Failed levee repair in Port Arthur to cost $10 million

Jefferson County Drainage District 7 is charge of the effort to repair and pay for a failed levee in Port Arthur. The expected bill is $10 million. (KFDM photo)

Jefferson County Drainage District 7 is charge of the effort to repair and pay for a failed levee in Port Arthur.

The expected bill is $10 million.

One commissioner worries it will deplete the drainage district's fund balance, leaving mid- and south-county vulnerable.

But the priority is getting the broken levee secure.

KFDM/KBTV was able to witness firsthand how workers are carrying out the critical job.

It's a construction site that went up in a matter of days.

"We're pretty pleased how fast things have been going," DD7 supervisor Ronnie Hollier said. "We just hope it continues."

There's no time to waste. Workers are having to patch up a 200-foot stretch of the levee system that's protected the area for more than 40 years.

Someone fishing first discovered the damage a little more than two weeks ago. The cause of the levee breach - at least for now - remains unknown.

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"They've already put all the loose sand in all the scoured area and now they're covering them with sandbags," Hollier said.

The drainage district and contractor Mason Construction allowed us to get very close to the operation.

A crane operator is placing giant sandbags on the water side of the damaged wall. On the land side, work is ongoing to build a pad where a 200-ton crane will sit.

It will be used to push down sheet pile along the breached wall.

"Stabilizing the damage now, that's my priority now," Commissioner Michael Sinegal said. "Long term funding is something we can hash out."

But funding is certainly a concern. The drainage district has $19 million in its fund balance made up of taxpayer of dollars from homeowners in mid- and south-Jefferson County.

That's enough to cover the $10 million price tag to repair the breach, but Sinegal worries it will leave the drainage district without enough money to handle future emergencies, especially during hurricane season.

"As it stands, there is funding, but if it will just deplete drainage district money," Sinegal said. "That's something I'm not in favor of, so if we can get an emergency declaration, I hope the judge is able to do that."

RELATED: What caught the attention of a fisherman

County Judge Jeff Branick would have to issue an emergency declaration for the work to become eligible for state and federal funding.

Branick late this afternoon said that under FEMA guidelines, the work to repair the levee breach would not qualify.

Sinegal said even if we can't get disaster funding, state Rep. Joe Deshotel is looking into other sources of money from Texas.

Funding from the surrounding refineries - Valero and Chevron - would be a last resort, Sinegal said.

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