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Port Arthur businesses, city wrestle with lack of water or too much because of busted pipes

Ron Burton has been with the city of Port Arthur for 13 years and has never seen the whole city dealing with low water pressure.

Burton, who is city manager in Port Arthur, said the city has enough water at the water treatment plant to supply the entire city — the problem is the water is not getting where it needs to go because of line breaks.

“Tell the customers and citizens and business community to be patient with us. This is nature at its worst,” Burton said.

The issue is so widespread that the city is calling in independent contractors to assist with the line breaks.

“Breaks are all over the city, residential and commercial, it’s affecting our business park, affecting our businesses throughout the city,” he said.

On Tuesday, Port Arthur resident Doneane Reese noted low water pressure and captured a photo of geyser-like water main break at Jimmy Johnson Boulevard and Ninth Avenue.

Port Arthur officials issued a boil water notice on Wednesday citing multiple water main breaks, which caused the city’s water system pressure to drop below the 20 psi state requirement. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has required the City of Port Arthur public water system to notify all customers to boil their water prior to consumption.

“When you talk about the temperatures dipping into the teens, we’re not set up for that,” Burton said. “It’s making it very difficult.”

Thankfully, the roads on Wednesday were passable and the city is fully staffed, officials said.

Ron Burton stands just outside the city council chamber at Port Arthur city hall. (I.C. Murrell/The News)

Fire department

Interim fire chief and co-emergency management coordinator Louie Havens said the department is dealing with the winter storm as they do any other day.

The department has plans to handle many different scenarios, including low water pressure.

“We know if we do have a fire that we are gong to use alternative water sources,” Havens said.

If necessary, firefighters would take water from a canal, pond or swimming pool or they relay water to the scene from a hydrant.

So far they have been lucky and have not had any fire call during the low pressure times.

Havens said city staff is doing everything to get the issue fixed. He asks residents not to let their faucets drip anymore. In order to get the water towers filled, there needs to be a decrease in usage.

PAFD had staffing in place in advance of the winter storm, including staffing on Pleasure Island and extra staff in Sabine Pass. The bridges to both locations were shut down due to the ice. Police and an ambulance were also placed in those areas.

Residents, business impacted

Longtime Port Arthur resident Janet Cline and her husband Ray were scheduled to receive their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, but the vaccinations were cancelled due to the winter storm.

The couple dealt with the rolling blackouts twice. The first blackout was in the early morning hours Monday and lasted a few hours, the second outage was Tuesday and lasted four hours, she said.

“We just stayed home. We haven’t done anything since Sunday, we went to church Sunday,” Cline said.

Like most of the city, the Clines’ water pressure is low, so they are drinking bottled water.

They’re a bit lucky when it came to heat.

“We were very blessed because we have a (gas) fireplace for during the times we didn’t have power,” Cline said. “That kept us warm at least.”

Ron Arceneaux of Arceneaux Wilson & Cole LLC and staff had just moved in to their new office building on Central Mall Drive over the weekend. The new office building gives them room to grow — they have 35 employees, and the layout of the building is perfect with the engineers around the outside perimeter and designers and technical staff on the interior work stations.

On Wednesday one of the engineers went to do some unpacking and found a water line break occurred in the suspended ceiling above one of the restrooms.

“We have water in about three-fourths of the building, and so obviously we mobilized as quickly as we could to get people out here to help,” Arceneaux said.

“Most of our personal items, books and things of that nature are in good shape. The computer system and servers are too. What we are looking at is an unscheduled remodel.”

As he spoke on Wednesday there was a restoration team at the office vacuuming the water.

Arceneaux is confident they can work efficiently as they deal with this newest challenge.

“It’s similar to what we’ve through with the peak of the COVID outbreak last summer and fall when many of our staff were working from home,” he said. “We’re basically going to be back in that mode, and it was efficient in spite of last year and we kept our projects moving. We kept our clients happy and for that, we’re very, very thankful.”