Levee System Construction flooded with new jobs
Last updated 5/3/2022 at 10:10pm
Construction of the flood protection system for Orange County will create 5,000 to 10,000 jobs with the project to include moving more than five million cubic feet of dirt, enough to fill the Astrodome three times.
The money is now in place and construction is set to begin in 2024. The total project is expected to be finished in four years.
Congress in 2018 approved federal money for the Orange County system, which will cost about $2.39 Billion. On Friday, the Gulf Coast Protection District, a specially-formed state district, signed an agreement to pay the 35 percent match for the federal 65 percent. Precinct 3 County Commissioner Kirk Roccaforte is Orange County's member of the district's board of directors.
The protection district is using Texas money that voters in a state constitutional amendment election in 2019 agreed to move from state "rainy day" savings to help with flood protection. The protection district will then oversee the operations of the flood protection system, which will include seven or eight pump stations, along with numerous floodgates.
Representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gave the information April 28 during a public meeting in Orange to show plans for the preliminary designs and operations. The corps and local officials hosted three of the information meetings and County Judge John Gothia estimated a total of about 200 citizens attended.
The jobs created will include drivers and crews for the hundreds of dump trucks that will be needed. The corps of engineers is hoping to purchase dirt within the county. Roads damaged because of the construction will repaired when the job is finished.
Construction is set to begin in 2024 and be completed in 2028. The current plans call for about 15 miles of earthen levees, mostly in marsh areas, plus another 10 feet of concrete seawall. The seawall area will be in Orange along the Sabine River. The levees will begin in the Bessie Heights area outside Bridge City on the west side off the county and follow the southern side of the county.
The southern side includes the large complex of petrochemical plants along FM 1006, the road known locally as "Chemical Road." Gothia said the system will help protect the hundreds of jobs in the plants and the families those jobs support.
The Orange County Drainage District has been working with the corps of engineers on the project. In the Orange information meeting, Drainage District Director Don Carona said most of the earthen levees are in marsh areas and not on private property.
The current plans have the city of Orange area along the Sabine River with a concrete seawall that will be constructed in the river adjacent to the banks. Spaces with gates will be created for the shipyards along the river.
The latest seawall plan will also leave the county's administration building intact. County officials had been planning to build another administration building at a new site because the wall would go through the current building.
The concrete seawall will be 11 to 15 feet high around downtown Orange, depending on the sea level of the land when it is built. Carona said the wall's design is like a "thread through a needle" around the river.
Corps representatives said the wall may include a riverwalk or area so people can still see the Sabine. Some areas in the country have had sections of clear walls that provide a view.
The corps is adjusting plans to keep the Orange Boat Ramp area off Simmons Drive open for recreation. Currently, the boat ramp area will be on the river side of the seawall with a floodgate that can be closed and complete the wall when needed.
The flood protection system will go along the area of the Sabine River northward and end at Interstate 10. Orange City Councilor Terrie Salter was at the information meeting giving support to help allow the Blue Bird Fish Camp restaurant and store continue in business.
Several floodgates are included in the project with major ones at Cow Bayou and Adams Bayou. Other gates will be across roads and railroad tracks.
The corps of engineers is working with major construction companies that responded to its "request for proposals" on the project. The corps will negotiate a construction contract for the project. If an agreement cannot be negotiated, then the corps will seek bids.
A call for local subcontractors has already been made with informational meetings scheduled.
The concept for the flood protection system began after Hurricane Ike in September 2008 sent a storm surge into the Gulf of Mexico. The surge flooded the southern part of Orange County.
Then-County Economic Development Director Bobby Fillyaw, working with Orange County Commissioners Court, got grants for a countywide flood protection system study. The study by Carroll and Blackman engineers of Beaumont was presented in September 2012. Those plans were given to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Galveston in 2013.
The corps of engineers used the Carroll and Blackman information to make preliminary designs for an Orange County protection system and the plans were shown to the public at the OC Expo Center in April 2016.
The corps completed its feasibility study of the project in 2018 and Congress approved funding in February 2018. The Texas Legislature set up the state constitutional election to help pay for the flood protection system with the election in November 2019. In February 2020, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announce Stantec and Jacobs would be designing the Orange County protection system.