Texas: Local leaders reflect on two years of recovery after Hurricane Harvey
After dealing with the devastation and heartbreak associated with Hurricane Harvey, Aransas County residents are moving forward as we hit the second anniversary of the storm.
It is a time to be grateful for the help received from all corners, and joyous for the many things that have come our way.
Activities planned for this upcoming weekend will mostly have a reflective focus. Church pastors will touch on a message of gratefulness, but at the same time field a call to action to help those still in need.
The Aransas County judge, the mayors of Rockport and Fulton, the chairman of the Aransas County Navigation District (ACND), the Aransas County Independent School District (ACISD) superintendent, and the pastor of First Baptist Church recently shared their reflections about this stage in our community’s recovery.
Aransas County judge
Aransas County Judge C.H. “Burt” Mills said the county has come a long way since that dreadful day (Aug. 25, 2017) when Hurricane Harvey made a direct hit on us.
“Through your help and the help from so many others throughout the nation, we have been able to get back on our feet,” he said.
“It truly warms my heart to think about all the help and support we have been given, and for that we are all grateful beyond measure.”
Mills noted state officials and emergency management leaders have told elected officials Aransas County is leaps and bounds ahead of the curve in almost every area of the recovery process.
“We are very proud of that,” said Mills. “With that being said, if there is anyone still needing help, we want you to come forward right now so we can make every effort to get you the assistance needed.
“There is a silver lining we are beginning to see. We are working together with the City of Rockport on the rebuild of the courthouse into a combined (courthouse / city hall) project at Live Oak and Magnolia streets.
“We will be rebuilding the Aquarium at Rockport Harbor, seven hangers and a new utility barn at the Aransas County Airport, and 90 percent of the runways will be switched to LED lighting creating great savings in the years to come.”
Mills said the county’s venue tax projects, such as the History Center for Aransas County, kayak launch areas, birding sites and trails are all back on course and can be enjoyed by residents and visitors.
“We thank the Aransas County Navigation District for repairing our marinas and harbors, new bait stands at each of the harbors, for working together to remodel the Bay Education Center, and for new pavilions at our beach, along with replenishing the sand and lots of new cabanas among many other things,” said Mills.
“We are extremely proud of everyone and wish only the best for all. We have come so far just two years into our recovery.”
Mayor of Rockport
Rockport Mayor Pat Rios said the journey the past two years has been a mix of emotions – sadness and trepidation.
“We are grateful for the many individuals, government agencies, organizations, volunteers and foundations that have stepped up in our hour of need and throughout the recovery process,” said Rios.
“Having not been through something like this before, we were fortunate to have experienced hands working on our behalf. The generous outpouring of volunteer, material, and financial support touched us.
“We could never have made it this far without the inspiration, dedication and determination of our residents, local churches, and businesses. The fortitude and resolve they have demonstrated laid the groundwork for rebuilding our community and living up to the ‘Rockport Strong’ moniker.”
Rios noted most businesses were reopening less than a year after Harvey, and Memorial Park was made ready for the Little League season and is undergoing an incredible transformation.
“The wildlife that graced our shores has returned in abundance,” he said. “Now we look forward to the rebuilding of the Key Allegro Bridge, the completion of a new competition gym at the high school, a first class Arts and Performing Arts Center, and a cooperative venue between the city and county for the construction of a one-stop government complex (Downtown Anchor Project) in downtown Rockport.
“It hasn’t been easy, but our community has pulled together to achieve the extraordinary. My thanks to everyone for their help in rebuilding an even better Rockport.”
Mayor of Fulton
Fulton Mayor Jimmy Kendrick said he has been witness to so much the last two years. It is hard for him to put into words his appreciation.
“Fulton is so pleased to have its convention center (Paws and Taws) under construction, and to have the adjoining land given to the town by a private donor,” said Kendrick.
“Construction on the Fulton Pier will begin this month, and Fulton will be home to the largest hotel in Aransas County when the Hampton Inn, with 91 new rooms, opens this fall.”
Kendrick said he never knew there could be so many meetings.
“We worked hard to make every gathering count and be productive,” he said. “We are grateful to everyone who rolled up their sleeves, put on their gloves, and helped their fellow man.
“My home was ravaged by the storm and I am just now getting back to normal. From the bottom of my heart, I extend my gratitude to everyone for their support.
“With your continued support, we can make it through. Thanks again everyone.”
ACND Chairman Malcolm Dieckow said since Harvey made landfall the district has been busy rebuilding and replacing infrastructure vital to the local economy.
“That includes getting the harbors (Rockport, Fulton and Cove harbors) back in operation,” said Dieckow. “Little Bay and Rockport Beach - the focal point for tourism in our community - were especially hard hit. They are now repaired and back to full operation with replenished sand, pavilions and cabanas.”
He noted the importance of fishing and boating to the local economy.
“The bait stands and boat ramps were a high priority if visitors were to return and bring needed customers to local businesses, said Dieckow. “We are happy to report these achievements in our recovery, but there is still plenty to do moving forward with improvements to the large breakwaters and other marine structures vital to shoreline protection.”
ACISD Superintendent Joseph Patek said it’s been noted before it takes a village to raise a child.
“Many people in our community represent part of the village for almost 3,000 students,” said Patek. “It would have been easy to get lost in the overwhelming aftermath of Harvey and forget we are part of a much bigger picture in the lives of kids.
“This community rallied around our school district and made it possible for us to overcome obstacle after obstacle. Enabling us to open our campuses in October 2017.
“In addition to the support for our students, the community also supported our staff.”
Patek said he understands people might get tired of references to the storm, but added, “Harvey packed a punch two years ago, and we have all been in a fight to recover since that day in August.
“The community rallied and has proven its resilience … the recovery has been hard, emotionally taxing work. Socially and emotionally, we are making strides to take care of the whole child and provide a safe place for them to learn.”
He said the community realized without addressing these needs, it is difficult to tap in to academic needs.
“The diamond in the rough is the new, updated and improved facilities for our students and for generations of kids to come,” said the superintendent. “We have an updated auditorium and a state of the art competition gym under construction.
“Only with the support of the community and community leaders are we able to say with pride, ‘The comeback is stronger than the setback.’ We will not let the setbacks slow our progress. We will celebrate our strengths and reassess/adjust where there are weaknesses.
“We have shown in the past two years we have much to offer our students, even in the face of great adversity. Our recovery is not yet complete. We must use all of our resources in one another to be the strongest village we can be.”
First Baptist Church pastor
First Baptist Church Pastor Scott Jones said, “First Baptist Church and Hands of Hope are proud to be able to serve in the ongoing recovery and rebuilding efforts in Aransas County.
“We are encouraged by the progress of the government infrastructure and local businesses.
“We are committed to helping all private citizens we can because we believe each family, each person, deserves to have their own recovery story.
“All are welcome to see how we are committing to the long-term recovery of Aransas County and the Coastal Bend.”