texas Water Development Program was the city of Nassau Bay,” he said. “They were seeking $1.3 million worth of federal funds.

“Ours was seeking $12 million in federal funds. And the pot to start was $90 million nationwide. My assumption was that we were asking for too much.”

The city in November filed an application with the Texas Water Development Board for the grant.

Although buyout programs are funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, they’re administered by the state through the Texas Division of Emergency Management, FEMA spokesman Earl Armstrong said.

Texas Division of Emergency Management representatives on Wednesday did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The city knew of 86 properties that had flooded both during Harvey, which in late August 2017 caused extreme flooding on the mainland and in Houston, and during other storms, Kabiri told the city council in October 2017.

Only 44 of them met the detailed requirements for the grant, however, city staff members said. Under the grant, the city would buy the properties, the owners would vacate and no one would be allowed to build new structures on the sites.

Seven of the 44 properties were considered severe repetitive losses, while the other 37 are repetitive losses, City Manager Roger Roecker said.

The city is frustrated that the grant wasn’t approved, Councilman Steve Rockey said.

“It’s an outrage,” he said. “They elected to fund none of them in Friendswood.”

Friendswood officials estimate the damage from Harvey to be near $82.7 million citywide.

Friendswood officials report that Harvey flooded or damaged 2,711 houses to varying degrees. Of those homes, 2,410 were single-family residences while 301 were in multifamily units, city officials said.

The city of Friendswood is contemplating other funding options, Rockey said.

On Monday, city council members approved the hiring of Jeffery Ward, a consultant who will help the city with drainage improvement projects and with seeking assistance through state and local programs, Rockey said.

“Several months ago, we realized that due to Harvey, there’s a lot of things we’ve got to do,” he said. “We have to look at grant programs, state programs, local programs. We also have to look at engineering things that could help us.”

A consultant is the city’s best alternative at the moment, Rockey said.

“I like the idea that we are bringing in a specialist on this,” he said. “We don’t have the resources in house.”

Homeowners still reeling from the effects of Harvey are forced in a limbo when grant applications are rejected, City Councilman Carl Gustafson said.

“It is leaving homeowners stuck,” he said. “The pool of money that was available was only like $90 million. We were asking for $12 million. It might not have been the right program to help out our particular needs.”


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Tariffs affecting paper supply, Daily News production

A dramatic shortage of newsprint supply and the increasingly extreme volatility of pricing is leading to changes at The Daily News.

Recent tariffs introduced by the U.S. Commerce Department — duties as high as 32 percent — are already presenting dramatic changes in both the supply and price of newsprint and other paper products. Many newspapers across the nation are currently finding supplies short and prices spiking. The Daily News is not alone.

And as reported previously, this current situation is the result of a single New York-based hedge fund driving these tariffs forward on behalf of one paper mill — its sole investment in the paper industry. The vast majority of paper producers, investors and consumers — more than 60 groups — are actively fighting against the recently imposed rules. The level and effect of the recently imposed duties are historic in nature.

The two largest line items at The Daily News are people and paper — both extremely valuable and integral to the success of the newspaper in serving the more than 45,000 daily print readers. But in response to such drastic changes in the newsprint market, we will need to make changes to navigate this period of great disruption.

A few items you may notice include a reduction in pages in effort to conserve newsprint supplies. Also, you may notice features or sections occasionally moving to different locations throughout the newspaper. Additionally, certain daily features may appear with a different frequency. In the end, however, the key and core items will remain as before.

Please know we will be making decisions with the goal of protecting our commitment to deliver the best locally generated news and information to subscribers and readers. Some changes may be more evident than others, but we hope in balance you will continue to both subscribe and read The Daily News. Your support is as important now as ever.


Leonard Woolsey