|Polk County Enterprise - Local News
Stories Added - August 2009
Copyright 2008 - Polk County Publishing Company
One year after Ike stormed through, recovery continues
Polk County Enterprise - August 2009
LIVINGSTON – Nearly a year after Hurricane Ike came to town, Polk County residents are still repairing, replacing and improving. The tedious task of overcoming the damage that was done, combined with the effort to prepare for the next one has proven to be a slow one. Evidence of the ongoing recovery process can be found all around. Some folks still have the telltale “blue roof”, some houses were destroyed and have not yet been cleaned up, and some communities are seeking ways to make the situation more tolerable should one of Ike’s siblings decide to stop by for a visit in the future. Roofing companies have all the business they can handle, being one of the few local industries thriving during the recent economic downturn. Other good businesses to be in are tree removal and generator installation.
The county was awarded approximately $6.5 million for Ike cleanup and recovery efforts, but the money can also be used to improve on things that failed to function as designed such as water and sewer. Without electricity these systems were left idle and all but forced residents to evacuate their homes to seek shelter elsewhere. County officials are all in agreement, water and sewer are an absolute necessary for survival in the wake of a major storm. For the past year county commissioners, emergency management personnel and the county judge have been trying to find a way to ensure communities who have a utility district have the ability to keep them running when the power goes out, and to provide generators for county schools to run an emergency shelter should it be necessary. Generators seem to be all the rage nowadays after the county spent nearly a week in darkness.
But seeking government funds to help pay for them is turning out to be anything but a quick process. Communities and private water and sewer companies are finding it quicker and easier to forego government funds and to simply pay for these improvements out of their own pockets. “We haven’t received penny one from the ORCA money,” Office of Emergency Management Coordinator Larry Shine said. “It’s going to be a long slow process. That’s why I’ve always said, if you want a generator for your system, you better buy it yourself.” W.A. Electric based in Trinity has been working with communities who have chosen to do just that. Nine communities in Trinity County last year opted to purchase generators themselves, owner Tim Weaver said.
Community leaders are finding it costs significantly more to install the same generator when government funds are involved, so they are foregoing the government dollars and the red tape and are doing the job themselves. Part of the reason for the increased cost is the government’s requirements for a site evaluation and an environmental impact study in some cases.
“If it’s an engineered job, yeah it’s going to drive the cost up,” Weaver said. Communities with a large number of residents such as Canyon Park in Onalaska, which has more than 300 houses served by its water and sewer utilities, find it easy to spread the cost. Smaller communities, though, like Fountain Lakes just across the bridge are having a tougher time finding the money necessary. The community has only 34 houses and its leaders have found themselves in a bind when it comes to financing this project. “Ike not only knocked out our electricity (and all associated water and sewer abilities), but also caused much infrastructure damage,” Fountain Lakes Property Owner’s Association President Mike Flaherty said.
“We have exhausted our budget and desperately need assistance for the back-up generators.” Flaherty said he has an estimate of $40,000 for two generators to run his water and sewer. Government funding, if approved could pay for half that, but with the additional costs involved with receiving this money coupled with the headache of navigating the bureaucratic red tape, it may not even be worth the trouble. “There is a lot of confusion on what to do, where to go and who to contact,” Flaherty said. “I feel like I’m chasing my tail sometimes.” Private water companies like Lake Livingston Water Supply (LLWS) have chosen to pay for its generators on its own, citing the added cost for meeting federal requirements as a prohibitive factor when deciding whether to accept federal funding.
The money the company would have received from the governemt would have only paid half the cost, and the company can purchase generators on its own much more cheaply, a company spokesman has said. LLWS has recently purchased 49 permanent generators to run its water and sewer utilities, and two portable units to use in the event one of the fixed units fails to function properly. Generator Supercenter out of Tomball is performing the installation and testing of the generators. All 49 generators have been installed and the ones serving communities with over 200 connections have been tested and are in service, the remainder should be fully operational soon. “The power has to go off while the wiring is hooked up,” Field Supervisor Phillip Everett said. “Customers may have low pressure for a while and may have no water for a time. It’s a slow process to get them all hooked up. People just have to be patient.”