Saturday, June 27, 2009

Goose Creek and the Bayland Marina

I live in Baytown by choice. I work in Deer Park slash La Porte, but Baytown is my adopted home of thirty-five years and it’s not likely I will move, even after retirement. I said all that to say this; it does matter to me what our city and area looks like – to me and many others who share a common idea of a hometown’s appearance.

When I want to know what our city leaders are thinking and planning, I make every attempt to ask them personally and they have yet to ignore or misdirect me and that’s just one reason I put the stamp of approval on Mayor DonCarlos, Garry Brumback, Bob Leiper and Scott Johnson. Kevin Troller (Assistant City Manager) hasn’t got my vote of confidence yet, as I haven’t had the pleasure of his acquaintance. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time though.

This past week two exchanges of information took place while I was trying to get information on the future of the city. One involved the marina, which I will get to in a bit and the other is a group of old tanks on Goose Creek close to SH-146 and West Main. These tanks are across Goose Creek from the sewage treatment facility and are a real eyesore to others and me.

Back in June of 1992 Congress and the EPA came up with what is now known as "Brownfield" land, which are by definition on Wikipedia as "abandoned or underused industrial and commercial facilities available for re-use" and some qualify for Federal monies to clean them up, et al.

I asked the Mayor and City Manager if the property with the old chemical tanks qualifies as Brownfield property. Mr. Brumback told me they were making attempts to contact the owner(s) and get permission to have a scrap dealer haul it all away. I suggested a boat ramp be built on this peninsula and maybe accommodations for fishing, the likes of which is on Goose Lake closer to Bayland Park. It’s possible the land could be donated to the city for a small park also.

Mayor DonCarlos told me "You have hit on one of my second term goals-to get all the old pilings, power poles, and assorted oil field debris out of Goose Creek, as well as to try to get the old well heads capped below ground and the surface equipment (tanks, etc.) removed. Pete Alfaro fiddled with the idea in the 90’s, but couldn’t find anyone to fund it. Garry and I have discussed attempting to get Brownfield funding, and I intend to approach the Railroad Commission for help-I understand they might have some funding for this sort of cleanup".

Mr. Brumback promised "I will keep you posted on our progress" and I in turn will keep those who follow my writing informed also.

Now, onto the subject of the Marina at Bayland Park and what the boat owners are thinking the city is doing. For the longest time I’ve wondered about this place and why it wasn’t covered with big beautiful palm trees to make it look appealing. I was contacted by Martin Tidswell, owner of the sailing vessel "Turtle" the other day and was asked to get some answers, so I took it directly to the Mayor. There is a terrific amount of misunderstanding, hard feelings and confusion evidentially, between the boat owners and the city and in Mr. Tidswell’s words, they feel like they have been "scattered to the wind and now don't even have the small voice we once might have had".

The Mayor responded immediately: "The insurance monies paid covered only the untangling of the docks and boats and the cost of a marine surveyor to supervise that giant "pixie sticks" pile cleanup. We have applied for Ike recovery funds to rebuild; although it should be covered, and we think will be, we haven't seen a dime of the FEMA replacement money for it yet. Oddly enough, I have had two discussions this morning on the subject of the marina. Another possibility is a possible sale/lease of the entire island to a private developer/operator. We have been contacted by several developers, but would only consider this avenue with tight restrictions on what could be built on the island".

The Mayor again: "Finally - I want the marina rebuilt. Its location at a major gateway to the City makes it crucial that we develop the area properly, and I believe the marina is central to the plan. I am glad that there are folks still passionate about it, and I hope we can get going on it soon".

Mr. Tidswell's responded: "The following are some of the boat owners complaints and may be clouded by our interactions with the city players.

We feel the marina failed because the pilings were of a substandard height. No other floating marina in the entire Galveston Bay area floated away. Neither the city nor Mr Hazelwood or any of his staff made the slightest attempt to secure the docks as was suggested in their information packet I received when I leased my slip.

The boat owners were told by Mr. Hazelwood on the Thursday after the storm that he didn't think supplying security was his responsibility. We owners took it upon ourselves to stand 24/7-armed watch on our boats AND the marina property for 23 days until we were supplied a fence and 2 days later a constable. We made fire a constant concern and set rules to prevent it.

We were not allowed to have any input in the choosing of contractors or negotiating rates and were treated poorly/rudely by the cities insurance carrier.

If you have been in Baytown a while I'm sure you know there are a lot of "unusual" political deals done over the years and they are still going on. As usual you will need to follow the money.

I guess the cities concept of "a lot of money" is a bit different than mine but let it stand that Mr. Hazelwood was making a pretty good return on his money.

I too am getting tired of beating this dead horse but having not seen the slightest hint of restoration at the marina I feel its my obligation to at least poke it from time to time".

Mayor DonCarlos answered: "We want these owners to return to the marina, and I will readily acknowledge that the situation after the storm was not a good one-we will try our best to do better next time, and to (hopefully) rebuild in a way that will give greater stability and reliability to the docks (i.e., taller pilings). I well remember the issues with the insurance carrier, and the trials that the owners were put through. All I can promise is that we will listen and try to improve the communications".

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Oak Island post Hurricane Ike

Note: I received this email from one of my brothers and decided it was so timely, I needed to post it for all to read.

Yesterday I rode my bike from Fort Anahuac down to Oak Island and back. It was a real shocker. Oak Island is a small community consisting of about 350 homes, of which Hurricane Ike wiped out about 90%. When FEMA pulled out of here these small communities where left to fend for themselves. I’m thankful for FEMA but like any government run organization, they are going to the high profile places first because that is where the politicians get the most recognition.

Now don’t get me wrong, this was not a bunch of shacks nor was it a bunch of mansions. It was just a nice little mix of working folks living there lives on the bay. They even have their own winery. It was several months before electricity and water was restored there. FEMA has since moved back in to help these folks out and that’s what it’s all about.

I rode over there last year shortly before the storm hit so the view of what it used to look like was still fresh on my mind. What caught my eye first was at the church when you first enter town. A large tent was set up and it was obvious that it there to prepare food. I first thought they were having a bazaar or other activity but it looked a little too permanent.

Now I was kind of apprehensive about riding through here because I knew these people were hit pretty hard and I didn’t want to look like I was there to gawk at their problems. When your house looks like the siding was removed with a large can opener and all your possessions are exposed it is a very humbling experience and I wasn’t about to intrude into their privacy.

I took the first road the headed out of town and made my way back to Anahuac. As soon as I turned the corner I saw a lady exiting a large white trailer. There weren’t any windows on this trailer, only a door on each end with a small set of stairs.

As I got closer I notice the sign that said “Ladies Room and Showers”. There are still numerous signs of destruction and many people lost everything except what they managed to take when they left. There are still people living in tents that are rebuilding their homes and these people are working together to make it through the storm, even though it was eight months ago. TJ Bustem (brother of Baytown Bert)

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Venus, Mars, Mercury and the Whole Cosmos

I went for a walk this morning about a quarter to five in an attempt to distance myself from ambient light. I wanted to star gaze and finding a place where it is dark enough to see clearly, is clearly a problem. Unfortunately I encountered a bank of thin clouds, which negated the light issue.

Besides looking at stars, I was particularly interested in spotting the orbiting International Space Station (ISS) as it passed over. It was scheduled to appear in the WNW sky 31 degrees above the horizon, arch up to 37 degrees and within 2 minutes, disappear in the NNE sky at 19 degrees. All of this at 17,500 miles per hour. The ISS as its known, orbits the earth every 92 minutes.

I couldn’t see it this morning due to the clouds. Rats. Oh well, I saw it last week with a number of friends in attendance. It looks like a very high-flying bright airplane, or jet, but it is easy to recognize that it is way up there and last week we all noted an anomaly. The ISS was on a straight track, when it appeared to make a turn.

I attributed this to gravity’s effect on how light is reflected to, or viewed by our eyes. Ask Albert Einstein, not me because I can’t really explain it; I just think I understand what we saw. The ISS did not turn, as it was orbiting, but because of the way gravity bends light packets…oh well, anyway. It was neat to see.

I did get a very good view of the planets Venus and Mars. Venus is very bright this morning and to the south of the crescent moon, with Mars between it and the moon. Mars, known as the “red planet” does indeed appear to be red to the naked eye, or as I love to say “the naked observer” and sure enough, it was right where it was supposed to be. I thank Edgar Rice Burroughs for introducing me to Science Fiction and the John Carter of Mars/Barsoom series of books.

I read the planet Mercury will also be visible beside the moon just as the sun rises and its dicey whether it can be seen without binoculars. It’s elusive nonetheless and I can’t say I have ever seen it. I want to though, just like when the last three comets were passing by. I made sure I watched them nightly until they were gone from view.

It always amazes me that folks have no interest in seeing a once in a lifetime event, like a comet. They will not walk to their backyard for one minute, but choose to watch “The Closer”, or something equally transient and which has no redeeming or educational value.

The ISS will be visible again tomorrow morning 05:22 for 2 minutes. 10 degrees NW with a max elevation of only 11 degrees and pass from view 2 minutes later in the NNW sky. That’s pretty close to the horizon. I use this site for Baytown, but you can save it for your area with a little adjustment.

This morning, next to the moon on the north side are the Pleiades. The Pleiades (Messier object 45) are an open star cluster in the constellation Taurus. It is among the nearest star clusters to Earth and is the cluster most obvious to the naked eye in the night sky. Read about them on the Internet for more information. The soft cloud layer made this impossible to see, but I still looked.

Get a look while you can, as this group of blue stars is expected to fade in about 250 million years, but why wait?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

It’s the Little Things, Man

No one can say the word “man” like Dennis Hopper. He’s the quintessential biker hippie 70’s freak dude and when he uses the word “man’ in a movie or commercial, he says it with all the peace-love-dope inflection I remember the word deserved in its time. He said it the way I said it.

Yesterday I was hiking up to the top of a giant reactor structure. It was hot and there was little wind. To set the scenario, it was a slow weekend day with nothing to do, so I decided I would see if I could break my personal record of five back to back climbs of 326 steps. On my sixth and last ascent, I was noticeably tired and quite hot and realized the wind had ceased to blow. This particular ascent was cooking me. As I neared the top, I muttered a plea to the good Lord for a breeze and within seconds a light wind came up. It was little, but it was enough.

I’ve been working non-stop since my son’s funeral, clocking in just shy of fifty days in a row with one exception on May 20th. It’s been doable and it’s helped occupy my mind and pay expenses, but the scenery hasn’t changed and that is something I miss. Opening my lunchbox the other day I found a small love letter from my bride. My lunch tasted extra good that day.

At the Byrd Sanctuary out Dayton way, my family gathered for a crawfish festival, one of many gatherings my sister and brother-in-law stage for friends and family at their place. As we talked, laughed and ate, an American swallow-tailed kite flew over their property. This giant predatory bird with a four-foot wingspan caused all of us to stop and stare as it performed its beautiful aerial ballet. We are still talking about it days later.

Last night my folks came by for a visit and as we sat on the patio, we were delighted to see a pair of black-bellied whistling ducks fly over Chaparral Village. I was happy we were there at that moment to witness this display. It was a little thing and I enjoy life in bite-sized form.

I recently combined two passions: Sriracha hot sauce and bean, cheese and jalapeno tamales from Los Torito’s on N. Main. I drove in from work about 4:15pm and was greeted by the owner, Llyda Martinez. I told her about my new addiction (Sriracha hot sauce) and how I was anxious to try it on her made in Baytown scrumptious tamales. She said she was familiar with the potent Am-Viet concoction and even though her seasoning of Chile de Arbol peppers is perfect, the Sriracha is calling my name right now. Needless to say I scalded my innards and the already delicious tamales with Sriracha as soon as I got home. It’s a small delight, but it has big satisfaction.

My neighbors Barbara and Craig Pugh cooked us up a mess of pork ribs and dropped them off for no other reason than they are good and generous people. Small acts of kindness weigh in big at our house. Baytown has a lot of folks like this and that’s why I call it home.

My point is simple; it’s the small things, man, that make the world spin right for us, not winning the Lotto, or driving that Hummer H2 that gets our eye. Of course, those would be nice too.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Black Duck Bay Trail System dead in the water

I talked with Neely Nelson today and due to the new Federal security guidelines and the TWIC requirements, ExxonMobil has denied all public access to this area (Black Duck Bay roads/trails area), so my proposal to open it for jogging and bike riding is now officially closed.

Below are the 2 blogs and website documenting the proposal:

Here is Ms. Nelson's contact information:

Neely Nelson
ExxonMobil Baytown Public Affairs Manager
5000 Bayway
Baytown, TX
(281) 834-7340
(281) 834-2261 fax

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