By DINA ARÉVALO
Port Isabel-South Padre Press
Aside from the debates about salary increases and reductions, the Port Isabel City Commission considered several other long-pending matters during Monday night’s special meeting. Chief among them were the Yacht Club and dredging at the entrance to the Fingers.
The Commission considered a request by the Economic Development Corporation (EDC) to terminate a $1.2 million EDA grant meant to help fund renovations at the Yacht Club. With progress stalled on the project due to unexpected increases in the costs of renovating or restoring the building, as well as a lack of a tenant, the EDC recommended terminating the grant before its deadline for use lapses.
Mayor Joe E. Vega implored the Commission to hold off on terminating the grant, pending the possibility of securing more funding.
“Before we give this money back, I feel we need to give the Restoration Act” a chance, he said. Vega was referring to the RESTORE Council, which will begin soliciting project proposals early next year. Approximately $56 million in RESTORE Act funds will be used to fund projects that improve the environment, economy and industry in Texas gulf coast communities in the wake of the 2010 BP oil spill.
“The issue with this grant, Mayor, is that we don’t have the additional funds to do this building. We don’t have the tenant to comply with the project,” Interim City Manager Jared Hockema said. “There’s a limited time that we have to use these funds and start construction. If we go past that limit they’ll just take those funds from us,” he said.
Commissioner Martin C. Cantu asked about the results of a feasibility study the Commission requested earlier in the year.
“They found that the building, as a culinary school or a restaurant, would not be profitable, that the amount of money that it would take to put it to that would not ever be able to be recouped,” Hockema said. It would take an estimated $5 million to renovate the building.
Commissioner Juan Jose “J.J.” Zamora asked how much money has been spent on the project to date, to which Hockema replied that approximately $1.2 million have been spent thus far.
“What do we have right now to show?” Zamora asked.
“We have some drawings and a building,” Hockema said.
The motion to terminate the grant passed, over the objections of the mayor and Commissioner Maria de Jesus “M.J.” Garza.
The City also took another look at dredging the Fingers, which have been in need of dredging for quite a while. The City has been waiting to hear from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) in regards to whether or not it will use its funds, equipment and spoil site for dredging.”We should hear back any day now since they got the bids on Friday,” Hockema said.
The City has been holding off on dredging the entrance to the Fingers, in part, because its permitted spoil site has been repurposed with the construction of Arturo Galvan Park.
“It’s something that should be a continuous process where the City’s working on it, because you know you’re going to have to do it every two years,” Hockema said in an interview last Friday. “So, knowing that, you should be getting ready for it and keeping it mind and so forth,” he said.
“I think that (the City has) not thought about that,” he said, citing an email sent to the Texas Government Land Office (GLO) by the former city manager in May of this year asking whether or not the land could still be used as a spoil site after the development of the park.
During Monday’s commission meeting, Hockema outlined three possible courses of action, which included continuing to use the park location as a spoil site.
“Or the next option would be we continue trying to amend that permit,” he said. If amended — a process which could take months — the City could obtain permission to use an alternate land location or selected areas within the Laguna Madre itself as a spoil site. A spoil site located in the bay, however, would be subject to restrictions on when spoils could be deposited throughout the year, Hockema explained in the interview.
“The third option is to go with the PID (Public Improvement Distrcit),” Hockema said. “That’s probably the best alternative if the Corps doesn’t do it,” he said. The PID has its own spoil site located on the Fingers themselves. It could seek an amendment to its permit to allow the City to use it, as well.
Without no new information from USACE, the Commission tabled further discussion.
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