Victoria County Commissioners

The Victoria County Commissioners Court

Victoria County Commissioners Court voted Monday to establish a 700-acre area at the Port of Victoria as a reinvestment zone, allowing for possible future tax abatements in the area, despite concerns raised by several residents.

“This reinvestment zone is a designation with the state that enables a future tax abatement to be granted within that zone,” said County Judge Ben Zeller.

Officials have been considering whether to allow Zinc Resources to build a steel byproduct processing facility in the area. The proposal has drawn opposition from a number of residents who are concerned about the plant’s potential environmental and health impacts.

Before voting on the designation, commissioners held a public hearing during which a half dozen residents expressed concerns about the facility and argued against awarding it any tax abatement.

“Global warming is real. Climate change is real,” said Sister Elizabeth Riebschlaeger, a Sister of Charity of the Incarnate Word of San Antonio. “Your flooding problems are directly related to emissions from plants like this. It’s that simple,” she said, referencing earlier comments made by commissioners about the vast amount of flooding and damage seen during the unusual amount of rain this past month.

Other residents expressed concerns about the health impacts of the plant and the effect pollutants from the facility could have on local rivers and aquatic life.

Eileen Stewart, a Realtor, said she was concerned pollutants from the plant could make the area less desirable to live in, threatening her livelihood.

“And on top of that, we’re talking about giving them a tax abatement and basically paying them to come in and poison us,” said Stewart. “I’m extraordinarily concerned as a citizen.”

While the designation of a reinvestment zone would not automatically grant Zinc Resources a tax abatement, it is the first necessary step to grant them or any other future business one.

“The court has adopted and re-adopted over the years guidelines and criteria that we apply to any potential abatement that we get,” said Zeller. “Historically, at least in the seven years I’ve been here, in each instance where an industry or business has met the criteria in our guidelines, the court has granted that abatement.”

“I think it’s time that we need to start considering environmental impacts because they’re directly related to cost impacts. They’re directly related to public health impacts,” said Riebschlaeger.

She also pushed for the commissioners to call a public meeting, where citizens can bring their questions and concerns. “I think it’s your civic duty to call for a public hearing,” she said.

Despite some residents opposing the designation, commissioners unanimously voted to designate the 700-acre tract as a reinvestment zone.

“I think the two issues are being paired unfairly,” said Commissioner Clint Ives. “Reinvestment zones don’t go specifically with specific projects. A reinvestment zone opens up acreage for incentive opportunities later down the road.”

He added that there are other areas of the port that have been designated as a reinvestment zone before.

“So this isn’t anything new for the Commissioners Court to entertain. It certainly doesn’t guarantee a tax abatement or an incentive package to be offered.”

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Cat writes about Victoria's city and county government. Questions, tips, or ideas? Let me know cdelaura@vicad.com or (361) 580-6511

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Cat DeLaura is the local government reporter at the Victoria Advocate. She was born in Texas, but grew up in Virginia. She came back to Texas to get her masters in Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin.

(2) comments

Grace Butler

In the exact same way that citizen concerns about how Harvey money was spent are being ignored, so too are our concerns now.

Yet somehow we keep electing these same people.

Terri Low

Based on this article, it sounds like citizens asking for a public hearing and that going on deaf ears. A public hearing at a time of day when most people aren’t at work would likely allow more people to voice concerns and have those concerns addressed.

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