, Port Arthur, Texas

May 4, 2013

Pleasure Island panel role on May 11 ballot

Sherry Koonce
The Port Arthur News

Pleasure Island — By Sherry Koonce

The News staff writer

Port Arthur voters have less than a week to decide whether a change is in order for the way Pleasure Island is governed.

Among the 12 propositions included on the May 11 election ballot Saturday is one that would place Pleasure Island under the jurisdiction of the city, and the island’s management under the direction of the city manager.

If approved, the nine-member Pleasure Island Commissioner’s Board would serve more in a advisory capacity. Each of  the nine would report to the city council member who appointed them to serve. Each commissioner would serve a three-year term.

Though the city owns Pleasure Island lands, city officials have not governed the island since the Commission was created in 1986.

The 18.5 mile man-made island was created from dredging deposits leftover  when the Army Corp of Engineers built the Port Arthur Canal in 1899, and then the Sabine Neches Intracoastal Waterway in 1908.

In the early days during the first half  century during the 1900’s, the island has been home to a dance hall, ballroom, a midway, an Olympic-size swimming pool, and the largest roller coaster in the south. At one time, the city used Pleasure Island for a city dump.

In recent years, since the Commission took over management, housing developments have moved in while fishing and boating took centerstage with public piers and a marina boasting 300 boat slips. An 18-hole golf course was also established on the Island in recent years, but like much of the island, was all but destroyed by Hurricanes Rita and Ike struck in 2005 and 2008 respectively.

And now, 32 FEMA projects necessitated by hurricane damage are either completed, or nearing completion, Jimmy Dike, Pleasure Island director, said.  

The marina is about 90 percent repaired, and will include new floating docks as well as some that are covered. The golf course has been leased, is under construction and expected to open in about a year, according to Dike.

The island’s five fishing piers that were wiped out by the storms, have been consolidated into two larger ones — one already constructed, and the other soon to be.

While governed by the Commission, the island has generated its own revenue from the sale of property, boat-slip rentals, leases, etc, Dike said.

The city has in the last couple of years provided money for mowing two city parks located on the island: Logan Park and Lakefront Park.

According to Dike, the Island typically spends about $85,000 to $90,000 on mowing. The city last year contributed $37,000 for parks mowing, and budgeted another $42,000 this fiscal year.

The city has also loaned the island $2.5 million to finish the marina project. FEMA is responsible for 90 percent of the project’s cost, but requires the last 20 percent to be paid before completion. When the project is completed, FEMA will reimburse the island the 10 percent FEMA is required to pay.

In total, the marina project costs about $9.5 million, Dike said.

“Once reimbursed, will we end up owing the city about $1.25 million,” Dike said.

The city is charging 1.2 percent interest on the $2.5 million borrowed, Dike said.

With the exception of the mowing expense for city parks, Dike said the Commission funds its own operations. This year’s budget is $830,000.

Former District 5 Councilman John Beard is in favor of the management change, and, in fact, first introduced the notion while serving on Council prior to terming out a year ago.

The need for a loan to cover the 10 percent owed FEMA is among the reasons Beard believes the city should take a more active role in Pleasure Island operations.

“It should be under direct administration of the city manager that takes orders from city council,”

Beard is also a member of the Charter Change Committee, which made the recommendation to City Council to place the item on the ballot.

“What I am hoping for in having this placed on the ballot is for citizens to decide to return the island from being that diamond in the rough to being a cultural and recreational heritage of all the citizens of Port Arthur, “ Beard said. “It is a Pleasure Island where we can all go for recreation.”

Pleasure Island, Beard said, does not have any money, not even the 10 percent needed to pay its part of the hurricane repairs.

“They cannot even afford to cut their grass. If we are going to have to support it, it should not be we pay all the bills and they do whatever they have to do,” Beard said.

Beard said he was also concerned the Pleasure Island Commission is not the strongest entity to negotiate land deals in the event casino gambling comes to the Island.

“The City Council is the governing body of the city. The island is part of the city. The City Council is elected by the citizens of the city to govern and manage the city. We don’t need two  governing bodies,” Beard said.

Terry Doyle, Pleasure Island Commissioner chairman, feels just the opposite — that the Island is solvent, and on the well on the road to recovery following the hurricanes.

“Frankly, I think if the City Council had turned the whole city over to the Island Commission, they would have done a better job,” Doyle said. “The city is not in good shape; it is in terrible condition.”

Doyle said a terminal under construction on the south end of the Island is expected to bring in added revenue — about $350,000 a year.

“The Commission’s track record appears to be excellent when it comes to handling money; I can’t say the same for  the city,”  Doyle said. “If you think City Council is doing a fine job with the rest of the city, then you ought to vote for it.”