Ten years after Hurricane Ike devastated Galveston Island and surrounding areas, local governments overseeing recovery projects have been given a worrisome anniversary gift: a ticking clock.
As the anniversary of the storm nears, officials say they are working to complete as many recovery projects as possible by December 2019 to beat a state-imposed deadline to spend Ike money or else finally lose it forever.
Hurricane Ike made landfall in Galveston on Sept. 13, 2008. While only a Category 2 storm when measured by windspeed, the storm caused a massive storm surge. Ike pushed water into Galveston Bay, which then washed back over the island over its unprotected north side.
Parts of the island, including downtown and Scholes International Airport, were flooded with as much as 8 feet of water.
The city of Galveston has overseen hundreds of millions of dollars on Ike-related recovery projects. Galveston had more than 500 FEMA-funded projects and was allocated $212 million for infrastructure projects by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery program.
As of Friday, Galveston had eight HUD projects still underway, valued at $53 million. They include street and sewer work on Market Street in the city’s downtown and the construction of a $17 million downtown pump station.
The city’s new $10 million central fire station, being built directly across from city hall, is planned to be completed by April 2019, said Ross Blackketter, Galveston’s director of capital projects. After that’s completed, the city will begin demolishing the annex building attached to city hall, a project that alone is expected to take months to complete.
At the same time the city is wrapping up those projects, it’s lining up more projects to get started on. On Thursday, the Galveston City Council is scheduled to vote on three contracts that will allow three more Ike-related projects to begin.
They include a $2.9 million renovation to the old 30th Street Water & Electric Light Station to turn it into a community center, a $5.7 million project to build a 7-million-gallon water storage tank at 59th Street and $4 million to demolish the old city incinerator and cap the polluted land around it.
There is an urgency to complete those projects, Blackketter said. The Texas General Land Office has set a deadline to complete all Ike-related projects by December 2019. If they’re not completed by then, the city might not be reimbursed for the work it’s doing, or may have to pay for unfinished work on its own, he said.
“That’s a hard question to answer,” Blackketter said. “They may decide not to pay for the project at all, they may not to pay for costs that happen after the deadline.”
The city’s goal is to spend every dollar it can before the deadline, Blackketter said.
The deadline has already caused some local governments to abandon some project plans. Galveston County Engineer Michael Shannon said a proposed project to build a flood basin in Gum Bayou using disaster recovery money was scrapped because it could not feasibly be done before the deadline.
“There are going to be some things that aren’t going to make it,” he said.
The Gum Bayou project was delayed in part because of concerns it would disturb timber rattlesnake habitats. The project would have required a lengthy environmental review and would have required the county buying land around the project area, Shannon said. Those things have extended the timeline past the December 2019 deadline.
Projects that aren’t done under the Ike programs could still have a second life. By the end of next year, local officials plan to have more details about projects funded by Hurricane Harvey recovery grants, Shannon said.
Some county Ike projects are underway and should be completed well before the 2019 deadline, including a new elevated water tank on Bolivar Peninsula and drainage projects across the county.
It wasn’t fair to say Ike projects “took a long time to do,” Shannon said.
Many of the projects the county is working on were alternative projects that were proposed after earlier projects were rejected, he said. Planning for some of the projects began as recently as 2017, he said.
“In this one year, we feel like we have hit the ball out of the park,” Shannon said. “We have taken a program that was tough to administer and got it moving forward.”