The Port Arthur News
Port Neches-Groves ISD board of trustees approved a property trade with the City of Port Neches contingent on council’s approval of issue.
The ball in now in the city’s court to decide whether to accept the deal which will provide for a new location for a fire station.
Board members deliberated for 30 minutes in closed session before taking action on the issue on Monday. Trustee Rusty Britain was absent from the meeting and Trustee Jim Walters, who is a captain with the Port Neches Police Department, abstained from the vote due to avoid a conflict of interest.
The district will trade a vacant piece of land located on Magnolia Avenue near Merriman Street to the city in exchange for the land where the current city hall is located. A new city hall is under construction and the old building will later be demolished.
The issue is now in the hands of councilmembers in Port Neches who will discuss the project during a meeting on Monday, Nov. 19. To make the issue even more urgent, FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security gave the City of Port Neches an additional 30 days to accept a federal grant which would pay a majority of the cost to construct a new fire station. The new deadline is Nov. 23.
“I’m OK with it,” Board President Rodney Balsamo, who is a lieutenant with Port Arthur Police Department said. “It’s now up to Port Neches City Council approving the entire project.”
Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick opened the meeting by presenting information to the board regarding the importance of the federal grant to not only the city and school district but to the region as well. Declining a federal grant could be detrimental to the region and possibly affect future grant rounds, an issue which happened in the area four years ago.
Port Neches Fire Chief Steve Curran, who made a presentation to the board in September, had with him a group of supporters that included: Port Neches Assistant Fire Chief Shawn Gearinger, Port Neches Police Chief Paul Lemoine, retired Port Neches Fire Chief Ken Doise, Nederland Fire Chief Gary Collins, Nederland Assistant Fire Chief Terry Morton, Port Arthur Police Maj. John Owens, Port Arthur Fire Chief Larry Richard, Groves Fire Chief Dale Jackson and retired Chief of Beaumont Port Authority Police.
Port Neches City Manager Andrè Wimer and Port Neches Director of Public Works Taylor Shelton were also on hand to answer any questions.
Curran explained that centrally locating the fire station would cut down on response times as well as positively affect insurance ratings by bumping up the department’s public protection code as determined by the Insurance Services Office.
The fire chief applied for a Port Security Grant for the new fire station in April and received notification from the Department of Homeland Security of the grant award on June 29. The $2.9 million grant calls for a 25 percent match from the city which totals about $1 million.
Several board members wondered about the timing of the issue and wondered what decision city council would make next week.
Councilmembers in Port Neches face a second dilemma in which they must decide how to juggle the 25 percent match while facing a federal mandate on a different issue. The Environmental Protection Agency, at the current time, is requiring the city to upgrade its waste water treatment plant by adding a seven million gallon retention pond that would cost between $5 to $7 million. The city, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the EPA have been in negotiations on the issue for about two years.