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6 Investigates: Packery Channel has a history of failures

Posted: 5:16 PM, Jun 14, 2018
Updated: 2018-06-27 14:00:16-04

The collapsed walls of the Packery Channel are part of a pattern of problems that trace back to its construction.

While the most recent damage was caused by Hurricane Harvey, city leaders are asking what can be done to prevent it from happening again. And that includes criticism of the design.

"We know it doesn’t work,” said Greg Smith, Corpus Christi City Councilman in District 4. “I think it’s in the design. This is not a typical design for a gulf jetty that you see."

Twelve years ago Packery Channel opened. It was a project that was decades in the making and cost taxpayers about $30 million to build.

Area leaders hailed it as an engineering marvel.

But that engineering has been tested.

Last year, a 6 foot storm surge from Hurricane Harvey dealt another big blow to Packery Channel. Now, much of the south end is in disrepair: washed out sidewalks, sunken walls.

Those problems fetch a huge price tag – as much as $7.9 million to repair.

But over the years, the walls have suffered similar damage.

In 2008, storm surge from Hurricane Ike washed out sections of the walls – known as the concrete revetment system.

The repairs back then cost the city about $2 million.

But the problems go back even farther – to 2005 – when Packery Channel was under construction, according to archived KRIS 6 News reports.

The storm surge from Hurricane Emily washed out sections of the walls.

“The city was out about $800,000 dollars,” Smith said.

The concrete revetment system is made out of a series concrete blocks, which interlock like a puzzle. The pieces fit together through a cable support system, which is supposed keep in place the sand underneath it. But in several places the sand has washed away and the walls have failed.

"I certainly would have preferred to have something that held up better in these storm events,” said Jeff Edmonds, director of city of Corpus Christi Engineering Services.

To this day, it’s unclear exactly how Packery Channel was built.

All the city has is the approved set of design drawings. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers oversaw the design and construction of Packery Channel.

In an email exchange, a spokesperson for the Corps referred KRIS 6 News questions about the construction and design back to the city. The city is responsible for maintenance.

North Padre Island residents also want to know what went wrong. They are paying for the repairs out of fund known as a Tax Increment Finance Zone (TIRZ). Since it was created, the fund has collected property tax revenue from island properties as they increase in value. There’s about $11 million in the fund – most of which is obligated to other projects including the Park Road 22 bridge. But before that money is spent on repairs, island residents want answers.

"I think it’s a shame,” said Joe Minervini, after an Island Strategic Action Committee (ISAC) meeting earlier this month about the cost to repair Packery Channel. “It should have been done right the first time."

And that sentiment has pushed Jay Gardner, an ISAC member, to dig for answers.

He has sifted through hundreds of field notes on file with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The notes include details about changes made to the Packery Channel design during construction. Gardner, who works in the engineering field, wants to know exactly how the channel was built.

 "I’m not looking through this information as a witch hunt,” he said. “I’m looking through this information to help us move forward in a positive light."

The information could help the city figure out the best way to repair it, he added.

When it comes to repairs, the city isn’t working from scratch. It has been able to test how repairs from Hurricane Ike worked.

"The repair that was done after (Hurricane) Ike – the areas that were repaired with the large stones – they worked,” Smith said.

He would like to see the city repair the entire system based on what has worked in the past.  

To pinpoint exactly how the system failed – the city has hired HDR Engineering to conduct a root cause analysis, Edmonds said. That information should be ready within the next 30 days.