Wall Brawl Truce

A fragile détente settles over Kemah and Clear Lake Shores

Pink Floyd's Roger Waters didn't put on a concert, network anchors were nowhere to be found, and a president named Bush didn't hail it as a momentous event, but Galveston County's version of the Berlin Wall has been breached and a new era of peace and cooperation has dawned. Sort of.

The Wall -- a pair of traffic barricades on Sixth Street separating the feuding towns of Kemah and Clear Lake Shores -- came down in August (the barriers had been routinely pushed aside by impatient motorists, so fixing a date when they officially moved isn't as easy as it seems).

Residents can now use the street, but it is still off-limits to the large trucks involved in a construction project that has helped fuel a not-quite-international crisis. Hard feelings still abound, though, and there's no telling whether hostilities will resume at some point.

The two towns have been battling (see "Showdown at the Shore," July 18) over annexation rights and potentially lucrative megastores in the fast-developing area just east of the larger, better-known Houston suburb of Clear Lake. Caught in the middle are residents of the unincorporated subdivision of Lazy Bend.

Kemah Mayor Bill King and Clear Lake Shores Mayor Ted Guthrie stopped speaking to each other as the fracas escalated; attorney King publicly compared Guthrie to Fidel Castro and sued him for slander.

One of the biggest flashpoints was a proposed five-story boat storage facility scheduled to be built on a strip of land annexed by Clear Lake Shores that lies between the main sections of the two towns. Trucks from the site were endangering Kemah residents, King said, so he ordered the barricade erected.

After Clear Lake Shores sued Kemah over the blockade, Galveston District Judge David Garner ordered the two sides to come up with a compromise. On August 22 they did, agreeing that one lane of Sixth Street would be open to passenger cars only.

King dropped his slander suit after receiving a letter from Guthrie in which, King says, the Clear Lake Shores mayor took back his claim that King knew all about the truck route before construction began.

"We've had a little bit of conversation since," King says. "We've agreed to go to lunch together at some point. There was a new Baptist church that opened, and they invited us both to the opening, and the sermon was 'Blessed Be the Peacemakers.' Guthrie was sitting behind me, and I turned around and said to him, 'He might be talking about us,' and he said, 'He might be.' "

For his part, Guthrie is a bit more cautious. "The judge ordered them to open the road during hurricane season, and I fully expect them to close it again before the end of the year," he says. "When they do, we'll be back in court."

He says he's waiting to see if that happens before he gets together with King for any feel-good sessions.

As construction continues on the storage facility, its neighbors in Lazy Bend, which lies between the two towns, are becoming more disheartened. Their little enclave, where each home backs up to a canal, is now being overshadowed by the new building that will house 280 or so powerboats.

"It's larger and more intrusive than we ever imagined," resident Veronica Veerkamp says. "The reality of its existence is now impossible to ignore…Quite a few folks want to bail out of the neighborhood, but unfortunately, since the steel went up no one has been able to sell their houses. One thing's for sure, life in Lazy Bend will never be the same."

 
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