Wednesday, February 25, 2009

So it's been about 5 1/2 months now since Hurricane Ike. While the island IS making amazing progress towards recovery, I'm constantly reminded of just what a sloooow process that is. As for us personally.....nothing. We are now waiting on insurance to respond to our demand. As I posted previously, they *finally* sent an adjuster out to look at the house, and we've been promised his numbers every day since. Now their latest tactic is to question whether or not our house was eligible to be insured on the ground floor. For those of you who don't have to worry about that stuff, what that means is simply whether or not the house was built before 1973 when the new codes limited building on the ground floor. Because ours was build in the late '60's, it was "Grandfathered" meaning it could be insured on the ground floor. The only way to prove that fact, however, is to go down to the County Courthouse and have them pull the property tax records. They simply go backwards until they find the first year that didn't list an improvement on the property. Then they certify it as the year your house was built. Well, wouldn't you know, that's just not good enough for this insurance company. They want something else proving that it was THIS house that was on the lot in 1973. As you can imagine, no such records exist. As far as I'm concerned, it's just another delay tactic in a long line of acts that border on criminal. Do I get 6 months to pay my premiums? I think not. In the meantime, we're submitting the paperwork fo our mortgage financing and permitting will be in place the minute we are free to demo the carcass. It's hard to believe it will ever actually happen.

So here's a look at how some people are coping (or not) with Ike and their homes:

For Sale by Owner
you see lots of this...For Sale by Owner/As Is. Notice it's still boarded up from the storm. It appears that nothing has been done to it since, and due to its location on Broadway, it most definitely took on water.

These folks opted for demolition. Don't know if they took the buyout, which would mean the lot can never be built on again, or if they have enough insurance to rebuild on the same lot.

Raising Up
I love this....the Raising Up. This costs around $30k For a small house like this is not covered by insurance. I wonder if FEMA contributed?

Waiting on Insurance?
This place looks totally abandoned....much like ours! I assume they, too, are waiting to hear from insurance so they can decide what to do. I wonder where they live right now?

Another FEMA trailer

FEMA trailer
And here are a couple of infamous FEMA trailers. I didn't do a good job of capturing how they really look....just stuck in your front yard, with your old house in the background. FEMA installs them with the steps & porch, and the connection to utilities, which consists of a very visible sewer pipe running across your yard and connecting to the cleanout. Definitely not meant to be pleasing to the eye...just a down-to-basic place to lay your head. These people have been living in hotels for 5 months while waiting on the trailers, which first appeared a couple of weeks ago.

dead trees
After being in Houston last weekend, I've finally faced reality. Spring has sprung here on the Gulf Coast and any trees that still look like this (which is 95% of the trees on the island, excluding palms) have a very unsure future. Live Oaks are supposed to be covered in bright green leaves this time of year, already providing shade. Our friends in NOLA say it takes 3 years before you know for sure their fate...they *may* come back, but not until then. I just wonder how many of them will be here once June 1st rolls around. Hurricane season makes people very nervous about possibly dead trees. And I can't imagine the whole island looking like winter for 3 years!!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


Galveston's Elissa vessel undergoing repairs after Ike
By HARVEY RICE Copyright 2009 Houston Chronicle
Feb. 7, 2009, 5:34PM

San Diego sailmaker Jim Brink has worked on outfitting vessels for such movies as Master and Commander and Pirates of the Caribbean.

The fore lower topsail on the 1877 sailing ship Elissa was shredded by Hurricane Ike. Jim Brink, one of the few traditional sailmakers in the country, is crafting a new sail for the official tall ship of Texas.

• Sail area : 630 square feet

• Top width: 47 feet

• Bottom width: 52 feet

• Height: 14 feet

Source: Sailmaker Jim Brink
The iron-hulled vessel, the pride of the Galveston Historical Foundation and the official tall ship of Texas, came through with relatively minor damage considering the forces it encountered, but the fierce winds shredded one of its most important sails.

Only about a half-dozen traditional sailmakers exist in the country with the skill to make a replacement for the Elissa’s fore lower topsail, and Jim Brink is one of them.

Brink, 54, will use the experience gained over 30 years of sailmaking to craft a new 630-square-foot fore lower topsail, also known as a storm sail and the last of the Elissa’s 19 sails to be furled in a storm.

Brink began the task a week ago by spreading panels of sailcloth over a pattern taped to the floor of the ballroom at the 1859 Ashton Villa, one of the historic homes maintained by the foundation.

The 33 sections cut from the patterns will be sewn together at the Texas Seaport Museum at Pier 21 in Galveston Harbor, where the Elissa is moored.

The entire process of making the sail takes about three weeks, Brink said.

He is doing the job at a cut-rate price of about $5,000, which was raised from donations by the Elissa’s volunteer crew.

“I’ve worked for other ships, but this has always been my favorite,” said Brink, who rates the Elissa as the best-maintained traditional sailing ship in the country.

From lark to profession
Brink stumbled into his line of work in 1974 when he was a 19-year-old freshman at Kalamazoo College in Michigan.

On a lark, he took an off-campus course that involved working on the Romance, a brigantine built in the 1930s based in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Capt. Arthur Kimberly put Brink to work on his first sail, an unfinished square sail begun by someone else.

“He said, ‘You better finish this, or it will never get done,’” Brink recalled. It took a month, but he finished it.

He had been on the Romance for 18 months when the captain offered him a berth as sailmaker on an around-the-world cruise.

“I was young, looking for adventure,” he said. Brink accepted and in doing so stepped into a profession that preserves a skill that has all but died out in the U.S.

He spent three years on the Romance, then worked on a Danish merchant training sloop before working in Great Britain for a spell.

Tradition alive in Europe
Few traditional sailmakers remain in the U.S., he said, but Europe continues to foster the skill. Unlike the U.S., the Europeans still bestow the title of master sailmaker, he said.

Modern sailmaking lofts use computer-designed sails cut with lasers.

Brink, now based in San Diego, worked for the sail loft in Maine that crafted the first set of sails for the restored Elissa about 20 years ago and has worked on her sails ever since.

The sail work needs to be completed in time for the Elissa to make its first scheduled outing for a day trip into the Gulf with a volunteer crew on March 20.

Big plans for museum
Although the damage to the Elissa was relatively light, the storm severely damaged the workshop needed to keep it in repair and wrecked the pier so badly that it must be replaced, foundation executive director Dwayne Jones said.

The museum was filled with 4 feet of water, damaging the exhibits.

Jones said the foundation wants to build a better museum as it repairs the damage.

Repairs and enhancements will cost from $2.5 million to $3 million, he estimated.

The foundation still is waiting to hear from its insurance companies and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which may or may not lend financial assistance, Jones said.

The museum won’t reopen for at least a year, he said, but when it does, it will feature a redesign by student architects at the University of Houston who donated their time.

A donor, whom Jones declined to name, has commissioned a work of public art by the Mary Miss Studio in New York to commemorate the immigrants who entered the U.S. through the port of Galveston.

The artwork, which is still being designed, will be based at the Seaport Museum but could have pieces in other parts of the island, he said.

Debris from Hurricane Ike fills Galveston Bay

Texas has a record $39 million to spend on the cleanup that could start this week
Copyright 2009 Houston Chronicle
Feb. 8, 2009, 10:14PM

Underwater Ike debris Follow rebuilding efforts as Galveston recovers from Ike Hurricane Ike littered Galveston Bay with easy chairs, mattresses, refrigerators, motorcycles and sunken shrimp boats. They’re easy to miss from above, but the scope of the cleanup ahead is coming into focus.

The Texas General Land Office, which is responsible for protecting the coast, has pinpointed nearly 600 large pieces of underwater debris after surveying about one-fifth of the bay.

The sonar scans will continue through February, but the cleanup could begin as soon as this week, with the goal of finishing before the next hurricane season begins, on June 1.

Texas has set aside $39 million for the cleanup, the largest of its kind in the state’s history. Officials said they expect reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“On the plus side, the bay will be cleaner than before,” said Jim Suydam, spokesman for the General Land Office.

For years, hundreds of abandoned barges, shrimp boats and recreational vessels have cluttered the bayous, bays and shores of the Gulf of Mexico.

Ike’s surge deposited even more debris into the shallow waters of Galveston Bay, one of the nation’s largest and most productive estuaries.

The debris is a hazard to navigation and a potential problem for the environment. For example, the storm-tossed debris has helped destroy half of the bay’s oyster reefs, officials say.

Areas hit hardest
Surveys show that most of the debris is along the Texas City Dike and in the East Bay behind the Bolivar Peninsula, which took the brunt of the September storm.

“We’re finding a little bit of everything,” said Dan Rackard, marine operations manager for CrowderGulf, the Alabama company surveying the bay for the Texas land office.

The company is using a side-scan sonar to map the garbage in the water.

It’s methodical work, requiring specially equipped boats to trawl the bay in straight lines, as if mowing a 660-square-mile lawn.

Although the surveys will take a few more weeks to complete, there is enough information to start the cleanup, Suydam said.

Legislative action
Until recently, the Texas land office, which is responsible for draining sunken and abandoned vessels of their hazardous contents, had no authority to remove them from waterways.

The Legislature in 2005 passed a law enabling the state to help clean up the maritime trash and making it a misdemeanor to dump a boat in Texas waters. But the land office had only a couple hundred thousand dollars to start, enough to make a small dent in the problem.

The state loaned the land office the money for the Ike-related cleanup, expecting to be reimbursed by the federal government.

The intent is to clean the bay before hurricane season. Louisiana hadn’t cleaned up the marine debris from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 before Gustav added to the mess last year.

“Everyone is fighting June 1,” Rackard said. “We would like to get it all cleaned up before then, because we’ve had problems in Louisiana. We’re cleaning up Katrina, and now we’re cleaning up Gustav, too.”

Colliding with debris
Boaters and fishermen also want the underwater debris cleared before higher temperatures draw more people to the bay.

Bob Stokes, president of the Galveston Bay Foundation, an environmental advocacy group, said he has received reports of boats colliding with unseen debris from Ike. “I don’t think the bay is pockmarked,” he said, “but I think it’s enough to be a problem.”

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Day I Thought Would Never Come

I still can't believe how long it took, but yes it finally happened. The adjusters for our agent's E&O policy *finally* came to look at our house today! Just 112 days after the storm, no biggie. Now we get to wait and see how bad they try to whittle down or Professional Estimator's estimate. Yee ha.

I know I've been very lax about posting and updating after all my big promises. But like I said earlier, if I'm not posting it's because I've lost my sense of humor and am really struggling. December and January were rough. Really rough.

Conditions at work have not improved. We still have no heat or A/C, are still crammed into the 2nd floor of our building, with cords taped all over the floor and sharing offices. My "office", which I share, is really a reception area outside the director's office, so it's basically Grand Central Station all day long. Not conducive for accounting. I have no place to lock up confidential documents like payroll and my normal system is all amok. If you know accountants you know they cannot function outside their own system. It's chaos and I'm helpless to change it. Thanks to Big L for keeping me focused on the big picture...that I'm helping keep an organization afloat that is crucial to the rebirth of the island. Without that I'd probably have quit months ago and just stay curled in the fetal position at the back of the RV!!

School has also been a huge stresser. Before Ike we absolutely loved our school and I had a great working relationship with our fab Principal. Since the storm, however, another elementary school (Burnet) has been combined with ours. Their whole faculty, including their Principal are now at our school. Their front staff is mixed with our front staff. All "specials" like Music and Art have 2 teachers now. Our cheer team got absorbed by their drill team, etc. And everyone knows that they are now competing for the same jobs because Burnet is closed indefinitely. We've already been told that next school year will look like this one as far as which schools are open and where students are located. That means that the Parker/Burnet faculty are in competition for one set of teaching positions and there will only be one Principal that makes the cut. This is very scary news, considering I've had my only issues with faculty members in the last couple of months, and they both happen to be Burnet faculty.

I'm going to resist the temptation to post those stories. I'd love to get some feedback on them, but now I have some friends that work at the school that read this blog so I'd better refrain.

So...until we hear the final verdict as to who is staying on at Parker and who is not, we are keeping our options for the next school year wide open. Looks like I have some visits to some other schools in my future....the kind you have to pay for. *sigh* I surely hope it doesn't come to that. I'm such a huge proponent of public education that it would be a very sad day for us for sure. But, nothing has been decided yet and there is still hope. What would we do without hope??

With that, I'm also going to start taking more photos of the island, like I did in the beginning, so you can see the progress. For those of you who don't live on the coast...have you ever seen a real live FEMA trailer? Do you know what they look like in the yard of a house? It's interesting and totally different that what I expected. Now that people are finally getting them, I'll post some pics for ya tomorrow or so.