Galveston County groups that rely on volunteers to help bolster recovery efforts after Hurricane Harvey are starting to see a decrease in the number of people helping out — even as the demand for help remains.
During the first year and a half after Harvey, volunteer groups played a major role in recovery work, particularly for underserved and low-income residents.
But time and tiredness have started to wear away at the number of people volunteering to help with rebuilding or repairing flood-damaged homes, Ben Baldwin, the executive director of the 4B Disaster Response Network, said.
“It’s dropped off quite a bit,” Baldwin said on Friday. “We’re having to work pretty hard now to try to get people out in the area.”
The disaster response network is a network of churches that organizes members to volunteer in Galveston and southern Harris counties.
“I think a lot of people in the area just don’t understand how much need is still out there,” Baldwin said. “There are still thousands of people in Galveston County that still need help. A lot of folks have no idea how many people are still in need.”
The people who do realize the enormity of the problem also are dealing with volunteer fatigue, Baldwin said. A lack of significant progress in recovery over a year can be disheartening and weigh on a person, he said.
To address the issue, the disaster network has adjusted some of its plans to encourage more people to volunteer. The network has started organizing bigger volunteer days on the first Saturday of every month.
The network also started reaching out to other organizations to try to spur large-group volunteer efforts, Baldwin said.
Last week, Galveston County Judge Mark Henry said the county would organize a volunteer day once every three months, when county employees will band together to work in Harvey-afflicted areas.
Henry called for the volunteer day after speaking to Baldwin, he said.
“Hopefully, we’ll lead by example,” Henry said.
Henry also is contemplating a program in which county employees would be paid their normal wages to volunteer during work hours, though he hasn’t officially proposed the idea.
“Ideally, I’d like to get enough people who want to volunteer their time out of pure volunteerism,” Henry said. “If that doesn’t work, maybe I’ll come back to commissioners and say ‘Would you all consider paying them for four hours a quarter?’”
Hurricane Harvey made landfall in late August 2017. Over the course of five days, the hurricane dumped more than 50 inches on parts of the county. The flood waters damaged as many as 20,000 homes in the county.
Details about the county’s volunteer days have not yet been announced.
Mardi Gras was celebrated Sunday across the island with the Mardi Gras Ball for Special People at Moody Gardens and parades through downtown Galveston. The Shriners Hospitals for Children and Sunshine Kids Parade kicked things off downtown for the free, family-friendly day of Mardi Gras. It was followed by the popular Krewe of Barkus & Meoux pet parade and the Firefighters Children’s Parade. Mardi Gras will come to a close with the Mystic Krewe of Aquarius’ annual Fat Tuesday Parade.
— Jennifer Reynolds
A four-year project to survey Galveston beaches aims to measure how much sand is on the island, a process that’s key to preparing for the next big storm, officials said.
This is the second iteration of the survey, which is a joint effort between the city and the Galveston Park Board of Trustees.
The project, which follows a 2014 to 2017 survey, will assess volumes of sand and the locations of dunes, among other data.
Over four years, the survey is expected to cost more than $430,000, an expense shared between the park board and the city, according to reports.
If a major storm causes the need for more surveys, there could be more costs, according to reports.
The city’s part will be paid for through Industrial Development Corp. money, according to reports.
The most important part of the survey is taking stock of what we already have, city Coastal Resource Manager Dustin Henry said.
“The main intent of this project is to monitor those areas where we have the regularly scheduled nourishment projects occurring just in case we have a tropical storm event,” Henry said.
The surveys of pre-storm conditions will help the city prove how much sand it has lost so it can apply for federal grants to build beaches back up, he said.
With proper documentation, the city and park board could recoup some of the costs to lay new sand on beaches from federal disaster relief programs, park board Director of Operations Reuben Trevino said.
“Galveston Island is by nature an eroding island,” Trevino said. “These data sets give us the information to make educated long-term plans.”
After Hurricane Harvey in August 2017, city and park board officials filed three disaster relief claims for more 350,000 cubic yards of sand loss on beaches they had placed sand on, Trevino said.
“Each of our project sites showed a loss after Harvey,” Trevino said.
Making sure crews have a clear picture of the beaches is especially important in light of Galveston’s growing popularity as a tourist destination, said Ellis Pickett, chairman of the Surfrider Foundation’s upper Texas coast chapter.
The foundation advocates for beach access and protection of coastal environments.
“The main problem that we have is the fact that the Houston-Galveston area is growing,” Pickett said. “I bet a lot of those people want to get to the beach. If those beaches are eroding, there’ll be less beach to access.”
These kinds of surveys are also important to ensuring construction along the beach doesn’t impede on the dunes, he said.
“A major problem for west Galveston Island is the dune system is nearly nonexistent,” Pickett said.
These surveys are key to understanding where it’s sustainable to build new construction, he said.
The beach survey comes as the park board plans to extend Babe’s Beach from 61st Street to 83rd Street. This $24.5 million project will fill in about 800,000 cubic yards of sand and is funded through park board, city, Texas General Land Office and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers money.
The project could begin as early as summer, officials said.
Over the next year, the city and park board will spend about $121,600 collectively to Aptim Environmental & Infrastructure LLC for beach surveys.
A proposal to transfer management of a program that grants money to some island nonprofits could mean restructuring the distribution of that money.
The Galveston City Council and Galveston Park Board of Trustees last month began discussing moving the task of giving out hotel occupancy tax money to arts and historic nonprofits from the city to the park board.
Both entities agree the park board is better equipped to handle the job, but there are still a lot of questions about how the program would work, park board Chairman Spencer Priest said. If the city keeps some of that money, as council members have discussed, the park board’s not sure whether it could make up that amount, he said.
“Everything in our budget is spoken for,” Priest said. “It’s not a done deal that we would match that.”
The city’s Arts and Historical Preservation Advisory Board allocates revenue from six-eighths of a cent from the 15-penny hotel occupancy tax rate among island art and historic nonprofits. Last year, that sixth-eighths of a cent amounted to about $1.5 million, which was distributed among organizations for marketing purposes specifically, according to city records.
The park board could probably do the job with five-eighths of a penny, which city council proposed it send over, but it couldn’t continue the program if the city gave it any less, Priest said.
As a compromise, park board trustees have proposed receiving five-eighths of the penny, carrying over the advisory board’s reserve fund and leaving at the city the $50,000 which is currently dedicated to the Commission on the Arts, another city committee that promotes arts in Galveston.
The reserve fund and the money that goes to the commission are new this year. An city ordinance created last year shaved these portions off the arts and historic’s incoming money, a change that sparked significant controversy from nonprofits.
The compromise shows promise, but taking the park board’s budget to supplement any money the city decides to keep isn’t the answer, advisory board Chairwoman Kimber Fountain said.
“This is not the expansion of arts,” Fountain said. “This is robbing Peter to pay Paul.”
The city has proposed using the money it retains for public art or other projects that would help draw in tourists.
This change could present an opportunity to reinvent the way the arts and historic program runs, District 3 Councilman David Collins said. Regardless of how the final product looks, this money is important to arts organizations, he said.
“It sometimes is a near trivial amount of money that makes all the difference,” Collins said.
This switch could open the door to improving the program because the park board is accustomed to handling hotel tax money and tourism promotion, District 4 Councilman Jason Hardcastle said.
“Based on the park board’s track record of being able to secure funding beyond the traditional ways, I do think this is a potential opportunity,” Hardcastle said.
But some aren’t sure why the city would need to keep any of the money now dedicated to arts and historic organizations.
“If the park board is tasked for promoting tourism, I don’t understand why the city would want to retain some money to do the same job,” Trustee Jason Worthen said Tuesday.
Two-eighths of a penny would be hard for the park board to supplement, park board Controller Michael Moser said.
“Something in the budget is going to have to subsidize the arts penny,” Moser said. “We could probably find one-eighth.”
There’s no issue with the park board taking over the duties of the advisory board, but there’s no reason the city should keep any hotel tax money, advisory board member Theresa Elliott said.
“I’m all for positive change as long as the intent of the hotel tax is not compromised,” Elliott said. “The hotel tax, rather than sales tax or property taxes, is a specifically dedicated tax to promote tourism.”
This isn’t about diminishing the arts money, but finding a way to better use it, District 2 Councilman Craig Brown said.
“It’s not a sinister plot on the city’s behalf,” Brown said Tuesday. “This is just a management situation.”
Brown also sits on the park board.
The advisory board gives money from this pool to nonprofits such as the Galveston Historical Society, Galveston Arts Center and The Bryan Museum.
If the transfer of arts funding to the park board happens, the new ordinance that restructured the arts funding could be nullified, Fountain said.
Advisory board members and nonprofit leaders have been in an uproar since the new ordinance went into effect last year, saying the peeling off of money for the reserve fund and the commission has already unnecessarily diminished the marketing budgets of island organizations.
A new report from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science shows a steady rise in relative sea level along Galveston Island with sea level rising presently at the highest rate of 32 monitored locations around the country.
“The sea level rise rate in Galveston is accelerating and has been over the past couple of years, increasing slightly faster than in the previous 10-year period,” Molly Mitchell, a researcher on the project, said.
The report comprises interactive web-based charts projecting sea level out to the year 2050 based on analysis of tide-gauge records for 32 stations along the U.S. coastline, including the Galveston Pier 21 station operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The report measures relative sea level rise, taking into account both rising waters and subsidence or sinking of the land.
Rockport, to the south, showed a fast rise rate of 6.72 millimeters per year compared with Galveston’s rate of 6.19, and the highest rate of acceleration through 2018, making its year 2050 projection 2.6 feet above 1992 levels.
Sea level at Galveston will rise to about 1.6 feet above 1992 levels by 2050 if current conditions continue, according to the report.
Sea level in coastal waters around Galveston rose a little more than 2 feet in the 107 years from 1908 to 2015, according to data collected by NOAA at the Pier 21 station.
The Virginia Institute report is designed to localize sea level rise rates and to make them more timely than global sea level projections that are more often in front of the public, David Malmquist, a spokesperson for the Virginia team, said.
The idea behind the report is to give communities tools to look into the future with sea level in mind, researchers said.
“Really, our goal with this kind of work, making these projections, is to give people good information they can use for future planning,” Mitchell said.
“It’s about how we learn to organize our landscape, answering questions like where do we want to put new developments and major roadways.”
The report shows several measures, including monthly mean sea level, a figure obtained through tidal measurements at the Pier 21 station, absent predictable tidal variations. Monthly mean sea level is the measure most concerned with the rate of sea-level change relative to piers, buildings, homes and streets.
The Galveston report shows a linear rise in sea level due to steric processes or changes in density and volume of seawater relative to temperature or salinity. Warming and freshening of seawater reduces density of the water, thus increasing volume and contributing to sea level rise, according to the report.
Galveston waters are also affected, though at a rate of medium acceleration, by global rise associated with ice melts in Greenland and Antarctica, and by subsidence of the land although the rate of subsidence appears to have leveled off in recent years.
These reports, in addition to informing planning for development of housing and roads, also predict the need for open land or buffers between shoreline and uplands where coastal marsh wetlands can retreat or migrate as sea level rises over time, Mitchell said.
“We have been talking with decision makers in Maryland and Virginia, in the Chesapeake Bay area, about this,” Mitchell said.
“I think it’s early yet, but the message is starting to get through that we have to make a decision about whether we want wetlands to persist and how we are going to use the land immediately behind the wetlands.”
To see the full Galveston report, visit www.vims.edu/research/products/slrc/localities/gatx/index.php.