Every year, Craig Pritchett, co-owner of Big Daddy’s Ship Store in Grapevine, said he looks forward to Memorial Day—or “Super Bowl day,” as he calls it—when his Lake Grapevine restaurant sees hundreds of people visit to have a meal.
However, he said he is especially looking forward to this Memorial Day because last year he had to do something he has never done since the restaurant opened in 1997—close for Memorial Day.
In May 2015 the Dallas-Fort Worth area received 16.95 inches of rain, making it the wettest May ever recorded in the area. The lake rose more than 26 feet in Grapevine, ultimately topping its spillway and causing all lake parks and ramps and several businesses around the lake to be closed because of severe flooding.
“Going into spring we were in a drought,” Pritchett said. “Then we started getting rain in April, and we started to get excited because we thought [the lake levels were] going to come back to normal. Then, in May, we got too much rain, and the next thing you know we are flooded.”
Pritchett said he recalls last summer being one of the roughest periods for the restaurant.
“I have 30 employees during the summer, and I went down to one after [the May rains],” he said. “You literally had to walk through water to get to the walkway to even get here. You had to park in neighborhoods in front of people’s houses because all of [Big Daddy’s] parking was under water.”
Pritchett said it was only through the support of the Grapevine community, which held fundraisers for lake businesses during the past year, that his and other lake businesses were able to stay in operation.
Now, almost a year later, although Big Daddy’s Ship Store is able to open, Kevin Mitchell, director of Grapevine Parks and Recreation said much of the rest of the Lake Grapevine area is still not back to pre-flood condition.
“The status—as far as the lake conditions— is the same as last May,” he said. “There has been no one in the parks with the exception of one weekend in November when we were able to open The Vineyards [Campground]. We also had Rockledge Park open on and off, but other than that, every lake park has been closed.”
City Manager Bruno Rumbelow said the reason why the lake parks are still under water is because Lake Grapevine is a part of a system operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that is used to control flooding in the area.
“Lake Grapevine is a part of a flood control system, and it is not looked at independently as one lake,” he said. “It’s looked at as part of a system that ultimately goes down the Trinity River and through the southern part of Texas. Unfortunately, we are at the end of the chain, and our water gets released last.”
Implications of last year’s flood
Although officials thought lake parks would be open by now, that is not the case as lake parks are still closed as well as some boat ramps. Mitchell said he expects to see them open again by July.
Last May’s flooding did not only affect the lake area, but also the city’s future Public Safety Building, which is under construction. At the April 19 City Council meeting, City Council approved an additional $350,000 from city reserves to cover new expenses for the building caused by the flood.
“Because of the heavy rains, the building foundation piers had to be redesigned,” Rumbelow said. “The new one cost more than the cost of the original one, which is why we had to go back and ask for more money.”
Rumbelow said the project is still on track and is expected to open in 2017.
The city is also unsure if it will be able to host fireworks on Friday nights, which is done in the summer months.
“We are in evaluation mode as far as the Friday night fireworks program goes, but we will do the Fourth of July fireworks one way or another,” Rumbelow said. “It’s just hard because of the lack of parking available and access available around the lake.”
Financially, the city is projected to have a $600,000 gap in its Lake Parks Fund. Most of the fund’s revenue is generated by The Vineyards Campground, which has taken in almost $1 million less compared with the same time last year.
Chief Financial Officer Greg Jordan said between insurance payments and money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the city is expected to receive $3.5 million. If for some reason the city needs more money to cover expenses, Jordan said Grapevine would use city reserve money.
Rebuilding for the future
In March council members approved new restroom facilities and gatehouses for Lakeview Park, Meadowmere Park and The Vineyards Campground. Mitchell said almost all of the lake parks need to have something replaced. The new buildings will be made of concrete and will be able to withstand future floods.
“This is just cost of doing business in Grapevine—dealing with the lake issues,” Rumbelow said. “Fortunately because of FEMA we are able to use federal dollars in order to do that and insurance proceeds to deal with our revenue problems. So we feel confident that at the end of the day we will end up with something better than we had.”
Mitchell said not only will the Vineyards be getting a new restroom, storage building and gatehouse, but it will also have the fastest Wi-Fi of any campground in the nation after the city finishes its fiber-optic network.
“We are hopeful that things will be up and operational at the Vineyards by July,” Mitchell said.
Although the Vineyards may not be open to RVs on the campground yet, staff is still taking reservations for when the campgrounds reopen.
“We are still open for business,” he said. “There are people booking stuff for Thanksgiving, Christmas and fall break. We are still booking, and we are still at the same [rental] rate.”