Showdown at the Shore

Thrill to the battle of the boardwalk brawlers of Kemah versus the maulers of Clear Lake Shores. Sales-tax slugfests, counterpunches to kayo streets and a flurry of jabs have jolted city services in a municipal grudge match yet to end.

The boats are typically stored loaded with fuel, he says, both to prevent water condensation in the gas tanks and to make it more convenient for owners wanting to get out on the gulf quickly.

Although officially neutral about the project, the local fire chief says he does have concerns. Federal firefighting guidelines say that an area within a distance 1.5 times the height of a tall structure is the so-called collapse zone, which poses special dangers for firefighters. In the case of the proposed marina, the collapse zone would include not only houses but the streets needed to get to the fire.

"It would be putting the fire trucks and the firefighters in a dangerous situation," says David Dockens, whose 15-volunteer, two-truck department covers Clear Lake Shores, Lazy Bend and Kemah. Whether he could get in close "would depend on the fire," he says. "We're going to try to do what we can, but if it's a huge inferno, it's better to stay at a safe distance than to go in and throw some water on it."

Land has been cleared for the boat facility near Stewart Elementary.
Richard Connelly
Land has been cleared for the boat facility near Stewart Elementary.
The Kemah Boardwalk's sales taxes bring millions to the city's coffers.
Monica Fuentes
The Kemah Boardwalk's sales taxes bring millions to the city's coffers.

Dockens's department is funded through Galveston County's Water Control and Improvement District No. 12, and he does not work directly under either mayor. So, he says, he knew nothing about the proposed storage facility until Lazy Bend residents showed him plans last October. (The school board also knew nothing about the project until residents complained, Tomasi says.)

"I've told everybody I'm not for it, I'm not against it, but as fire chief, this is what I'd look at," he says. "When Wal-Mart and Target and Home Depot came in, they asked us to come look at what they had and see if we had any concerns."

That hasn't happened with the boat-storage project. He says he doesn't know such specifics as what type of sprinkler system the facility plans to use, and has not met with the developer.

"They haven't approached me," he says. While guarded in his comments, he admits to some hesitancy. "If I lived around there, I could see where I'd be concerned or upset about it," he says.

Bryant, speaking by phone while vacationing in Spain, says he doesn't want to respond again to complaints about what will be called the Kemah Boat Club.

He says he has answered the issues in public hearings in Clear Lake Shores, in Kemah -- where he went to argue against the closing of Sixth Street -- and in a lawsuit that was filed by Lazy Bend residents and dismissed in state court.

The boat club meets the zoning requirements, he has said in those forums, and it will be safe and nowhere near as noisy as its opponents claim. Other vessels, not just cigarette boats, will use it, Bryant says.

"The Kemah Boat Club intends to be a good neighbor and an asset to the community," he says by phone. Both he and Guthrie say the project has broad public support in Clear Lake Shores.

Veerkamp says that Bryant has told residents the facility would be open only until dusk.

"But I know people who own cigarette boats, I know the culture," Veerkamp says. "They go to all the clubs that are on the bay and drink until two in the morning, and all they'll do is drive their boats up to the [storage] thing and leave them there for the workers to put in when they come in in the morning."

Those protesting the $3 million project also express annoyance -- or more -- at what they perceive as the secrecy surrounding it. No formal notice about a hearing on the project went to residents or the school district or the fire chief, they say.

Clear Lake Shores Mayor Guthrie says he doesn't understand what all the fuss is about. "Those people in Lazy Bend, they protest any development that's proposed out there," he says. "There was going to be a marina in there a couple of years ago, and they were all up in arms about it and stopped it. They had a chance to buy this property and turn it into a park. They'd like it better if there were nothing there, and I understand that. But the people who own the property are entitled to develop it."

Lazy Bend residents say there was no way they would be able to pay the $3 million the property owner wanted for the land. It's been tough enough spending $15,000 on attorneys who are trying to give them standing somewhere to fight the project, Veerkamp says.

Failing that, she and others say they will aggressively monitor the facility when it opens by the end of the year, notifying relevant agencies of noise, pollution or fire-code violations.

Needless to say, the marina project has stoked the always-simmering hard feelings between the cities. It didn't help matters when Veerkamp let it be known that one Clear Lake Shores city councilmember told her that Lazy Bend was a "buffer zone" protecting his city from the project, and that no one cared about the effect on West Kemah because "it was all just trailer trash."

"West Kemah is about 50 percent Hispanic, so I think there's probably some racial overtones to it all," Kemah Mayor King says.

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