WESLACO, RGV – There is a reason Texas deployed City of McAllen staff to assist in the Hurricane Harvey relief effort in the worst hit part of the state – its employees are the best.

That was the message McAllen City Manager Roy Rodriguez gave in remarks made at a luncheon hosted by Society of Marketing Professional Services-Rio Grande Valley in Weslaco.

Rodriguez appeared on a panel with two other experienced city managers, Mike Perez of Weslaco and Charlie Cabler of Brownsville. In a Q&A session, the three were asked by a member of the audience for the strengths and weaknesses of their respective cities.

Roy Rodriguez

Rodriguez said the biggest strength of McAllen is its human resources. By way of an example he spoke about responding to emergencies.

“In 2008, the State of Texas asked McAllen to respond to Hurricane Ike, under Mike’s leadership,” Rodriguez said, referring to Perez. “The reason is real simple, the State of Texas knows the talent level across this state and, believe it or not, little, old, McAllen is known for that.”

Rodriguez said about 120 McAllen employees were deployed during Hurricane Ike to Galveston, Texas.

“We brought that community back to life in eight days. God did in seven, we did it in eight. It was an amazing, amazing, opportunity for me, an experience. In my 30-year career, I have never had a week like that,” Rodriguez said.

“Last week we were deployed to Ingleside, Rockport, Fulton and Aransas Pass. Same thing. Think about it. The last hurricane we got was Ike. We come forward now to Harvey and they ask us to deploy to the worst hit area of the state. And the reason is very simple. The staff in McAllen is just second to none.”

Rodriguez said the City of McAllen hires and trains the best staff to deal with emergency situations.

“Through the years, the culture of this city is always top notch. For those of you who do business there, or live there, just know that. McAllen has and always will have an incredible amount of talent in our organization.”

Quid Pro Quo

The Society of Marketing Professional Services-Rio Grande Valley event was held at the Weslaco Business & Event Center next to City Hall in Weslaco. After the meeting, Rodriguez gave an interview to Ron Whitlock of Ron Whitlock Reports.

“We sent around 100 personnel and 60 pieces of equipment to Ingleside, Port Aransas, Rockport and Fulton,” Rodriguez told Whitlock. “For the most part, we were picking up debris – it was almost impassable throughout the community. In Rockport, we helped bring back the wastewater collection system. In Aransas Pass, we brought back the water system, and in Fulton we brought back the water system. Our folks spent six days out there, basically working day and night and they arrived back this past Monday.”

Asked what staff, technology and equipment McAllen possesses, Rodriguez said:

“All of those communities are small communities, No. 1. No. 2, the City of McAllen has had a tremendous amount of equipment for a long time and the reason is, because of our responsiveness when the state calls, we have been eligible for much grant money that gets us more equipment.”

In other words, Whitlock said, the quid pro quo is, when the state calls, you have got to go and do it.

“Exactly,” Rodriguez responded. “And so, the last two hurricanes Texas has seen, which is Harvey and, in 2008, Hurricane Ike, the City of McAllen responded to both, as first responders. I think that says a lot about our community, about our personnel, their expertise. We were very proud to be over there.”

Rodriguez said it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that McAllen will be called back to help again. “We might be called back, to go back to that area, or Houston,” he said.

Whitlock has spent the past week reporting from Port Aransas. He told Rodriguez that the city leadership in Port Aransas wants more volunteers because the ones they had have started to go home. Rodriguez said his staff is better deployed on restoring water systems, etc.

“We focus more on bringing back infrastructure so I have got to be able to use the expertise where it is really needed. What I would say is, there are volunteers across the state that want to help and when you are talking about manual stuff, that is what they need to do. But, when you need expertise such as water systems, water plants, wastewater plants, lift stations, things like that, that is where the state will call us in and we will go in there. That is what we do,” Rodriguez said.

Whitlock said he witnessed a community that has been devastated by Harvey. He said Rodriguez and his staff deserve great praise.

“The City of McAllen leads the way in South Texas in helping smaller communities restore their water systems following hurricanes and other emergency situations. Truly being ‘Neighbors helping Neighbors’ by offering the most critical recovery assistance of all, water supply restoration. Without water, a community cannot return to normalcy. It cannot become safely habitable again,” Whitlock said.

“By what the 100-plus City of McAllen workers, who returned home on Monday, after over a week of hard and effective work, and McAllen City Manager Roy Rodriguez, who set up the response system when he was CEO of McAllen Public Utility Board, did was miraculous. They are, in fact, truly heroes, for folks who were evacuated can now come home, many restaurants and schools can now safely open, jobs and the economy of these communities can be restored.”

Whitlock added: “Hats Off and Thank You go out to McAllen Mayor Jim Darling, his predecessor as mayor, current commissioner Richard Cortez; McAllen PUB Chairman Charles Amos and all who are and have served on the policy making bodies that have supported this extraordinarily vital and important emergency response, water and wastewater system effort.”

Last week, the City of McAllen deployed approximately 99 employees, including several crews from the McAllen Fire, Parks, Police and Public Works Departments, as well as the McAllen Public Utility and crews from Hidalgo County Precinct 4 and Health & Human Services through the Rio Grande Valley Public Works Response Team to assist with water and sewer system issues, brush collection and continued emergency response support in Aransas Pass, Fulton, Ingleside.

The City of McAllen equipment convoy included 55 vehicles, stretching half a mile in length, and included pumps, backhoes, brush, dump and fuel trucks and light towers. Additionally, the response team left with their generators, tents, sleeping bags, cots and food and all that was needed to be self-sustaining while out there assisting. All employees who were part of the response team volunteered.

Here is what the McAllen and Hidalgo County volunteers did:

Aransas Pass:  Assessed water system, replaced storm damaged components, flushed ground storage tanks, ensured that pumps on ground storage tanks were functioning, pumped freshwater into system, bled air out of system by flushing nearly 250 hydrants, performed system control by working valves in various areas, including at and around the collapsed water tower site, provided assistance to staff in monitoring pump systems after hours so existing staff could rest, assessed and made recommendations related to current SCADA system, resulting in approximately 20psi pressure at the main (fluctuating throughout town).  For the city’s wastewater system, crews inspected 25 lift stations, checked electrical connections at main lift station and made adjustments, assisted with generator hookup and installation at some lift station sites, monitored lift station operations, assisted with WW treatment plant repairs.

Fulton:  Assessed waste water system and needs, assessed generator needs for lift stations, made connections and installations to larger bypass pumps on primary lift stations.  Advised staff on next steps and plan of action to get system running

Ingleside:  Performed emergency road debris removal, hauling of debris when necessary.  Ensured clearance of 100 percent of assigned roads, moved nearly 4,000 tons of brush and debris.

“I am very proud that we had the capability to assist a community in need of our equipment, support and experience in emergency response,” said City of McAllen Mayor Jim Darling. “God be with all of the people affected by this horrible natural disaster.”

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying this story shows debris in Port Aransas following Hurricane Harvey. Photo by Ron Whitlock.