PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

May 20, 2013

Pleasure Island's future could include sandy beach

Sherry Koonce
The Port Arthur News

PORT ARTHUR — Port Arthur voters have called for a change in the way Pleasure Island is governed, but what that means for the future of the island is anybody’s guess.

On May 11 voters approved Proposition 11, which transfers operational power of the island from the Pleasure Island Commission to the city of Port Arthur.

The Commission will now serve as an advisory board, while operations are under the jurisdiction of the city manager. Each commissioner will now report directly to the City Council member who appointed them.

“What the future holds, I don’t have the foggiest idea,”  Terry Doyle, chairman of the Pleasure Island Commission, said Friday.

Doyle led a Pleasure Island Commission meeting this week attended by City Manager Floyd Johnson, but none of the City Council.

According to Doyle, the city manager indicated at the meeting there would be no immediate changes in Island operations.

Johnson was in Austin Friday on city business, and not available for comment.

Doyle said he intends to stay on the commission to assist with projects already started such as a new terminal on the southern end of Pleasure Island, and completion of the marina.

Though election results have not yet been made official, at least one City Council member has an idea to bring the public back to the island, and, in the process, more businesses.

Mayor Pro Tem Willie “Bae” Lewis would like to see white sandy shores along a mile-long beach area on the island’s north side.

It’s an ambitious project he’s bantered about for years, but one that’s time has finally come.

Lewis hopes the city can benefit from another  proposition passed by voters to find funding for what could eventually be an alternative to McFaddin or Crystal Beach.

Proposition 12 allows the city’s Economic Development Corporation to use sales tax revenue to fund entertainment-related projects.

A beach on Pleasure Island, Lewis said, is just the type of project the proposition is meant to fund.

“A beach is for the general public. That will generate traffic on the island,” Lewis said. “There is untapped potential there.”

Lewis has already met with the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission and has found a source of white sand in Texas.

One possible barrier to the beach project is wetlands issues, he said.

If a Pleasure Island beach becomes reality, Lewis said, he would propose another public park be dedicated along the sandy shoreline.

While Lewis thinks his vision is attainable, District 6 Councilman Robert “Bob” Williamson is skeptical.

“I don’t  think it can be built at all,” Williamson said. “What is under the water out there is three or four feet of silt. Any sand you put into that water will sink into silt. If you scraped or  dredged it away, it would be covered with silt.”

About 25 years ago, there were others proposing a beach on Pleasure Island, but found it not to be feasible.

“I am no beach expert, but I have been out in Lake Sabine when the beach was down, and just sank into the silt,” Williamson said.

What he would like the city to get behind is an investment in erosion control — especially now that the deepening project for the Sabine-Neches Waterway project has been approved by the U.S. Senate.

“If erosion control is not part of that funding, and we don’t get the kind of protection we need from deepening and widening, we will be out millions of dollars from the wash of the ship. We are already losing tons of dirt out there,” Williamson said.

While future projects are uncertain, more immediate changes  will have to be decided sooner than later.

The status of current Pleasure Island employees has to be decided, as well as whether a director is still needed.

According to Williamson, vandalism has become an issue on the Island that needs to be addressed.

“We have lost 16 portable toilets in a row. Vandals are literally destroying everything on the island; the need for law enforcement and security out there is one of the top needs,” Williamson said.

To fund island operations, Williamson said, the city would likely use revenue produced by the Island.

The island generates its own revenue from the sale of property, boat-slip rentals, leases, etc., and is expected to  be the recipient of another $350,000 a year when a terminal under construction on the south end is completed.

This year’s budget for Island operations is $830,000.

Williamson said the city is planning a meeting with its staff and Island staff to discuss current projects, and what it takes to complete them, and to let the city manager know who is going to do what.

“I would  recommend that the city manager let the island continue to do what they are doing and just keep him informed,” Williamson said. “At some point we will have to work out the logistics of how this will be organized, but that is up to the city manager. “

Email: skoonce@panews.com

Twitter: @SKooncePANews