County mulls flood-control measures

Volunteers Libby Spires and Troy Hughes of the Beeville Mobile Pantry explain the need to move the monthly event from the Downtown Pavilion to the Bee County Expo Center during the Oct. 26 meeting of the Bee County Commissioner Court. 

BEEVILLE – While Bee County is an area not known for getting lots of annual precipitation, there are occasions in which certain factors of local geography can quickly turn heavy rainstorms into flood events.

The Bee County Commissioners Court is well aware of this situation, which is why commissioners continue to seek ways of preventing loss of lives and property due to flooding. The commissioners currently are considering two projects that would be partially financed through Texas Water Development Board grant funds.

The commissioners, when they met Oct. 26, voted 3-2 – with commissioners Sammy Farias and Kenneth Haggard casting the dissenting votes – in favor of seeking  TWDB assistance to purchase a flood early warning system for various county roads.  Charlie Cardenas, senior engineer with International Consulting Engineers, told the commissioners that the system’s technology has the capability to communicate with a mobile app that can warn motorists that they are approaching a flooded area and the devices installed at various flood-prone areas can serve as weather stations.

The units each cost $40,000 to $60,000, Cardenas said, with a bulk of the cost being related to programming the units and the system.

“Who pays for these if they get broken?” Farias asked.

Cardenas said the county would pay that cost. However, each unit is encased in a hard shell made to withstand hurricanes and flooding.

While he acknowledged the need for such technology, in light of the recent pain and sacrifice endured to craft a balanced fiscal year budget, Farias thinks the timing is not right.

“With all the things going on in the county, this is not the right time,” he said.

Commissioner Dennis DeWitt, one of the supporters of the project, said following the meeting that the total cost of the system is estimated at $437,500, of which TWDB would fund 75 percent, if approved. The county would fund the remaining 25 percent, or $109,395, through dollars or in-kind work.

A majority of the monitors are proposed for installation in the southern portion of the county where waterways such as the Aransas Creek can make roadways impassable when they overflow their banks.

DeWitt said one of the advantages of the monitors would be their automated activation of flashing signs warning motorists not to proceed. 

“It helps first responders not to have to go out there and put out cones,” he said.

A second project that the county is considering relates to the performance of a master drainage planning study, which has an estimated cost of $2 million. DeWitt said TWDB would fund 90 percent of that cost.

“The way this all started, we had an engineering company come to us and say there is a lot of grant money out there that we’ll pursue at no charge,” he said. “We’re in the second phase.”

Now the commissioners are weighing whether the county can afford to proceed, following the adoption of a tight fiscal year 2021 budget that covers little more than basic needs amid decreased revenues from sales tax and lower oil and natural gas production.

“We don’t have a problem today because it’s not raining. You only have a problem when it rains,” DeWitt said. “Then you’ll have people asking why you didn’t do anything. Well you have to work on these things when it’s dry.”

The commissioners planned to continue their discussion on the projects at their Nov. 9 meeting.

Mobile pantry

Also at their Oct. 26 meeting, the commissioners unanimously voted that the Beeville Mobile Pantry’s monthly food distribution now would be held at the Bee County Expo Center. As part of their vote, the commissioners decided that the organization would not pay the usual rental fees.

Amid a lingering COVID-19 pandemic that has strained the finances of many area families, the monthly food distributions consistently have seen a large turnout. The events were being held at the downtown pavilion.  

“We’ve been averaging 200 to 225 (individuals receiving food) for the last four or five months,” said Troy Hughes, a food pantry volunteer. “It’s been looping behind the buildings.”

Libby Spires, another food pantry volunteer said the monthly events are open to anyone, however pre-registration with the Coastal Bend Food Pantry is encouraged. Unregistered individuals can attend, but are placed at the back of the car line to receive whatever items are leftover.

Another Expo Center fee the commissioners voted to waive is the $750 arena fee for the Bee County 4-H Council’s Dec. 19 Bee Jolly Showdown Steer & Heifer Prospect Show.

In other business, the commissioners tabled discussion of a request by WavSpeed Inc. to lease space on a radio tower located at the Expo Center. The purpose of the equipment that would be mounted on the tower would be to provide enhanced high-speed internet coverage through Gulf Coast Wifi, a company that is trying to expand into the Blueberry Hill and Beeville Road areas toward George West, a WavSpeed representative said.

WavSpeed as payment for the lease wishes to either compensate the county monetarily or by replacing the Expo Center’s current marquee with a full-color LED sign.

The commissioners directed County Judge Trace Morrill to work out a contract document that could be brought back before the court for consideration and possible action.

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