The Orange County Economic Development Corp. last week in Austin received approval from the Texas Water Development Board of a $250,000 matching grant to start a feasibility study for an Orange County storm surge protection system.

Corporation Director Bobby Fillyaw said he believes the county will be able to disperse funds from round one Hurricane Ike monies to match the grant.

“This is good news,” said Fillyaw, “because we lacked the funds to start the process. This is the seed money to really begin the feasibility study.”

It is literally the beginning of what could be a seven-  to 10-year project, with the study itself perhaps taking at least a year, he said.

Grants are based on a point-scoring system, and Fillyaw said Orange County’s application tied with the highest ranking application in the state.

“We got $42,000 more than anyone else in the state received,” he said. “This is just to get us rolling on the feasibility issues and not any designing or building, or what would be cost-effective to do that.”

The county is working with the Carroll and Blackman engineering firm of Beaumont, which is partnering with LEAP engineering; also of Beaumont; and the Costello firm in Houston.

“There are about 100 engineers with lots and lots of experience building levees and doing projects of this nature,” Fillyaw said. “And they were willing to come on board with us, not sure if there’d even be any funding to start the project.”
He added, “We keep using the phrase ‘levee system’ but it might be time to say something such as ‘storm surge system.’ There may be some areas where a levee system wouldn’t work. Then you will have right-of-way issues and the actual construction, and then you’ll have to find a way to pay for it all as well.

“Even if all the stars lined up and the funds were in place, this could still take 10 years. But the leadership in Orange County feels that doing nothing is not an option.”

Orange County is also part of the Gulf Coast Community Protection and Recovery District, a corporation comprised of representatives from six counties dedicated to pursuing levee/storm surge protection strategies and how to fund them.

Orange County Judge Carl Thibodeaux attended the district’s first meeting last week and is expected to attend another meeting June 1 at the Galveston County Courthouse. Meetings are open to the public.