PORT ARANSAS, Texas - Born and raised in this Texas Gulf Coast beach town, James Wheeler Jr. finds himself sawing plywood and hanging sheet rock at a time when he would normally be leading deep-sea fishing excursions, trying to hook tuna or Spanish mackerel by the cooler-full.
Since Hurricane Harvey came through Port Aransas just before Labor Day - damaging or destroying 80 percent of homes and business and wiping out the lucrative summer season’s final weeks - the 38-year-old boat captain has become an amateur builder, working to repair the roof of a sea headquarters building where he and others dock their pleasure crafts.
“Port Aransas is built on the tourist dollar,” said Wheeler, ticking off attractions besides fishing: surfing, nature reserves, seafood restaurants and beaches where it’s always cocktail hour. “That dollar’s not coming right now.”
In many Texas seaside enclaves, the owners of bars and eateries, inns and T-shirt shops are facing a painful paradox: Tourists who are their economic lifeblood likely won’t return until the rebuild is in full swing, but picking up the pieces after Harvey may not truly begin without the profits tourists bring.
“That’s the risk,” said David Teel, president of the Texas Travel Industry Association. “The recovery will come. But it will never be fast enough for these folks.”
Insurance money and support from federal grants will help residents rebuild homes and businesses, and in some cases even cover businesses’ lost income and employees’ lost wages. But that will pale in comparison to what tourists would normally be spending, likely helping ensure that recovery moves more slowly.