Back to Bolivar Five Years After Ike

Five years ago this week, parts of the Bolivar Peninsula, a small sliver of land that separates the Gulf of Mexico from Galveston Bay, were under 15 feet of water. The storm surge from Hurricane Ike nearly wiped-out the entire area. Earlier this year, KUHF's Jack Williams visited the peninsula to find out how things have changed there.  

*This originally aired September 10, 2013.

"How are you man? I'm Jack."

"Good to see you. Warren Adams, pleased to meet you."

If you're going to visit the Bolivar Peninsula to find out what things are like there, a good place to start is Warren and Pam Adams home. You might remember it as the "last house standing", a lonely yellow home on the far east end of the peninsula. On his porch with three dogs and a friendly cat, Warren Adams recalls returning home when the water went down five years ago.  

"I thought this place is gone. We'll never see it again. And actually I'm shocked myself that we've come back as far as we have in such a short period of time."
 
But come back it has. Instead of a moonscape, there's grass and wildlife and other homes rebuilt all around. 

"I've seen it go from after the storm all the way up to where we're at today. We've come back a long way. There's been a lot of work done on Bolivar to bring it back to where we're at today."
 

"I have some clients in one, and they have a lightbulb out."

Becky Bennett is a realtor. She owns Custom Coastal Properties and deals mostly in vacation rentals on Bolivar.  

"This neighborhood is The Biscayne. This was the peninsula's first gated community."

We're taking a drive down the main roadway on the peninsula, Highway 87. Colorful houses on pylons are everywhere and many of them are brand new, rebuilt since Ike. 

"I think for the most part, it's on its way. The common saying down here is Bolivar is back better than ever. It is back. I think it's a lot better than it was before and it's only got room to get better. But some places don't ever lose their beach charm."

Just down the road, Kevin Kavanagh is carving wood with his chain saw. He's a surfer, with sun-bleached hair and a long, braided beard. He's been here for 25 years and runs this roadside business, Tiki Loco. 

"I didn't think it would come back as fast. I was going to go to Port Isabel. I figured it would take ten years before I actually could do business here, but I was doing business months after the storm and I've been busy ever since."  

He says the rebirth of Bolivar hasn't been all good for everyone. 

"It's really hard for the working people, the people who work in the restaurants and the stores to make a living here. It's pricing itself out. It's really hard for a regular guy to stay here."

One reason for the increased prices is tougher standards for what can be rebuilt, which means more expensive construction. Ryan Denard is Galveston County Commissioner in Precinct One, which includes all of Bolivar Peninsula. He says the tougher building codes are part of preparing for future storms. 

"You can't hope it's not going to happen, because I think culturally, we now realize it is going to happen again. It's just a matter of when. Therefore, the community is approaching redevelopment in a way that we'll be ready for the next one and the impact from the next one won't be what it was before."

Another clear sign of Bolivar's slow return, before Ike, there were 6200 water meters. Now there are 3900, but the peninsula is adding 25 new meters a month as more homes go up. It's the steady return of an area that took the worst of Ike five years ago.

Bio photo of Jack Williams

Jack Williams

Director of News Programming

News Director Jack Williams has been with Houston Public Radio since August of 2000. He's also a reporter and anchor for Houston Public Radio's local All Things Considered segments...