Signal success called ‘unprecedented’
In May of 2005, after the Naval Reserve Center in Orange was placed on a closures list, a meeting took place between area officials including U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, Orange Port Director Gene Bouillion and representatives of Orange County and the city of Orange.

In the days that followed, it was decided to work to make the center and surrounding area Orange port property.

“As a tribute to the camaraderie we have, everybody agreed that the port was probably the best entity to bring in economic development,” Bouillion told a packed Pier Road warehouse on Monday. 

Hurricane Rita slowed that progress down, however, Ike sped it up.

Bouillion said he received a desperate call after the 2008 storm from officials with Signal International, who said some of their buildings were beyond repair with a potential to lose 1,700 jobs.

Since the port would inherit the property anyway, Bouillion said his staff got to work with contractors to clean and dry out the building.

A Navy official who came by to check things wasn’t too happy when he found out the gate was cut with bolt-cutters and a crowbar used for front-door access.

“If you want us off the property, we’ll leave – but you’ll have to order us off,” Bouillion told him. “Because what we’re doing here should be obvious.”

The Navy man talked on his cellphone constantly, and soon told Bouillion he was getting “mixed messages.” Bouillion said Monday that was a clear indication of Brady and the others’ work in the background.

The final Navy decision, he said, was that the work could continue as long as it didn’t go over $5,000. That, of course, exceeded the $600,000 the port had already agreed to pay contractors.

“What they didn’t know didn’t hurt them,” Bouillion joked Monday.

Recently, Signal employees moved into the reserve center for use as administrative offices. According to a port press release, the property consists of 13.73 acres, a 500-foot pier being used to accommodate a Mexican naval vessel as well as civilian barges and ships; and seven warehouses the port plans to renovate for future industrial and educational use. 

Attending Monday’s event were Brady, state Rep. Mike Hamilton, and Maritime Administration officials Jim Murphy with the New Orleans office and Linden Houston with the Washington, D.C., office. 

Also recognized were State Sen. Tommy Williams, Orange Mayor Brown Claybar and the Orange County Economic Development Corp.

Murphy said he was just a “cheerleader” on the sidelines, while Houston was the “real project leader.”

“I look forward to the day when this facility has a lot of activity again,” Murphy said. “As we used to say ‘A lot of turning and burning.’”

Brady called everyone’s efforts “an unprecedented coordination and cooperation” to protect jobs in Orange County. 

He noted that it was 68 years ago this month when the USS Aulick, the first combatant ship built in the state of Texas, rolled off the line in Orange.