Five years after Hurricane Ike, recovery in Galveston has been inconsistent.

The city has a long way to go in rebuilding its infrastructure. The University of Texas Medical Branch, meanwhile, is close to being done. That’s ironic, given that the medical branch seemed close to extinction after the storm. But, instead of dying, the medical branch is virtually rebuilt. It’s coming back better and stronger.

A lot of the city’s energy has been consumed in a fight over how to replace public housing units destroyed by the storm. Five years out, not a single public housing unit has been rebuilt, and infrastructure projects have been delayed.

You can see progress, but it’s uneven. Galveston’s tax base has recovered. Its population has not.

There are similar puzzles on the Bolivar Peninsula. A new sewer system is just now being built. That move, aided by federal dollars, will encourage development. But many properties that were wrecked by the storm were bought out, with federal dollars, on condition that they would be used only for green space. It’s a mixed message, with the federal government helping to rebuild of areas next door to lots that were too risky to be habitable.

In Galveston, there’s a sense of missed opportunities. After the storm, there was real hope that the city could be rebuilt in better, smarter way.

In the early days, a recovery committee of 300 people convened to re-imagine the city and to set goals. There were something like 80 goals, reflecting the varied interests in the community.

In cases where the goals were championed by strong leaders, progress has been made. Texas A&M Professor Bill Merrell has championed the Ike Dike, a massive structure to protect the bay from storms. Former City Councilwoman Jackie Cole has championed a plan to replant trees. Galveston College President Myles Shelton and college regents championed a vocational training center. Karla Klay of the Artist Boat championed an effort to acquire natural areas on the West End. But for every effort that has succeeded, two have been forgotten or abandoned.

When that vast committee was formed, it was assumed that the city’s leaders — especially those on the city council — would help focus the list of 80 goals and perhaps get to a consensus on the most important — those that the whole city could stand behind.

Instead, the city bogged down into the quagmire of that long quarrel over public housing.

What would help, going forward, is to try to regain that focus — to try to find the five goals, rather than 50, that the vast majority of islanders could get behind.

What would they be?

Here are a few suggestions:

• Build on the gains made by the Galveston school district. Get behind the system to make it exemplary. If the schools are excellent — and are recognized as being excellent — the lagging population might magically recover.

• Build on real economic opportunities by opening Pelican Island to development. That, of course, means new bridges.

• Build a business climate that lobbies constantly to make the island affordable to families and to businesses. That means controlling costs for insurance and taxes.

• Build a system that makes is easier to redevelop stressed and blighted properties. That presumes that the city can find a way to get those properties out of the hands of the old owners and into the hands of new.

• Build a system that protects the bay from storms.

There are more worthy goals, many more. But what’s needed, five years out, is not more challenges or new challenges, but some consensus on what Galveston most needs to be whole again.

• Heber Taylor


(2) comments

Susan Fennewald

I can’t see any agreement coming about in this fashion, based on your list.
-Improve schools. That sounds fine. But how? That is done incrementally by the school administration, and they do seem to be working on it. Apparently not by raising taxes or decreasing the poverty level of the students (since reducing public housing is considered off-the-table). It’s almost impossible for a school district with 80% of its students eligible for a free lunch to be “exemplary”.
-Build on economic opportunity by opening Pelican Island. – BUT Galveston already has more jobs than people. Why would making the city more industrial help us look like a good place to live? Now, if you gave free access to Seawolf park to residents, and put in a bike trail around the top of the dredge spoil levees along with a small park with restrooms and water and parking – that might make Galveston seem as if it cares about the quality of life here. But building a container terminal has never ever been on any community’s list of “ways to attract new residents”, though it has been on the list of things that scare new residents away.
-Build a business climate that lobbies for cheap insurance and low taxes. – Why does the business climate get the responsibility for cheap insurance and low taxes? More on this later
-Build a system that protects the bay from storms. I would replace this with – Stop wasting time and effort on pie-in-the-sky plans that would probably hurt more than help in the unlikely event that the feds ever agreed to fund them. If you think there’s opposition to public housing, just wait until the Ike Dike looks possible. At this point, those who care about nature and the environment and fishing and oysters and shrimp etc aren’t battling it because it seems so unlikely to ever occur.
Instead focus on ways to make homes and businesses more resilient in the event of flooding. UTMB floodproofed some buildings and there are building practices that can make homes more resilient and cleanup easier.

GISD Communications

Thanks for the shout-out, Heber! We are working tirelessly to make GISD a shining example of great education. We have a lot to offer here and are getting better every year.

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