Reaves: New county airboat will help in future flood events

Pct. 3 Commissioner James "Boo" Reaves and administrative assistant Ronda Poling stand beside a new airboat they helped Liberty County obtain through a ReBuild Texas grant.

Liberty County has a new airboat to add to its disaster response, and given the number of floods seen in Liberty County in recent years, it should get a lot of use.

The 20-foot-long, 550 HP engine, eight-passenger airboat was purchased for the county through a grant obtained by Pct. 3 Commissioner James “Boo” Reaves and his administrative assistant Ronda Poling. The ReBuild Texas grant that paid for the $77,000 airboat was a privatized grant administered through the Department of Agriculture.

The cost to the county was less than $3,000, which Reaves said was to make the boat slightly bigger so it can handle more evacuees in the event of a repeat of a storm like Hurricane Harvey, which dropped record rains in some parts of the county.

The airboat, manufactured by American Airboats in Orange, Texas, comes fully equipped except for life jackets, which Reaves is planning to pick up in the coming days.

“This boat is designed for the type of conditions we sometimes have in Liberty County. It will run in the water or through grass,” Reaves said.

Unlike high-profile vehicles that are often used in high-water rescues, the airboat will allow for access in areas that a vehicle cannot reach.

“You can get in more places with a boat than a vehicle. If you try to go in by vehicle, it can only go through certain depths. It’s risky to turn around in trucks, too, because you have to worry about washed-out culverts or running off the roads,” Reaves said.

The commissioner credits his administrative assistant, Ronda Poling, for helping him with the application process for the grant.

“The grant people sent out a notice about the funding. Every commissioner was asked if they wanted to file for the grant and the notices were spread to six different counties that needed disaster relief,” Reaves said. “I said, ‘Let’s put in for an airboat.’ I found out what they cost and we turned in the grant application. It went through the process and eliminations. Then one day they called me and said we had won the grant.”

While the airboat will be housed in one of the Pct. 3 barns, it will be available to the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office and other precinct commissioners should the need arise.

“I am going to have a Pct. 3 employee certified to operate the airboat. The sheriff’s office will also have a person certified, so we should have at least two people at all times certified to operate the airboat,” Reaves said.

The commissioner said the boat would have been helpful during 2017’s Hurricane Harvey, which forced hundreds of evacuations, many as the water was rising into their homes.

“We were running steady all over the whole precinct during Harvey to evacuate people. The older part of Plum Grove was hit bad. People couldn’t get out either way. There was an eight-mile stretch of water that was preventing people from getting out,” Reaves said. “This airboat will help the citizens of Liberty County. If we have another bad disaster like Harvey, we will be ready.”


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