County Judge Carl Thibodeaux told a gathering at Lamar-Orange Tuesday that probably not in his lifetime or many others’ would they see a working levee system to protect Orange County.

But it is important to work toward the issue now, he said, “so that someday, someone will not have what we had to deal with.”

Orange County is preparing its own levee study through its Economic Development Corp., and is also participating in a protection group created by a mandate from Gov. Rick Perry.

It will be interesting to see how the special interests of all the counties will play out in negotiations, he said; and that’s why it’s important for Orange County to have a separate study.

Since Orange is not a coastal county, it would be possible to have a levee system that would hardly touch any wetlands, therefore avoiding environmental issues. What Orange County officials need to be careful with is not to create a system that would allow water to go around the levee and “come up the backside” such as with Galveston during Hurricane Ike.

“We’ll have a design that will fit Orange County interests, not Bolivar or Galveston interests,” he said.

Thibodeaux’s talk was hosted by the American Association of University Women-Orange Branch, who presented the group’s annual Library Family of the Year Award to the Benoit family, Quint and Mona and daughters Amy, 17, and Melanie, 14.

Both teens have homeschooled backgrounds. Amy attends Community Christian School, and will soon be followed by her younger sister. The award is given for “outstanding use of Orange Public Library services” such as the Summer Reading Program, books on tape and Interlibrary Loan. Mona Benoit said the family was “very honored” to receive the award.

In a speech peppered with humor – “The State of Orange County,” Thibodeaux said there were good things ahead, such as the CHAMPS facility; but like everywhere else Orange County is not perfect. Future roadwork projects on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and the Adams Bayou/16th Street area could be nightmares, he said. And economic development has always been a challenge in Orange County and could certainly be stronger, he said.

The CHAMPS (Community Hands Assemble A Mulitpurpose Structure) will have something for everyone, he said: areas for senior citizens and youth activities; plus a staging area so that in the event of a disaster, FEMA trucks with ice and supplies can travel directly to Orange instead of sitting idle at Ford Park. It will also be a “shelter of last resort” he said.

“[During Ike] we were going out to Bridge City and rescuing people at 2 and 3 in the morning, but we had no place to put them. We had to ship them out of town dirty, wet and hungry. That’s not going to happen again, and we don’t want it to happen again.”

He praised Emergency Management Coordinator Jeff Kelley, EDC Director Bobby Fillyaw and the many CHAMPS volunteers who are spearheading the project.

He also had good words for Orange County emergency management officials and other emergency responders for their work during and after Ike, including helping acquire a new emergency response vehicle with state-of-the-art communications.

“I hear county judges complain about having to do emergency management. I don’t, with Jeff Kelley and Franklin Walters. You hire someone who’s aggressive and will ‘go after it’ and cut them loose and not micromanage and let them do their job. We were the first county ‘back’ after Rita and the first after Ike and that’s no accident. It’s not me, it’s who we have working for us here.”

The new transportation building, 80 percent of which was funded by federal grant funds, provides transit to senior citizens. “This is something a lot of counties and cities don’t have,” Thibodeaux said. “They need to be able to enjoy simple things like going to the store or the doctor, and to me that’s worth every penny.” Thirteen new buses which run on propane are expected soon, he said. “You can’t go down the street and find a propane mechanic, but the county has hired one. They’re so hard to find we had to get a guy out of Dallas to come down.”

Believe it or not, he said, it only cost the county $1,000 after Rita, because it had a $1,000 deductible on total damage estimates. Not so lucky with Ike, which will cost $500,00 to $600,000, because the county had no flood insurance.

“Sometimes you don’t think about these things until they happen,” he said. “We have flood insurance now, and I sure hope we never need it.”