AP NEWS

Year highlighted by plans for drainage, EMS

December 20, 2018

While hardships caused by Hurricane Harvey still cast a long shadow in Friendswood in 2018, the city experienced landmark events that included election of a former astronaut as mayor, a decision to pursue a new way to cover emergency medical services costs and approval of an ambitious plan to revitalize downtown Friendswood.

Moves to address flood risks

Local, state and federal authorities authorized the start of flood mitigation projects after Harvey’s devastation, including federal approval in July of a $295 million, decades-old plan by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to work on Clear Creek.

Federal help with flooding had long been the goal of Harold Whitaker, a former Friendswood mayor who was re-elected to Galveston County Consolidated Drainage District in May. “This would help with Friendswood flooding tremendously,” he said before the election.

When work is complete, the banks of the creek will be widened to increase water flow capacity for 15 miles from Dixie Farm Road to Texas 288, along with straightening of some bends and widening of banks on tributaries of the main creek.

The work will allow water to move downstream, from west to east, faster and reduce pooling during heavy rains that could overflow into nearby communities, said Shakhar Misir, project manager for the Clear Creek plan in the Southwest Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Work will serve residents and property owners in Friendswood and Pearland, as well as communities downstream, he said.

A $3 million flood control project by the local drainage district that began in May has provided millions of gallons in additional water detention capacity at three sites along Clear Creek, Mayor Mike Foreman said in his “Mayor Mike’s Minute” Youtube video report. The city is chipping in $1 million for the work, which aims to reduce the risk of flooding in homes.

No to a carousel

Since being elected mayor in May after serving on City Council, Foreman has guided the city through heated debates including one over a proposal for a multimillion-dollar carousel project in Stevenson Park which was ultimately withdrawn in October.

Brett Banfield, president of the Friends of Downtown Friendswood Association, dropped the initiative after describing it as divisive. The issue had been a subject of lively discussion in in the city’s elections. The association envisioned that a carousel with hand-painted horses could be donated to the city to serve as an attraction and source of pleasure for generations. But opponents criticizing the concept and worrying that there was no clear plan to cover upkeep costs.

Another hot topic for much of the year was the city’s search for a way to fund its EMS service, which has not charged residents for calls and has fallen short of covering expenses through tax revenue and donations. Officials unveiled a plan to permanently fund the service starting in 2019 by billing patients’ health insurance companies for calls.

The city estimates that insurance payments will bring in anywhere from $500,000 to $1 million annually based on previous service levels.

The EMS arm of Friendswood Volunteer Fire Department costs the city around $2 million per year to operate.

Friendswood City Council also approved an expansive plan to turn downtown Friendswood into a business and activity hub. The council on Oct. 1 unanimously approved the final draft of the Downtown District Improvement Plan, which covers cost projections and improvement projects that would be implemented over several years. Preliminary cost estimates include from $35,000 to $85,000 to develop bike routes and from $750,000 to $1 million for intersection improvements.

jjones@chron.com