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Mayor Freeman: Things are ‘starting to happen’

Derrick Freeman had barely moved into his new home in Port Arthur six years ago when he hosted a large New Year’s party to celebrate. Some 75 people attended, he recalled.

It rained that night, a deluge like we’ve come to expect in Port Arthur, playing havoc with his new home’s plumbing.

“We couldn’t flush the toilets,” he said. “You talk about embarrassing for a new homeowner. It wasn’t a good night.”

But Freeman has taken that life lesson and turned it into a positive during his service on the Port Arthur City Council and as mayor. He told Port Arthur Rotary Club members at their Thursday meeting that he had to educate himself about the city’s crumbling infrastructure and what the city needed to do to improve it.

“Things are starting to happen,” he said, explaining that public works department has a “pipe bursting crew” now, an innovation effected this year that includes not merely patching the old clay pipes under the city’s surface but replacing them with PVC.

“We had clay pipes in the ground that had shattered,” he said. That’s the situation all over town, where the infrastructure was set in place many years ago.

The pipe-bursting crew replaces bad pipe not merely with patchwork, he said, but is replacing whole lines with permanent, new lines.

“We’ve replaced about 6,000 linear feet,” he said. “Not 6,000 bandages, but pipe — brand new pipe that won’t be infiltrated with water.”

Freeman said the pipe-bursting crew has been bolstered with equipment purchases funded in part by Port Arthur’s “industrial partners” — first Valero, then Motiva.

He said the city has also gotten more aggressive in repairing and replacing Port Arthur’s worn streets. In Fiscal Year 2018, he said, the city spent about $500,000 on its more than 300+ miles of streets; in fiscal 2019, which started Oct. 1, the plan is to spend $14 million on street repair and replacement.

The city is also doing some road repair “in house” in an effort to save money and to no longer be “at the whim of contractors.” That, he said, would prevent change orders and bring more reliability in scheduling repairs.

Of note, he said, is that Port Arthur needs to coordinate its efforts. For example, the city won’t build new streets over old pipes, because the pipes will need replacement sooner.

He said a silver lining to the city’s challenges generated by Hurricane and Tropical Storm Harvey is that citizens know more about infrastructure and how their actions can affect it. For example, he said, homeowners know that blowing grass clippings into ditches impairs their utility during storms and clogs the city’s drainage.