For small towns along Texas’ Gulf Coast, Hurricane Harvey was a catastrophic wind event that was largely ignored as national media focused on record-breaking flooding in Houston. Harvey made landfall Aug. 25 near Port Aransas as a Category 4 hurricane, with sustained winds of 140 mph. Port Aransas, Aransas Pass and Rockport still have years to go before their communities are made whole.
“We are still in recovery mode,” says Colton Wood, director of disaster recovery operations for Broaddus & Associates, which is working as program manager for the city of Port Aransas and construction manager at risk for the University of Texas Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas.
The Marine Science Institute suffered damage to 60 different structures. In Port Aransas, every business in the tourist and fishing town suffered damage, and almost 80% of the people lost their homes. The city is “extremely vulnerable. If another storm were to hit, you’d want everyone to evacuate as soon as possible,” Wood says.
The police station and public safety complex, now in temporary modular buildings, will be rebuilt to FEMA safe room standards. “It’s important that these facilities are ultimately built back to a better standard,” says Jim Broaddus, president of Broaddus & Associates.
There’s been a growing acceptance of spending money on resilient rebuilding, Broaddus says. “It’s a very wise use of the federal dollar. Clearly it will greatly reduce disaster recovery funding in the future.”
Work on most of the Marine Science Institute will be completed by the end of this year because the university’s board of regents is paying up front for the repair work.
Port Aransas, Rockport and other communities don’t have that luxury and must wait on federal funds.
Mike Koerner, director of long-term recovery for Aransas County, says the county is focused on resiliency and hazard mitigation as it rebuilds, but it is hampered by limitations on federal money. “The Stafford Act is sorely out of date,” Koerner says of the law that requires federal recovery dollars to be spent replacing what existed before a disaster.
Still, the county and the city of Rockport will leverage the opportunities they can and hope to replace the storm-damaged city hall, county courthouse and museums with a centralized and linked government and arts center, Koerner says.
The speed of recovery along the coast and in other areas affected in 2017 will vary from owner to owner. While there are best practices, towns that haven’t been affected by a major storm for a generation may not know how to proceed and may think they can manage it on their own.
“I guarantee you that 10 years from now, there will be stories about Harvey about why certain projects have been done,” Broaddus says. “It can be a wretched, tedious process. But done right, it can be done in a reasonable time.”