Torch Classic Volunteers from across North America win special recognition

From Planet BP: Torch Classic project garners Houston award. Work by BP volunteers to transform raw land into a sea of green at Texas City’s western gateway has garnered recognition from the city’s large neighbor to the north.

Some of those volunteers were on hand when the city of Texas City received special recognition from the Keep Houston Beautiful campaign and the 2009 Mayor’s Proud Partners competition at an awards luncheon on Nov. 16 at the Houston Post Oak Hilton Hotel.

The beautification work was done on June 24 by 160 Torch Classic volunteers who planted 4,000 hardy grasses around the city’s distinctive metal Western sculptures of longhorn and a windmill in a large area between FM 1764 and Interstate Highway 45.

BP Texas City hosted the 25th annual Torch Classic, a four-day volunteer and athletic event with teams from BP facilities across North America. The landscaping project is among a long list of remarkable projects completed by Torch Classic volunteers, who leave a positive and lasting impact on host communities.

Today, the area that BP volunteers lovingly nicknamed “Longhorn Park” comes alive as a showpiece for the Texas City community. Southeast Texas winds and sunlight tease the specially selected grasses until they mimic shimmering waves.

John Amato, refinery Process Safety Management (PSM) coordinator for the Utilities group and president of the volunteers, explained how the successful public-private partnership came about.

“We asked for a project that the city really needed,” said Amato. “When we first met with Texas City Mayor Matt Doyle to see how we could help, he asked us to paint and rebuild some city park fences. We told him we wanted something bigger, and he came through with the beautification of FM 1764, which had been indefinitely postponed by a blowhard named Ike.”

Designed with feasibility and safety in mind, the summertime project included an onsite barbeque, shade-giving tents and plenty of ice-cold water.  Enthusiasm and sheer numbers reduced what would have been an 8-hour job to just 3.

Tina Lyons, PSM technical specialist for Texas City Chemicals (TCC) and event coordinator for the Torch Classic, said, “Sixty engineering interns from Westlake added to our ranks. We had engineers, operators, machinists, management, plant managers, lots of admins, maintenance folks, and some spouses and kids. What we accomplished was amazing.”

The sea of orange t-shirts became celebrities when they were spotted by a passing news crew from KPRC Channel 2. The sight was irresistible and became a featured story on that night’s newscast.

After the volunteers finished their work, landscaping professionals came in to add agave and groupings of crepe myrtles as well as other plants that required expert attention.

The project’s effect is just what the mayor of Texas City desired for the community—a showcase entrance to the city.

Amato said, “I live here in Texas City and I love when people tell me how beautiful it is driving in. And I’m proud that BP volunteers could give back to this community by doing the lion’s share of work and saving Texas City taxpayers a bunch of money.”

Lyons added, “I never get tired of seeing the results of what we did. It seems like the colors change every day when I drive by.”

Seventeen Proud Partner awards were given along with 15 certificates of recognition. This marks the first year in the organization’s 25-year history that awards were presented—four in all—to gateway communities outside the Houston city limits.

Texas City was nominated for FM 1764 by HLS Enterprises, the landscaping company that designed and contributed to the planting of the project.

All nominations are judged by the same criteria—numbers of volunteers, positive visual impact and a sustainability plan. Also, judges give higher marks when corporate involvement is present.