Orange County is protesting a change in federal Homeland Security designation for the Sabine-Neches waterway that will cost the area up to $11 million in grants.

Orange County Emergency Management Director Jeff Kelley told Commissioners Court that the Department of Homeland Security demoted the Sabine-Neches waterway from a Tier 1 designation of “strategic national importance,” to a Tier 2 designation. He said the change will drastically cut the $18 million in Homeland Security grants to protect the waterway.

Commissioners Court decided to send a letter to U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, along with U.S. Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn asking to make the waterway a Tier 1.

County Judge Carl Thibodeaux said he can’t imagine why the change was made, particularly because 35 percent of military equipment is shipped out of the Port of Beaumont.

Kelley pointed out that the water is nationally significant because of the oil refineries and petrochemical plants that use the waterways. Also, hazardous materials are shipped on the waterways and liquefied natural gas plants are under construction in areas served by the Sabine-Neches.

He said Jefferson County, along with the cities of Beaumont and Port Arthur, plus area plant managers, are sending letters of protest to federal officials.

Kelley on Monday also received permission from Commissioners Court to apply for two grants through the Port Security program affected by the change in designation. Kelley is seeking a grant to build a county emergency operations center and another grant to buy generators for key county buildings, including the sheriff’s office and the administration building.

In other business, the court rejected a request from Michael L. Judy to get a license to operate a junk, automotive wrecking, or salvage yard at 5643 N. Main St. in Vidor.
“I’m getting a lot of complaints from the citizens in this area,” said Precinct 4 Commissioner Beamon Minton, who represents the Vidor area.

Minton said Judy does not meet the standards, like having a fence around the area, required to receive a license. But, he added, Judy is trying to comply with the regulations and “to be a good citizen.”

Commissioners Court agreed to give Judy 15 days to comply with the regulations, including installing a fence, and then reapply for the permit.

During the department reports, Don Anderson of the Loss Control Department, said he is looking into ways to study whether the county can harness methane gas from the old landfill to use to generate electricity to power the county buildings that are at the site. He is also researching using solar panels on county buildings to generate electricity.
He said Claiborne West Park has received the $5,000 grant from the Texas Forest Service to clean hurricane damage in the park. He said Park Director Donna Scales is seeking bids on the work.