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'Survivors' rejoice over end of Calder Road project


Rejoice, League City residents. Calder Road, which has been the site of four capital improvement projects since 2014, is officially open to traffic again.

Members of the city staff and council on Wednesday were in a celebratory mood, passing out coffee and commemorative shirts saying “I survived Calder Road construction,” to residents and other passersby.

“It feels great,” City Manager John Baumgartner said. “We aren’t quite done yet — there are still a few weeks to finish the sidewalks and some re-striping — but the timing couldn’t be better, with all the construction on Interstate 45.”

Houston-based Dannenbaum Engineering Corp. paid for 200 of the Calder Road shirts, Baumgartner said.

The construction on Calder Road has long been an annoyance to residents living in the area who were initially told the four-stage project would last about 18 months.

The project is actually four separate capital improvement projects, the last of which began in January 2017 and involved reconstructing Calder Road itself for about 1.6 miles between Ervin Street to Turner Road, converting it from an open-ditch rural roadway to a concrete, curb-and-gutter roadway with storm sewers, said Sarah Greer Osborne, spokeswoman for the city.

But the project, which cost more than $24 million, first began in 2014, and included rehabilitating a water pipeline, improving sanitary sewer lines, constructing a new water pump station and improvements to the street itself.

The project first began in 2014 as a joint effort with Galveston County to help move traffic between League City Parkway and FM 517.

But the project has been beset with delays. The city gave Minnesota-based contractor S.J. Louis Construction of Texas a $2.6 million contract to complete a 30-inch sanitary sewer improvement project in August 2015 and an additional $87,000 in a change order the same day. While that phase was initially projected to last six months, it stretched almost two years.

A $12.5 million project to build a booster pump station began in August 2014 and ended in June 2017.

The final stage of the project, reconstructing the road itself, began when the council approved an $8.28 million contract with Texas Sterling Construction Co., based in The Woodlands, in December 2016 and work began in January, officials said.

“We had a bus driver stop by today who goes to Calder Elementary and said she was very grateful to have the work done,” Baumgartner said. “We couldn’t have done this without everyone’s patience.”

Residents might be especially glad to have Calder Road open again, given the impending Texas Department of Transportation project near FM 646, Baumgartner said.

Crews will begin demolishing the FM 646 bridge on March 1 as part of an ongoing project to expand Interstate 45 from six lanes up to eight lanes of traffic in Galveston County, department officials have said.

Crews are taking down the overpass at FM 646 over Interstate 45 with plans to eventually replace it with a street running under the interstate, officials said.

The FM 646 project is part of a $120 million project to widen the interstate between FM 517 and FM 518, officials said. The plan to widen Interstate 45 through Galveston County is divided into several different phases.

While work on Calder Road isn’t entirely completed — crews must still finish the sidewalks and other details that should last until the end of March — it should give people another route, Baumgartner said.

Lack of federal quorum stalling flood map updates

Galveston County residents might be making flood-risk decisions such as where not to build and whether to buy flood insurance based on maps that are out of date, in part because of trouble in the key federal council.

Reports from Washington Tuesday said work by FEMA’s Technical Mapping Advisory Council, charged with providing scientific information to the National Flood Insurance Program, has been halted for five months over a lack of a quorum. The council, which last met in September 2018, is composed of 20 experts tasked with answering complex questions about flood risk across the United States, but 16 of those 20 seats are empty and awaiting new appointees.

The council’s specific charge from Congress is “to ensure that flood insurance rate maps reflect the best available science and are based on the best available methodologies for considering the effect of future development on flood risk,” according to the FEMA website.

The national flood mapping program provides information to communities about local flood risk, and flood insurance rate maps established under the program are used to set flood insurance premiums.

But in many places, like Galveston County, people might be looking at flood hazard maps that are not up-to-date. A preliminary updated flood map for the county has been under consideration for several years, but has not been adopted, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Friendswood, which saw significant flooding during Hurricane Harvey, advises homeowners and those considering buying new property to look into the need for flood insurance based on the most recent provisional maps approved by the city, said Brian Rouane, chief building official for the city of Friendswood.

“The Galveston County flood risk map is 20 years old, dating back to 1999,” Rouane said. Friendswood’s city council adopted a preliminary map in 2018, applying stricter standards and newer information than the county’s FEMA map provides. The city has adopted ordinances allowing these changes.

That means potential homeowners might get contradictory information when they go to get a mortgage than they get from the city when they seek a building permit, Rouane said.

“Sometimes, this is the first they’re aware that they have to purchase flood insurance because they are in a flood hazard area,” Rouane said.

Friendswood sends out a flyer every year asking residents to contact them if they are uncertain about their flood insurance requirements.

“That’s where we can provide the best source of information,” Rouane said. “I had to go and get certified on how to read those maps and I can give them a clear answer.”

Significant changes have occurred since 1999 in the Friendswood area, expanding the flood hazard area in many cases and reducing it in others, Rouane said.

In Dickinson, it’s been clear that new flood risk maps were needed, but the process has been delayed, said Zach Meadows, director of community development.

“We’ve been operating off a 2012 map developed after Hurricane Ike,” Meadows said. “We just received a letter of final hazard determination from FEMA on Tuesday.”

The letter said the new map devised for Dickinson development purposes will be effective by August.

Meadows couldn’t say whether delays at FEMA have undermined his office’s ability to move forward providing accurate flood risk determination for potential homeowners, builders and others. But working with outdated maps is a problem, he said.

“I hate to say it, but if the new maps had been ready before Hurricane Harvey, it’s possible more people might have built out of harm’s way,” he said.

New risk maps for Hitchcock, Tiki Island and unincorporated areas of Galveston County were released in August for public review.

Residents in many areas of the county that were flooded out by Harvey were not required to have flood insurance, raising questions about the accuracy of floodplain maps and the need to re-evaluate flood hazard areas across the county.

Man claims self-defense in fatal Algoa shooting


A Houston man shot and killed a 17-year-old Galveston County man in Algoa on Tuesday morning in what is being described as a confrontation over the sale of an iPhone, the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office said.

Investigators described the shooting as an act of self-defense, but they expected it would eventually be heard by a grand jury.

Joshua Wooten, 17, died at Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston just before 7 a.m. Tuesday, about 90 minutes after being shot three times in the torso, according to the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office.

Wooten was shot near the 7000 block of Lilley Road, in the unincorporated community of Algoa. He was shot by Bruce Robinson, 38, of Houston, according to the sheriff’s office.

Robinson drove to the home where the shooting took place after speaking to Wooten on the phone application Offer Up, which connects people selling things to buyers, according to the sheriff’s office. Robinson was attempting to buy an iPhone that Wooten had advertised on the site, according to the sheriff’s office.

Robinson told investigators he gave Wooten cash for the phone and was handed an empty iPhone box, Galveston County Sheriff’s Office Major Barry Cook said.

Robinson confronted Wooten and demanded his money back, Cook said.

Robinson said he shot Wooten after the younger man reached into his pocket, Cook said. Robinson said he believed Wooten had a gun and was going to try to hurt him, Cook said.

“He felt that something bad was going to happen,” Cook said. “He felt fearful.”

Deputies received the call about the shooting just after 5:30 a.m., according to the sheriff’s office.

Robinson, who is licensed by the state to carry a handgun, stayed at the scene and cooperated with investigators after the shooting, Cook said.

Investigators at the scene reported finding a knife in Wooten’s sweatshirt, Cook said.

The sheriff’s office described the confrontation as an attempted robbery and said its investigators believed the shooting was in self-defense, Cook said.

“Based on what they heard on the scene, they believed his story to be credible,” Cook said.

The sheriff’s office referred the case to the Galveston County District Attorney’s Office, which could refer the case to a grand jury to decide whether charges should be filed against Robinson.

City council keen on HOT tax shift, and keeping some


A potential shift in management of the arts and historic money earmarked for nonprofits could mean a reduction in how much those organizations receive.

The Galveston City Council on Wednesday was supportive of District 2 Councilman Craig Brown’s proposal to give the Park Board of Trustees management over the hotel occupancy tax revenues allocated to island nonprofits.

Council members discussed the proposal in a workshop session and took no official action.

The park board, which promotes island tourism, is better equipped to allocate the money, which now is overseen by the city’s Arts and Historical Preservation Advisory Board, city council members said.

But if the switch happens, city council members want the city to keep a slice of the money that nonprofits use for advertising and promotions.

The city board now divvies up the 0.75 of a penny from the 15-cent hotel occupancy tax, a portion that amounted to $1.5 million last year, according to city records.

“While the committee has done a really good job at what they do, I think these funds really should be used to support a wider array of activities,” District 3 Councilman David Collins said.

The park board already handles tourism related projects, Brown said.

Brown, who also sits on the park board, broached the idea earlier this month.

“The park board already allocates money in a similar manner,” Brown said. “They have the expertise.”

How much of that money comes to the park board is still yet to be debated, he said.

Mayor Jim Yarbrough agreed the park board is the best entity to handle this kind of funding, he said.

“The park board is in a better position to administer money than we are,” Yarbrough said. “It’s what they do. We’re trying to align duties where it makes more sense.”

But the city shouldn’t send all the tax revenue to the park board, and should instead retain some of money to fund public art or other tourist-drawing projects, he said.

The park board might be able to make up the amount the city kept with its own money, Yarbrough said.

In previous interviews, the park board was open to the idea but wanted a guaranteed source of funding from the city, park board officials said.

“Our board would not be able to make commitments on this until such a time as a funding amount is determined by city council as well as an understanding of terms of the agreement,” Chairman Spencer Priest said Wednesday.

The possibility of cutting the money sent to nonprofits has leaders of some island organizations concerned.

The nonprofits that receive funding need every penny they can get, Galveston Arts Center Executive Director Lisa Shaw said.

The center got about $47,000 from the city board last year, according to city records.

“Grants will cover marketing to an extent, but it’s nowhere near what we really need,” Shaw said.

Hotel tax revenue is important to keeping nonprofits operating, said James Rosengren, executive director of the Galveston Railroad Museum.

“We enjoy the fruits of the tax,” Rosengren said. “I’m optimistic. I’m patient.”

The railroad museum received about $109,000 from the city board last year, according to records.

This discussion comes after a new ordinance that changed the board’s funding.

The update shaved off $50,000 a year for public art and restoration funds and allocates an additional 5 percent of the money to a reserve fund, according to the ordinance.

The park board likely will discuss this topic at its regular meeting Feb. 26. The park board and city council also have a joint meeting scheduled for Feb. 28.