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Storm-damaged Riverfront Park still a year away from reopening

November 14, 2018

A plan to repair Riverfront Park is coming together, but residents will likely have to wait more than a year to see it completed.

Approving a contract with a local engineering firm to continue the process of repairing the park was one of three Tropical Storm Harvey recovery-related items the Beaumont City Council approved Tuesday.

The council also approved allowing the city manager to apply for local and federal money to fund the buyout or elevation of 27 homes in the 100-year flood plain and the acceptance of nearly $70,000 for the Beaumont Public Health Department’s hurricane recovery and preparedness.

City Director of Facilities Keith Folsom said the shoreline damage to Riverfront Park — up to 50 feet of erosion in some places and the complete destruction of the park’s boat docking area — was some of the worst he’s seen.

As a result, the park behind Beaumont City Hall to Elizabeth Street along the Neches River has been closed for several months.

Now there’s a plan to change that.

The City Council’s unanimous decision to approve a contract with Lanier & Associates Consulting Engineers means a crew will soon get to work surveying the site, preparing conceptual drawings for repairs, developing cost estimates and submitting permit information to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“Right now, the consensus is to stabilize the bank where it’s at right now and not reclaim the lost shoreline,” Folsom said. “That would basically be putting in sheet piles or concrete pilings to stop erosion — normal river erosion or from another flood event.”

The majority of the $217,500 contract will be paid by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The remainder will be funded by other grants or the capital program.

Folsom said he doesn’t yet have a timeline for the repairs. But he anticipates the work will take at least a year.

The City Council also unanimously gave the city manager the go-ahead to apply for federal and local dollars to fund the buyout or elevation of 27 properties flooded during Tropical Storm Harvey.

Beaumont Planning and Community Development Director Chris Boone said the city’s first priority in seeking funding is to find money to buy or elevate properties in the 100-year flood plain.

After talking with residents and authorities at the regional, state and federal level, the city determined 27 of these properties would likely be eligible for FEMA grant funding administered by the Texas Division of Emergency Management.

“I would expect the majority of the 27 would seek to sell,” he said.

“But we’re always clear to state that this process is voluntary,” he said.

If awarded, the FEMA funds are expected to cover 75 percent of the buyouts or elevations, with other federal funds administered by the Texas General Land Office expected to cover the other 25 percent — relieving the city of any financial responsibility.

Boone said no plans have been made for the land should the owners decide to allow the property to be purchased. But he anticipates the city will simply maintain it as open space.

“Obviously the potential uses are very limited,” he said.

The city anticipates receiving additional federal dollars in the coming months to continue to fund the elevation of flooded homes.

The third measure the council unanimously approved was the acceptance of nearly $70,000 for the Beaumont Public Health Department to focus on hurricane recovery and preparedness.

According to an email from the Department of State Health Services, $19,615 of the grant will go to health-care infection control and $50,000 will be spent on a traditional vector project.

The Beaumont Public Health Department didn’t respond to multiple requests for more information regarding specific projects to be funded by the grant.

According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, infection control and prevention can be carried out through trainings conducted by the Texas Society of Infection Control and Prevention or a Hurricane Response Summit.

The trainings would provide information and certification in infection control, among other topics. A summit would focus on providing specific disaster recovery infection control resources and studying lessons learned from other hurricane recovery efforts to prepare response plans for future hurricanes.

A traditional vector project, according to the Department of State Health Services, would enhance mosquito control operations by setting aside money to purchase pesticide, equipment and other resources.

kaitlin.bain@beaumontenterprise.com

twitter.com/KaitlinBain

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