Saturday, March 28, 2009

Galveston seawall gets its first wheelchair ramp

From KTRK-TV in Houston:

GALVESTON, Texas -- An important change to the seawall in Galveston has nothing to do with the road to recovery and everything to do with providing access for everyone. For the first time since it was built, there is a wheelchair ramp at the seawall.

Hurricane Ike prompted a lot of changes and repair on Galveston Island, but the most recent improvement to the seawall has nothing to do with the damage that storm left behind. Rather, it's a move to make access to the beach better than it's been in more than 100 years.

"Somedays you can look out there and it's so pretty. Galveston is a fabulous place," said beachgoer Brent Novelli.

Novelli was born and raised on the island. He is passionate about the beach.

"I love fishing. I love beachcombing and I love people watching," said Novelli.

It's a joy he now shares with his daughter Sydney.

"You see the big waves out there? Wanna learn how to surf?" said Novelli to his daughter. However, he couldn't play with Sydney the way most dads would could because as much as Galveston's seawall is protection from the gulf, it is a barrier for the wheelchair-bound Novelli.

"Nobody really thought about it, you know, having access to the beach," said Novelli.

"Before I was having to sit up on the seawall while they were down here walking on the beach collecting sea shells," said Novelli.

On March 27, all that changed.

"The beach is open," cheered Novelli.

For the first time in the wall's 107-year history, it has a ramp to the beach.

"It's about time. It just broadens up the world and it also says something about Galveston; the hospitality that Galveston provides for people all over Texas, from all over the U.S., and from all over the world," said Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson.

With a federal grant, the State Land Office, the city, the county, and the Parks Board used $431,000 to make Novelli's life a little fuller. It's the first of what could be many ramps along the seawall.

"Oh yeah. It's definitely a step closer," said Novelli.

It may not look like much to most who spend their days with sand between their toes, but for a man who treads a different path, it is a big deal.

"I see all of the big rocks and look at the sand," said Novelli to his daughter.

He can now be a dad on the beach, just like all the others.

The ramp sits right across the Galveston Island Convention Center in the 5600 block of Seawall Blvd. Right now it is the only one on the ten-mile stretch of island beach protected by the wall.