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In Dickinson, four key groups meet for first time

DICKINSON

Leaders of key groups agree on at least two things: They need to do a better job communicating among themselves and with their constituents, and they need to agree on a vision for the future of the city before they can take coordinated steps to make it happen.

Such was the gist of a meeting Tuesday including the city council, mayor’s office, the city administrator, Dickinson Economic Development Corp., Dickinson Management District No. 1 and Galveston County Water Control and Improvement District No. 1.

The meeting, moderated by management consultant Ron Cox of Friendswood, was instigated by City Administrator Chris Heard.

At issue in Dickinson, and of concern to Heard, was the fact that these four entities, each in charge of key elements of city services, hadn’t all met in one room before.

“We’re all trying to map out an idea of what’s important to us, but we’re doing it separately,” Heard said. “That’s basically the long and short of it.”

Land use, how much growth the city can manage, recovering from and alleviating negative perceptions of the city because of Hurricane Harvey, maximizing access to Dickinson Bayou and identifying a cohesive community vision were all issues raised at the meeting.

Mary Dunbaugh, a long-time member of the management district, said she believed the meeting was long overdue.

The management district in Dickinson historically has functioned as a source of funds for needed city projects that fall outside the city’s budget parameters, she said.

“We’d provide money for a new police car or for EMS, but the law says we can do far more than that,” Dunbaugh said. “We have just now, after about 10 years, turned a corner and are aware that we can take the lead on projects.”

The management district is funded by a ½ cent sales tax totaling about $1.7 million a year, Dunbaugh said, and has most recently been focused on community improvement, including plans for a survey of residents to determine primary concerns.

The economic development corporation, also funded by sales tax as well as additional funding from the city, is primarily focused on bringing new businesses to town to increase tax revenue for the city. Over the past four to five years, the Dickinson group has been focused on planning for a public market that would include a small business incubator, a project Chief Executive Officer Scott Jones said has not moved forward quickly enough.

The county water district manages water control and the city sewer system. It also created and, in part, oversees the volunteer fire department, with a primary focus on public safety.

Cox divided representatives of all four entities into three small groups to identify issues and challenges facing the city. All three groups agreed that communicating with Dickinson residents needed to improve as well as better communication and coordination among the four entities.

Each group brought up growth as an issue and identified a number of challenges: branding Dickinson and enticing travelers on I-45 to pull off and drop in; dealing with abandoned houses and boarded-up businesses that have remained unoccupied since Hurricane Harvey while trying to alleviate the perception that the town was destroyed by Harvey; and maximizing access to Dickinson Bayou by the public and visitors.

“There are people here who don’t even know it’s a navigable waterway,” Dunbaugh said.

The groups agreed to meet more frequently, at least once a quarter, and to continue working on the issues identified during this first meeting.

Heard suggested that the groups could align their budgets for 2020 with clear direction on who’s responsible for implementing various programs.

Cox urged the group to begin with the end in mind, in other words to agree on a vision for the future of the city before coming up with specific strategies.

“If you don’t know what you want to be when you grow up, how are you gonna get there?” he said.


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Despite more options, trick-or-treating still strong

GALVESTON COUNTY

On Halloween, relatives from all parts of the island gather at Tina Gonzales’ house to hand out candy.

Gonzales lives near Parker Elementary School, where trick-or-treaters still walk from door-to-door looking for candy, a popular holiday tradition. On other parts of the island, that’s not the case, however.

“Other relatives do not get trick-or-treaters in their neighborhoods so they can come to my house to give out candy,” Gonzales said.

Like other places around the nation, Galveston County has seen a rise in the past few years of alternative options to traditional trick-or-treating.

This year, about 29 percent of the 7,419 people surveyed plan to celebrate Halloween by taking children trick-or-treating, which is about the same as the 28 percent who said the same in 2015, according to the National Retail Federation.

Average spending on Halloween per person has steadily increased over the years from $48.48 in 2005 to $86.27 this year, according to the data. The retail federation estimates Americans will spend a total of $8.8 billion for the holiday, according to the data.

For Texas City mom Sarah Mains, it’s easier to take her two boys to a trunk-or-treat, she said.

The alternative to door-to-door trick-or-treating, which features cars decorated for Halloween lined up so children can take candy from the trunks, is becoming more popular.

“Often, I take them out by myself and it is crazy,” Mains said.

With trunk-or-treats, she doesn’t have to worry about people not being home or the difficulties of navigating a neighborhood, she said.

“It is also a lot safer as it is usually in church parking lots,” Mains said.

Texas City’s Hallowpalooza Festival offers such an alternative, city Recreation Superintendent Nicole Best said.

The festival in its current form has been going on for about four years, and when it started, trunk-or-treating was a new thing to Best, she said.

“We offer a safe alternative for trick-or-treating,” Best said.

Last year, the event drew in about 2,000 people and offers contests and games in addition to the candy-giving, Best said.

But the city also holds the festival early enough in the day so that parents can take their kids out for traditional trick-or-treating afterward, Best said.

“I think that they like to have the alternative,” Best said. “They like to do this and trick-or-treating.”

Trick-or-treating is still popular in more traditionally aligned neighborhoods, said Stephen Protz, president of the Colony Park Neighborhood Association.

Residents of the relatively enclosed community off Stewart Road often stock up with a few thousand pieces of candy per house to make sure they have enough for the trick-or-treaters who flock in from across the island, Protz said.

“I think from the ‘70s onward, it’s been a popular place or destination for kids, especially young kids,” Protz said.

There’s less traffic through the neighborhood, so it’s safer for kids to walk around in, and residents typically decorate their houses, he said.

“There’s so many kids and families that most people sit out on their porch or their entrance just in a lawn chair,” Protz said.

Protz doesn’t think the tradition of trick-or-treating is dying out but that parents are selecting which neighborhoods to bring their kids to, he said.

Almost 70 percent of the 7,419 people surveyed by the retail federation plan to celebrate Halloween by handing out candy this year.


KevinMCox / KEVIN M. COX/The Daily News 

Washington Nationals left fielder Juan Soto, right fielder Adam Eaton and center fielder Victor Robles run to join their teammates in celebration after winning the World Series against the Houston Astros on Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019, at Minute Maid Park.


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Army Corps tries to allay coastal barrier fears

GALVESTON

A ring barrier around much of the island wouldn’t block views, block beach access or stop people from visiting the city’s downtown. Nor would it be allowed to turn the island into a giant bowl waiting to be filled by torrential rain, officials assured residents this week.

Those are some things the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Texas General Land Office told Galveston residents this week as they held a series of meeting to inform and update people about one of the aspects of a $31 billion plan to protect the Texas coast from hurricane storm surge: a ring levee around Galveston Island.

As part of its coastal plan, the corps has proposed building an 18-mile long ring of flood walls and levees around the most populated section of Galveston, mostly encircling the area between 103rd Street and Ferry Road.

The meetings this week were meant to provide more details and answer specific questions about the ring barrier.

“The intention here is to make it more real,” said Kelly Burks-Copes, the Army Corps project manager for the Coastal Texas Study.

Maps conveyed the corps’ current thinking on the alignment of the barrier, putting the barrier south of some parts of Harborside Drive and the Port of Galveston.

Officials also did their best to describe what the barriers might look like from certain perspectives. Depending on the elevation of the land where the barrier is built, the flood walls might be as low as 2 feet, officials said.

The meetings this week stood in stark contrast to the large public hearings the corps held in 2018 after the release of the first draft of its coastal protection plan. At the time, the corps was armed with poster boards and PowerPoints and was attempting to answer questions and solicit input from residents by the hundreds.

This week’s meetings were more intimate. On Monday, there were about 30 people at the meeting at the Galveston Yacht Basin, most of them from the Lindale Park or East End neighborhoods.

The small meeting allowed corps and land office officials to do something that’s harder to accomplish in the larger hearings: address the very local concerns that some people have about the barrier.

At the yacht basin, a good part of the meeting was dedicated to discussing whether the barrier would have to be in the backyards of two dozen houses that border the ship channel of the Lindale Park neighborhood, or whether those houses could possibly be raised above the height of the wall.

At a meeting on Tuesday night for groups of people living around Offatts Bayou and Teichman Road, some of the discussion was centered around whether a wall would block the views of homeowners who live near the water, said Terrilyn Tarlton-Shannon, a former city councilwoman who organized the meeting.

Although it might pale in comparison to the greater issue of protecting the entire city from storm surge, people who are potentially on the front line of the proposed barrier have very personal concerns about it, Tarlton-Shannon said.

“We had some disgruntled people say ‘We don’t want it, and we don’t want it in front of our homes,’” she said. She didn’t know whether the meeting did anything to convince the corps to change its plans, but said it was vital that residents got their chance to register opinions about the barrier.

The corps considers the ring barrier an essential part of the regional storm surge system. The barrier is meant to protect the north side of Galveston Island from storm surge coming not from the Gulf of Mexico, but from within Galveston Bay.

The corps addressed other, more serious issues as well. At all of the meetings, state and federal officials tried to stave off a public fear that the wall might end up doing more harm than good — that building a ring around Galveston might keep water in during a Harvey-like rainstorm, like a bathtub.

The officials were adamant: It’s against the corps’ mandate to build a project that will worsen existing problems.

“Any features proposed by the study are not permitted to worsen any existing conditions,” the corps said in a fact sheet handed out about the barrier.

The pumps the corps wants to install would be designed in a way to quickly release water back into Galveston Bay, the corps said.

Such statements were reassuring, said Theresa Elliott, the chairwoman of the Galveston Regional Chamber of Commerce. Elliott attended an invitation-only meeting between chamber members and the corps on Tuesday.

But it’s too early for Elliott to say whether she supported the ring barrier, she said.

“It’s premature,” she said. “The study is evolving so much that I think until they finalize the study it will be very difficult to determine whether anyone thinks it’s a good thing or a bad thing.”

So far in the planning process, it has appeared the corps is willing to consider or even adjust parts of its plan, based on the feedback it has received from local groups.

Elliott noted that even by the corps’ own timeline, it will be difficult to judge what the ring barrier and other parts of the protection plan will look like.

The corps plans to finalize its study in 2021, and it could be up for approval in Congress in 2022. But at that point, the barrier will actually only be about 30 percent designed, corps officials said.


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centerpiece
Trucks stay parked on FM 2351 as agencies point fingers

FRIENDSWOOD

As two giant trucks, each bearing a building on its back, sat parked on FM 2351, backing up traffic along the busy route, representatives for state and local agencies spent Wednesday afternoon pointing fingers about who was responsible for the mishap.

The truck trouble began after a chemical plant hired Houston-based Roll-Lift USA to haul two buildings down to its facility near Chocolate Bayou, said Michael Mitchell, an operations manager with the hauling company. The company applied for and quickly received the necessary permits to move the buildings, and then state officials directed the trucks to take the route through Friendswood, Mitchell said.

But what happened from there is a matter of interpretation.

“A Texas Department of Motor Vehicles and Texas Department of Transportation-permitted oversized load entered Friendswood on Tuesday without prior notification to the city of Friendswood,” representatives of the city wrote to explain the situation Wednesday.

But representatives from the Texas Department of Transportation a short time later denied the city’s explanation, arguing they weren’t involved.

“We understand a self-permitting process through the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles was used, which did not require our participation or approval,” said Danny Perez, spokesman for the Texas Department of Transportation.

Representatives from the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles, however, disagreed about their fellow department’s level of involvement, but added that the state has no obligation to inform local municipalities.

“The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles issues the permits, and the routes are based on information from TxDOT, since TxDOT maintains state roads and bridges,” said Adam Shaivitz, spokesman for the department of motor vehicles. “This permit does not require the state to notify local jurisdictions. The permit only covers travel on state-maintained roadways.”

Department officials issued a permit to the hauling company at about 8:57 a.m. Tuesday, according to paperwork released to The Daily News. As part of the permit, the carrier would travel from the intersection of Interstate 45 and Airport Boulevard down to FM 2004.

The route through Friendswood would include turning right on to FM 2351 and continuing for about 5 miles before turning right onto FM 518, documents show.

“We got to Friendswood and the chief of police decided he wasn’t going to have big buildings coming through town,” Mitchell said. “So, he put a stop to it, which he can do.”

Representatives for the company as of Wednesday afternoon were filling out the proper paperwork to re-route the trucks around Friendswood, rather than going through the city’s downtown, but it might be Thursday or Friday before that can happen, Mitchell said.

“We want to get out as bad as anybody else,” Mitchell said. “This is a black eye on everybody. But we didn’t do anything wrong, we did what the state told us to do.”