Feds give Nueces County a chance to come up with plan for Bob Hall Pier situation
Things could be looking a little better for Mikel May's Beachside Bar & Grill, as well as Nueces County, in the eyes of the federal government. The federal government reached out to county officials last year to let them know they were in violation of a nearly $750,000 grant that paid for improvements to Bob Hall Pier.
Things could be looking a little better for Mikel May's Beachside Bar & Grill, as well as Nueces County, in the eyes of the federal government.
County Judge Barbara Canales briefed commissioners Wednesday about the results of a May 13 meeting it held with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The federal government reached out to county officials last year to let them know they were in violation of a nearly $750,000 grant that paid for improvements to Bob Hall Pier.
The county came under scrutiny from the federal government early last year because of elements added to Mikel May's, which is located on the pier. The county signed a lease with Mikel May's for concession services shortly after completion of the pier's Gulf Beach Observation Deck in June 2011.
The federal government later asked for the county to repay the nearly $750,000 in a lump sum, as well as interest accrued. But Canales met with federal official in May to present an alternative that could allow Mikel May's to remain open on the pier.
"We would set aside the other agreement that we have from U.S. Fish and Wildlife and we would be allowed — this is our proposal — to use another project to be considered in full compliance," Canales said.
The other project is actually one that Pct. 4 County Commissioner Brent Chesney had previously proposed, but has been unable to get off the ground, for I.B. Magee Beach Park in Port Aransas. It would entail the construction of an observation deck and other educational resources similar to what was built on Bob Hall Pier in 2011, Canales said.
"It would be a facility that's open to the public, that's free, that's substantially the same," she said. "We already own design and structural engineering plans, and they would accept — potentially — as part of our proposal this design and structural engineering plans as an in-kind piece of this pie."
A May 15 letter sent to the Canales from Paul Rauch, assistant director of the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program for the Fish and Wildlife Service, said the agency appreciated the county's "commitment to remedying the unauthorized use and compliance issues with the Bob Hall Pier observation pavilion."
"At this time, we would like to invite Nueces County ... to submit a proposal to remove the Federal nexus from the Bob Hall Pier observation pavilion by completing construction of a comparable facility at an alternative location," Rauch wrote.
The county has until Aug. 14 to submit that proposal, which must include a variety of information. Those include descriptions of the facility, site and design plans, timeline for construction, and a detailed budget and description "of how the financial value of the proposed facility offsets the financial value of the existing observation pavilion at Bob Hall Pier."
Rauch also noted that interest on the $746,325.57 in federal funds previously awarded for the pier enhancements will continue to accrue until the project is completed, if it is approved by the federal agency.
As for funding, Canales has said she would approach the Ed Rachal Foundation for help with the Mikel May's issue, but backed off of that on Wednesday. Instead, she said, "there's no named person — there have been many companies (doing business in the port) that have expressed interest, that are looking for mitigation projects."
Canales later clarified that she has not had "any meeting" with any foundations or companies, "but I know that the opportunity exists to get, you know, a good piece of that funding."
Pct. 2 County Commissioner Joe A. "JAG" Gonzalez said he would oppose any measure to build a new facility, citing his ongoing displeasure with how the Mikel May's situation unfolded. Gonzalez said he felt the county should not have allowed the restaurant to open on the pier in the first place.
"I will not sign anything approving this," he said. "I will not be part of no proposal, resolution — I'm telling you now because that's the way I feel."
Chesney said he was appreciative of the work Canales has done to present an alternative solution to the Mikel May's situation. The restaurant, he said, has become a "very important part of the island and the community there," while also generating revenue for the county.
"I know we're not out of the woods yet," he said. "This may not work — they still could tell us, 'No,' and we could be right back to the situation where we have to make some tough decisions."
Chesney also pointed out that if the alternative project is allowed to move forward in Port Aransas, it would be a great boost to that community, which is still recovering from Hurricane Harvey's devastation nearly two years ago.
"They're coming back great — they're a strong community and they're doing well, so a project like this will be something I think will be very awesome," he said.
Tim Acosta covers the Port of Corpus Christi, county and city government stories for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. Consider supporting local journalism with a digital subscription to the Caller-Times.