SE Texas leaders eye water projects
Last updated 10/29/2019 at Noon
For The Record
Think better drainage isn’t important to Southeast Texans?
Orange County Commissioner Johnny Trahan and Don Carona, bossman at the OC Drainage District, held a public questions-and-answers meeting for Precinct 1 residents during World Series Game 6 featuring the Houston Astros.
And about 100 homeowners showed up Tuesday night.
The county judges from Jefferson, Orange, Hardin, Jasper, Newton, Liberty, Chambers and Tyler counties met last week in Beaumont to talk about forming a Southeast Texas Regional Waterways Authority to plan joint projects to submit to the State Water Board next year.
And the Sabine River Authority has a Thursday meeting to discuss drainage projects for the Lower Sabine River.
“We want to find something you could pursue, that if you did it, fewer people would get flooded,” said David Montagne, general manager of the SRA.
Behind the lead of State Rep. Dade Phelan, the 2019 Texas Legislature moved $800 million from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to the State Water Board for use in flood remediation projects.
“This money is to be released Jan. 1. If we don’t have some projects ready to go, this money is going to be taken up by people from the Brazos Valley or San Antonio,” Orange County Judge John Gothia said.
“They’ve got projects that are shovel-ready to go.”
The eight county judges, many mayors and waterway representatives gathered at the Southeast Texas Regional Planning Commission meeting room on Wednesday, Oct. 23 at the invitation of Phelan are concerned that they’re already behind folks from Austin, San Antonio and Houston in the money chase.
Branick said, “Sixty-four percent of the water that comes out of Texas to the Gulf of Mexico comes out the Sabine-Neches Waterway.”
But that statistic won’t mean anything if Southeast Texas isn’t ready with proposals in 2020.
“The San Antonio Regional River Authority gets $40 million a year in tax money,” Montagne said at the meeting.
“None of our water authorities (SRA, Angelina-Neches River Authority, Trinity River Authority) are taxing entities. What we can do is bring professional hydraulic engineering.”
Branick has suggested the counties establish funding for a Southeast Texas regional authority, with each county pitching in a share based on its total property values.
That would lead to Jefferson County, with its huge retail and industrial base, paying the largest share. For instance, total values in Jefferson County are $34.8 billion; for Orange County, they’re $5.6 billion.
“All these projects are expensive,” Montagne said. “If all these [Southeast Texas] 500,000 people don’t get together, we can’t compete for this. Harris County [Houston area] has 4 million people and a $23 million bond issue already passed for drainage.”
Branick said his administrative assistant, Fred Jackson, was drafting a cooperative strategy.
“We’re working on an interlocal agreement, so you can go back to your commissioners and community and get them on board,” Branick said.
“Then we’d have to hire engineers, and I’m sure one of the first thing we’d do is go the Corps of Engineers.”
A phone rang in the middle of the Oct. 23 meeting, which included nearly 100 people. The ring tone was fitting, something from the Blues Brothers: “We’re on a mission from God.”
The consensus of the men and women at the Oct. 23 meeting was that the big group should be divided into smaller subgroups, such as the Sabine River watershed and the Neches River watershed and the Trinity River watershed.
From there, it was agreed that the first projects should be at the bottom of the waterways, meaning Hardin and Jasper counties would wait for projects in Orange and Jefferson County to be complete.
“I think we’ll have a big group and we’re going to have a smaller group for the lower Sabine,” Montagne said.