Bevil Oaks City Council works toward solutions with residents, agencies

Bevil Oaks City Council works toward solutions with residents, agencies

The city of Bevil Oaks opened its public meeting at the Southeast Texas Regional Planning Commission on Eastex Freeway in Beaumont with a prayer that they would “conduct business in a sensible and manageable way” to be “fair to all in the community.”

The last meeting Sept. 19 had ended in citizens screaming at their officials and overrunning the three minutes allowed for individual comments.

Before the meeting officially began, some City Council members expressed concerns that three minutes was too short and more time should be allotted for questions.

Bud Meredino was the first to comment during the meeting, once again calling for Mayor Becky Ford’s resignation.

“You weren’t present during the whole disaster; you were gone over three weeks,” he said, addressing Ford while he streamed the entire session on Facebook live.

Merendino also accused Mayor Pro Tem Danny Fruge of “aggravating the problem … with people getting their stuff back together.”

He also asked the council to “consider relaxing some of these rules so that our citizens can get their lives back in order to get back in our homes,” referring to the controversial regulations for rebuilding stipulated by FEMA and the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) that caused contention during the previous meeting.

Homes that sustained “substantial damage” or had “substantial improvements,” meaning 50 percent or more of the home’s value, within a 10-year period are required to comply with city, state and federal standards, certified floodplain manager Kimberely Vandver had explained Sept. 19.

“A lot of us know how to do a lot of things, and we can fix our stuff if we’re allowed to,” Merendino argued. “To ask somebody to raise their house 6 inches when they got 6 and a half feet of water in it is kind of ludicrous.”

“Y’all haven’t bid out the water department since it’s been taken over by Becky,” Merendino continued, which he was told was “a red flag.”

Merendino also said the meeting should not be held during the middle of the day when most people are at work.

Mark LaRousse asked about why moisture inspections of flooded homes are necessary.

Fruge explained that moisture inspections are required by FEMA for wetted wood. He corrected a statement from the previous meeting after a conversation with the city’s building inspector — flooded homes have to be dried to 15 percent, not 19 percent.

Other city council members cautioned residents against rebuilding too quickly or improperly because of mold issues.

“The moisture content test by itself is no guarantee at 15 percent that you won’t have mold growing in your house later on — it’s not,” Fruge explained. “You have to do other things that will be up to you to investigate and determine for yourself if it’s worthwhile for you to go ahead and build once it gets to be 15 percent or if you need to do something else.

“That’s a scope beyond our responsibility.”

The city plans to release documents specifying rebuilding requirements in the next few days, Fruge said.

Amanda Booker asked if being an unincorporated area and disbanding city council would be “a little easier.”

“You would be a part of the county [and] you would not have streetlights,” Mayor Becky Ford answered. “You would be as anyone who lives in the county.

“Even if it was to become unincorporated, it would not make any difference for this event,” Fruge said.

“It would still be a floodzone, because the county has floodzones too,” Ford said, adding that most of these regulations have been in place since Bevil Oaks became a city in 1963.

Councilwoman Michelle Nelson argued that staying incorporated was a better option.

“One thing to keep in mind is as a city, you have citizens looking out for each other,” Nelson said. “If you take away the City Council and we’re no longer a city, you are now having to appeal to the county for help and for assistance, and the city becomes a tiny little speck in a very large county.”

“You are not a priority to them.”

Nelson also encouraged other residents to run for public office if they were unhappy.

“The way it’s been, nobody is running, nobody else is trying to take over those seats, nobody else has shown an interest in doing that,” she said. “I would encourage other people to run if they wanted to see more changes.

“Right now we’re able to govern ourselves, your neighbors [are] helping out, you’ve got their ear and you’re getting their help.”

“But I think once we were unincorporated, I don’t think we’d have the county’s ear, I don’t think we would get the assistance that we wanted from the county. That would be my biggest concern.”

Councilman Jim Andrews agreed with Nelson.

“There may be some advantages to not being incorporated, but there’s a lot of things that we take for granted that the city provides for,” he said. “Where’s the water going to come from? Where’s the taxes going to come from to operate that water system and that sewer system?”

Bud Merendino tried to interrupt the meeting after citizen comments, saying, “I thought this was a question and answer session.”

“It is not,” Ford told him. “We are trying to handle a business meeting here, if you don’t mind.”

City council passed a motion to seek public assistance consultation services to apply for, receive, administer and appeal denial of public assistance funds from FEMA, and another motion to contract a qualified engineering firm for flood recovery engineering services to deal with water treatment, wastewater and road damage.

Fruge also said that the city is working for a “semi-solution” for people rebuilding in zone AE and zone X, but could not discuss details at this time.

“So do we just stop working on our houses?” one resident called out.

City attorney Dru Montgomery also clarified Fruge’s earlier statements in the Sept. 19 meeting in a phone conversation.

No one on city council is paid, including the mayor and mayor pro tem, Montgomery said. Ford and Fruge are both full-time since they are retired, but everyone else on city council has other jobs in addition to their official capacity.

Other city employees are paid, he said, but the City Council is entirely volunteer.