Savage Inland Marine offers environmental improvement, economic impact to area

Published 7:22 am Saturday, December 24, 2016

By Dawn Burleigh

The Orange Leader


A request for a surface lease by Savage Inland Marine, obtained through a Freedom of Information request, states the project will not significantly interfere with navigation, natural coastal process, and will act as a surge protection from passing ships; thus, reducing nearby shore erosion.

A boat ride to the location, over a mile from the Bessie Heights Marshlands, revealed the barges fleeted and at least 30 feet from the shore. A shore which did not show damage. Further past the fleeting area, rouge barges were spotted with signs of mud being pushed upon the shore and damage to the vegetation along the shore line was laying down.

A project which could have an economic impact to the area of excess of $7.7 million in additional revenues for local taxing districts over the next 10 years, with net benefits of $3.8 million, recently had an environmental review conducted as needed for the surface lease request.

Savage is currently proposing to temporarily place up to four spud barges within an oxbow of the Neches River each using two 30-inch “spuds” to anchor the barge at the location. The Project’s 31.5 acres are located immediately adjacent to Port Neches, Jefferson County along the northern shoreline of the identified oxbow within Orange County. The project will be used to reduce surge from passing ship traffic and provide a mooring area for a barge fleeting operation. Furthermore, the project will allow Savage to develop ideal mooring solution and marine vessel traffic patterns to facilitate safe commerce, according to a letter from Environmental Resources Management who conducted the review.

Impacts will avoid the vegetated wetlands and will be limited to a small area where the spud is placed in the open water. Impacts will be temporary, since the spud barges are not permanent structures, according to the environmental review.

“We do not own the barges, we just fleet them,” Savage Inland Marine General Manager Josh Knichel said. “We are a parking lot for barges as it waits to be loaded.”

Knichel spoke at Tuesday’s Commissioners Court meeting asking the courts continued support as the company moves forward.

“Barge traffic has grown in the last ten years,” Knickel said. “We are merely one link in the supply chain in the third busiest waterway.”

A representative of Odom Properties, one of the landowners the company leases from along the shore line, said “I am for the preservation of the Neches River. For years there have been illegally parked barges. We signed a contract with Savage.”

In June 2016, Commissioners Court approved a resolution recognizing the permitting and leasing coastal public lands should be more transparent and acknowledge a need for more input from local elected officials.

In October 2016, County Judge Brint Carlton sent a letter to the Texas General Office concerning the permit for surface lease. A copy of the letter was obtained through a freedom of information request.

“I understand this project will provide family-wage jobs and economic benefits for Orange County,” Carlton wrote. “Additionally, I have been assured of their commitment to protecting the environment by keeping barges a minimum of 30 feet from the shoreline, developing appropriate emergency response procedures, and establishing environmentally friendly contingency plans in the event of hurricanes or other severe weather events. There will also be 24/7 monitoring of the parked barges by trained personnel to help ensure safety and security.”