- Associated Press
Sunday, November 6, 2016

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (AP) - Plans have been suspended for some Corpus Christi residents to get government financial help to move or sell their homes to make way for a $1 billion bridge because of a dispute over whether some landlords also deserve monetary assistance.

The Austin-based Texas RioGrande Legal Aid sent a letter to several state and federal agencies on Friday saying the decision by the Texas Department of Transportation would affect scores of residents of the Hillcrest neighborhood near the span, the Corpus Christi Caller-Times (https://bit.ly/2fefmOg ) reported Sunday.

The group said the decision was unacceptable and violates a settlement reached in December that included the relocation assistance. The settlement was reached to enable a $930 million project to replace the 1959 Harbor Bridge. Crews broke ground in August for the new span, which will have higher clearance for larger cargo ships, and construction is expected to be completed in 2021.

The grassroots organization Citizens Alliance for Fairness and Progress said it was told several weeks ago that the months-long dispute had been settled over whether some non-occupant owners could also qualify for state-funded relocation assistance.

But during a community meeting on Thursday, representatives from TxDOT and the Federal Highway Administration told residents that the relocations had been put on hold. They said the program was halted because offers to buy property as part of the settlement had been tabled while the agencies continued private meetings about their dispute with landlords.

That was a dramatic shift from a letter dated Oct. 13 from the Federal Highway Administration. The letter said non-occupant owners - people who hold a title to property in Hillcrest but don’t live there - should be entitled to the program’s benefits. Among the benefits was fair-market value of the residential property they sell, relocation and moving assistance, and counseling and liaison services.

That letter was signed by Achille Alonzi, a division administrator for the Federal Highway Administration. Alonzi said anyone subject to “disparate impact” because of the bridge project should qualify for relocation benefits under Title VI.

The Caller-Times’ attempts to reach a TxDOT spokesman on Saturday were unsuccessful. Phone messages left by The Associated Press seeking comment on Sunday weren’t immediately returned.

“How much time is going to go by while (the transportation department and highway administration) exchange letters and try to work it out? People could die in that time,” said Lamont Taylor, a Hillcrest resident and citizens alliance co-chairman. “If they (transportation officials) stop the relocations …. they need to stop the bridge project, too. They’ve lost the trust of the community.”


Information from: Corpus Christi Caller-Times, https://www.caller.com

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