Dave Rogers

For The Record

 

Drainage meetings for communities affected by Tropical Storm Imelda will be held for Orange County Precincts 1, 3 and 4 later this month.

And if they’re as well-attended as the one in Precinct 2, those seeking close-in parking should come early.

More than 250 people showed up Sept. 30 at the Top Deck warehouse in Mauriceville (Precinct 2) to voice their drainage concerns at a meeting hosted by the Mauriceville Heritage Association and attended by State Rep. Dade Phelan and officials with the county and county drainage district.

“Everyone was welcome, but the focus was on the upper Mauriceville area and what we [government officials] think and what we’re planning to do,” said Don Carona, general manager of the Orange County Drainage District.

“We plan to hold four meetings, capturing the county.”

Carona and his staff will be at all the meetings, along with state and county officials.

The next meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 15 at Turning Point Church, 3600 N. Main Street, in Vidor.

The Oct. 15 drainage meeting will focus on the western portion of Orange County (largely Precinct 4), including the cities of Vidor, Rose City and Pine Forest and all unincorporated areas in the western portion of the county.

The drainage meeting focusing on south and central portions of Orange County (Precinct 3) will be held at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 21 at Orangefield Junior High School Cafeteria, 7745 Sandbar Road, Orangefield.

This meeting will cover the general areas of Orangefield, Bessie Heights and areas along the lower and central segments of Cow Bayou and Adams Bayou.

A date and site for a drainage meeting covering Precinct 1 has not been announced by the Drainage District yet, but Precinct 1 County Commissioner Johnny Trahan said Tuesday afternoon that it would be held before the end of October.

Carona said the Sept. 30 meeting “was put together rather quickly, but that was what they wanted.

“Our phones were really ringing,” he said. “Judge Gothia [County Judge John Gothia] and Rep. Phelan shared information. There were people there from the county Road & Bridge Department, too.

“We’ve requested TxDOT to be here at these meetings. The highways always come into play when there’s flooding. And we’re trying to get some railroad representatives here. That’s also an issue that affects drainage.”

Orange County and the Drainage District – not to mention all the cities and others – have been working hard to improve drainage since Tropical Storm Harvey dumped more than 40 inches of rain on the county in 2017.

There’s still plenty of work to do, but many citizens have complimented the work that’s been done.

Attention on the railroad tracks is a new priority. And Carona says TxDOT seems to be changing its tune for the better.

“Railroad tracks are literally levees that are extremely elevated,” Carona said. “You can’t have railroad tracks that flood, but we believe there needs to be more capacity [for waterflow] at the trestles, more drainage.

“That probably holds true for the whole country, but for Orange County particularly, we need some relief.”

It was pointed out in drainage meetings held after Harvey that TxDOT’s elevated highways dam up water and cause it to back up. Officials from the state’s road designers disagreed.

During Imelda, temporary construction barriers trapped waters and some drivers for more than two days on Interstate 10 west of Beaumont.

“TxDOT is seeking input from local entities,” Carona said.

“I think there’s a real significant interest on their part in making changes, because the effects of both Imelda and Harvey are very significant.

“Harvey was the No. 1 rain event in the nation’s history and Imelda ranks No. 5. We’ll never be able to eliminate flooding with these major rain events, but we should be able to significantly ease flooding.”

A bill introduced by Rep. Phelan and State Sen. Brandon Creighton and passed by this year’s Legislature tapped the state’s Rainy Day Fund for almost $2 billion to go to pay for flood control projects.

“There are two big things going with respect for potential help with floods,” Carona said, “including the effort led by Rep. Phelan to take money from the Rainy Day Fund for the Texas Water Development Board. So the Water Development Board could distribute money to a project that would improve drainage.

“There’s a big opportunity for us to capture some of that money.”

Hopeful Southeast Texas officials are pushing the passage of Proposition 8 in the Nov. 5 state constitutional amendment election. It would keep lawmakers from raiding the Water Development Board money for other purposes.

In addition to the money from the state, Carona points out that the Texas General Land Office is sitting on $4 billion of federal funds for Harvey relief and its officials are visiting all state areas affected by flooding.

Locally, officials have realized that they can’t fix all their problems by themselves. Orange County stream act as watersheds for Hardin, Jasper and Newton counties as well as those above.

And that’s if the area gets lucky, as it did in Imelda, and the tropical storm doesn’t also flood the reservoirs at Toledo Bend and Sam Rayburn.

Orange County has announced its intent to collaborate with Newton and Jasper counties on regional plans.

County Judge Gothia explained recently that while Harris County has 4 million residents and a $1 billion per year budget that allows it to have staff architects planning “shovel-ready” projects for state and federal projects, an 85,000-population county like Orange with a $45 million per year budget needs to coordinate its efforts with others.

“The Water Development Board is putting an emphasis on regional projects,” Carona said. “The state wants to see more projects that impact a larger area.

“Rep. Phelan is helping Jasper, Newton and Orange Counties form a coalitionto lead the effort to go capture as much of the funds as possible. Maybe they’ll call it the Sabine River Watershed Coalition.

“Cow Bayou extends significantly into Jasper County. The water did not go down here for a few days because water was still pouring into Cow Bayou.

“The same for Newton County. I went to North Bilbo Road after Imelda and the sheetflow of water pouring in from Newton County was unbelievable.”

“And we’re pretty unique in that the western part of the county is drastically affected by the Neches River. That affects Orange County, too.”