City of Wharton Community Development Director Gwen Teves sat down with The County Gin to discuss the condition, possible changes and improvements to Riverfront Park.
Riverfront Park, located on East Elm Street in Wharton, is the only municipal park with accessible frontage to the Colorado River.
Public access to the piers halted following damaging flood waters in 2016 and the city promptly applied for federal assistance to begin repairs.
“At that time, the city did put in a request for public assistance with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for repairs,” Teves told The County Gin. “We received some estimates from engineers and it was going to be over $1 million for repairs. When we submitted to FEMA with that information, they came back to us with an award of $160,000, which would not be enough to do any of the repairs. The city did turn around and appealed their decision and we had several back-and-forth meetings, conversations with FEMA.”
While city directors worked towards obtaining a reimbursement agreement, the park, like many homes and buildings, suffered further damage with floods caused by Hurricane Harvey.
“Then, after Harvey in 2017, we did get notification that they had approved our appeal for $1.6 million for repairs and a possible $1.6 million for mitigation for the park,” Teves said. “But we are still working with FEMA trying to get those funds obligated.”
If the city were to proceed with any repairs without the formal obligation of pending funds, reimbursement is not guaranteed.
“Unfortunately, anytime FEMA approves money to a project like this, unless it falls specifically under their scope of work that they lay out, the funds have to be obligated for us to get reimbursed for any of those repairs,” Teves told The Gin. “Since the money has not been obligated from FEMA yet, any repairs that are done to the park would be taken out of taxpayer money and we would not be eligible for reimbursement. We’ve been in a holding pattern.”
The federally funded levee project also serves as hindrance to the parks final design and repairs.
“So, (the park) is going to be on the wet side of the levee, which means it will be behind the flood wall. That portion of where the piers are, we’re going to have to do some minor repairs and remove some of the features,” Teves said. “But the main portion of Riverfront Park — the pavilion, restrooms and the playground area will still be useable. We do not have a final design from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as of yet. We do not have a determination of what the uses are going to be or how much of that is going to be inaccessible versus accessible.
“I think it’s a very important park to the city. The park was originally funded back in 1989, I believe, by a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department grant and we have met the lifetime of that grant. So, we are capable of letting it go back to open space if needed, but we are looking to replace that river frontage in another location. That’s what we are calling the phase II portion and are currently working with Freese and Nichols Inc. for the design of that portion of the levee.”
Teves went on to address concerns of the damaged barricades and tape prohibiting public access to the parks river frontage.
“When it was first damage, we had City of Wharton Facilities Maintenance Director Bob Baker go out and put up barricades, as well as some caution tape,” she said. “Just over the years, you know, caution tape doesn’t last long. We have had to replaced that multiple times. The barricade had fallen into disrepair, which we weren’t aware of. We’ve been taping it off and boarding it off as we’ve been made aware of it needing it.”
Teves encourages community members wanting to assist with the upkeep of Wharton’s parks to consider joining one of the city’s committees.
“We’re not going to turn down anybody who wants to come out and pickup or do anything around the parks,” she said. “If anyone has any questions about joining any city committees, they can definitely contact Brandi Jimenez with the city. She oversees all of that. I know we have several committees that do have openings.”
For more information or to inquire about City of Wharton Committee openings, visit www.cityofwharton.com.