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County could lose millions of FEMA dollars - The Galveston County Daily News : Local News

November 27, 2014

County could lose millions of FEMA dollars

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Posted: Monday, May 12, 2014 12:55 am | Updated: 12:25 pm, Mon May 12, 2014.

“Hundreds to thousands” of RVs and travel trailers across the county could put federal disaster aid money at risk, county officials said.

With that, county commissioners are looking at a way to get those who are using those vehicles and trailers as residences compliant with flood plain regulations.

At risk are millions of dollars in aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Federal guidelines call for the county to set regulations for RV and travel trailers as part of the county’s flood plain regulations.

The regulations call for the trailers and RVs to be “road ready,” meaning that at any given moment they can easily and safely be moved — especially if there is an approaching storm.

“There are hundreds, likely thousands, out there that would not fit the requirements,” county engineer Mike Fitzgerald said.

That is because many people are not using their travel trailers or RVs as temporary places to stay. Instead, they are being used as permanent residences.

Which is fine, except the county now requires that the RVs or travel trailers be inspected and permitted every six months.

The owners of those vehicles are supposed to bring their RVs or trailers to the county for inspection each time the permit expires. The rules would apply only to those vehicles in the unincorporated parts of the county.

Since Hurricane Ike made landfall in 2008, the county hasn’t really enforced those regulations, County Commissioner Ryan Dennard said.

He added that the county adopted a “wait until there is a compliant” strategy because many people in unincorporated parts of the county used trailers or RVs as homes while waiting to get their houses repaired or rebuilt after the hurricane.

About six years later, the lack of enforcement is leading to problems.

A homeowners association on the Bolivar Peninsula has complained about trailers and RVs on lots in Crystal Beach. The homeowners association and residents threatened to report the county’s noncompliance to FEMA.

There also are issues in Bacliff, San Leon and Bayshore, Fitzgerald said.

So the county is looking at revising its rules.

Dennard suggested a revised plan that would allow for on-site inspections and an annual permit.

While a lot of the RVs and trailers would easily meet those requirements, many would not.

There is a $100-a-day fine for the property owner for noncompliant RVs or trailers. That is on top of what it would cost the owner to make the vehicle road ready.

That’s something County Judge Mark Henry said would be a problem for many who could not afford what could be thousands of dollars to meet the regulations.

Arlene Dickson, 60, of San Leon is one of those. She and her husband live in an older RV that she admits can’t run on its own.

“I can’t afford to live in a house or rent an apartment,” Dickson said in an emotional speech to county commissioners Thursday. “I’m the working poor. Why are you going to make me get a (permit) to live in my own home?

“Are you wanting me to live under a bridge?”

Dickson said she and her husband work at Walmart and “live day-to-day and check-to-check.”

She would not have the money to ensure her RV, which sits on a private lot, could meet the requirements. She did not say whether she owns the land where the RV is parked.

County officials confirmed she is among the hundreds who have not gotten the required permits.

Dennard suggested the county adopt revised and streamlined regulations and, starting on the Bolivar Peninsula, work across the county to see how many of the RVs and trailers meet the requirements.

County commissioners are looking to adopt new rules and to get a report from Fitzgerald within six months on progress on the peninsula.