Galveston still facing rebuilding hurdles

May 6, 2009 3:52:37 PM PDT
Business owners on Galveston Island are realizing that the road to recovery is long and slow. That's because there is a big demand on the city's planning department. [SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

In Galveston's Strand district, the rebuilding continues. But is this reconstruction moving too slow to get the city back on its feet?

"If you don't have a permit, you can't get the work done, so you're at a standstill," explained contractor John Linnstaedter.

The problem can be found in five new file cabinets, filled with new requests to get a permit to rebuild. Since Hurricane Ike, the city has been inundated with new requests. That's meant waits between four and six weeks to pull a permit.

"It's very much a challenge," said Galveston Planning Director Wendy O'Donohoe. "Prior to the storm we averaged about 5,000 permits a year. To date, we've issued 17,000."

The city says the biggest hurdle has been addressing the requests with minimal staff.

O'Donohoe said, "We're dealing with different situations that we haven't faced before."

After Hurricane Ike a hiring freeze was put in place across the city. That freeze has since been lifted and the city is working on ways to help the rebuilding move at a faster pace.

"We're adding staff. We're going to possibly change our hours to make staff more available for permit review," O'Donohoe said.

While the process can be daunting, contractor Doug McLean understands the city's dilemma.

He said, "There's just a lot more going on and there's no more people in the planning department to handle it all. Those people have been working so hard since the storm, that they deserve a lot of accolades. I hate to hear them being criticized, but I also understand the frustration of people going through the process."

Even though the process has slowed a bit, city leaders say the priority permits have been on track at about two to three days.

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