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City ready to act on ditch and road work


Dickinson is poised to move forward with two projects to unclog overgrown ditches and repave rundown roads — a move many residents have been demanding for months and are eager to see finally hashed out at city hall.

City council members, who meet at 6 p.m. today, will consider contracts worth more than $435,000 with two different Houston-based engineering firms for clearing silt and debris from ditches.

The road repairs could cost as much as $8.4 million, depending on the pavement option council members choose. Officials are expected to debate the merits of overlaying streets with asphalt or repaving them with concrete, which is the most expensive option.

The state of the city’s roads and drainage ditches has been much on the minds of Dickinson residents since Hurricane Harvey in August last year.

That storm dropped feet of rain on Dickinson, flooded hundreds of houses and businesses and left many roads in shambles. Since then, smaller floods have plagued people in areas of the city where drainage is inadequate, sometimes because it’s impeded in clogged ditches.

“I’ve lived here for 14 years and the deal is all of the ditches around here have needed to be cleaned out since even before Harvey and they never have been,” Mark Downtain said. “I’m so irritated with how bad it’s been that I’m actually going to show up at the meeting.”

For the ditches, Dickinson officials have tapped J. Simons Group for the desilting and Huitt-Zollars for the debris removal. Both projects will cover about 9 miles of Dickinson’s most badly clogged ditches and culverts at more than 23 sites.

The work, which until now has been largely tackled piecemeal by the city’s public works crew and residents alike, is scheduled to be complete by March.

As for the road repair, council members will discuss a menu of options that city staff members have been working on for a few months. The plan involves using Federal Emergency Management Agency money to repave up to 13 miles of potholed streets, City Manager Chris Heard said.

“I’m unveiling a $14 million street improvement program and council members are going to choose what approach they want to take,” he said. “There are 51 street names — around 180 street segments — in this program. It’s big.”

Both road and ditch projects are eligible for reimbursement by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, even though the city will end up having to pay at least $4 million. Each project has required a long planning phase and now it’s time to take the next steps, Heard said.

But some city residents aren’t going to celebrate until they have a chance to hear the plan for themselves at the meeting, they said.

“There are still more questions than answers at this point,” said Chris Tucker, who lives in Dickinson. “I have to wait to see what they say. They may provide all the details, and I’m not trying to be adversarial with the council, but also it’s just very frustrating because it shouldn’t have to get to this point before we see action.”

Council set for second look at bicycle-safety rules


After delaying discussion about an ordinance requiring drivers to make room for bicyclists, the city council Thursday will discuss revisions that remove rules on approaching bikes from behind and add requirements for bike lights.

The city council in September pushed back a vote on the ordinance over concerns about whether parts of it were enforceable.

The new draft aims to clean up some ambiguous language and adds rules requiring drivers passing bikes to slow down. The revision calls for drivers to slow to 20 mph or less than the posted speed limit, or to 15 mph, whichever is greater, according to city council documents.

For example, an automobile passing a bike in 50 mph zone would be required to slow to 30 mph; a pass in a 25 mph zone could be done legally at 15 mph, according to the documents.

The revised draft includes a safe-passing distance requirement and new language requires bicyclists riding at night to equip their bikes with white lamps on the front and a red lamps on the back.

A front lamp and rear reflector or light already is a state law, according to the Texas Department of Transportation website.

While the ordinance won’t prevent all collisions, it could have a benefit, Shawn Buckley, manager of Island Bicycle Co., said.

“Cyclists are very much an endangered species,” Buckley said. “It still can happen, but it’s good to have something on the books so if you get injured, there’s a recourse.”

The updated draft requires passing drivers to give bicycles at least 3 feet of room, but removes language about staying 6 feet from the back of a bicycle, according to the draft.

That change would undermine the ordinance, Buckley said.

“That’s where 90 percent of cyclists get hit from is behind,” he said.

Concerns about enforcement still stand for District 1 Councilwoman Amy Bly, she said.

“It still comes down to unless somebody actually gets hit, it’s the person in the street versus the car in the street,” Bly said. “There’s just no way to enforce that.”

She also wonders how the ordinance would affect tourists, who are unlikely to know about it, she said.

Managing the public’s expectations is a bigger concern for police Chief Vernon Hale, he said.

“The problem is the expectation from the public that an officer can be running down the street and enforce it,” Hale said.

The ordinance would present problems for police officers who didn’t witness infractions themselves, but took statements from witnesses, Hale said.

That’s because the ordinance applies to the driver of the car, but officers would have no way to know whether the car’s owner or another driver was behind the wheel, Hale said.

He wants to focus on safety features, citing the required back lights on bicycles as a good step, he said.

Discussion of the ordinance came about after two bicyclists died in the city earlier this year and a video went viral showing a cyclist narrowly missing collision with a truck on FM 3005.

This draft ordinance is the next step in a process, City Manager Brian Maxwell said.

“I know that was the goal was to not just pass it for the sake of passing an ordinance to have one that was meaningful and enforceable,” Maxwell said. “This is going to be the next best attempt at it.”

The updated ordinance retains the old language of a $500 fine for violators.

The ordinance would apply to all vulnerable road users, including pedestrians, maintenance workers, people on horseback and those on motor-assisted wheelchairs.

Galveston firefighters headed to California

Six Galveston firefighters left Monday morning to help fight what appear to be among the most destructive wildfires in California history.

Galveston firefighters are part of the Texas Intrastate Fire Mutual Aid System team ordered west over the weekend by Gov. Greg Abbott, responding to a request for help from the California Office of Emergency Services.

Texas is providing 200 firefighters and 55 fire engines from local departments across the state as well as teams from the Texas Forest Service and Texas A&M University.

Galveston’s department, in addition to six firefighters, provided two brush trucks to the deployment.

Galveston firefighters who left at 5:30 a.m. Monday are Mike Varela Jr., Bryan Lee, Scott Zahara, Steven Beall and Austin Brinkley.

Lee, along with Galveston Fire Chief Mike Wisko, was part of a six-member Galveston team that went to California in August to fight Northern California wildfires.

The Galveston team, along with firefighters from Webster, will spend two days in transit before meeting up with other Texas teams in California and receiving their assignments, according to Marissa Barnett, public information officer for the city of Galveston.

“This will be a 14-day activation with the possibility of a personnel swap in 10 days,” Barnett said. “In their absence, personnel will be hired overtime to backfill their positions here.”

All expenses incurred for the deployment will be reimbursed by California through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, Barnett said.

This most recent round of California fires started Thursday in both Northern and Southern California. The Northern California fire, referred to as the Camp Fire, has resulted so far in 113,000 acres burned with 29 fatalities confirmed, 228 people reported missing and three firefighters injured. The number of residences and commercial structures destroyed in the fire is estimated to be more than 6,400, according to reports from Cal Fire, the state’s fire emergency reporting agency.

As of mid-day Monday, the Woolsey Fire in Los Angeles and Ventura counties in Southern California had burned 91,572 acres with two confirmed fatalities, three firefighters injured and 370 structures destroyed, Cal Fire reported. A second Southern California fire, the Hill Fire burning northwest of Los Angeles, burned 4,531 acres and was 80 percent contained.

Strong winds Monday impeded fighting the Woolsey Fire that, as of Monday afternoon, was 20 percent contained. The Camp Fire was about 25 percent contained.

Galveston firefighters are headed to southern California, Barnett said.

In his statement, Gov. Abbott affirmed the need for cooperative firefighting efforts.

“When disaster strikes, it is imperative that the call for help is answered, and that is exactly what these men and women serving in fire departments across Texas are doing,” Abbott said.

“As California continues to fight these fires, Texas will be sending its bravest firefighters to aid in their efforts. Our prayers go out to all who have been impacted by these devastating wildfires, and the state of Texas will continue to offer any resources to aid in the recovery process.”

Coming Soon

Galveston City Council this week will consider a Park Board of Trustees’ plan for a multi-million dollar pavilion at Stewart Beach.

Health care community celebrates MD Anderson opening


Health-care workers, members of the University of Texas System Board of Regents and other high-ranking members of the Texas medical community Monday celebrated the opening of the new MD Anderson building in League City, a $112 million facility they called the first of its kind.

The facility, which is adjacent to the League City campus of the University of Texas Medical Branch, 2240 Interstate 45 S., is the result of a first-of-its-kind partnership between two members of the University of Texas system, officials said.

“This can be a model for collaboration,” said Peter W.T. Pisters, the president of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. “We want this to be seen around the country.”

Before opening in the 200,000-square-foot facility in mid-September, the center’s staff had been working at a clinic in leased space on the campus of Methodist St. John Hospital in Nassau Bay since 2007, said Kent Postma, vice president for ambulatory operations at MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Now in the location along Interstate 45, employees can work with medical branch staff to coordinate patient treatment and give Galveston County residents the option to stay closer to home as opposed to venturing into Houston, said Richard Ehlers II, associate vice president and executive medical director for the Houston-area locations of MD Anderson Cancer Center.

The new facility offers medical oncology, surgical oncology, radiation oncology, infusion therapy, diagnostic pathology and labs, rehabilitation, nutrition and social work, in addition to diagnostic imaging services, said Julie Penne, spokeswoman for the center.

Employees at the outpatient facility are able to use some of the operating rooms and inpatient facilities at the nearby medical branch location, Ehlers said.

The center’s opening comes amid a boom of other hospital openings in the region and quick growth in the League City area specifically.

Less than a week earlier, officials with the medical branch held a job fair in Webster for the employees laid off when Bay Area Regional Medical Center suddenly closed. The medical branch has plans to hire about 300 employees when it opens a new operation in the building sometime in the spring, officials said.

“This opening is so important that a good third of the University of Texas Board of Regents came to acknowledge it,” said James Milliken, the chancellor of the University of Texas System, Monday at the center’s opening.

The center cost about $112 million, with $88 million for construction of the building and $24 million for equipment.

League City officials anticipate that Galveston County’s biggest city will continue to grow over the next several years. The city’s population in January was just shy of 105,000, up from about 102,634 at the same time in 2017, officials said. But, only about 52 percent of League City is developed and projections show the population could rise above 200,000, officials said.

“This area is going to bloom over the next couple of years, with UTMB and MD Anderson at its heart,” Mayor Pat Hallisey said Monday.

When the center was at its previous location in Nassau Bay, staff quickly ran out of room for a growing patient base, Ehlers said.

Between 300 and 400 patients visited the new facility on its first day open, Ehlers said.

Designers of the new facility purposefully left space that hasn’t yet been built out to accommodate future growth and additional rooms, should staff eventually need it, Ehlers said.