No disrespect to the USS Texas, but plans to spend $35 million to repair the old battleship are a little incongruous assessed in full context.

That’s not to say the state of Texas shouldn’t spend the money. The battleship, which has been berthed for years just north up the Houston Ship Channel next to the San Jacinto Monument, is important to state and national history. Texas ought to preserve the Battleship Texas.

The incongruous part starts with where the $35 million is coming from and how easily it was shaken loose.

The $35 million for repairs, and another $500,000 for a “curatorial study of related artifacts,” will come from the state’s Economic Stabilization Fund, commonly called the Rainy Day Fund. Although lawmakers went on a spending spree with that money during the recently ended 86th legislative session, the $11 billion pot filled by taxes on oil and gas production traditionally had been more fiercely guarded than the gates of hell.

The full context part, along with some irony, lies in the sorry fate of a project to replace the Pelican Island Bridge.

The future of that project, which might accomplish much more than simply stabilize the economy of this region, is in serious doubt over about $14 million. That $14 million is the difference in cost between the bridge local governments have the money to build and the bridge Texas A&M University at Galveston wants to be built.

Galveston County, the city of Galveston and some others have enough, including $45 million from the Texas Department of Transportation, to build a new bridge along the same alignment as the old one, which would continue sending industrial traffic through the middle of the university’s Pelican Island campus.

University officials are adamant they want a bridge alignment routing that traffic around the campus, which is reasonable, except there’s apparently not enough money in sight to build that bridge.

Those university officials say they asked lawmakers for some money to solve the problem but were unsuccessful. So instead, they had a rule passed requiring Legislative Budget Board approval for any bridge to be built from Galveston to Pelican Island. Depending on who you ask, that either killed or just seriously complicated the whole plan to replace the obsolete bridge.

It’s reasonable to ask why lawmakers would be willing to kick in $35 million to restore a tourist attraction that’s already backed by a nonprofit foundation that can raise private money, but not $14 million for a bridge that might have profound economic benefit for this entire region.

It’s more interesting than relevant, perhaps, but the Texas Legislature created the Economic Stabilization Fund in the late 1980s as a buffer against the booms and busts traditional, inevitable, in the state’s petroleum-based economy. The oil and gas industry was in a pit at the time, and some people, with sound reasoning and good evidence, were writing its obituary.

Everybody predicted a future of continued decline for that backbone industry; nobody expected the Economic Stabilization Fund to bank money in the double-digit billions.

Far from dying, however, the state’s oil and gas industry has gone through a renaissance unimaginable in the late 1980s thanks a controversial production technique called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

Not only is fracking responsible for saving the Texas oil and gas industry, it has pretty much ended the nation’s dependence on imported petroleum. The United States is on track to become a net petroleum exporter by 2020, according to the International Energy Agency.

Imagine predicting that in 1989.

George P. Mitchell didn’t invent fracking, but he spent a fortune and suffered much doubt and derision perfecting it. Probably no one person is more responsible for Texas having a Rainy Day fund of $11 billion.

Meanwhile, the Aggie campus out on Pelican Island wouldn’t exist without Mitchell’s donated land and money.

So by all means, Texas should put $35 million into repairing the USS Texas. We should honor its contribution to history. But how about $14 million from that Rainy Day Fund for a bridge to Pelican Island honoring the contributions of George P. Mitchell, and benefiting the economy?

• Michael A. Smith

Michael A. Smith: 409-683-5206; michael.smith@galvnews.com

(12) comments

David Smith

Who owns the most land on Pelican Island? Who would b$n$ fit the most from a new bridge? And yet not once has their name been mentioned in the search to obtain funding.

Craig Mason

Who?

Miceal O'Laochdha

Craig, it is the Port of Houston. They bought a lot of acreage up years ago so as to preclude Galveston from building a container port on Pelican Island that would compete with their box ship business by offering a much shorter transit time between the pilot station and the dock in one of the shipping industry's most time sensitive businesses. As the Port of Houston is governmental entity, they pay no taxes on that land. They will offer no money for a new bridge because any resulting maritime-related development by Galveston would almost certainly compete directly with them. They will hold that land forever fallow if they can, unless it becomes seriously advantageous to develop it for their own uses, not for the benefit of Galveston.

Don Schlessinger

[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup]

Ray Taft

The Battleship Texas is to be towed to a shipyard for the massive repair and restoration process. It’s new, permanent location has not yet been finalized. As stated in this editorial the money is coming from the state’s Rainy Day Fund. The state of Texas can use its authority and funding to complete the project concerning the ship’s new home. State lawmakers can readily solve the bridge problem at the same time. Make Pelican Island the new home for the Battleship Texas. Everyone can come together to build a new Pelican Island bridge to replace the old bridge, so tourists can safely visit the Battleship Texas. The state can chip in to make it the bridge that the Texas A&M University wants. Everyone else can chip in to get the bridge they want. It will become the bridge that opens up Pelican Island to an economic boom. A boom that also allows lots of visitors to see the restored Battleship Texas on Pelican Island.

Miceal O'Laochdha

An excellent and sensible suggestion Mr. Taft. The foundation operating the USS Texas wants to install it at Pier 21 after the shipyard period. That is not a good use of Pier 21 and your suggestion here is a much better plan. Install the USS Texas at an expanded park with the USS Stewart and the submarine already at Pelican Island and tie State funding contribution to the new Pelican Island bridge; routed around the TAMUG campus, to that effort. And make it the Land Bridge option with rail connection, while they are at it.

Dan Freeman

The submarine is the USS Cavalla (SS-244). On her maiden patrol Cavalla, en route to her station in the eastern Philippines, made contact with a large Japanese task force on 17 June. Cavalla tracked the force for several hours, relaying information which contributed to the United States victory in the Battle of the Philippine Sea (commonly known as the "Marianas Turkey Shoot") on 19–20 June 1944. On 19 June she caught the carrier ShÅkaku recovering planes, and quickly fired a spread of six torpedoes, with three hits. ShÅkaku sank at 11°50′N 137°57′E. After a severe depth charging by three destroyers, Cavalla escaped to continue her patrol, with relatively minor damage by depth charges from the Urakaze. The feat earned her a Presidential Unit Citation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Cavalla_(SS-244)

Don Schlessinger

Why don't we do this. Build the bridge and road around the Aggies as they want us to do, but make any access to and from the new road gravel, or gravel and sand. If they want to improve on their new gravel road let them build it themselves. A&M is a school full of great engineers, they should have no problem making their own access to the school.

Doug Sivyer

LOL, [beam]

Gary Miller

Don! Build the bridge A&M wants with no access to the campus?

Gary Miller

A&M Should offer a majority share of funding for the bridge before being given a majority voice on what bridge is built. Put up A&M or shut up.

Jose' Boix

Just wondering. On Tuesday, November 7, 2017: Voters OK $80 million Galveston County bond package. One project slated for funding through the package would be $5 million to match existing county funds to repair of the Pelican Bridge connecting Galveston to Pelican Island. I wonder how is this money being managed.

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