Bolivar rebuilding using its own blueprint after Ike
BOLIVAR PENINSULA, TX A rebuilding plan called the Bolivar Blueprint includes dozens of projects to help the peninsula communities recover and expand their economic base. But it all starts with housing, said the head of the nonprofit development corporation that will be charged with seeing those plans to fruition. Hurricane Ike destroyed or severely damaged about 3,000 houses on the peninsula. Sid Bouse, the owner of a Crystal Beach-based surveying company, was a member of the Bolivar Blueprint Committee and now heads PenDeCo, a nonprofit organization that will serve as the point group for implementation of the blueprint plan. He said while an estimated 350 houses have been rebuilt in the last 12 months, the process needs to pick up. That's why the county's massive disaster housing rebuild and repair program is crucial, Bouse said. More than 1,200 residents have applied for federal dollars to rebuild houses on their property. The county has about $85 million in community development block grant funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to rebuild and repair homes. So far, one house in San Leon is under construction, with 27 more -- nine of which are on the peninsula -- set to be approved within the next two weeks. The county plans to construct as many as 500 homes using the federal dollars. "We want to make sure people get into houses first," Bouse said. "We're focused completely on helping the people through the housing process right now." Another county-managed program is using about $100 million in federal hazard mitigation dollars to buy properties where the houses were destroyed or heavily damaged by the storm. Many of the 700 properties the county expects to purchase are on the peninsula. The next phase of the housing focus is to find ways to construct rental properties, including multifamily housing for the work force the peninsula eventually hopes to draw as it develops a robust tourism and eco-tourism base. Without housing, businesses are unable to find employees and can't get going and are unable to help push the recovery process forward, Bouse said. Once the housing component is under way, the next step is to focus on a gateway and beautification project for the peninsula, he said. "That way people know it is not a disaster area, that it's a recovered area," Bouse said. At the same time, Bouse and others from the blueprint committee have formed PenDeCo, a nonprofit and nontaxing authority that will serve as the coordination point for the implementation of the Bolivar Blueprint and for raising funds through donations and grants to aid in launching the myriad projects outlined in the plan. PenDeCo also will serve as the lead group in developing a business incubator that will focus on developing economic opportunities on the peninsula. The blueprint outlines a plan to create beach districts that will provide more than just access to the sand and Gulf of Mexico. The committee found three spots it believes would be good for development of the beach districts that would create a "village" atmosphere and provide recreational and business opportunities. The central beach district would include commercial developments closer to state Highway 87, a pedestrian boardwalk with mobile vendor pavilions and a central point for festivals, events and small concerts. Some of that development would take advantage of the properties bought out by the county through the hazard mitigation program. A large part of the plan calls for more parks and recreational opportunities, again taking advantage of the properties scheduled for buyout. Those recreational and expanded park projects are expected to increase tourism and open business opportunities along the peninsula, according to the blueprint.