Wednesday, January 24, 2018

After Harvey, communities near Texas’ biggest polluters are even more vulnerable

Most of Texas’ toxic sites are located in counties hit by Hurricane Harvey. As a changing climate brings storms that are more frequent and severe, communities around these sites are grappling with the area’s “toxic legacy.”

By Dani Neuharth-Keusch

When Hurricane Harvey brought category 5 winds and more than 50 inches of rainfall to some parts of Harris County, environmental advocates braced for the disaster they had known for years would come: a major hurricane barreling down through the Houston ship channel — a 16-mile industrial landscape, littered with refineries and plants whose processes involve toxic and volatile chemicals.

“Hurricane Harvey is ongoing,” said Deyadira Arellano, campaign organizer and community health worker for Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services. She said for the communities around the ship channel, who are living with Houston’s toxic legacy every day, the storm stirred up even more danger.

Click to view interactive

Texas’ 8,704 industrial polluters and Superfund sites are highly concentrated in areas within Hurricane Harvey’s impact zone. Overall, 59% of Texas’ toxic sites are located in counties that received FEMA aid after Hurricane Harvey — double the statewide average, at 26 per zip code.

The EPA issues an annual report of all industrial facilities that logged unauthorized toxic chemical emissions that year. While complete data is still unavailable for Hurricane Harvey’s immediate aftermath, initial reports showed significant toxic releases.

While some of those incidents were due to damage or malfunction caused by the storm — like the explosion at the Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, and the Valero Energy refinery spill — most occured because refineries and chemical plants pre-emptively shut down during extreme weather events. When plants suspend operations, they emit all the chemicals currently being processed. Resuming operations after a shutdown also carries extra emissions.

Leaks from Superfund sites — the most toxic, concentrated pollution sites in the U.S. — are tracked separately. There are 43 total Superfund sites in the Harvey impact zone. Most have been cleared of damage caused by the storm, but the San Jacinto Waste Pits site near Houston “requires additional follow up,” according to the EPA.

The site contains dioxins and other known cancer-causing chemicals, which Hurricane Harvey exposed to floodwaters that could allow them to seep into sediments in surrounding neighborhoods.

“San Jacinto Waste Pits is known as one of the most toxic sites,” Yvette Arellano, research and policy liaison for TEJAS, said. The site was capped with cement, the procedure for when a superfund site cannot be remediated for reuse. But those caps are known to not withstand extreme weather events.

“There is no 100% foolproof way of remediating a toxic site,” she said.

All 16 superfund sites in the Houston area flooded after Hurricane Harvey. But Arellano said EPA officials did not show up to assess the damage until after much of the water had receded.

The Many Diversified Interests, Inc. site in Houston’s Fifth Ward has been on the Superfund list for nearly two decades — and according to 2000 Census data, the population living within a half-mile of the site was 98.9% minority, the EPA said.

“The Fifth Ward, like many parts of Houston, are prone to flooding, so when it rains it floods,” Yvette Arellano said. “That carries toxins … back into the public.”

According to a report from advocacy group Environment Texas, one in four people in the U.S. live within 3 miles of a superfund site. The group’s director, Luke Metzger, said the Trump administration plans to cut Superfund funding by one-third.

EPA administrator Scott Pruitt is looking to the private sector for solutions, which Arellano said makes the process of cleaning up these sites even more dangerous for frontline communities.

“Right now under this current administration, we’re fighting environmental rollback,” she said. “How are we supposed to hold folks accountable and push the EPA forward with cleanup when there is no EPA there?”

In the meantime, while communities wait for cleanup, residents — including children — are being exposed to disease-causing chemicals. Superfund sites can take seven to 11 years or more to be fully remediated.

“People don’t have time for that process to go through,” Arellano said. “You’re talking about living seven years near a contaminated site. The issue is, sites like the MDI site have contaminants in them that cause hormone disruption, issues with learning disabilities, renal failure. It’s not an acute sort of exposure, it’s chronic. ... It could be generations until the impacts of these chemicals are passed on within children.”

Even when these sites are cleaned up, people are often displaced to contaminated areas elsewhere.

“When communities get remediation, then they get redeveloped and they become hubs of gentrification,” she added. “For areas that have had to live near these legacy contamination sites and have received no resources … when they’re cleaned up, all of a sudden they’re getting displaced.”

According to Deyadira Arellano, it’s not just land developers who are pushing people out — so are the oil and petrochemical companies. She referenced a rapidly shrinking, mostly Latino community near the Chevron-Phillips refinery in Baytown, Texas, east of Houston off Interstate 10.

“There are only about five residents left in this little enclave,” she said. “All of them had mostly sold [their homes].”

The area received at least 20 inches of water after Hurricane Harvey. According to Arellano, as residents worked to rebuild and renovate their homes after the damage, Chevron-Phillips was purchasing damaged properties.

“What we see is the refineries taking advantage of the fact that those communities were inundated and buying up the properties under value for their own expansion projects,” she said.

Yvette Arellano said most of the frontline communities near these sites are vulnerable in multiple ways: They are often working-class, majority-minority neighborhoods that lack access to healthcare and nutritious food.

But these residents are not just socioeconomically vulnerable — they are also facing immediate consequences of a changing climate, and the increasingly frequent and severe weather events that come with it.

“I have yet to come across a community member that is a Climate denier,” Yvette Arellano said. “And that’s because... climate change and the issues of climate change are not an issue of the future. They’re happening now. These communities are bearing that brunt now.”

According to research from Kerry Emanuel, a leading climate and hurricane expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, it has become six times more likely for a storm to bring Harvey-level amounts of rain in the last 25 years.

“Climate change … will greatly increase the probability of extreme events,” Emanuel said.

Hurricanes are powered by evaporation of seawater, and warmer water evaporates more quickly, he explained. The higher the temperature of seawater, the more intense the hurricane in terms of size, wind speed and rainfall. Emanuel found that storms like Hurricane Harvey, which increased in intensity before hitting land, might have been once-a-century events in the 1900s, but now they are projected to occur every five to 10 years.

And when those storms hit, vulnerable communities will bear the risk.

“Unfortunately the residents in these communities just don’t have the resources to pick up and move to a higher elevation area,” Yvette Arellano said. “They just don’t.”

On the heels of this record-breaking hurricane season, Metzger said that Texans need to prepare for more Harveys in the future.

“We need to make our communities less susceptible to flooding, sewage overflow and leaks from toxic waste sites,” Metzger said. “If there is any lesson to be learned from these devastating hurricanes, it’s that Texas deserves better shelter from the storms.”

Astronomers, Texans Look to the Stars Amid Increasing Light Pollution

Staff at Reimers Observatory and other Texan stargazers spread appreciation for the stars and awareness of what conceals them

By Austin Price, Fall 2017

Once upon a time, there was an evil and greedy king. He fell in love with the night sky, so he took it for himself, hoarding it in a magic teapot until the world forgot its splendor.

So reads Amy Jackson from her children’s book Cassandra and the Night Sky. She reads under the red stargazing-friendly lights of the Reimers Observatory, where she works as an astronomy educator. In her book, a young girl named Cassandra comes into possession of the king’s teapot. She unleashes the starry sky, meets the characters of the constellations and strives to share the wonders of the night sky with the rest of the world.

Jackson and the rest of the staff at Reimers Observatory aim to do no less. Though their greedy king is much less tangible: encroaching light pollution from a rapidly growing Austin.

Reimers Observatory is a two-telescope observation platform at Reimers Ranch Park in Dripping Springs. Well enough out of the sky-glow of nearby Bee Cave to see the Milky Way on a clear night, Reimers Ranch offers a not-to-distant opportunity for Austinites to see the night sky.

“I think people need a place to come and see the stars,” says Michael Brewster, park supervisor at Reimers Ranch Park. “Commune with nature in the daytime and see the stars at nighttime.”

A few years ago, Brewster started the night sky program at the Reimers Observatory. Every Friday and Saturday night, weather permitting and excluding the weekend of the full moon, the retractable roof of the Reimers Observatory opens to a twinkling starry sky. As many as 30 guests can come look through professional-grade telescopes at star clusters, nebulae and planets and learn about the constellations from a team of astronomers and night sky lovers among the Reimers Ranch staff.

This year, the Reimers Ranch Park staff is applying to the International Dark Sky Association (IDA) to become a certified Dark Sky Park. That means that the Reimers Observatory, just 25 miles from the I-35 corridor, would join the ranks of other parks in the Big Bend region of Texas as an internationally recognized park free enough from light pollution to run dark sky programs and host stargazers from around the world. The closest current IDA Dark Sky Park to Austin is Enchanted Rock.

But the astronomers at Reimers Ranch haven’t forgotten what comes with being so close to the city.

They seek to push back on the impending light pollution by a twofold strategy. First, they aim to spread an appreciation for the night sky to the people who attend their weekly programs, particularly to children.

“We just try to make sure that we can translate what we know from our science backgrounds so that anyone, especially younger audiences, can have an appreciation for the sky that we have forgotten in the most recent years,” says Jessica Wigley, astronomy educator at the Reimers Observatory and recent graduate from the astronomy program at the University of Texas at Austin. As a student, Wigley led public star parties on the roof of the astronomy department on UT’s campus.

They also advocate for responsible outdoor lighting.

Scientists have found that light pollution increases at a rate of two percent each year. Just last month, a team led by Dr. Christopher Kyba of the GFZ German Research Center for Geosciences in Potsdam, Germany, published the results of a study in Science Advances that explains their findings over five years of reading images from a satellite operated jointly by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Kyba’s team noted that the Earth’s surface gains two percent per year in both quantity of emitted light and surface area that is artificially light.

The fastest rates of light pollution increase, writes Dr. Kyba in his article, occur in places that didn’t have much light to start with.

“We live in an area of Travis County where it’s been traditionally very dark for, well, forever really,” says Brewster. “The development is coming in and we’re in a period of transition.”

Brewster is referring to the massive growth in population that has hit Austin, one of America’s fastest growing cities, in the last two decades.

“There’s going to be complete overhaul of what this area of the county looks like,” he says.

Reimers Ranch works at a local level to advance the message of light pollution that many national and multinational organizations are working to make commonplace. In 2006, the National Optical Astronomy Observatory, the national center for ground-based nighttime astronomy in the United States, launched an international citizen-science campaign called Globe at Night to spread awareness of the impacts of light pollution.

Globe at Night invites citizen-scientists – anyone with a particular interest in the night sky – to submit night sky brightness observations through their computer or, more recently, their smartphones. Each year, the program helps its participants pick a constellation on which to focus, plot their latitude and longitude and rate their view of that constellation according to a 1-7 magnitude chart provided on the Globe at Night website or phone app.

Most importantly, the participating citizen-scientists are supposed to note what they can observe that may be affecting their dark sky view. Urban observations often note things like strip center parking lots, stadium lights and downtown building lights. Suburbanites contend with streetlights and outdoor lighting on private residences.

Click here to view interactiave

“You know, for all of human history people have been able to go out and look at the sky,” says Brewster. “It started all sorts of mythologies. The idea that many people aren’t able to go outside their backyard and see the stars is astonishing.”

“And yet, we’ve been completely divorced ever since the lightbulb got invented.”

Jackson wheels the six-foot telescope around to face Saturn. She consults a chart as she points the lens in the exact spot to get a view of the planet’s surface through the viewfinder.

“I studied physics in college and was interested in astronomy, and one of the main reasons was I’m just curious about my place in the universe,” she says. “I think every human being is fundamentally curious about where we come from, where we are going, why this is all here, what this all means.”

She steps back to look up at the Milky Way unaided by the telescope. The crickets chirp in the darkness as attendees at the observatory silently look through the telescope or simply look up at the vast sky with the naked eye.

“Getting people to come outside and look at the constellations — and learn about how these things are what they are and what we know and we’ve learned so far — helps them feel connected to the universe and connected to the world,” says Jackson.

“And then they start to feel connected to each other.”

Monday, January 1, 2018

Tackling Teacher Turnover

Despite programs for teacher retention, an increasing number of elementary educators are leaving Austin ISD schools.  

By Rachel Rascoe, Fall 2017

This past August, some Austin area elementary school students returned to as many as half of their school’s teachers replaced with new faces.

While many Texas Education Agency reports focus on attrition, a value that only accounts for resignations and retirements, some newer education studies examine the total amount of teachers lost every year. Calculated from TEA data, this overall turnover rate accounts for all teachers who either resigned, retired, moved to a non-teaching position or transferred to another school within the district, representing the total percentage of teachers who left each campus.

Huriya Jabbar, an assistant professor of educational leadership and policy at the University of Texas at Austin, examines the effects of teacher turnover in urban schools across the country. She said it’s important to look further than the attrition values reported by the districts to understand the context of each campus.

“When you lose 20 or 30 or 50 percent of your staff in some cases, you’re having to re-hire a lot of new people. We’re trying to understand how that breaks up social networks and trust in the organization, and how might that impede school improvement efforts,” Jabbar said. “For example, if you’re trying to implement a new program and all the people who have been trained leave the next year, you’re going to have some disruption to your organization.”

A campus turnover rate of 63 percent topped the elementary charts for last year’s 2016 school year, with an average of 25 percent of teachers leaving at all AISD elementary schools.

That average elementary rate has been overall rising steadily over the past few years. The six percent increase from 2015 to 2016 marks the largest jump in the past five years.
Click this link to view interactive

Over the past five years, Webb Primary School, Sims Elementary and Campbell Elementary have all had instances of losing half or more of their teaching staff. For all AISD elementary schools, the past few years show an overall increase in average teacher turnover. 
Source: Texas Education Agency

Studies reveal a laundry list of reasons why teachers may choose to leave particular schools or the profession altogether. Working conditions, administrative support, salary and location have all been shown to play a part.

“Most of the teachers that I talked to were committed to working in urban schools with some low-income students, but they didn’t feel like they had the support to do that work well,” Jabbar said of her national turnover research. “They didn’t have the leadership support or the training or ongoing professional development, and these resources play a big role. It’s things like whether there was a strong curriculum in place, or if they had to make that from scratch.”

In AISD’s newest teacher exit survey for the 2015 school year, the most popular district-wide response for why teachers left was “seeking better working conditions,” followed by “seeking higher salary, or benefits.” Although the district’s $47,349 average salary for beginning teachers is slightly above the state average, the pay grade also faces rising housing costs in many Austin neighborhoods.

Rather than quitting the teaching profession, over half of the exiting teachers planned to work for another public or private school after leaving AISD. Of those moving into new teaching and non-teaching jobs alike, 68% perceived the ability to balance personal life and work as better in their next position. “Seeking less workload or stress” was the most commonly chosen as the most important reason for leaving.


Heidi Langan is the Austin President of the Association of Texas Professional Educators, a statewide teachers’ union. She has been the music teacher at Galindo Elementary in AISD for the past 17 years.

In general, Langan said teachers follow changes in turnover from year to year through observing new hires and school culture, rather than being given the specific numbers. She attributes her South Austin school’s below-average turnover to strong administrative leadership, which helps maintain a familiar community of teachers.

“If you have teachers who are together for a long period of time, they’ve got their lessons planned and they’re ready to greet that new group of students that come through the grade level. It’s just going to go very smoothly,” Langan said. “If you constantly have new people coming in, it’s a learning curve again every year. I think the more consistency that you have in general at the school, the more that’s going to benefit the students.”

Webb Primary School, an AISD program serving kindergarten through 4th grade students, had the last year’s highest turnover rate at 63.20%. Launched in 2013, Webb Primary is a collection of portables located on and feeding into the Webb Middle School campus.

The highest teacher loss for 2016 among conventional elementary school programs fell on Sims at 50%. In previous school years, Campbell Elementary topped the list for both the 2015 and 2014, losing over 60 percent of its teaching staff.

Click this link to view interactive
Schools shown in red fell above the district elementary average of 25.16% turnover for the 2016 school year. Schools shown in green fell below this average. Select or search for an AISD elementary school campus on the map to see its changes in teacher turnover over the past five years. Select Title I designation to filter schools by their Title I status.
Source: Texas Education Agency

Langan said teachers entering the profession for the first time face their own unique challenges, with many overwhelmed by behavioral issues and the paperwork side of teaching, factors echoed in research studies. Her local ATPE chapter supports paid mentorship programs as a central strategy in combating attrition.

“There’s so much information coming at these new teachers, but then it’s like, well how do I even enter grades? I have a student that I’m having trouble with misbehaving in class. How do I document that and get help for that student?“ Langan said. “It’s all those kinds of processes that can be so overwhelming. If they’re not getting enough support on how to do that stuff, that will make them leave the profession.”

The district currently offers an official mentorship program for educators in their first and second years of teaching, which Langan has participated in twice as a mentor. She received a stipend for meeting with and supporting her mentee, as well as attending trainings, group meetings and submitting a log of their activities.

“The best ways to teach new teachers in the profession is having experienced teachers mentor them and building that relationship,” Langan said of her experiences with entering educators. “Really having somebody you can go to is super important.”


Another buzzword in battling teacher loss, induction, references new teacher training and introductory programs. AISD has their own four-day induction program required for all new teachers, including district-wide and campus-specific orientation. According to the AISD website, the three “constructs” for the introductory week are curriculum and instruction, learning environment, and lastly standards and assessment.

Charis Anderson is the director of communications at Deans for Impact, a consortium of 18 reform-minded deans of colleges of education. He argues the importance of pointed teacher education to get educators ready for the specific challenges they’ll face in district classrooms.

“We believe it’s helpful to create better alignment and communication between educator-preparation programs and K-12 districts,” Anderson said via email. “This can help educator-preparation programs understand more about districts’ and school’s needs [and] better prepare teachers for roles in those districts and schools, which, in turn, could potentially promote teacher retention.”

Angela Valenzuela, an educational leadership and policy professor at the University of Texas at Austin, wants to help retain teachers in struggling Austin schools by developing “career ladders” to leadership positions. She thinks these programs could also help create administrators who understand the needs of schools with large ESL student populations.

“Career ladders would help keep to teachers in the district when they see that they can make a difference. This contributes not only towards retention, but towards more people within the district having that greater understanding of how to educate a diverse demographic that also is predominantly Spanish speaking,” Valenzuela said. “Without leadership positions, they won’t have the voice to make the kind of changes that need to occur if we want to be culturally responsive.”

Last year, 28 percent of AISD’s students were English language learners. For elementary bilingual education teachers, the district currently offers a signing supplement of $1,500 and a yearly stipend of $2,500.

AISD also currently provides a leadership development program, built into a compensation system called “Professional Pathways for Teachers.” The program lets teachers permanently increase their salaries by earning points for things like their number of years with the district, good performance appraisals and participation in optional professional development projects, including specific leadership pathways.

Some campuses with higher percent economically disadvantaged students, as well as students in bilingual and special education programs, make teachers eligible for more points. The district website specifically states that these bonus points for certain schools are “designed to provide recruitment and retention support to campuses.”


Within AISD elementary campuses, schools with higher rates of at-risk students, economically disadvantaged students and English language learners generally have higher teacher turnover.

Schools that lose a larger portion of teachers also generally employ less experienced educators, created by a revolving door of new teachers entering and exiting some campuses.

Click here to view interactive
In Texas Education Agency reports, a student is identified as being “at risk” of dropping out of school based on state-defined criteria. A student is defined as “economically disadvantaged” if he or she is eligible for free or reduced-price lunch or other public assistance. The Texas Education Code defines an “English language learner“ as a student whose primary language is other than English and whose English language skills are such that the student has difficulty performing ordinary classwork in English.
Source: Texas Education Agency, Texas Academic Performance Reports for 2016-2017

Click this link to view interactive
Title I schools are defined as campuses with a student population of at least 40 percent low-income. For the 2016 school year, Title I schools, on average, lost 27 percent of their teachers, while non-Title I schools lost only 20 percent. This year, 60 out of the 84 elementary schools in AISD are Title I. 
Source: Texas Education Agency
Valenzuela’s most recent book, “Growing Critically Conscious Teachers,” focuses on the potential of “grow your own educator” programs. By supporting a pipeline of recruited students from local high schools and universities to teach at schools in the community, she said districts can build more devoted educators and administrators.

“Teachers that want to teach in their communities are more likely to stay as teachers in those communities for good amounts of time,” Valenzuela said. “They could conceivably end up working in the same schools or even classrooms that they were students in, so you’re tapping in to a very different kind of motivation. That’s what a lot of us are pushing for.”

The University of North Texas at Dallas recently began building a similar “superhighway” for recruitment and education of bilingual teachers as part of its HEB-funded its Emerging Teachers Institute.

A look at bike accidents in Austin

By John Flynn, Fall 2017

The Translation Gap: The Lack of Diversity in American Publishing

The number of translations published in U.S. has steadily grown since 2008, but Americans still lag far behind other countries in the diversity of the international voices they read.

By Caroline Murray, fall 2017

A culture’s fiction and poetry can be key to connecting with and understanding another way of life, and without diverse authors on their literary landscape, Americans may be cut off from the world in a significant way. A widely cited Bowker study concluded that international translations make up three percent of the literature published in the U.S. Chad Post, a publisher at Open Letter Press and creator of the Three Percent database, which collects records of international fiction and poetry published in the U.S., estimates that even the three percent figure is inflated. Post said that if you only include original works never before published in English, the number ends up being more around 0.7 percent. This is compared to 27 percent in France and 40 percent in Turkey.

The number of literary translations published in the U.S. has been rising since 2008, but the diversity of voices that Americans receive is questionable. The top languages translated in last ten years have been fiction and poetry in French, Spanish, German and Italian. The languages with the most native speakers around the world, however, are quite different: The Washington Post reported the top four (excluding English) are Chinese, Hindi, Arabic and Spanish. The gap may exacerbate a lack of cultural understanding in the U.S. about the countries with the biggest roles on the world stage, those who perhaps Americans need to hear from the most.

“Literature and poetry has more of an ability to redefine how you think about the world or how you think about language or our ideas about what stories are,” Post said. “Getting those voices available is so, so important. They refuse stereotypes to be the only option for Americans.”

Click here for interactive

Many obstacles currently stand in the way of more translations making their way onto the American landscape.

Elisabeth Jaquette, the managing director of the American Literary Translators Association and a translator herself, points out the simplest of roadblocks. Not many major American presses have editors on staff who speak a foreign language, creating an additional hurdle in seeking out international literature. In contrast, many editors in Europe are bilingual if not trilingual, with the ability to evaluate a manuscript.

“Translating literature is precise and an art. It can’t be done by anybody who just speaks the language. They have to be an excellent writer too,” Jaquette said. “Authenticity, flow, pacing, the original magic of the novel—all of that can be lost if you don’t have a good translator available to the publishing house.”

Even if literary translations are published, they typically don’t attract many reviews from major U.S. media outlets, they make less money, and they draw fewer readers. For those reasons, big American publishers rarely take an interest in literature that has not already received significant international attention. Small, independent presses end up taking up the task.

“Smaller presses are more nimble. They’re not a part of the money machine. They can get by selling a couple thousand copies for example. Since the stakes are lower, they’re able to do more,” Post said. “Smaller presses don’t have access to authors that will sell hundreds of thousands of copies, so we find a great book that people are talking about in Romania and that builds our reputation. We have more of an incentive to find those things.”

The rising star of translations in the U.S. is not so small, however; AmazonCrossing grew to be the largest publisher of translated literature in the U.S. over just three years. The translation branch of Amazon primarily seeks out blockbuster-style novels, like romances or thrillers, with themes easily understood across countries. The rapid rise of AmazonCrossing signals Amazon’s growing role in the cultural sphere of the U.S., but the company also embodies the larger diversity problem in American translations.

A language notably missing from AmazonCrossing’s translation catalog is Arabic. The lack of Arabic translations on the American literary scene is not uncommon among publishers. Despite its large number of native speakers, some experts speculate that original publishing in Arabic is struggling in the first place. Rana Idriss, the director of Dar al-Adab, a Lebanese publisher, told The Economist that censorship and piracy stall Arab publishing. Censorship prevents a lot of what Idriss called the “big three” basic attractions from appearing in fiction: sex, politics and religion. Many Arab countries also don’t have sufficient copyright laws to protect published material from being distributed without the author or publishers’ permission.

Even when a new work in Arabic is identified, beginning to translate it into English is another challenge. Some novels in Arabic are written in a kind of archaic Arabic rarely spoken, and Post estimates that there are only six Arabic translators who are well-known in American publishing and working on a regular basis.

“If those six people are responsible for promoting the entire Arab-speaking world of literature, that’s problematic,” Post said.

Jaquette, who is an Arabic translator herself, is more optimistic about the state of Arabic publishing and its future.

“Publishing in Arabic is definitely happening. Some inspiring stuff is coming out. The issue is that these European romance languages have long, historical relationships being translated into English, but Arabic is relatively new in comparison,” Jaquette said. “I think it will grow, because the interest [in American readers] is there. It will just take time.”

Click this link to view interactive

Chinese is another language that is vastly underrepresented in the American world of literary translation. Censorship is a barrier in China as well, but as that begins to loosen, a new avenue for Chinese literature is flourishing. Thriving forums dedicated to translations of Chinese “web novels” are rising in popularity among foreigners, including Americans. Websites like Wuxiaworld, which receives more than three million page views each day, collect Chinese translations from a wide variety of genres.

“It’s a fascinating time to be a Chinese writer because frankly no country in the world is experiencing quite the same scale of revolution as China. It’s rising like crazy, and that perspective is what American readers need a dose of. So we’re taking advantage of every avenue, including online forums, to get new voices out there,” said David Haysom, a translator at Paper Republic, an organization that works to highlight Chinese translations.

As China’s role grows on the world stage, increasing the number of cultural representations from the country is at the top of many translators’ agendas. AmazonCrossing published seven Chinese novels out of 60 total translations in 2016, but the company has pledged $10 million through the end of the decade in part to expand its roster of languages, including Chinese.

“The world needs more perspectives, especially in literature. We can’t tighten up and remain reading only what is in our comfort zone,” Jaquette said. “Translations from around the world fuel our understanding of these different people, different cultures. This is really, truly a time of divide and we need as many bridges as we can get.”

After the storm, waves of development flood barrier islands with real estate cash

New data shows how Crystal Beach rebuilt after Hurricane Ike

By Scott Squires, Fall 2017

CRYSTAL BEACH – The locals at Hardheads exploded into jubilant hoots and hollers as the Houston Astros won another playoff game in their march toward a first world championship. Weathered grins, stretched across faces crinkled from years of squinting in the salty air, beamed in the dimly lit bar. Spirits were high, even after another deadly hurricane season on the Texas coast.

After a win like that one, it was easy to forget that nine years ago, Hurricane Ike nearly wiped Crystal Beach off the map. In 2008, Ike decimated this unincorporated town on Texas’ Bolivar Peninsula, destroying 90 percent of the town’s beachfront homes. Only a few buildings survived.

“I lost everything in 2008,” Sonny Mitchell, a Beaumont native and Crystal Beach resident said.

Pictures after the storm show Crystal Beach swallowed by the sea. Gray and brown with upturned sediment, the beach was strewn with debris—soaked drywall, two-by-fours and porcelain toilets littered the oceanfront where homes once stood. There was little vegetation left on the peninsula to speak of.

“Until you have lived it you can’t appreciate the devastation,” Mitchell said.

But Crystal Beach bounced back. Today, high tide laps just feet from scores of candy-colored vacation houses lifted on 20-foot wooden pilings. Rental properties offer sea views to vacationers and the wealthy Houstonians who build second homes here.

As coastal towns like Port Aransas and Rockport seek to rebuild after Hurricane Harvey’s devastation, the story of Crystal Beach offers hope—and warning—in the increasingly risky endeavor of building on barrier islands along the hurricane-prone Texas coast.

After Ike, Crystal Beach gentrified despite the threat of rising sea levels and powerful storms. When property values plummeted in the wake of the hurricane, developers bought up land at a fraction of what it was worth just a year before. Today, property in Crystal Beach costs on average nearly four times more than in 2009.

Click this link for interactive

Mitchell, like many others, took advantage of the low prices.

“I bought some land for $35,000 or $40,000 that should have been $80,000 the year before,” he said. Mitchell built four homes in Crystal Beach after Ike.

In the three years after the storm, Galveston County issued nearly 1,000 new building permits in Crystal Beach. The average value of new construction increased almost 600 percent..

“Our entry level housing now is around $200,000,” Cobb Real Estate agent Luz Gray said. “It used to be that you could buy a $60,000 house, fix it up and make it cute, sell it, and move up. There’s not much of that left.”

Today, almost 1,300 homes in Crystal beach are valued over $200,000. There were only 250 before Ike.

Located about 100 miles southeast of Houston, Crystal Beach began as a quiet fishing community in the 1950s. Back then, houses were “basically old fish camps,” one-room houses with no air conditioning or glass windows, Mitchell said.

Today, the houses, and building codes, have changed. Homes in Crystal Beach are built on 20-foot pilings sunk four feet into the ground and are outfitted with storm-proof windows and all the modern amenities.

As the quality increased, so did prices.

“I remember a beachfront lot in 1995 that went for $25,000. It’s now worth $250,000,” Mitchell said.

Like many coastal communities on the Texas coast, Crystal beach is located in a federally designated high-risk flood zone. Unless they pay in full at the time of purchase, all homeowners in Crystal Beach must carry flood insurance.

Federal subsidies make the flood insurance relatively cheap. While cheap insurance gives people peace of mind, it also incentivizes development in those high-risk areas.

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At the same time property owners scramble to rebuild after a storm, cities and counties also rush to recoup their property tax base— source for a major portion of a town’s revenue. In 2008, before Ike hit, the total appraised property value in Crystal Beach was around $400 million. Ike slashed that number by more than half. Today, total property value is more than $830 million.

After Harvey, the price tag for Port Aransas’ devastation is expected to be even worse. The city’s tax base is expected to plunge from $2.9 billion to $1.6 billion next year, producing an almost 50 percent drop in its total tax revenue, Port Aransas Mayor Charles Bujan said.

The need to recoup that revenue puts hurricane-damaged cities in a bind. When people lose their homes they often don’t come back. When fewer homeowners pay property taxes, the city must decide to increase its tax rate or downsize.

In Rockport, where Harvey made landfall, increasing taxes “would be unconscionable,” Mayor C.J. Was said. “You just can’t do that in a community like mine.”

Rockport suffered the full force of Harvey’s Category 4 winds. City officials estimate 30 to 35 percent of the city will never be rebuilt.

Changing environmental conditions will also be a challenge for Port Aransas and Rockport as they rebuild.

Like Port Aransas, Crystal Beach is on a barrier island. Scarcely more than a sandbar jutting out from the Texas coastline into the Gulf of Mexico, the Bolivar Peninsula shields the Galveston Bay and the Port of Houston—home to some of the country’s largest petroleum refineries—from storm surges.

Barrier islands are formed by sedimentary deposits from inland water systems like rivers and bays, often over the course of 5,000 to 7,000 years. But the Bolivar Peninsula is relatively young, according to coastal sedimentary geologist Tim Dellapenna, who teaches marine science at Texas A&M. Dellapenna also owns a house on the peninsula.

“Bolivar is a very low-relief peninsula formed within the last 2,500 years,” he said. “There are places you can dig down less than a foot and hit water.”

At the peninsula’s most southern point, waves break just a few feet from the gravel shoulder on State Highway 87. In town, water collects on the roadsides and in parking lots after it rains—there is no natural drainage.

Today, the Bolivar Peninsula is shrinking from both sides. Sand is no longer being deposited from the bay side at the same rate it once was. At the same time, sea levels are rising, removing even more sand from the system, according to Dellapenna.

Large hurricanes rapidly speed up that erosion.

“During Ike, we saw the equivalent of 150 years of beach retreat in just a few hours,” Dellapenna said.

That erosion, along with what scientists expect will be stronger storms in the future, make developing on barrier islands increasingly risky. Dellapenna thinks developers downplay the long-term risk of stronger storms and retreating beachfront to a great extent.

“The argument that we should just push our development back 25, 50, or 75 feet from the shoreline is just crazy,” he said.

Dellapenna believes that no place on the peninsula will be immune to the changing environmental conditions. The peninsula is less than a mile wide at most points, and there is no higher ground that won’t be affected by stronger storm surges and rising sea levels.

Still, the peninsula’s beauty will always attract new residents.

“It’s not that the peninsula isn’t habitable,” he said. “But if we want to be good citizens, we need to be responsible about where we buy.”

Despite the environmental risks, Gray said the real estate market is steadily growing as people continue to flock to the Crystal Beach, which still feels wild. Storks and egrets nest on the intercoastal side of the island, where marshy wetland makes development mostly impossible. Cobb Real Estate currently has 108 houses on the market.

“I think the tradeoff is the luxury of being able to walk down the road and be on the beach,” Gray said. “You have to weigh that with your fear level.”

But fear quickly fades, just like memories from the last big storm.

“We’re creatures of short-term memory,” Mitchell said. “But you know, when it’s something you love that much, you’re willing to take the risk.”