STEPHEN HEMELT — Getting started means finishing levee system’s design for Orange County

Published 12:32 am Saturday, April 23, 2022

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“The hardest thing about doing big things is getting it started.”

That’s what Col. Tim Vail said about the proposed storm surge protection levee system that is under design for Orange County.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Galveston District commander stressed in no uncertain terms that “Orange County is a big thing.”

“It has a big challenge and needs some big solutions,” he said. “It is largely recognized as one of the most flood-prone areas in the country. That is a big challenge. The most important thing beyond the level of protection against storm surge that this project does is get us started.”

Spend any time speaking with or listening  to Vail, and he doesn’t come off as a person who puts much stock into pomp and circumstance.

So when he spent this week explaining the project to Orange Newsmedia and other regional outlets, it was all business.

Now he wants to share that message with the residents of Orange County.

Organizers will go into detail with locals about the protection system and answer individual questions concerning all aspects of the project.

Three open houses are set for anyone wishing to attend:

  • April 26 (5-8 p.m.) at Bridge City Community Center, 105 Parkside Drive;
    • April 28  (5-8 p.m.) at American Legion Post 49, 108 Green Ave. in Orange; and
  • April 30 (10 a.m.-2 p.m.) at Orange County Convention and Expo Center, 11475 FM 1442 in Orange.

Vail said design for the project, which will not be complete until 2024, includes added benefit to Orange.

It will create more detailed cause-and-effect data that can directly help alleviate the county’s regular flooding concerns that aren’t storm surge-related.

“What are all those things the county can do on its own with the drainage district that we can streamline regulatory approval largely to improve drainage across the county?” Vail asked.

He stressed as multiple entities work to design the storm surge levee system, Orange County and state leaders are coordinating for the community based on block program funding created after Hurricane Harvey. This should lead to additional state-funded county drainage improvements.

“That will give us a very hard data set to say, ‘hey, this is the rest of the risk we are leaving behind that we don’t have the authority to address with the storm surge project. We can now kick off a planning study to say, ‘what are the other interior drainage efforts that we want to do with the federal government?’”

Orange County Judge John Gothia said his confidence level “is extremely high” that the proposed levee system is going to do what organizers expect it to do.

“Just the design of the project, itself, is going to create some improved drainage for us, which is fantastic,” he said. “We have confidence in this thing producing protection for our citizens or economy, the commerce we produce and the ability for people to continue living in Orange County at an affordable rate and a safe rate.”

Gothia stressed it’s huge to potentially take away the flood risk from storm surge.

There are approximately 85,000 people living in Orange county, with more than half the population and much of the business and industry sector operating south of Interstate 10.

The area is vulnerable to storm surge from major hurricane. This levee system is designed to protect the region from storm surge strong enough to threaten that community.

Levee organizers have certainly generated a lot of buzz with news of these open houses, and the promise of storm surge protection.

They have our attention. Let’s hope the finished product earns our gratitude.

Stephen Hemelt is the publisher of Orange Newsmedia, which publishes and the Orange Leader. He can be reached at