Hurricane leaves mark on state parks, TPWD facilities

Published on Wednesday, 20 September 2017 15:36 - Written by STEVE KNIGHT/steve@tylerpaper.com 

 

For Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Parks Division it has been taking a step forward and two steps back year after year.

Heavy flooding around the state in 2015-16 put state parks in a bind when it came to repairs. Already facing a backlog of deferred maintenance within the system, additional funding that it was hoped would help the department catch up on repairs was shifted toward emergency fixes following the floods. At least seven parks continue to suffer major flood damage. Throughout the system there are also minor issues like dangerous tree removal caused by flood that also needs to be undertaken.

While the department attempted to catch up with those efforts Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas coast. It is too early to assess a dollar estimate on repairs, but 12 state parks and historical sites are currently closed because of hurricane damage and even more are operating, but in need of repairs. State parks currently closed include Sea Rim, Village Creek, Huntsville, Stephen F. Austin, Brazos Bend, Lake Somerville, Palmetto, Goose Island, Mustang and Goliad, along with the Mission Rosario and Zaragoza Birthplace state historic sites.

“Comprehensive damage estimates for repairing and replacing facilities will take much longer as we work through assessments, bidding, and contracting,” a TPWD release stated.

With a limited operating budget to begin with, any repairs beyond those normally incurred create a funding issue for the department. In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey TPWD is on the hook for the repair costs, but also expects to seek federal assistance.

“How we will pay for all this will depend upon the nature and magnitude of the expense. Some of it, we will clearly have to absorb within existing operational budgets. Other expenses, we will seek reimbursement through FEMA related claims as appropriate. Still others, we will have to look at reprioritizing and redirecting planned capital construction repair related expenses. In addition, we will be working with the Governor’s office and the Legislature on securing requisite funds from other state and federal sources,” the statement read.

Along with the cost of repairs the department will also be out important entry fee revenue at the sites that are closed and possibly reduced revenue at some of the other damaged parks.

The damage from the hurricane stretched across TPWD divisional lines, damaging facilities used Fisheries staff as well as some wildlife management areas operated by the Wildlife Division. A number of hunts on some of those areas were canceled.

“At least 44 TPWD facilities, including state parks, WMA’s, fish hatcheries, labs and offices were damaged moderately or severely by the storm. Over 35 of our facilities remain closed to the public and/or TPWD staff pending repairs,” the statement said.

In some cases it is expect facilities will have to be completely rebuilt or at least undergo extensive repairs, but it will take time to get final assessments and in some cases possibly years to get funding

The department did reopen waterfowl hunting on four areas near the coast last weekend that had been closed for the first week of the early teal season because of flooding. Those areas, Justin Hurst, Mad Island, Lower Neches and Guadalupe Delta, will be open again for the final days of the early teal season.