This is an excerpt from the offical transcript
which is available on the TxDOT web site.
Proceedings of October 1998 Texas Transportation Commission Meeting
Relating to Texas 87 Between High Island and Sabine Pass.
We have a good presentation today and we have a good team here from Southeast Texas. ...
The first part will have to do with Highway 87, the Beach Highway, and it is the most important today. ...
So let me start off by introducing County Judge Carl R. Griffith, and he's going to talk about Highway 87,
which is the project we want to emphasize today.
JUDGE GRIFFITH: Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. I'd first like to present y'all with a letter to enter into the record from Congressman Lampson. He's tied up in session and couldn't be here, but he's been very, very active in working with us on this. If it's all right for me to approach?
MR. LANEY: Please. Thank you.
JUDGE GRIFFITH: I have to give you a little history to understand why 87 has been important to me and to the citizens of Port Arthur and all of Jefferson County. For eight years, I served as the Sheriff of Jefferson County, and prior to that I was an employee of the Sheriff's office as a deputy. I had been in law enforcement for about 20 years prior to becoming County Judge two years ago.
The weakest link for our citizens as far as safety in our community and all of Jefferson County was Highway 87, because of the fact that there's about 2,000 people in Sabine Pass at any given time. There's only one road out of that city, one road that goes over a high bridge on the Intracoastal Canal and goes through two refineries that at times -- several times, have closed off that road and made access impossible to the City of Sabine Pass or for the people of the Sabine Pass to leave.
We've had barge traffic that has damaged the bridge that has shut down the highway for some period of time, for like 24 to 36 hours. And just this past storm that went in over in New Orleans brought the surge up high enough on 87, the northbound side, which is rather low coming out of Sabine Pass, and closed that highway for some two to three days.
So it's a substantial problem, and so when I came in as County Judge, I asked our County Engineer why was Highway 87 not rebuilt, since that highway has been in that community since the 1860s -- as far back as the 1860s they showed it on maps. And what I found out was the county had a number of projects going on at the time, and the agreement that they had made with TxDOT -- actually, as I went into it, I assumed that the money was still available -- but the agreement that they had made with TxDOT was that TxDOT said, If you go get a 404 permit and pay, I believe, 10 percent of the right-of-way acquisition, then we'll build the highway to the tune of about $20 million.
And so I immediately called the congressman, and that was about January of 1997, and said, We need your help; we want to see what we can do and see if we can get also some federal help, because we're going through some federal refuges, and we'd like to rebuild that road. And he took it and ran with it, actually, because he's called meetings every single month since January, just about -- we may have missed one or two -- with all the federal agencies involved, the Corps of Engineers, everyone has been there, including TxDOT, and tried to work through one, an EA.
Ultimately, we just found that we would have to do an EIS, and the County has put aside a million dollars to work on this. And also, Congressman Lampson was able to secure out of this past highway bill another million dollars to help make sure that we were able to make this project work.
And so what I ask of you -- a minute order was entered, I believe in 1989 or 1990 -- I'm just asking you to reactivate that, if that's the procedure that you take, or however it takes to get Mr. Crook, our engineer, the money back in place for us to build that highway, because we are moving forward with that and attempting to secure that 404 permit, and are expending substantial amounts of money -- the County is already -- trying to make this thing happen.
And for the safety of those folks, the economy of that community -- Sabine Pass has basically died since that highway closed -- a state park that's down there, their tourism, the population that has gone through there since it has closed has dropped over 50 percent.
There's many, many things that have occurred there, and a lot of money is being spent in that area. One of those plants that sits right on this highway is about to spend $750 million. And to tell you how vital it is to our infrastructure there, our community was written up in the Wall Street Journal last April. And because our community has worked together in the last year, since August of '97, we kind of formed a coalition between the cities and the counties and Partnership of Southeast Texas, and has seen an investment total in a little over one year of $3.4 billion in Jefferson County alone.
And so with all the new traffic that's there, with the problems that the people face in Sabine Pass every single day of their lives, not knowing whether something is going to hit that bridge, and it's a disaster waiting to happen. And I encourage you to do whatever you can do to help us solve this problem by considering to reactivate this order. And I appreciate it.
Do you have any questions of me?
MR. LANEY: I don't think so. Questions, Anne? Robert?
MR. NICHOLS: I was in Beaumont. We met on this last summer, just a little over a year ago. On the east end of 87, as it goes into Port Arthur or somewhere in there, there's a huge refinery?
JUDGE GRIFFITH: Correct. There's two of them that are joined together on that road.
MR. NICHOLS: And that road -- basically, if anything happens right in there, as I understood it, that road is shut down on that end.
JUDGE GRIFFITH: And it has been.
MR. NICHOLS: And there literally is no other access off 87; anything in there is trapped. Is that correct?
JUDGE GRIFFITH: That's absolutely correct. And then you've got the Intracoastal Canal Bridge right before that that has shut down, along with those plants -- have shut that road down for several lengthy periods of time.
And also, to tell you, Chambers County and Galveston Counties, I think you should have in your packets resolutions from both those counties, because it has impacted them negatively in the last nine years that it's been shut down.
MR. NICHOLS: The next question has to do with on the environmental process, because that roadway was built so close to the beach in the first place, every time the beach goes, the road goes. I know the district engineer was hoping to move further inland.
JUDGE GRIFFITH: That was the agreement. We will move it in to have at least a 20-year life span at the current erosion rate, which is approximately eight to ten feet a year, so roughly 200 to 300 feet inland.
MR. NICHOLS: But at the time, I remember in the discussions, you -- there was some concern in the environmental assessment, because it went through a dunes and pretty sensitive environmental area, whether or not at the end of the environmental thing you would be able to move it back that far. Have you determined whether you can move back that far?
JUDGE GRIFFITH: We're approaching it that that's what we need to do. That's the way we're completely going at it with our EIS is to move it in, and I've given them an alternative from Fish & Wildlife is that either we can move it in 300 feet or we can move it in 200 feet from the date -- from the time the permit is issued, and basically it may be the same number of feet. I don't believe exactly but just considering the erosion rate, I expect it could be two years before we complete this process. And so just to be on the safe side, we want to make sure it's a 20-year life span.
MR. NICHOLS: That's all the questions I have.
MR. LANEY: Thanks.