Men's Breakfast Report, April 2009
The Men’s Breakfast Group met Saturday, April 11 with Dan Tarver, chairman of the Freeport Economic Development Commission. Dan is a native of Freeport and returned to live in Freeport several years ago. He lives in an historic house on Avenue A. Dan sells analytical instruments for a living and attends Saint Mary’s Star of the Sea Catholic Church. He was appointed chairman of the Economic Development Commission last year with change in administration of the city. He discussed several projects the commission is supporting.
A new project is an experimental system for generating electricity from wave energy. Surfside rejected the project because of potential visual pollution. The project involves putting several platforms about a mile from the coast. These platforms will contain generators run by the changing pressure of the water produced by ocean waves. The electricity will be transmitted to land with submarine cables and then used to desalinate seawater. The fresh water will be sold as bottled water. The electricity could be put onto the main electric grid but there are no plans to do this at the present time. Seawater desalinization has an advantage over grid electricity in that the demand for power can be matched to variable supply instead of matching supply to demand. The plan is also to include a fishing pier near the mouth of the Brazos River and to have fishing platforms on the pumps.
The project of most interest is the marina. Dan said that the new commission is giving greater scrutiny to the plans and making the information more readily available to the public. There are some conflicts with the developer. The city is putting $6,000,000 towards the project and the developer is putting up any excess. This means that the developer wants to cut corners to save money in any way possible. The city is insisting on a fire suppression system in the dry stack storage building over the objections of the developer. The city is also requiring floating docks instead of fixed docks. Floating docks are preferred by boaters but are more expensive. Some of the land that was acquired through very expensive eminent domain proceedings was desired by the developer primarily to enhance private development of other land he held, but he no longer needs it.
The biggest problem right now is the location of the dry stack storage building. Texas Department of Transportation says that the building is on their easement by 22 feet and that they need the space in order to maintain the Pine Street Bridge. The engineers claim that they asked Tex-DOT about the location before it was sited and that Tex-DOT said that it is your land and you can put the building where you want. Tex-DOT now claims that they never said this. A complication is that the land the bridge is on was to be transferred to Tex-DOT from the city by the county, but the county never completed the transfer. Therefore the land still legally belongs to the city and the bridge is the trespasser. Because of the construction of the slab, moving the building would require disassembling the building, demolishing the slab, and starting over. The engineers are not insured for this kind of mistake so the city would have to bear the cost. Rebuilding would also delay opening the marina by several months. This is especially damaging because the contract with the developer requires the city to pay the developer $10,000 per month until the marina is open before the developer starts repaying the city. Dan is hopeful that a solution can be found that will not require rebuilding the building.
The dredging is much more expensive than planned. The original estimates were made by surveying the ends of the area to be dredged and not the middle because that land was not yet owned by the city, so much more dredging is required than planned. The dredging is almost completed with the spoil going to the economic redevelopment area. A lot of debris has been picked up by the dredge; tires, boats and lots of bottles. The dredging had to be stopped for a while since there was a hydrocarbon odor and the spoil could not be used as fill if it was contaminated. Fortunately, the material was not contaminated.
A question arose about the continued economic viability of the marina in the current recession. With the delays in completing the marina, has the window of opportunity closed since a lot of the high rollers have gone under? Dan believes that Freeport has a unique situation since the marina is behind the tidal gate and is close to the ocean. The marina should be able to get business that is now crowded into Clear Lake marinas. Some yachters from Houston want to take a Labor-Day cruise to Freeport to visit the marina. This will be a golden opportunity to merchandize the marina and Freeport, if the marina can be completed on time. If it can be opened on time, Dan would like to have a festival to welcome them and showcase the marina and Freeport.
The economic redevelopment area was another topic. There are still a few plots that the city needs to acquire before the area can be developed. The commission does not want to use eminent domain because of the bad experience it had with eminent domain in development of the marina. Dan believes that the properties can be acquired without using eminent domain. It was suggested that not using eminent domain would make all the people who settled for fair market value under the threat of eminent domain feel that they were chumps for not holding out for the spoiler premium.
As usual the men had an informative discussion and a good breakfast. All men are invited to our next breakfast on May 9.