After more than a year of opposition from a local preservation group and the Orange County Commissioner’s Court, Savage Inland Marine has received the lease for a barge-fleeting operation in the Neches River, the Texas General Land Office confirmed on Wednesday.
The lease allows Savage Inland Marine, a Utah-based company that purchased the local Thousand Foot Cut Towing Services fleet in May, to legally operate a barge parking lot in an oxbow south of Bessie Heights Marsh. The location in the U-shaped bend of the Neches is for transient vessels not in use or between trips.
Savage, and previously Thousand Foot Cut, have been keeping barges in the area without a lease for more than a year.
According to GLO Press Secretary Brittany Eck, the lease is for a total of $500,312.95 over the five-year term. Savage will pay between $81,950 and $119,983 a year, she said.
The GLO added a requirement to the lease that Savage “purchase and maintain a policy providing pollution liability insurance coverage in the minimum amount of $2 million,” according to Eck.
Jeff Hymas, communications director for Savage Inland Marine, said the company requested a 20-year lease, but the five-year term can be renewed “as long as we are in compliance” of the lease’s conditions. The company already had the required insurance coverage, he said.
“We’re excited to have been able to agree to terms with the GLO,” he said.
The Orange County Commissioner’s Court, which had approved a resolution in June opposing the company’s plan, voted 3-1 on Tuesday to rescind the resolution.
Commissioner Barry Burton abstained from voting because of a possible conflict of interest.
“I was the no vote,” said Commissioner Jody Crump. “There have been multiple people contacting me, literally on a daily basis, expressing their concerns about the potential damage to the marsh,” he said. Crump called the response from constituents “highly unusual,” and estimated that of the 60 to 70 calls and emails he received about the barges, only two supported the deal.
The Commissioner’s Court had no authority to approve or deny Savage’s lease application. Crump said the court got involved before Savage purchased the company, when barges were being parked illegally in the oxbow last spring.
Citizens for the Preservation of Bessie Heights, an opposition group represented by Houston attorney Brandon Barchus, raised concerns about keeping chemical-laden barges in the oxbow. The oxbow is near the entrance to the Bessie Heights Marsh, a popular fishing and hunting area.
Opponents have argued the barges damage the nearby riverbanks as well. According to their lease application, Savage is required to keep all barges 30 feet from the shore.
The company already had leases with the owners of the shoreline property. Those owners supported the operation because they say it increases regulation and protects their land.
The water in the Bessie Heights area and the river is public, requiring the submerged land lease from the GLO as well as the private leases.