Special Report: Some Port Arthur residents believe flood damage was man-made disaster

Special Report: Angel San Juan investigates Port Arthur's Drainage District 7 concerns following Tropical Storm Harvey. Many residents say flood damage to their homes was a man-made disaster, not just mother nature. But a DD7 official says the storm proved too much and the pumping station wasn't designed to handle the amount of flooding that Harvey brought.

Drainage District 7 officials have announced a series of town hall meetings to address concerns about the flooding in mid and south Jefferson County following Tropical Storm Harvey.

Many storm victims say the flood damage to their homes was a man-made disaster, not just mother nature's wrath.

KFDM/FOX4 has been investigating the issue for weeks and reports that some residents believe more can be done to limit the damage in the event of another Harvey-type storm.

John Beard , a former city councilman, has been off the council for five years, but Port Arthur's well-being remains a priority for him.

He's concerned about the current state of the city, especially Vista Village, which is practically a ghost town.

"It's has completely devastated it, homes you're looking at behind us here, had water up to the eaves of their roofs, that's at least 8 to 10 feet of water, a lot of these people had to be rescued off their rooftops," said Beard, a concerned citizen activist.

In the weeks following Tropical Storm Harvey's landfall, many Port Arthur families lost more than their homes and cars -- their faith in the infrastructure has washed away.

"For this area, infrastructure is a big deal, and I don't think proper infrastructure is in place," said Democratic Congressional Candidate Tawana Cadien.

Drainage District 7 operates and maintains the levees and pumps aimed at protecting the southern half of Jefferson County from major flooding from storms.

It's a system that's been in place since the 1960's.

"That may have worked at one time, these areas have built up in the last 40 or 50 years and now we need something considerably better," said Beard.

The massive destructive flooding that overwhelmed the system also had a ripple effect on conspiracy theories.

"You have citizens who feel they have been violated," said Cadien. "You have citizens who feel there was some type of intentional flooding in some areas."

Jefferson County Commissioner Michael Sinegal says DD7's initial silence to public concerns did not do much to stop the flow of rumors.

"It's time, cause I'm getting a lot of the questions that they could have answered early on," said Sinegal.

DD7 general manager Phil Kelley's first public comments about the flooding came during this Morning Show interview with James Ware nearly a month after Harvey hit.

A few weeks later, Kelley spoke at a town hall that Beard organized.

"It extended our capacity," he said. "There's no question about it."

Kelley says DD7 did all it could to control the flooding.

He says crews started pumping out water the weekend before Harvey arrived to the area.

But the rain would not stop.

"With these rains we were getting, we would lose ground and before you know it before we could recapture the system, we'd get another rain," Kelley said.

Eventually, he said, it proved too much.

"With the design of the system and how much water we are designed to pump and the amount of rainfall that we got, the historic amount of rainfall, our system was just completely inundated," Kelley said. "It was more water than we were designed to handle."

Gov. Greg Abbott is seeking $61 billion in federal disaster recovery money for infrastructure alone.

DD7 has applied for $50 million of those dollars to modernize the flood pump system.

However, Kelley says there's a lot of competition for disaster recovery funds from Harvey-affected areas.

"There's really nothing we can do on an immediate basis to increase the capacity of our system," Kelley said.

But commissioner Sinegal says there is something that can be done to start the process.

"Let's do a study, a comprehensive study of what happened," he said. "Can we get mitigation that can keep that from happening again, some people may have gotten 4 feet of water, maybe they got two or not got any. Let's find out, and I'll be satisfied with what comes out."

Kelley maintains improvements won't be cheap.

"Whatever we do, and we're a taxing entity, whatever we do is going to cost a lot of money," Kelley said. "And, no matter what we can build, there's not enough money to build something that could have withstood the rain event."

Commissioner Sinegal admits Port Arthur storm victims have already paid a high price, but he says they still might be open to a tax hike to restore their sense of security.

"Now's the time to discuss whether or not we need to raise the taxes on DD7. Nobody wants to raise taxes, but the people homes that were flooded, I guarantee they say lets' do it to keep from having to re-locate or elevate," Sinegal said.

Below is information on the three scheduled town hall meetings that DD7 will host next week, Monday through Wednesday, Nov. 13-15. All meetings are scheduled from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

The meeting on Monday will be held at the Lakeside Palomar Community Center at 5700 Cambridge St. in Port Arthur.

The Tuesday meeting will be held at the Groves Knights of Columbus Hall at 3749 Lincoln Ave in Groves.

The meeting on Wednesday will be held at the Fraternal Order of Eagles Hall at 2313 Nederland Ave. in Nederland.

Jefferson County Drainage District 7 is hosting a series of open house meetings in mid- and south Jefferson County to discuss the district's role in providing regional drainage needs.

The meetings are open to all residents of DD7:

Monday, November 13 – Port Arthur

Lakeside Palomar Community Center

5:30 pm – 7:30 pm

5700 Cambridge Street

Port Arthur, TX 77640

Tuesday, November 14 - Groves

Groves Knights of Columbus Hall

5:30 pm – 7:30 pm

3749 Lincoln Avenue

Groves, TX 77619

Wednesday, November 15 – Nederland/Port Neches

Fraternal Order of Eagles Hall

5:30 pm – 7:30 pm

2313 Nederland Avenue

Nederland, TX 77627

For more information about the open house meetings, please contact Jefferson County Drainage District No. 7 at (409) 985-4369.

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