Orange County is being awarded about $353,000 in grants to help rural homeowners install home sewer systems.

Joel Ardoin, director of the county health and code compliance department, told Orange County Commissioners Court about the federal grant, which is implemented through the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Ardoin said Orange County is getting the grants because of orders to clean up Adams Bayou and Cow Bayou. One of the problems with the pollution in the bayous is fecal coliform, which comes from poor-working home and even public sewer systems, or septic tanks.

Commissioners agreed with Ardoin’s suggestion to appoint a county committee to set the rules for applying and receiving grant money. Ardoin said the grant will cover 60 percent of the installation of a new home sewer system that meets environmental standards. The homeowner will provide up to 40 percent of the costs.

Ardoin said the county can apply “in-kind” work, including administrative paperwork, toward the 40 percent for the homeowner. County Judge Carl Thibodeaux said he doesn’t want the county to pay money for the project.

The grants will be only for people living in the watersheds of the two bayous. Though the watersheds cover most of the county land, it will not include the Lakeview area and areas along the west side of the county in the Neches River watershed. Adams and Cow bayous are in the Sabine River watershed.

After the meeting, Ardoin said the committee will set income levels for people to get the grant. Orange County has clay soil and septic tanks usually don’t work in the county, so the accepted systems are mainly the home aerator systems.

Ardoin said he finds many residences with raw sewage leaking out into ditches and land.

Rains wash the sewage into runoff systems that eventually flow into the bayous.

He said people should not contact him or the county about the grants, yet, because no rules or guidelines have been made for the distribution.

In other business, Sheriff Mike White said he wants to change the cell phone service for his department to Verizon. The sheriff’s office has had a two-year contract with another company that is expiring next week. White said deputies have had trouble getting signals and receiving messages through the other company. Plus, the sheriff’s office has had billing problems with the company.

He said deputies tried a variety of cell phone services at different areas of the county and Verizon worked the best. He said Verizon is approved through the state bidding system. In addition, Verizon will allow the sheriff’s office service on a month-to-month basis, so if problems develop, the office will not have to deal with a two-year contract.

Precinct 3 Commissioner John Dubose reported that bad weather has prevented more work on the runway extension at the county airport. However, work is progressing on the new hangar for the county’s mosquito control plane. Also, work is beginning on the rebuilding of the old Brown hangar, which was damaged in Hurricane Rita.

County Emergency Management Director Jeff Kelley said the county now has the keys to the old AT&T (former Southwestern Bell) building in downtown Orange. The building will be cleaned and revamped to be used as an Emergency Operations Center.

Kelley said he is still searching for grants to build a permanent EOC.

He also said the county will start a new CERT training class on April 7. Volunteers with CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) are trained to help first responders in disasters and emergencies. Anyone interested in registering for the weekly classes, which will run for 10 weeks, should contact Kelley at 882-7895.