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Port, Royal Caribbean to partner on cruise terminal

GALVESTON

The Port of Galveston and cruise company Royal Caribbean have agreed to partner in developing an $85 million cruise terminal, the port announced Tuesday.

The two groups are set to sign a memorandum of understanding Wednesday. The agreement will set out the general terms for a long-term deal to develop and operate the new terminal, which would be the third cruise terminal for the island.

The memorandum will allow the port and the company to negotiate the final details of the agreement. The Wharves Board of Trustees, which governs the port, could vote on a final agreement as soon as January, the port said.

Port officials have been pursuing a third cruise terminal since at least 2012, arguing that a third berth would allow for larger ships to cruise from the island more frequently.

The deal with Royal Caribbean was first raised this summer. The new terminal could cost $85 million, and be open by 2021, Port Director Rodger Rees said Tuesday.

Royal Caribbean would bear the $85 million cost of building the terminal on 10 acres at Pier 10, east of the existing cruise terminals at piers 25 and 27, Rees said.

“Royal Caribbean is going to be investing in Galveston,” Rees said.

The new pier would be next to the Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics and BMW vehicle processing plant, officials said.

Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics would move some of its operations to the west end of the port, Rees said. The BMW processing facility would remain where it is, he said.

Another 15 acres at Pier 10 would be turned into surface parking for the new cruise terminal, Rees said.

After the construction is completed, the port would be in charge of maintaining the new berth. Royal Caribbean would have an initial 20-year lease for the terminal, with options to continue it after the initial term.

The company would be able to use the site almost exclusively, unless it was needed by another ship in an emergency or if the port paid the company to allow another cruise line to use the spot, Rees said.

The Port of Galveston derives about 55 percent of its annual revenue from cruise-related activities. The port is a landlord port and generates much of its income from lease agreements with maritime tenants.

The port is home to three year-round Carnival Cruise Line ships, one year-round Royal Caribbean ship, one seasonal Royal Caribbean ship and a seasonal Disney Cruise Lines ship.

The port predicted it would earn about $37.4 million in total revenue in 2018.


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State launches first of Harvey rebuilding programs

DICKINSON

Madelyn Jenkins is tired of asking for help.

Her home on Ohio Avenue in Dickinson was flooded during Hurricane Harvey in August 2017. It still bears many of the scars of the storm. Furniture is scattered around her single-story house, wherever there’s space.

A back bedroom is torn down to the studs, the result of a well-meaning church group that came to the house in the summer, but didn’t finish the rehabilitation work, she said.

Jenkins doesn’t know whether the group is coming back. She’s been disappointed by her insurance company and by the federal assistance she’s received from FEMA, she said.

Now, a day after the start of a new Texas General Land Office program meant to help still-struggling Harvey homeowners, Jenkins is more than ready to move on, she said.

“They can tear it down,” Jenkins said about her home of 22 years. “I’d be happy. Seriously.”

The land office Monday began accepting applications for its Homeowner Assistance Program. The program, funded by $258 million in federal disaster recovery block grants, will rebuild or rehabilitate Harvey-damaged houses for homeowners that meet certain qualifications, such as being owned by low- or middle-level income people.

About 145 Galveston County homeowners had submitted at least a partial application as of Tuesday afternoon, according to the land office. Of those, 21 had submitted full applications, the land office said.

The land office estimated about 2,000 homeowners from Galveston and five other area counties would get help through the program. Applicants from the six-county region are drawing money from the same pot of disaster aid awarded to Texas after the hurricane.

The land office last week estimated as many as 10,000 homes in the county alone might qualify for the assistance through the program. Only a fraction of that number would be rebuilt under the state program, officials said.

Applicants are being considered on first-come, first-serve basis.

After a person submits an application, it will take up to two weeks to find out whether they’ve been deemed qualified to participate in the program. It will take longer to determine whether a person will get any assistance through the program, the land office said. After a homeowner is accepted, construction work should be completed within six months, the land office said.

The start of the program is a relief for some local leaders, who said Harvey survivors — particularly those who weren’t insured against flooding and have fixed incomes — were anxious for news about rebuilding.

“This kind of help has been very painful to be patient for,” Dickinson City Councilman William King III. said. “Citizens were hurting, desperate, there was no lifeline. Now, help is here.”

The land office and other recovery groups have planned a series of informational meetings to try to urge people to sign up. The first of those meetings, at Dickinson’s Greater New Hope Missionary Baptist Church, where King is a pastor, drew about 30 people Tuesday afternoon.

For many at the meeting, part of the event was figuring out what this program is and isn’t about. The homeowner assistance program will not reimburse people for construction work done on their homes since Harvey. That will come through a different program the land office plans to roll out next year.

The homeowner program also won’t reimburse people for lost vehicles, or for rent expenses they’ve incurred since being forced from their homes by the storm.

The program could pay for reconstruction work that has been only partially done, or for replacing a home that had to be torn down because of flood damage, officials said.

That was encouraging news for some.

Rita Howard, 84, saw her home on Avenue G flood during the storm and decided to sign up for the assistance program after attending the meeting.

“It seems reasonable,” she said. “It seems like they’re going to do something.”


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Officials expect about $5 million for flood projects

FRIENDSWOOD

City officials could use about $5.45 million in federal grant money expected through a Texas General Land Office program to finish an evacuation route, to begin two other flood control projects and to combine two lift stations, among other drainage projects.

Officials in Friendswood, which is in Galveston and Harris counties, are soliciting public input about projects they might fund with Community Development Block Grant money they believe the city is eligible for through the Houston-Galveston Area Council — about $2.69 million for infrastructure projects and another $2.76 million to buy out flood-damaged houses.

Because Friendswood is in two counties, officials are awaiting information about Hurricane Harvey recovery funding from two different groups — Harris County and the Houston-Galveston Area Council, officials said.

City officials in October began soliciting public input about projects to pursue with about $4.4 million they anticipate Harris County will give them to use on that side of the city.

Hurricane Harvey in August 2017 dropped more than 50 inches of rain on some parts of Harris and Galveston counties, overwhelming drainage systems and leaving many residents with flooded homes. After the storm, The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, via the Texas General Land Office, gave Harris County a little less than $1.2 billion in community development block grants to allocate for infrastructure improvements, officials said.

Based on the county’s plan to distribute the aid, Friendswood is eligible to receive about $4.4 million, but can only use it on improvements on the Harris County side of town, officials said.

While incumbent Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, who successfully pursued the direct allocation from federal authorities, was unseated by 27-year-old Lina Hidalgo in the November election, that shouldn’t change Friendswood’s funding situation, city officials said.

“To date, the city’s efforts have not been affected by the coming transition in the office of Harris County judge,” City Manager Morad Kabiri said.

Grant funding for the Galveston County side of town will flow through the Texas General Land Office, which has selected the Houston-Galveston Area Council as its distributor of funding, city officials said.

While city officials estimate they are eligible for about $5.45 million for the Galveston County part of town, that doesn’t necessarily mean they will receive that full amount, Councilman Steve Rockey said.

“Just because they earmark a certain city or area for funding, you still have to meet the rules,” Rockey said. “They aren’t going to say here’s $2.8 million, go spend it wisely.”

Projects the city could pursue with the funding include flood control projects in the Deepwood Drive and Polly Ranch areas, a $1.6 million project to combine lift stations 1 and 17, and the city’s 20 percent share of a $2.8 million project to extend Friendswood Lakes Boulevard from FM 528 to FM 2351 to serve as an evacuation route, among other projects, officials said.

A potential stumbling block to securing that funding is that the U.S. Department of Houston and Urban Development requires 70 percent of disaster aid be used on projects in areas where 51 percent or more of the population earns less than the median income, about $56,000 per year for a family of four in Friendswood, Rockey said.

Friendswood has no majority low- to moderate-income areas, Rockey said.

About 15 percent of Friendswood’s 40,500 residents — 6,000 or so people — reside in Harris County in neighborhoods generally west of Dixie Farm Road, according to the city.


STUART

VILLANUEVA/

The Daily News  

A sightseeing boat carries tourists past cruise ships and tankers moored at the Port of Galveston on Monday, Feb. 19, 2018. Port of Galveston officials said they weren’t much concerned about efforts among other Texas ports to enter the cruise business.


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If Galveston voters approved doubling the seawall parking rate next year, what would the money be used for?


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Long-stalled ballfield to be completed in January

GALVESTON

Six months after its scheduled completion, a baseball field at Crockett Park will enter the last leg of construction this week after the city hired a new contractor to complete the long-delayed project.

Pearland-based Ardent Construction will take over the project after the city severed ties last month with contractor Hou-Scape and filed a lawsuit against the company Nov. 1 seeking money damages.

The city’s new contract with Ardent Construction is for $1.25 million, using some funds from the $3.6 million originally slated for the project, city spokeswoman Marissa Barnett said. The project will now cost an additional $110,000 but city officials believe the total cost could ultimately be less than what was originally projected, since some costs are still in dispute, Barnett said. 

Work could begin as early as Wednesday at Avenue S and 53rd Street, Barnett said.

“Ardent Construction has worked with the city of Galveston before,” Barnett said. “The firm built the Lasker Park community pool on 43rd Street, which was completed in 2017.”

The baseball field was scheduled for completion this summer, but disputes about incomplete work and payment with Hou-Scape stalled construction.

While the company contends the city owes it $500,000 for material and labor, city officials said the company didn’t pay subcontractors or complete work for which the city already had paid.

“The city contends it has overpaid Hou-Scape, and has asked for an independent, third party audit,” Barnett said.

The city and Hou-Scape spent much of the summer in discussions about payment and quality of work.

The company stopped work in September over dispute of payment, President Paula Hill said.

“The ones who suffer the most during this dispute are the kids who aren’t using the baseball fields,” Hill said Tuesday. “The residents of the city of Galveston who, because the city decides to use another contractor, will have cost overruns of hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

The complex will include three baseball fields, basketball and volleyball courts, concession stands, a walking trail and playground, Barnett said.

The city expects substantial work on the Little League complex to finish by Jan. 31.

This is good news to island Little League players and parents, President of Island Little League Blanca Flores said.

“I’ve been stopped in the streets and our parents are very concerned,” Flores said. “They’ll be very excited.”

Registration opens for the spring ball season in mid-January, she said.

Construction delays meant Island Little League couldn’t use Crockett Park for the fall ball programs, despite a June opening ceremony for the ballfields, which included much fanfare.