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City Council OKs mandated remediation expenses


By Ken Stickney


Port Arthur City Council members have OK’d spending up to $35,000 for environmental remediation on Locomotive No. 503 at Bryan Park. That action was taken Tuesday.

The city is under a mandate from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to address issues of asbestos in or around the soil under the moored steam locomotive, a gift from Kansas City Southern in 1957, which has been displayed at the park for decades.

TCEQ initially gave the city until March 6 to address the environmental concerns, which arose in the aftermath of Hurricane and Tropical Storm Harvey last August. TCEQ later extended the deadline until April 20.

Last summer and fall, neighbors were concerned that floodwaters might exacerbate effects of environmentally dangerous substances on the old locomotive, about a century old, by carrying them into the neighborhood.

First plan: Scrap it

The city initially planned to scrap the locomotive, which was displayed to remind Port Arthur people of their status as a railroad town. The city entertained contracts to remove the train, which was in decay, from the park as early as November, and signed an agreement in January.

After the Port Arthur News published stories about the plans to scrap the locomotive, local train enthusiasts and train enthusiasts around the country wrote to lament the locomotive’s demise.

Jason Sobczynski, whose Kentucky company does train reclamations, visited Bryan Park in February and initiated a GoFundMe page to raise funds to restore the locomotive and send it to Florida, where it would be reactivated. Some 1,262 people around the country contributed $67,399 toward Sobczynski’s fund with the goal of reclaiming the locomotive, making it operational, and sending it out of state. That action slowed the City Council’s effort to scrap the locomotive.

But it also ired some Port Arthur residents who did not want the train to leave the community. The City Council on March 6 opted to do the mandated TCEQ remediation and permit local citizens led by John Beard, a former City Council member, to raise funds to repair Locomotive 503.

Fund established here

Beard said Wednesday that he’d organized “Friends of KCS Engine No. 503” to raise funds and keep the train here.

“The City Council has decided that train is going to stay in Port Arthur,” Beard said. “It belongs to us, it was given to us and it is going to stay here.”

To that end, Beard said he had established a fund at the Kansas City Southern Credit Union to raise funds. Donations, he said, can be sent to KCS Employees Credit Union, 3800 Highway 365, suite 127, Port Arthur, Texas 77642.

The account is No. 2379 and donations should be sent to the attention of Belinda.

Proposal coming

Sobczynski said he’ll prepare a proposal for the City Council to restore the train, but the city has not requested proposals since March 6. Nor does the city appear to have a timeline for seeking proposals.

Sobczynski said Wednesday that it would cost about $250,000 to restore the locomotive, and perhaps another $150,000 to construct a shelter that would protect the locomotive from the salt air. It may cost another $75,000 to deal with lead paint on the engine, he said.

“They’re not going to be able to raise the money,” Sobczynski said of the local effort. “That’s just a fact.”

He said he would prepare a proposal nonetheless in an effort to save the locomotive.