Growth on 2020 horizon for county
Last updated 12/30/2019 at Noon
For The Record
Boom times are here for Orange County.
Civic leaders see physical and fiscal growth headed our way in 2020 and beyond.
“I look forward to finishing up on the projects that we have committed to and delivering on the results so that we have something tangible,” Orange Mayor Larry Spears, Jr., says.
“We talk all the time about being positive, encouraging people. But in 2020, I want to find ways to deliver results and support the good things we already have here.”
Of course, the most anticipated event coming up in the next year is the decision by Chevron Phillips Chemical on whether or not it will build its world class ethylene cracker in Orange County.
Reports released by the global petrochemical giant have included predictions of a final decision coming in mid- to late-2020.
Orange County Judge John Gothia says he expects the county to vote soon on an abatement agreement for the project that would represent an investment by CPC of as much as $8 billion.
State law allows local entities to agree to forego up to 100 percent of property taxes for 10 years on a qualifying project.
“We have a form that Jessica Hill [Orange county’s economic development director] uses based on the size of a business and how many jobs it will provide and, of course, the Chevron Phillips deal is in the top bucket of them all,” the judge said.
“There’s some language we’ve been going back and forth on. It’s mainly to do with [guarantees for] local jobs and local vendors, making sure the language is exact so nobody gets backed into a corner they can’t fulfill.
“We have to make sure the paperwork is right before we vote on it.”
Drainage and flood prevention are other big topics.
Orange County has joined an eight-county group to work together to survey, plan and seek waterflow improvements from east Texas down the Trinity-Neches-Sabine river basins.
As a result of regional efforts like that, the Texas General Land Office announced Monday morning it is seeking experts to develop a $75 million river basin flood study.
The county, with backing from city governments and the Orange County Drainage District, is seeking big-dollar funding from federal and state sources for projects like the Coastal Spine levee ($600 million local cost) and smaller projects such as one to clean and widen a stormwater relief ditch running from Hardin County to the Sabine.
But, meanwhile, the county, drainage district and cities do what they can with resources they have.
“I don’t want people to get the idea we’re just sitting around waiting for the state and feds. We’ve got projects around here we’ll be doing,” County Commissioner Johnny Trahan said.
The county is seeking $12 million from money paid the state as a part of the BP Oil Spill settlement to use in re-establishing drainage canals to the Bessie Heights Marsh.
“I think we made the final cut,” Trahan said. “I’m not sure we’ll get the money, but we’re really trying.”
The City of West Orange and Water Control Improvement District No. 2 are putting in a $6 million wastewater treatment plant, the West Orange water department is getting new generators for its lift stations and water well.
Bridge City is drilling a new water well and replacing 70 houses’ old clay sewer lines with new ones free of charge.
Orange County will be getting greener, thanks to projects by the Stark Foundation and the Orange Lions Club.
The Stark Foundation has begun transplanting more than two dozen Southern Live Oak trees along Green Avenue and the Lions will be planting pecan trees, the state tree of Texas, throughout Orange County this spring.
The Master Gardeners are working with the Orange Lions and the Bridge City Lions Club has adopted the program for its community.
The pecan trees will be planted on public land such as around schools, churches and government buildings and other non-profit organizations that are interested.
“We’re going to put pecan trees all over Orange County in the spring. And in the summer, we’re going to be putting up orange trees,” said Butch Campbell of the Lions Club.
“So we’ll have pecan and orange trees growing all over town. Looking very forward, that’ll be something that’ll be around Orange forever.”
And, of course, the Greater Orange Area Chamber of Commerce has its Orange Grove project going on, selling concrete orange sculptures to decorate and place outside their homes and businesses throughout the county.
By mid-December, more than 100 of the 1,000-pounds-plus oranges had been sold but Chris Kovatch, project chairman, said the goal was to sell more than 300.
Roy McDonald, the mayor of West Orange for the past 25 years, says his city will begin 2020 “grateful for three new businesses choosing West Orange.”
Those are a Chevron convenience store on Foreman Road, Dollar General on Western Avenue and KFC on MacArthur Drive.
Upgrades in communication and safety equipment for West Orange firefighters and police is set for 2020 along with cleaning up vacant and abandoned properties.
Dr. Thomas Johnson, president of Lamar State College Orange, says the college will open a new truck driving school in January, with a new classroom at Front and First Streets.
In December, LSCO celebrated its first graduate from its new maritime program, one of about 200 students who graduated at the Lutcher Theater.
“We’re starting our second half-century. We’re looking for [year] 51 to mark a bright Orange future. Our enrollment’s growing, the programs are growing, there’s a lot of excitement around here,” Johnson said.
“It’s a great time to be at our school. I think we’re at a golden era for our school.”
In Bridge City, city manager Jerry Jones said, “We’ve got quite a few things going on. We’re doing improvements to the sewer plant, manhole repair and we’re replacing some old fire hydrants. Our Center Street drainage project is ready to kick off at the start of the year.”
People are moving into Bridge City as fast as there are opportunities.
“We’re constantly getting new houses built,” Jones said. “We probably have more house starts than anybody around here.”
Mike Kunst, Orange city manager, offers a partial view of his to-do list:
The Riverside Pavilion, the continuation of the street rehabilitation project, demolition of the old Cove school, improvement of some city parks, Mardi Gras, July Fourth celebration and other city-sponsored events.
Jay Trahan, the city of Orange’s economic development chief, says the city’s top priorities for 2020 are commercial/retail development, residential development and industrial retention/expansion efforts.
Retail targets include the Interstate Development Corridor, from Highway 62 to 16th Street, the Northway Shopping Center, 16th Street and downtown. Projects include a new Chick-Fil-A on 16th and Taco Bell on 62. Eagle Point Parkway and the Gisela Houseman Medical Complex.
Along with a new reinvestment zone in East Orange, the Cypresswood Village Phase 2 are ongoing residential projects.
The pavilion at the Orange Boat Launch, which will be home to fishing tournaments, concert and other civic events, broke ground before Christmas and is expected to open in June.
“As soon as we’re done, we’ll start on the new Rec Center and hopefully, we’ll see work on other projects that are important, such as the Medical Center,” Spears, the Orange mayor, said. “Those are the things that are top priorities.”
Of course, the impacts of Tropical Storms Harvey and Imelda, two record rain and flooding events in just a 25-month period in 2017 and 2019, have caused a lot of upset, turmoil and financial challenges in Orange County.
Gothia’s New Year’s resolution was to pray to “not have another weather event.” But not even floods, it seems, can stop the county’s growth.
“I think we’re going to continue building,” he said. “Even with the storms we’ve faced, people want to live here. We’ve seen a lot of homes built and a lot of that’s around Chevron and other projects that are looking for places to build in Orange.
“I think we’re fairly posed for the next few years of growth with what’s going on in industry.”
Robbie Hood, city administrator for Pinehurst, may have said it best.
“I want to see growth, opportunity and prosperity for all of our Orange County citizens,” he said.