Re-open landfill to household items

County commissioners will hire a grant-writing firm to help fund a new emergency facility on Farm Road 1442.

The proposed Emergency Operations Center (EOC) will replace the one in the old AT&T building, which served the county well during hurricanes Rita and Ike, however, studies have shown the need for a better, more central location in the county. Jeff Ward and Associates will charge $10,000 to write the grant.

The EOC would be on the second floor of a multipurpose center proposed last year by the CHAMPS group (Community Hands Assemble a Multipurpose Structure), which leases an 11-acre strip from the county. The group is using start-up monies from a fund begun 30 years ago by the Orange County 4-H Building Committee, and relying on donations from the public.

County Judge Carl Thibodeaux said the center would include offices for the agriculture department, which sponsors 4-H and other programs; meeting rooms for senior citizens’ groups and other organizations; and a rodeo arena. The main building would cost between $7 million and $10 million.

“The second floor will house the EOC for emergency operations,” he said. “It will be built to survive 150 mph winds.”

The new EOC could also be used by sheriff’s dispatchers during emergencies such as hurricanes, he said, and that, “ … the Records Preservation [office], which was affected during Hurricane Ike, could be moved there … we would never have to worry about the county’s records again.”

The rodeo arena and parking lots would become staging areas during disasters such as Ike, and could also be used as a shelter for first responders.

“During Ike, a lot of county employees stayed at the Mauriceville EOC, and had to be brought into Orange by boat after the storm,” Thibodeaux said. “This will give us an area where everyone can be together.”

In 2007, CHAMPS originally approached the county for a center to replace the Old Timers Pavilion, damaged by Hurricane Rita.

In other business, commissioners voted to re-open the county landfill on FM 1442 to household items, or to conditions there as they were before Hurricane Ike. Only hurricane-related debris has been allowed there since the storm.

Also, the county will continue without a burn ban, commissioners decided. Emergency Management Coordinator Jeff Kelley said the rain this past weekend helped to alleviate dry conditions, however, noted that most of the surrounding counties to Orange do have a ban in place. “It’s coming, it’s that time of year and it’s going to happen more than likely,” he said. The county judge has the authority to call a time-limited burn ban without a commissioners’ meeting.

In announcements, Precinct 1 Commissioner David Dubose said he was researching ways residents could recycle in Orange County,  similar to the volunteer effort Jefferson County has. A recycling center could be set up at the OC landfill, he suggested.