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City to vote on control of beach operations

By SAMANTHA KETTERER The Daily News ​ ​ ​

GALVESTON

Galveston City Council on Thursday will determine whether the city takes over maintenance and operations of most seawall beaches, a role long handled by the Park Board of Trustees.

The county, which owns the beach tracts, notified the park board in June that it was terminating agreements that allowed the park board to look after the beaches. Those properties are West End Pocket Parks 1 and 2, the seawall and Fort Crockett Park in the 4800 block of Seawall Boulevard.

The county has instead turned to the city to take over the maintenance, repairs, upkeep and operational expenses of the beaches in an effort to contract with one entity on the island, Galveston County Parks Director Julie Diaz said. The county already contracts with the city on the operations of Lee and Joe Jamail Bay Park on 61st Street on the island.

“The city of Galveston had some forward thinking options for operations and maintenance of those parks and the county decided that it was in the county’s and taxpayers’ best interest to have one entity operating the county park properties on Galveston Island,” Diaz said in a written statement.

The county’s agreements with the park board date back to 2004. One agreement let the park board charge people for entry into the pocket parks, and the other let the park board oversee rodent, graffiti and vegetation control on the seawall.

That second agreement also let the park board offset some costs by allowing concessionaires at Fort Crockett Park.

The new contract with the city would permit it to do all of those things, as well as maintain McAllis Point, Ostermayer Bayou and Pocket Parks 3 and 4.

The city wanted to take over operations of the properties so they would still be cared for on a local level, City Manager Brian Maxwell said.

“They’re better served being run here on the island,” Maxwell said. “We don’t want to lose local control of the parks.”

The contract, which will last 10 years starting Jan. 1, 2018, also lets the city charge the public for parking at each facility and allows it to operate its own concession stands or contract with third parties to operate concessions.

The city can also demolish the pavilion at Pocket Park 3, according to the contract. Improvements to the properties would be allowed, but it’s not an obligation. If revenues exist from concessions and parking, up to $15,000 a year can be used for improvements, the contract states.

“The parties desire and hope that revenues generated from beach pocket parks, Ft. Crockett, McAllis Point and Ostermayer Bayou are sufficient to construct new capital improvements,” the contract states.

The city has in recent years pushed to get beach entities under park board management. But the city will still contribute to the effective management of the parks, Mayor Jim Yarbrough said.

“I think the city ought to be the contracting partner on it,” Yarbrough said. “I still believe if it’s primarily a tourist or beach function, I haven’t changed my mind that the park board ought to be managing those.”

The proposed contract allows the city to subcontract with another entity, and Maxwell said that might be a good option.

“If the county doesn’t want to contract with the park board, that’s fine,” Maxwell said. “I may very well sub it right back to the park board through our other agreements.”

The park board would most likely support contracting for rodent, vegetation and graffiti control on the seawall as well as maintenance of Fort Crockett Park, park board Executive Director Kelly de Schaun said.

But the pocket parks still have facilities that were compromised during Hurricane Ike in 2008, and not much reinvestment has gone into those, de Schaun said.

“I think our board would be somewhat reluctant to manage the pocket parks,” de Schaun said. “They have not generally generated significant funding to cover operations.”

The park board once managed Pocket Park 3, but the county didn’t renew the board’s management agreement in 2016 and left the park untended, de Schaun has said.

The decision to terminate the park board’s agreement did come shortly after the park board requested that the county reimburse it for improvements it made to the pocket parks. In a letter sent to the county, the park board asked for the reimbursement and told the county the parks were losing money.

The park board paid for the improvements and expected for those to be reimbursed by FEMA money held by the county, de Schaun said.

The county reallocated almost $680,000 in FEMA grants to other projects Aug. 15, although de Schaun said the park board requested only a portion of that. The park board is not currently pursuing reimbursement, de Schaun said.

The contract approval is placed on a consent agenda, which is typically approved along with several other items unless the city council decides to pull items out for a separate vote. It was not discussed in workshop first, as often occurs for more controversial issues.

The city wants to sign the agreement first and then determine how the parks will be managed, Maxwell said.

“Once everything’s finalized with the county, we’ll sit down and see where we want to go,” Maxwell said. “In my mind, it probably ought to go back with the park board.”

The pocket parks are on the West End of the island. Pocket Park 1 is on San Luis Pass Road at 7 1/2 Mile Road, and Pocket Park 2 is at 11745 San Luis Pass Road. Pocket Park 3 is near FM 3005 at 11 Mile Road and Pocket Park 4 is near FM 3005 at 19 Mile Road.

Ostermayer Bayou is near FM 3005 at Indian Beach Drive, and McAllis Point is a marshy, undeveloped area on West Galveston Island.

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