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Galveston County Fair & Rodeo rolls into Sunday

Crowds braved harsh wind and chilly weather to enjoy the third day of the Galveston County Fair & Rodeo. The rodeo’s Fiesta Sunday featured a walking mariachi band, Tejano concerts and plenty of food.

Students participated in the Market Lamb Show in the morning followed by the Market Swine Show.

The arena changed drastically when American Freestyle Bull Fighting and Chuck Wagon Races wowed crowds in the afternoon.

Although the wind was consistent, the carnival rides and games were all open for children and families to enjoy.

The fair and rodeo will continue throughout the week with Senior Citizens Day on Monday.

— Kelsey Walling

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East End Lagoon gets thumbs up, funding from city


A decade-long project to develop the East End Lagoon advanced when the Galveston City Council signed off on and committed funding to a plan that aims to draw tourists and residents to the natural area.

Developing the 684-acre lagoon on the island’s eastern tip along Boddeker Road has been a long ongoing project.

This plan, developed by the lagoon’s manager, the Galveston Park Board of Trustees, includes walking trails, paid off-shore fishing and an educational pavilion, according to the plan document.

The park board promotes tourism and manages other island visitor-drawing areas such as Stewart Beach and East Beach.

The city council Thursday promised up to $50,000 a year for eight years, given available funding, to help the park board develop the plan.

“This plan has a chance of success,” Mayor Jim Yarbrough said.

The park board plans to start by building the educational pavilion and an observation pier, according to plan documents. Later phases include additional walking trails, an RV park and the paid off-shore fishing facility.

It’s an area that can easily draw in more tourists, District 3 Councilman David Collins said.

The lagoon is in Collins’ district.

“As we look forward to trying to get more engaged tourists and people to stay with us longer and spend more money, nature tourism is just the top of that list,” Collins said.

By year 10, the lagoon could bring in up to $1.3 million a year if the park board operates the RV park, rather than outsourcing it to a third party, according to the business plan.

But the project isn’t ready to sink shovels in the ground yet, park board Project Manager Sheryl Rozier said.

Developing the East End Lagoon can’t begin until the park board secures a $1.4 million grant from a pot of federal money being distributed to Gulf Coast communities to aid cleanup from the 2010 Deep Water Horizon oil spill, she said.

The park board has no information on when that money might come, Rozier said.

“Just like with any other grant, if you start before you have a contract, it is not reimbursable,” Rozier said. “We will begin our due diligence on the fishing amenity with the coast guard and an area-wide wetland delineation with a survey firm.”

The lagoon is expected to operate at up to a $50,000 deficit for the first seven years, according to the business plan.

Galveston could set rules for bike, scooter shares


Six months after the Galveston City Council decided to ban dockless scooter systems on the island, the city is thinking of ways to allow some rental mobility companies in Galveston.

It’s a market that’s growing across the country and could bring demand to Galveston, District 5 Councilman John Paul Listowski said.

“Technology definitely changes,” Listowski said. “I think we need to keep an open mind.”

Other forms of mobility could offer some benefits to Galveston, District 6 Councilwoman Jackie Cole said.

“That’s one of our goals to get people out of their cars and moving around,” Cole said. “This is one of the ways to do this. But I do not want scooters everywhere.”

The discussion comes after Crab Scooters, 714 25th St., opened earlier this month. The company sells and rents scooters and could see more locations coming into play, owner Ryan O’Neal said.

“We see it as a real viable solution for these college campuses,” O’Neal said. “These scooters.”

O’Neal has voiced opposition to dockless systems, which clutter up streets, he said.

Dockless bikes or scooters have been a big headache for cities that didn’t set up regulations ahead of time, City Manager Brian Maxwell said.

“Having the dockless version of anything is probably something that we really want to think about,” Maxwell said.

Galveston plans to look at how other cities handle mobility rentals as it explores setting regulations for its own, he said.

For Scottsdale, Arizona, dockless systems made more sense than docked bikes or scooters, said Brent Stockwell, the assistant city manager in Scottsdale.

Docked systems are more costly for cities, which usually pay for the docking infrastructure, he said.

“The docked systems are like placing pay telephone booths all over your community,” Stockwell said. “Dockless are more like cell phones. People have them where they need them.”

The dockless bikes in the city have caused headache when users don’t comply with a November ordinance aimed at regulating the system, Stockwell said.

But the city worried about banning the companies because of potential lawsuits and fear the state could prohibit any local regulation, he said.

Unlike in Scottsdale, where the bikes are mainly used by tourists, the majority of people using dockless bikes in Orlando, Florida are residents, Orlando Transportation Director Billy Hattaway said.

Orlando is about three months into a six-month pilot program for dockless bikes that uses electronic geolocators to penalize customers who leave bikes in designated restricted areas, Hattaway said.

Because it’s a trial period and dockless companies want to earn the right to operate full time, the city’s had a lot of cooperation in enforcing compliance, he said.

The city council passed a pre-emptive ban on dockless bikes, scooters and other vehicles in September 2018. At the time, city officials said they wanted to head off a rush of unregulated vehicles setting up shop on the island.

If Galveston decided to allow a docked or dockless system, enforcement would be key, Maxwell said.

“It is imperative we instill permit fees that cover the enforcement,” Maxwell said.

There may already be enough variety in Galveston’s transportation portfolio, District 1 Councilwoman Amy Bly said.

“There are a lot of options for if you want to get around town other than a car,” Bly said.

But dockless systems are the way the industry’s moving, Stockwell and Hattaway said. Companies are shifting away from docked mobility and cities will have to respond, Stockwell said.

“We are seeing tremendous use of our devices within our community,” Stockwell said.

Negotiations for third cruise terminal continue

Four months after signing a memorandum of understanding with Royal Caribbean Cruises, the Port of Galveston has not yet reached a final agreement to build a $100 million cruise terminal at Pier 10 in Galveston.

While port officials initially hoped the agreement, first announced in December, would be completed and signed by January, there have been delays, Port Director Rodger Rees said.

One reason for delays are changes made to Royal Caribbean’s leadership in recent months. But the deal is still happening, Rees said.

“We thought this was going to happen a little bit earlier,” Rees said. “They had some internal changes.”

While the parties haven’t signed the final paperwork, work toward the agreement has been made, Rees said. Royal Caribbean sent engineers to dive in the water and analyze the infrastructure at Pier 10.

The engineers found the slip was in better condition than originally thought, Rees said. That’s good news because the port had agreed to pay for repairs to pier, if they exceeded $8 million, Rees said.

“The consensus was that they were surprised at how good a shape it was in,” Rees said. “It’s a positive for us.”

The port and Royal Caribbean announced the agreement to bring a third cruise terminal to the island in December. The terminal would be used almost exclusively used by Royal Caribbean, which plans to bring its new, larger Oasis-class ships to Galveston once it’s completed.

Ted O’Rourke, the chairman of the Wharves Board of Trustees, said he wasn’t worried about the delay in reaching a final agreement.

“It’s very encouraging that we’re getting closer and closer,” he said. “I think it’s going to be very good for the community.

The agreement also proposes that Royal Caribbean sign a 20-year lease, with extension options, to remain in Galveston long term after the terminal is completed.

The new terminal is expected to open by 2021.

Rodger Rees

Galveston to charge $25 yearly McGuire-Dent pass


Adults who want to use McGuire-Dent Recreation Center will have to pay a $25 annual fee starting in May, a change that comes with other hikes to city park facility rental charges.

The fee changes are part of an effort to generate a little extra money for the parks and recreation department Director Mario Rabago said.

The new charges, which include higher rental fees for baseball parks and for the Menard Park and band shell, will generate an estimated $6,000 a year, Rabago said.

“It really does get down to $1,000 here, $2,000 there,” Rabago said. “The budget is very, very tight and we’re spread very thin.”

The fees at McGuire-Dent, 2222 28th St., will go into effect May 1, but other rental fees are effective immediately, city spokeswoman Marissa Barnett said.

The $25 annual pass applies to adults ages 18 years to 64 years old, according to city documents. The facility is free to children age 18 and younger, seniors age 65 or older and military veterans.

Non-residents age 18 or older will need to pay $60 annually, according to city documents.

“I’m a strong advocate for user fees,” Mayor Jim Yarbrough said.

While taxpayers fund the general costs of the parks and recreation department, people using the facilities should pay for upkeep, Yarbrough said.

But the $25 annual fee could post a challenge to some low-income families, District 1 Amy Bly said.

“What we are going to gain by charging the fee is nothing compared to what is lost by people who can’t pay the fee,” Bly said. “The city’s really not going to get that much out of it.”

Bly was the only city council member who voted against the fees Thursday.

Although there are no fees for children to use McGuire-Dent Recreation Center, the annual fee might turn away adults struggling to get by, said Brandon Williams, youth and media director at Galveston Urban Ministries.

The nonprofit provides community services and support for low-income residents.

“If you have to decide between paying your light bill or paying for an annual pass to work out, which would you choose?” Williams said. “I think we should make it easier for our community to make healthy decisions, not harder, especially for our low-income neighbors.”

The annual pass should be on a sliding scale, costing less for people with less income, he said.

Charging for city services is going to become more important as the city faces other funding obligations, City Manager Brian Maxwell said.

In December, the city paid $13.5 million to Hurricane Ike housing contract CDM Smith after a court ordered the city to pay for work the company did before the city fired the contractor.

Recent negotiations with the police pension board over efforts to fix officers’ ailing pension system could also see the city increasing its contribution rate to the system from 14.83 percent to 18 percent, which could cost the city between $400,000 and $500,000 annually, city officials said.

“We are the only city who offers this for free,” Maxwell said. “We don’t find money. We just do away with other things.”

With the estimated $6,000 raised for the fee increases, the city hopes to offer more programs, like archery, in response to resident requests, Rabago said.