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#HARVEY: Port Aransas police, firefighters in portable buildings four years later

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Posted at 10:21 PM, Aug 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-25 23:21:21-04

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Port Aransas Police Chief Scott Burroughs has had enough.

When Hurricane Harvey hit the Coastal Bend in 2017, one of the cities which suffered millions of dollars in damage is the city of Port Aransas.

Four years later, city leaders continue to battle it out with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for funds desperately needed to rebuild major structures in town.

"It's a slap in the face to this community," he said. "It's a slap in the face to the police officers that have to work in these conditions. We've done everything that's been asked of us."

Port Aransas Police Chief shows us the temporary public safety building which includes the jail
Port Aransas Police Chief shows us the temporary public safety building which includes the jail

The city's public-safety building still is located in trailers that were only meant to be temporary, he said.

Burroughs shows us where the floor is caving in -- the same floor 27 police officers, 10 civilians, eight deputy constables, the constable walk on every day during the course of doing their jobs.

Floor in the temporary building after 4 years.
Floor in the temporary building after 4 years.

The jail is also in the same building.

"It's not like we're not asking for the Taj Mahal," a frustrated Burroughs said. "We've jumped through all the hoops, and often times we have jumped through those hoops three or four times, and yet, we cannot get the bureaucracies wheels to get moving."

So, what's standing in the way? According to city manager David Parsons -- it's FEMA.

"FEMA comes in and says 'This building is beyond 50 percent,' and then we said 'Great -- the whole building needs to be elevated,' " Parsons said. "And once FEMA saw that price tag, they tried to take back their 50-percent ruling."

Parsons said FEMA is offering the city half of what it would cost to re-build.

The old public safety building in Port Aransas. It's unusable. Last time it was occupied was August 26th, 2017
The old public safety building in Port Aransas. It's unusable. Last time it was occupied was August 26th, 2017

The old public-safety building was just under 11,000 sq. ft.

The city says a new building that is up to code, ADA-compliant, and meets current jail standards, requires an additional 6,000 sq. ft.

But FEMA isn't convinced.

"Right now we are in the phase of reviewing what they provided, and anything that does not clear -- that's where we have the dialogue,” said a FEMA spokesperson we spoke with Wednesday.

So are we saying that in four years, the city of Port Aransas has not provided adequate information to get its request approved?

“I mean the project has been thru different phases," they said.

Different phases indeed. The city of port aransas says they've dealt with 7 different fema case managers in 4 years.

I called U.S. Rep. Michael Cloud, who represents District 27 to ask if he thinks this is acceptable.

"We are very frustrated,” he said. “These things take a long time. . . . the system is just not working. Turnover at FEMA has been an issue. . . . the fact that often happens -- you finally start making progress on a project and then you almost have to start all over with a new case manager."

The congressman says he's worked on getting the city this far with FEMA.

"How should this be resolved?” he said. “Well, we are going to keep working until we see the building standing up, and hopefully we will be there at the ribbon-cutting and celebrating with the community when we see law enforcement being able to serve their community from a facility that is worthy of their service."

The fire station also needs to be re-built.

This is what the fire station looked like after Harvey.

Port Aransas fire station after Hurricane Harvey
Port Aransas fire station after Hurricane Harvey

Also needing replacement -- the nature preserve at Charlie's Pasture, three piers and the bulk heads, and the citywide gas system, which continues to have saltwater in the lines from when the storm inundated the city of Port Aransas.

Small part of the bulkheads at Charlie's Pasture that need replacing
Small part of the bulkheads at Charlie's Pasture that need replacing

"As a matter of fact, this winter -- during the winter storm," Parsons said. "That saltwater froze up in some of our lines and caused outages to several subdivisions in the city. So it's still coming back to haunt us."

Parsons said he is on the phone with FEMA twice a week, along with a team that works specifically on getting these projects approved.

Phone calls, meetings and submitting endless paperwork -- Parsons calls the four-year process a struggle.

But he says despite his frustration, he won't give up the fight.

"You know, FEMA, I think, counts on a lot of cities and counties dropping out of the program," he said. "But we are determined to hang in there and see this through to the end."