West U. City Manager Michael Ross presented council Monday night with an update on Hurricane Ike recovery efforts. Councilman Michael Talianchich and Councilwoman Phyllis Cohen were not present due to non-hurricane related personal reasons.
The main subject of discussion was power – more specifically, the lack of – for a remaining 1,934 residents as of Monday. On the Saturday following Hurricane Ike, 93 percent of the city’s residents were without power – 19 percent remain without.
Mayor Bob Kelly relayed the concerns of some residents that CenterPoint might believe they have power, when they don’t. He said one resident in the 3700 block of Nottingham wondered if CenterPoint was no longer working on her power, as a lot of the area was restored.
Ross told council that many residents have received phone calls from CenterPoint informing them, erroneously, that their power was restored.
Residents who do not have power should call CenterPoint Customer Service at 713-207-2222 to make sure they are in the computerized work order dispatch system. Ross also wanted to make it clear that the city has no ability to prioritize CenterPoint’s work orders.
“We can’t make CenterPoint go leave one place and go to another,” said Ross, who said the amount of power outages from Hurricane Ike were of “historical” proportions.
Council also talked about the work currently under way by the city’s contractor, Storm Reconstruction Services. Since Saturday, eight work crews have been focusing on removing vegetative debris from the areas South of University Boulevard from Kirby Drive to Rutgers Avenue. Work will continue northward as the first pass is made through the city, which is expected to take about two and a half weeks.
Signs have been placed on areas scheduled for clean-up informing residents not to park their cars on the street, which slows the progress of the removal.
A second pass will be made about one week after finishing the first pass, allowing residents more time to clear their property. The second pass will include items such as refrigerators, construction debris, and fences.
Councilman Bob Fry asked city staff if a permit was required to rebuild an existing fence. Assistant City Manager and Director of Public Works Chris Peifer told council that while the permit was still required, the system to rebuild was expedited due to the emergency status.
“My knee jerk is we should let our guard down, let the contractors come in here and take your money then go, or build something inferior that falls down on a kid, we have to keep our standards,” said Kelly. “But I can see their point.”
“If it’s a repair we are waiving some of the requirements, but they still have to get a permit,” said Peifer, who added that the process was streamlined.
Kelly told council and staff that he drove around the city for a few hours over the weekend, and talked to around 40 residents.
“I was encourage by how upbeat everyone was, I thought maybe I was going into a hardhat area, being the mayor I would have to fight my way out of there,” said Kelly.
Ross extended gratitude to the West University Baptist Church, which allowed city staff and their families to stay in their facilities throughout the storm and aftermath.
“We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Baptist church for opening their doors for us, their brand new gymnasium, opening the doors and saying whatever you need to do, city,” said Ross. “They have been awesome each and every time, we had employees and families staying there, eating their meals.”
Kelly read a statement from Cohen, which read in part, “I would like to express my profound thanks to the entire city staff for their overwhelming dedication and kindness to West U. residents. We are very lucky to live in West U. There is not a finer team in any city”
Additional updates on city services included:
- Water and wastewater services are back to normal volumes and quality. The only ongoing issue is due to disruption of the process at the Wastewater Treatment Plant, which is being addressed through increased operational efforts.
- Solid waste and recycling services are back to normal operation and schedule.
- Parks are clear of debris and open.
- The library and Community Building are 100 percent operational. Carpet will need to be replaced at the Community Building.
- Work on the West U. Recreation Center began on Saturday on the request of the city’s insurance carrier, to avoid further damage due to flooding.
- All phones and data systems are operating properly, other than those at the Wastewater Treatment Plane. The plant’s DSL line is down, and the city is waiting for AT&T to fix it. Colonial Park and the West U. Rec. Center’s phones have been forwarded to the Parks Administration main line until the sites are staffed.
- In the 10 days following the storm, West U. police have reported a burglary of a business, in which the suspect was caught inside the building, and one burglary of a residence in which nothing was taken, but the resident reported two people running from the home. Two people were stopped in the area, and one was arrested for outstanding warrants.
- No structure fires were reported.
- There were 271 fire engine responses in the 10 days following Hurricane Ike. The typical number is around 25 for the same ten-day period. Almost all were storm related, including electrical problems and tree limbs down. Those calls are still coming in, and city staff says the number will continue to rise.
- There were 53 calls to EMS in the 10-day period following the storm, while the typical number is 25.
- The fire department prepared and served more than 1,000 meals to employees and family members during the emergency period.
- The city handed out 3,600 bags of ice to residents. The ice was trucked in from Missouri, and paid for out of city funds. The equipment to hold the ice cost $600 per day, and the city ordered 6,000 bags of ice.