Valero, locals launch West Port Arthur park project

Published 1:04 pm Tuesday, May 1, 2018

By Ken Stickney

Valero Port Arthur Refinery and city of Port Arthur representatives have launched their effort to build West Port Arthur Park and Community Garden.

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In a Tuesday morning ceremony, Valero Vice President and General Manager Mark Skobel seemed to relish the project’s concept of designating the rectangular, acre-lot across the street from Westside Development Center and creating a park where individuals, families or organizations could grow fresh fruit and vegetables and meet in community.

Skobel suggested the project was “expandable” and could add features, such as a kitchen for cooking lessons, in the future.

The project grew from a settlement completed in December 2016 involving Valero Port Arthur and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The TCEQ had lodged a list of allegations of environmental wrongdoing — most concerned unauthorized air emissions — that the company denied. But Valero, in agreeing to a penalty of $279,151, sought an “offset” amount of $139,575 for a supplemental environtal project — in this case, creation of the park.

Company officials said Tuesday that by choosing the park, Valero directed its money toward a local project.

Justice accomplished

 The park and garden will be built on about an acre along Eighth Street between Rev. Raymond Scott and Grannis Avenues, a few blocks from the Valero plant.

The park will retain some trees and will add fruit trees, a pavilion, a restroom and raised garden beds. Hilton Kelley of Community In-Power and Development Association, which he described as an environmental justice group, said the raised beds were to calm fears that the grounds might be contaminated. But Kelley said testing was done on the soil and showed no environmental concerns.

He said the agreement and project “gives something back to the communities affected by industry.”

“There’s a better relationship between CIDA Inc. and industry,” he said.

TCEQ said Monday that all environmental requirements have been met.

Trust pays maintenance

Skobel said the investment in the park would be about $950,000, with $450,000 going to the park’s development and $500,000 placed in trust for the park’s long-term care. Plans call for construction to start in late summer and to be completed in time for spring planting.

The trust, Valero officials said, would make sure the park, located on city land, does not become a “burden” on local people or the city.

“There’s no other garden like this,” Skobel said, who said the park plans create an “environmental template.”

Pete Simpson, a partner in Terralab, a Houston-based landscape architectural firm, will design the park. The theme or overriding philosophy is to build a park that is “environmentally beneficial” to the community. Native plants will be introduced to the park.

Councilman Raymond Scott said the park is a “great thing for the community,” and plans drew upon local people’s insights and preferences.

“Citizens were involved in every phase,” he said.