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Victoria County Long Term Recovery Group logo approved on March 9, 2018.

Rick Villa, development director for the Victoria County Long-Term Recovery Group, said Friday at the group’s monthly meeting that as grants and partnerships begin to wind down, the community needs to accelerate recovery efforts.

Fortunately, after last month’s meeting, Villa and other community leaders met with representatives from World Renew and learned about the organization’s reconstruction services. The faith-based Michigan nonprofit helped assess area needs earlier in the recovery process after Hurricane Harvey.

The Victoria leaders learned that teams of 20 to 25 skilled volunteers could help with recovery efforts for six to nine months. Villa hopes to “get the green light” from World Renew next week.

“We have struggled, just as Habitat for Humanity and others have, with recruiting skilled volunteers,” Villa said.

Villa shared that FEMA representatives visited the Long-Term Recovery Group office in Victoria to interview him and Mark Longoria, the group’s president, for a video series on disaster preparedness. Earlier this month, the group’s achievements also were acknowledged with an award from the Golden Crescent Regional Planning Commission at its annual general assembly. The Community Organizations Active in Disasters, also present at Friday’s meeting, earned an award as well.

“The total team brought that award to this organization,” Villa said. “I give a lot of props to the project managers, the volunteer coordinators, the disaster case managers and supervisors, and the partners who have done so much to allow us to be so successful.”

Villa also thanked the Victoria Advocate for its coverage. The stories that published in the Victoria Advocate on the second anniversary of Hurricane Harvey moved First English Lutheran Church to make a donation from its Heritage Day Community Assistance Fund to help the group with unmet needs, he said. The church will present Villa with $1,500 next week.

Longoria announced the groundbreaking ceremony for Hope Meadows, the $4.6 million, 40-house subdivision in Bloomington for those still struggling to recover from the hurricane, will be 10 a.m. Sept. 21.

“It’s historic for Bloomington because it’s the first planned subdivision there,” Longoria said. “It’s exciting.”

Ashley Razzo, the case manager/supervisor for the Long-Term Recovery Group, reported that it received more than 100 calls in August from people still in need of assistance, and more than 80 of them were the result of televised public service announcements. Seven new applications were submitted in August for Hope Meadows, so the total number of applications to date is 18 and three are approved, she said.

Travis Hawes, construction project manager for the Long-Term Recovery Group, said Hope Meadows is beginning to look more like a neighborhood than a pasture with sewers and the first phase of roads and ditches. Hawes and Longoria expressed gratitude to Frostwood Energy for removing an abandoned wellhead that would have been an “eyesore” in the middle of the neighborhood. The removal would have cost the group $40,000.

Shannon Longoria, who handles intergovernmental affairs and community relations for the Texas General Land Office, said the office’s mitigation planning team is in the process of writing an action plan, which will be posted for public comment by February. Congress approved $4.3 billion in mitigation funding in May, and the Federal Register became available Aug. 23.

“The action plan will help each jurisdiction understand what projects can improve resiliency and recovery against future storms,” Longoria said. “These funds will help the Texan communities that were affected by Harvey as well as the 2015-2016 floods.”

The Texas Back in Business program is not up and running yet, but Longoria encouraged organizations to get their documents in order and visit recovery.texas.gov for ongoing updates. Through an application process, the program can help small businesses that experienced economic losses and damages from the hurricane with up to $250,000.

The city of Victoria and Victoria County have submitted their applications to the general land office for the buyout program, which helps families living in flood zones, and infrastructure grants, Longoria said.

Kim Pickens, with Rio Texas UMCOR, identified the main needs in Victoria as reconstruction, furniture and appliances.

The Long-Term Recovery Group opened 12 new cases in August and closed nine cases, Razzo said. Six new cases were referred to the Homeowner Assistance Program. The HAP program has approved 20 total applications for house rebuilds, and four of them are completed. The other 16 are in various stages of the process. Another 50 cases are in different stages of the application process. Two applications were denied, and the group is working to help those clients recover in other ways.

Daniel Harasim with volunteer management for the Long-Term Recovery Group reported 3,953 total volunteer hours from January to present by 550 volunteers. He met with representatives from St. Joseph High School about upcoming volunteer opportunities. The priority now is the preparatory work necessary to make the transition from the old warehouse to the new one at the Victoria Advocate building, he said.

Creed Galbraith said Habitat for Humanity completed eight projects last month and 12 are ongoing.

Jena West with the Office of Emergency Management invited other community stakeholders to join her team to determine the pieces of the emergency operations plan. The plan, essentially a shell because no two events are alike, helps bridge the gaps between all of the community players in the event of an emergency, she said. From a list of contacts to the resources provided by each organization, West called having a centralized plan they can all access better than “trying to shake hands on game-day.”

Elena Anita Watts covers arts, culture and entertainment for the Victoria Advocate.

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