Bridge City looks great for a middle-aged city
Preston “Red” Wood at his desk as Bridge City’s first mayor in 1970.
The United States of America isn’t the only one celebrating a birthday in July. The city of Bridge City will be observing its anniversary when it came into existence on July 7, 1970. Though the city has been around for more than four decades, the last 10 years may have been the most eventful according to Mayor Kirk Roccaforte.
“There’s been a lot of trying times the last 10 years,” he said. “I became mayor eight years ago. Hurricane Ike hit six years ago in 2008.” Roccaforte said in spite of Bridge City being devastated by the hurricane, the city has bounded back really well.
“Bridge City is rolling along real well. It’s on the rise; on the increase,” he said.
This was the first time the city of nearly 9,000 residents had flooded. Roccaforte pointed out other portions of the Golden Triangle have also flooded and have come back.
“The Groves area once flooded and it didn’t deter their growth,” Roccaforte said.
Follwing Ike, the city began rebuilding its infrastructure and the citizens did an “excellent job” in coming back, keeping Bridge City a “very special place,” he said.
The city has been hardening its facilities, placing generators in strategic places to keep the lights running so that electricity won’t be lost in emergency situations.
Nearly all the streets were under water and since most have been repaired.
“We have rebuilt 98 percents of our roads,” Roccaforte said. “We’ve done quite a bit of infrastructure for wastewater. The sewer plant has been rebuilt and projects are still going on.”
Another project the city continues to work on is appealing recent FEMA flood elevation maps. Roccaforte said the city has been successful with a coalition of other governmental entities in contesting the elevation levels.
Another bonus for the city was pasaage of the Biggerts-Water Act that extends the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) for five years, while requiring significant program reform.
A levee study for all of Orange County has been completed with the possibility a protective levee will be built, working through the state and federal governments.
“My proudest accomplishment is to the citizens of Bridge City. All of the credit goes to them and our city employees,” he said. “It’s a great city. The business district is growing strong and steadily. I hope it continues.”
He added businesses and its citizens keep the city healthy. Another attractive point for the city is the Bridge City Independent School District.
“We’re proud to be a part of that,” he said.
The beginnings of Bridge City
Caught in the crossfire of annexation a community conscious group of citizens in 1970 initiated a movement to incorporate the town of Bridge City. Forty-four years ago on July 7, marks the anniversary of their success, according to a prior Record article.
By the late 1960’s the town of Bridge City’s young infrastructure had taken root. In a healthy economic environment the thriving community boasted a Class 3A State Football Championship, a Chamber of Commerce, a Little League, a hometown newspaper called the Penny Record and about 6,000 inhabitants.
Port Arthur and Orange became embroiled in legal squabbles that centered primarily over tax revenue generated by the Gulf States Utility Company located near the town. The two municipalities made atrocious land claims. In 1959 Port Arthur claimed territory on the eastern shore of the Neches River in Orange County strategically taking in the Gulf States plant. The following year Orange planned annexation beyond the mouth of the Sabine River including the inlet of Cow Bayou and land as far as north Sabine Lake to benefit from future industrial development.
The small town of Bridge City and it’s adjoining marsh lands where caught in the middle. Through Texas extraterritorial law Port Arthur and Orange both made demands on Gulf States Utility Company for uncollected tax revenue through the Annexation Act of 1963.
Annexation of the town seemed inevitable until a group of citizens from the Bridge City community decided to take a stand. They called themselves the “Citizens For Bridge City Incorporation 1970” and they weren’t without opposition. Two earlier attempts for incorporation had failed. The 1970 citizens committee, however, foresaw the power struggling unfolding and mobilized to take action to prevent further annexation by one or both of the larger municipalities, and in the process propose incorporation to the Bridge City citizenry.
“We had a good group of civic minded people and businesses that want to incorporate Bridge City,” said C.W. “Bubba” Hubbard before his death in 2005. At 71, Hubbard had been a central figure in the citizen committee’s 1970 initiative.
Hubbard and his wife Wilda had arrived in Bridge City in 1952. He established Hubbard Electric Company and was a member of the earlier failed attempts at incorporation.
In 1970, however, Hubbard said that annexation of Bridge City by Port Arthur or Orange had become a real concern. He and Albert Gore, a BCISD administrator, would co-chair the 1970 citizens group that included community leaders from a spectrum of business and civic organizations. The official members included John Brooks, Gus Garza, Curtis Lee, Donald Cole, L.J. Garriga, Charles Gorman, G.A. Laughlin, L.J. Bison, and Tom Arnold. Marjorie Fields served as the group’s secretary. There were 14 in all. Twenty-seven year old attorney, H.D. Pate was also on the committee. He and Feagin Windam, an Orange attorney, provided legal direction as Port Arthur and Orange ratcheted up claims on extraterritorial jurisdiction. To finance the initiative the citizens committee collected $1,520 from among it’s membership and local businesses.
Going into action the ground work began being laid for the acclaimed “”C.W. Hubbard and Others” lawsuit. filed by Pate and Windham. The intention of the lawsuit was to stall annexation and inevitably force another election for incorporation.
Legal disputes, however, where flaring on all sides. Because of the claims Port Arthur made on the Gulf State Utilities power station, Gulf States refused to pay any further taxes to the City of Orange. Orange moved to block Port Arthur’s claims in Orange County and the Bridge City citizens group launched the lawsuit against both municipalities.
“The lawsuit sought clarification of the law on extraterritorial jurisdiction,” said retired 34-year City Attorney, H.D. Pate. “We wanted to know where we stood in a move to incorporate Bridge City.”
Essentially, the “C.W. Hubbard and Others” lawsuit challenged the cities of Orange and Port Arthur for their claims on the area and invoked the right for the citizens to hold an election for incorporation. The lawsuit caused a landlock that halted further legal action by the larger municipalities. They released Bridge City from their territorial claims but not without first settling with each other over the Gulf States squabble. The citizen’s committee dropped it’s lawsuit. It was a victory but a battle only half won.
Convincing the citizens to return to the polls once again to vote for incorporation was the next obstacle. The citizens committee formed an Election and Promotional Committee headed by Gorman and Garza. Marjorie Fields chaired the Publicity Committee. Pate researched types of city governments. Hebert, Cole and Brooks searched for potential sources of revenue. Cost of operating a city government was looked into by Lee and Garza. The committee, under Hubbard and Gore, met weekly to monitor the group’s progress.
“The procedure back then was that you needed at least 50 people to petition the Orange County Judge to hold an Election for Incorporation,” recalls Pate. The citizens committee began a signature drive to get the issue on a ballot. Nine full pages of signatures accompanied the group’s Application For Election to Incorporate. One hundred and sixty signatures graced it’s pages. The fourth item of the undersigned stated “the desire to have the City of Bridge City incorporate . . .”
On July 5, 1970 permission for the election was granted.
Opposition to the proposal mounted. “There was a lot of people who thought Orange or Port Arthur would never touch the area we now know as Bridge City. They openly opposed incorporation,” Pate said.
Nevertheless, the Citizens For Bridge City Incorporation produced “An Open Letter to the People of Bridge City” and it was published on the front page of the Penny Record. A promotional campaign titled “Did You Know” was circulated and bumper stickers were printed. The Jayceettes joined the effort with a “Get Out The Vote” telephone campaign. Countless volunteers talked up the issue to family and friends.
In an editorial endorsing incorporation the Penny Record declared “Vote For A Bridge City” in bold red letters in the July 1, 1970 edition. “Incorporation Election, Tuesday, Bridge City Junior High School” it reminded readers in bold print.
Finally, “For” or “Against” where the only choices left for the citizens of the town. The citizen’s committee named Nolton Brown as election judge as the decision went to the voters on July 7. On this day 1,123 votes where casts and the “Fors” took it with 677 of them. County Clerk Sallie Frazier deemed the election results official. The Penny Record spread the news.
The Order Declaring Results of Incorporation made it a matter of history. The Order stated, “Be it remembered that on the 13th day of July, 1970 there came to be considered the returns of an election held on the 7th day of July . . . and it is hereby declared to be incorporated as a city, and that name of the city is and shall be the City of Bridge City.” An infantile “general Law” municipality was born.
The day after claiming victory, Wednesday, July 8, the Citizens For Bridge City Incorporation 1970 held it’s final meeting. “There being no further business, and the function of the committee having been fulfilled, upon a motion made by Hebert and seconded by Gorman,” the minutes read, “the members voted unanimously to disband.”
On Sept. 22, 1970, Bridge City held it’s first city election. Preston M. “Red” Wood narrowly edged out Jay Eshbach by three votes to become Bridge City’s first Mayor. The first city council was comprised of Jack D. Pepper, Don Clayton, Charles English, E.T. Ernest and David Hock..
On Oct. 5, Bridge City’s first city council took the oath of office in a ceremony held at the Bridge City Volunteer Fire Department in a cinder block building at the corner of Bland and Roberts. The first city council voted to open each meeting with a prayer. They also voted to thank the fire department for the use of the building. H.D. Pate was hired to be the city’s first full-time employee as City Attorney, a position he held until 2004.
Three years into it’s inception the city of Bridge City were asked to make another important decision. In 1973 voters elected to accept a “Home Rule” city charter that provided for a City Manager.
For his involvement as a leader in the Citizens For Incorporation 1970, C.W. “Bubba” Hubbard became the Bridge City Chamber of Commerce first “Citizen of the Year” in 1971. H.D. Pate was chamber president.