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Hurricane Barry very likely; where still uncertain

An unusual weather system hovering in the Gulf of Mexico will strengthen into a hurricane before making landfall later this week, most likely along the Louisiana coast, according to National Hurricane Center warnings issued Wednesday evening.

The center late Wednesday issued a hurricane watch covering most of coastal Louisiana and cautioned that substantial flooding could occur in areas near the coast.

Galveston County cities late Wednesday were still awaiting more detailed forecasts about the storm’s local effects.

“It’s still too early,” said Sarah Greer Osborne, spokeswoman for League City, Wednesday afternoon.

Cities across the middle parts of Galveston County on Wednesday sent crews out to clear debris from drainage ditches and continued watching forecasts, officials said.

“We’re monitoring the weather very closely and operating at an increased level,” said Tom Munoz, emergency manager for the city of Texas City.

The system is somewhat unusual because it reached the Gulf on Wednesday morning via the Mississippi River Valley, rather than from the Atlantic Ocean, where most tropical disturbances form.

As of Wednesday afternoon, while a broad area of thunderstorms was hovering over the Gulf, a defined system still hadn’t formed, said Jimmy Fowler, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in League City.

Until forecasters have a defined system to base models on, projections would continue to have a lot of uncertainty, Fowler said.

“The current track has it moving east of us and going into southwest Louisiana,” Fowler said. “But Houston is in that larger cone, which is not necessarily where the range of impacts will come. But as of right now, we are anticipating there could be some heavy rainfall.”

Current projections have the storm becoming a Category 1 hurricane in the early hours of Saturday, shortly before making landfall, Fowler said. The storm might generate wind speeds of about 85 mph near its center and winds of more than than 40 mph for many miles around the center, according to the hurricane center.

“As of now, we expect projections to change quite a bit,” Fowler said. “Here, we have a sharp gradient from heavy rainfall to not so much. Where the exact track goes will determine how much — a slight shift left or right can change a lot.”

If the disturbance does form into a tropical cyclone, it would be named Barry.

The energy company Entergy Texas, which represents customers on Bolivar Peninsula, on Wednesday announced it would position crews and contractors in the area to respond in the event of power outages.


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centerpiece
Students brave the heat for field day

Students in Texas City Independent School District’s 21st Century Program, an after-school curriculum, participate in a field day at Etheredge Stadium on Wednesday.

The program is part of the Afterschool Centers on Education, which is administered by the Texas Education Agency to provide a safe and supervised place for learning and interaction. Texas City Independent School District continues the program through part of the summer.

La Marque and Texas City’s after-school programs collaborated to create a field day for students nearing the end of summer school.

Students played tug of war and ran in relay races before heading back indoors to escape the heat.


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County museum's future unclear after firing of director

GALVESTON

The Galveston County Historical Museum’s long journey to reopening is again on an unclear trajectory after the firing of the museum’s manager.

Galveston County Chief Financial Officer David Delac fired Jennifer Wycoff on June 27.

Wycoff, who was hired by the county in 2014, was charged with reopening the museum that has been closed since Hurricane Ike struck in 2008.

As of Wednesday, there was no clear date for when the museum would reopen, Delac said. The museum’s reopening will require a commitment from county commissioners, he said.

“I think it’s in a good state,” Delac said. “I want to make sure that they’re on board with everything that needs to transpire for it to get to an opening date.”

Wycoff did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday. In a text, she said she was dealing with a family member’s medical issue. Delac declined to comment specifically on her performance as the museum’s manager.

Some of the signs of discord at the museum were apparent, however. Delac corrected a statement calling Wycoff the museum’s director and curator — a title that was on her business cards — and insisted her job title was museum manager.

Delac also said he had no information about a display that had recently appeared in the lobby of the museum claiming parts of the museum were 85 to 90 percent completed.

The museum, on the bottom floor of the county courthouse, 722 21st St., has not opened to the general public since it moved into a former jury assembly room in November 2014.

The museum’s previous building in downtown Galveston flooded badly during Hurricane Ike. While none of the county’s artifacts were damaged by the storm, the building was unusable.

On Wednesday, the museum space was still a work site. While some exhibits appeared to be nearly complete, such as displays about The 1900 Storm and Galveston Island corner stores, other parts of the museum were empty or half done.

The space appears to be in the same condition it was in October 2018, when Wycoff told The Daily News the museum could be opened at the start of 2019.

That didn’t happen, and the county has made no announcements about the museum in the months since then.

Delac planned to work with the two part-time employees who still work at the museum to develop a timeline for reopening and would present a budget to commissioners sometime this summer, he said.

The county plans to approve its next annual budget sometime in September, he said.

It’s not clear whether the county plans to hire a new manager for the project, which could depend on what commissioners choose to do with the department.

Last year, the county adopted a $183,127 budget for the museum. It was later amended and increased to about $222,000, Delac said.

The leader of one group closely connected to the museum said he hoped the county would continue to support it.

Ralph Stenzel, the chairman of the Galveston County Historical Commission, which raises money for the museum and other projects around the county, said he did not want to comment about Wycoff’s firing.

“I think that the county needs a museum,” he said. “I know that Jennifer has spent four years trying to get it open.”


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Galveston employees to contribute more money to health plan

GALVESTON

The city, Galveston Park Board of Trustees and Port of Galveston likely will add funding to the employee health plan this fiscal year and will ask employees to cover more of the costs starting in January.

As the employee health plan faces shortfalls, trustees of the city of Galveston health benefit plan board voted Wednesday to increase monthly employee contributions to $75 from $50 a month for individuals and to $380 from $330 a month for employees and families or spouses.

Copays, out of pocket deductibles and emergency room deductibles will increase, too, they said.

In total, the changes should bring about $514,000 in savings during the next calendar year, said Kent Etienne, city human resources and civil services director.

Park board and port employees also contribute to the city health plan.

The changes come as the city expects costs for its health plan to exceed contributions by between $1.8 million and $1.9 million this year, city officials have said.

The shortfall comes as the city has experienced significantly more mid-range claims and as health costs have increased, officials said.

During the past fiscal year from October 2017 to September 2018, the plan’s costs exceeded contributions by $911,804, according to city data.

By April, costs for this fiscal year exceeded contributions by almost $900,000, according to city data.

Employees already saw health costs increase in January, when monthly costs rose from $40 to $50 for employee-only coverage and from $290 to $330 for family plans, according to city records.

The city’s looking at about $943,000 in overages on its plan, Finance Director Mike Loftin said.

“I told city council this scares me and it still scares me,” Loftin said.

But the plan also will need some immediate changes to pay health costs through the end of the fiscal year, trustees said.

The plan has about $90,000 in its cash balance, Loftin said.

“We’re going to go ahead and not just make a contribution to the budgeted funds at the end of the year,” Loftin said. “We’re going to make that contribution now.”

Trustees Wednesday discussed putting additional money in the plan in the short-term to pay employee health costs through the end of the year.

How much that will be is still unclear, Etienne said.

Between now and the board’s next meeting at the end of the month, the park board, port and city finance departments will put together a proposal of how much money the plan needs and how much each entity should contribute, Etienne said.

Trustees discussed splitting the amount between the three entities based on employees’ usage or by number of employees.

For years, the board focused on minimizing costs for employees, but its focus now is lowering costs for the plan, Chairman Stewart Goff said.

The board meets next on July 30 to discuss how much funding the plan needs for the remainder of the fiscal year.


kelseywalling / KELSEY WALLING/The Daily News  

A Jeep disembarks the Ray Stoker Jr. ferry in Galveston on Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018. Ferries between Galveston and Bolivar Peninsula have been officially in service since 1929.