Orange County: Boat ramp no place for swimmers

A makeshift ladder built onto one of the bridge’s support posts allows swimmers to climb onto the unsafe structure from the water, but many also use the boat ramp as an exit point.

Orange County could soon see a change in swimming regulations near the boat ramp. At Orange County Commissioners Court on Monday, June 10, Texas Parks and Wildlife Warden Phillip LeDoux told commissioners he believes swimmers utilizing the area under the Cow Bayou Bridge at Highway 87 are causing a hazard to boaters and putting themselves in peril.

According to the agenda item, “The increase in swimming activity has led to reports of unsafe conditions for boaters and swimmers operating around the (public boat) ramp.”

Commissioners tabled the item and will have a public hearing at 1:30 p.m. Monday, June 17, before voting on the ordinance, which stipulates swimmers must stay 500 feet away from either side of the public boat ramp.

“We have received more and more reports of swimmers in the area and as a result there is a hazard to the boaters to being able to see the swimmers,” said Orange County Attorney Doug Manning, who had spoken with Warden LeDoux and Pct. 3 Commissioner John Banken in whose precinct the ramp is located. Manning stated the court had previously considered an ordinance regulating swimming around the boat ramp last year, and he had already drafted the ordinance in fall 2012. Manning said a lot of people jump off a nearby dilapidated bridge and have to get out of the water at the boat ramp because the banks are steep and cypress knees are an obstacle.

“I just want nobody to get hurt,” LeDoux asserted. LeDoux told commissioners that until a county ordinance is in effect, he can ask the swimmers to stop but is not able to enforce the request.

Orange County Sheriff Keith Merritt confirmed LeDoux’s comment, saying that once a county ordinance is enacted, anyone in violation could be ticketed.

Other matters discussed at the meeting included discussion and possible action of the acceptance of he 2013 Orange County Jail Inspection Report. According to the agenda, state law requires periodic inspections of county jail facilities.

“Last week we had our annual unannounced inspection of the jail as we do every year,” Sheriff Merritt told the court. “I am very pleased announce as I have been since I have been sheriff, the jail passed with more than flying colors, but basically zero deficiencies in the jail.”

Merritt went on to thank his staff for their commendable work at the facility, specifically mentioning Captain Donald Harmon, the jail administrator, and Lieutenant Kristi Williams.

“On behalf of the staff of the jail I would like to say thank you to the sheriff, and also thank you to the court for your support,” Captain Harmon said. “We are here to serve the citizens of Orange County. Thank you, very much.”

Commissioners accepted the report unanimously.