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Nueces County Submits Plan to Mitigate Grant Violation

Horace Caldwell Pier on Mustang Island in Port Aransas. A Nueces County proposal to build an observation deck on the pier will be submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by August 14. Commissioners hope the proposal will take them off the hook for violation of a 2011 grant that built a similar deck onto Bob Hall Pier. Courtesy photo

A plan to build a new pier in Port Aransas in exchange for allowing Mikel May’s Beachside Bar and Grill to remain on Bob Hall Pier was approved and will be sent to the federal government by the August 14 deadline, decided Nueces County commissioners at a meeting July 31. If the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also approves the proposal, the county will no longer owe the federal government $750,000 plus interest for violating terms of a 2011 grant.

Letting a private establishment expand onto an extension of the pier funded by the federal government violated terms of the grant, said the Fish and Wildlife Service. The agency cited the county in February, seeking repayment and then some for the violation. The letter came as a result of a site visit by the government in December 2018.

The county has since put together a proposal to build a similar structure at I.B. Magee Park at Horace Caldwell Pier in exchange. The feds gave the county until August 14 to finalize details and present the plan.

"I believe that we have found an elegant solution to a very difficult problem that was not created by us but must be solved by us," said Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales at the meeting.

Speaking on behalf of her restaurant, Mikel May’s owner Merida May Nardone told commissioners the section of the pier in question is always open to the public, whether or not they are buying anything from her establishment. She pointed out that the bar and grill has paid the county about $650,000 in taxes and to lease the space since it opened. The restaurant employs 70-80 people in peak seasons.

"I think it (the proposal) is a win-win situation, not only for us at Mikel May's but for the county," Nardone said. "We can continue to stay open and generate revenue for the county, which helps, as well as have a great structure in Port Aransas that all of our community can enjoy."

According to Commissioner Carolyn Vaughn, the county has the money to build the Port Aransas observation deck.

“We don’t want to send that (money) back if we can build another one (observation deck),” Vaughn said. “I say go for it.”

The Port of Corpus Christi has promised $250,000, while other money will come from Nueces County Certificate of Obligation funds currently allocated to Canales and Commissioner Brent Chesney.

The Horace Caldwell observation deck would include educational signage developed by the Coastal Bend Bays and Estuaries Program. Also, the University of Texas Marine Science Institute wants to use the deck for a monitoring program.

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