Drought threatens OC, burn ban
Last updated 6/14/2022 at 7:18pm
Joel Ardoin, Orange County's Emergency Management Coordinator, told County Commissioners Tuesday that the county had not been as dry as it is since before Hurricane Harvey hit in 1997.
"We went several weeks without rain," he said, discounting a light morning shower in the Bridge City area.
"We're getting close to where we need to put a burn ban into effect."
Ardoin noted that as of Tuesday afternoon no county east of Houston had called for a burn ban but added a heat wave of record-high temperatures is headed our way.
"Yesterday, the line of counties with burn bans in effect was west of Padre Island, but today, the line has moved to the counties next to Harris County," he said.
"We're not in panic mode yet, but it won't take much for it to take off, because everything is so dry."
Orange County was in the 700 range, according to the Keach-Bryan Drought Index, Ardoin said.
"Our next bump is to the extreme level," he said. "We're getting very close to having to implement a burn ban."
Although the Texas Forest Service tracks burn bans, they can only be enacted by local county governments, meaning by order of County Judge John Gothia in Orange County.
Gothia has been a member of Commissioners Court since 2017.
"Since we've been on court, we've had only one burn ban," Gothia said, "and that was at the start of COVID, because with all the health issues, people were having trouble breathing."
With a burn ban, almost all outdoor burning is prohibited.
National Weather Service forecasts call for temperatures in the mid 90s with triple-digit heat indexes the rest of the week with the only hint of a rain a 20% chance of thundershowers at midday Friday.
On another health front, Ardoin reported the county reported 48 new cases of COVID last week, with 42 of them confirmed by lab tests. Good news was that none of the cases required hospitalization.
Asked by Commissioner Theresa Beauchamp how many strains were infecting county residents, Ardoin said he was unsure.
"My understanding is that there are several strains going around, but they're not as bad as they were," he said.
The commissioners honored JB's Barbeque for 50 years in business under owner J.B. Arrington, who brought along his "helpers," wife Mary and daughters Jenny Lowry and Betty Mathews.
"We appreciate your dedication to Orange County, staying here and keeping your business open," Gothia said.
"I know that in 50 years you've seen a lot of trials and tribulations that made some people close, but you've continued to keep your doors open and we certainly appreciate that."
As the calendar flipped on another hurricane season, County Maintenance Director Kurt Guidry and his crew are reporting a lot of progress completing repairs from previous storms like Harvey, Tropical Storm Imelda (2019) and Hurricane Laura (2020).
Laura's damages are being repaired with insurance and slow-arriving FEMA funds.
Guidry reported work at the Precinct 1 barn, replacement of some courthouse windows that were peppered by pea gravel kicked up by Laura's 100-mph plus winds, fence repair at the jail awaiting new razor wire, work ongoing at the county's Blue Santa workshop, the Precinct 2 building on 1442 and a vinyl siding repair in Vidor.
Work on the roof of the District Clerk's office is waiting on a repair bid.
Maintenance Department also has non-storm projects ongoing beautifying the County Courthouse and repairing a broken sprinkler system in the yard. They replaced old window air conditioners in Precinct 1 and replaced the lighting and wiring on the public safety radio tower in Vidor.
Auditor Pennee Schmitt paid $616,520 in bills, including $131,000 for the county's quarterly subsidy to maintain the Orange County Appraisal District.
County Engineer Corey Oldbury reported the East Roundbunch Swing Bridge was again closed to car traffic – but swung open to Cow Bayou boats – this time after a power blowout caused by a neighbor.