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2021 goals for local leaders include vaccine relief, community growth & whole lot more

There are a lot of people with high hopes for this year.

But hope is not a plan, so Port Arthur Newsmedia asked local leaders what they wanted to see happen, with an emphasis on how that would positively impact residents in Port Arthur and Mid-County.

Jefferson County Commissioner Michael Shane Sinegal summed up his main hope —shared by many across this region — by saying he wants to see a COVID-19 vaccine available for all to use.

“A vaccine could allow us to get back to some form of normalcy,” he said. “I know that is cliché nowadays, but I have been on lockdown for almost a year now, myself, other than doing the county’s business.”

Sinegal said COVID-19 is personally scary because he feels more susceptible to its harmful impacts as an African American over 60 years old who is overweight, with diabetes and high blood pressure.

“That vaccine is a welcome sight,” he said. “I have seen state representatives take the vaccine and I want it to get down to the common, everyday citizens.”

Judge Marc DeRouen, Justice of the Peace for Precinct 2, said he and his family are looking forward to the vaccine providing a sense of hope, indicating the nation and world may be able to return to some form of normalcy.

“We will continue to pray for those who have been so greatly affected by this pandemic and ask that the problems of the world be put into God’s hands for his blessings,” DeRouen said.

Golden Triangle Emergency Center Medical Director Dr. Tom Konjoyan said he is looking forward to when everybody is vaccinated for COVID-19, the pandemic is controlled and “things return to normal.”

Jason Burden, senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Nederland, is looking forward to a restored sense of community.

One thing he loves about Nederland is the “neighborliness.”

“The wheels came off of 2020 right as Nederland was winding down its biggest community event of the year, the Nederland Heritage Festival,” Burden said. “I hope, with the COVID-19 vaccine coming out, that we will be able to gather with our neighbors again at community events, sporting events and other special occasions, with the confidence we had before the virus closed everything down.”

Burden noted it’s easier to get to know, to serve, and to love neighbors when everyone has greater opportunities to be present face-to-face.

Port Arthur City Manager Ron Burton is keeping an eye on the global economy, saying what is most needed locally is improving infrastructure so the city can be economically ready to meet private sector needs.

“We’re looking for a greater public-private partnership for the city, industry or any other businesses out there,” Burton said. “That will continue to grow the prosperity of our community. This will lead to more jobs, to more people in Port Arthur with greater income. This will lead to new businesses locating here or existing businesses growing here.”

Horace Brown, director of education at the ABC-Southeast Texas Chapter, anticipates an increased amount of construction work in the area, with an increased opportunity for local residents to gain or improve construction skills.

“We can not only improve our workforce skill level, but also improve our area’s overall economic condition,” Brown said.

D.E. Sosa, city manager in Groves, said there is much to look forward to this year. First, he noted, Groves streets will see more attention as the city council has allocated $800,000 for the summer street program, including curb replacement.

“In early 2021 the Texas General land Office has granted the city $4.2 million to spend on streets and lift station rehabilitation,” Sosa said. “In 2021, we’re looking forward to the completion of the city’s new fire station, looking forward to continued residential and commercial development.”

Groves municipal leaders anticipate stable and increasing sales tax revenue.

The most recent fiscal year produced the best numbers Groves has ever had in sales tax rebates, Sosa said.

Nederland Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Kay Decuir said a healthier and happier year starts with the demolition of Villa Motel this month, clearing the way for a new business to take over the Nederland Avenue location.

“I am more than excited to see the downtown revitalization on Boston Avenue with our Gateway Arch to Nederland,” she said. “I believe 2021 is going to be one of our best years yet! We have new businesses coming to Nederland and the fact that our small businesses are supporting each other is a dream come true.”

Decuir hopes local residents maintain a positive attitude and choose not to let negativity bring them down. She asks community members to be kind, thankful, stay safe and wear a mask to help lower COVID interactions.

City manager André Wimer said Port Neches will complete several infrastructure projects this year involving the water system and sanitary sewer system.

“That will provide long term benefits for the community,” Wimer said. “Additionally, the City of Port Neches looks forward to continued progress on the project to rebuild Tugboat Island.”

Nederland Chamber President/CEO Diana LaBorde wants to finally see COVID case numbers decline.

Just knowing people will stop getting sick, healthcare providers and first responders will be out of danger and the community is free to move about would be a blessing this year, she said.

“I’m looking forward to festivals and beach parties, graduations and weddings, Halloween and the holidays,” LaBorde said. “I’m looking forward to too much togetherness. Bring on 2021!”

That togetherness is something Sabine Pass Independent School District Superintendent Kristi Heid is yearning for.

The veteran educator wants things back to normal, allowing teachers to educate students in the proper fashion and move about out on their daily business.

Her colleague in the Port Arthur ISD, Dr. Mark L. Porterie, expressed similar desires.

“As we enter the 2021 year, I am looking forward to utilizing the knowledge we have gained, from the experiences of 2020, to create a better future for our children and for ourselves,” he said.

Port Neches-Groves ISD superintendent Mike Gonzales sees better days coming.

“We welcome the day when fear and anxieties of COVID-19 are part of our history,” he said. “I’m extremely proud of our students, staff and community. They accepted the challenge of working through the many obstacles this pandemic has created. I am certain our entire community will approach this new year with a strong and positive perspective. It’s what we do at PNG!”

Darragh Castillo, who writes the Culinary Thrill Seeking column for Port Arthur Newsmedia, said Port Arthur residents have proven stronger together throughout hurricanes and pandemics.

“I know we’ll continue this spirit in 2021 and beyond,” she said. “Our gumbo is good for the soul and our music soothes the heart. We help each other out and this hospitality extends to visitors who come for a taste of our food and music.”

Joe Tant, financial manager for Greater Port Arthur Chamber of Commerce, is looking forward to being able to help more local students finish their degree plan and better prepare them to enter the workforce as “confident, successful contributors, as well as helping to support local businesses that are vital to our economy.”

Port of Port Arthur Director/CEO Larry Kelley said he is extremely thankful for port staff, commissioners and all our port workers, which collectively focused on growth and sustainability leading to a record 2020 in terms of cargo, revenue and longshore labor hours worked.

“With expanded infrastructure and some additional customers bringing cargo to Port Arthur, I am optimistic for 2021,” he said. “We will move and adjust related to the pandemic while we continue to create local jobs and economic development vital to our community. The Port of Port Arthur continues to grow, bring on 2021, opportunity docks here!”