Daily Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas
Wednesday, April 7, 2004
I-20 reopening set; Toyah awaits flood relief aid
Officials from the Texas Department of Transportation say they expect to reopen a westbound bridge over Interstate 20 at Salt Draw to traffic early next week, after an inspection on Tuesday found that the structure was sound.
Meanwhile, Reeves County Emergency Management Coordinator Ricky Herrera said he has filed papers with the state seeking a disaster declaration for Reeves County, as the result of weekend rains that washed out a levee west of Toyah, flooding the city early Sunday morning before collapsing an 80-foot section of the eastbound I-20 bridge Sunday evening.
Reeves County Emergency Management Coordinator Ricky Herrera said he sent papers this morning to Austin to have parts of the county declared a disaster area by the state, including a proclamation from Toyah Mayor Pro-Tem Diana Tollett, and a summary of the damages in the Toyah area.
“I faxed it to the Department of Emergency Management office this morning, and I’ve been in contact with Jack Colley, the state coordinator for the governor,” Herrera said.
Gov. Rick Perry will have to make any disaster declaration, which would qualify the county for emergency relief funds. However, Herrera said as of this morning they still didn’t have an exact amount on the damage to homes in Toyah from Sunday morning’s flood.
“I just put on there ‘unknown’ pending some people coming down from the Department of Emergency Management disaster recovery division,” Herrera said. “When they have a disaster like this, they just want a preliminary assessment to start the process to declare a local state of disaster in Toyah.”
“I’m hoping to hear from them pretty soon,” he added. “We’ve been in contact with the DEM since Sunday, calling back and forth and making sure we have all the paperwork in order.”
Aside from being forced from their homes by the flooding, Toyah residents have faced a 35-mile detour through Verhalen for the past three days in order to get back to their homes from emergency shelters in Pecos. However, that long trip should end sometime next week when the I-20 bridge at Salt Draw is reopened.
The bridge, located 15 miles west of Pecos, provides the only direct link between the two towns. Union Pacific Railroad also shut down service between Pecos and Toyah on Sunday, but that was due to a washed out track bed. The UP’s bridge at Salt Draw was found to be stable, and service resumed late Monday afternoon following work by railroad crews to replace 6,000 tons of rock washed out by Sunday’s flood.
A third inspection of the westbound Salt Draw bridge on I-20 determined that the span was stable enough to handle traffic, said Mike Cox, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation.
Cox said the bridge would first open to westbound traffic by early next week, and then that eastbound traffic would be diverted to the bridge once concrete barriers were set up.
Cox added that the recent collapse had not altered the TX-DOT inspection schedule that it has for all 40,000 bridges in Texas.
“We have a regular inspection schedule for every bridge. Inspection crews are at work as we speak,” he said. “This bridge in particular scored a 5-6 on a 9 point scale, with nine being top of the scale and three or lower indicating structural deficiency. The most recent inspection certainly shows that the bridge was safe.”
Traffic currently is being detoured along Interstate 10 in southern Reeves County, and along State Highway 17 from Saragosa to Pecos. The detour adds about an extra 12 miles to the trip between Pecos and the Interstate 10/Interstate 20 junction in far western Reeves County.
Heavy rains had forced TxDOT crews to shut State Highway 17 for a time on Sunday, forcing traffic to make a 90-mile detour along U.S. 285 from Pecos to I-10 in Fort Stockton. During that time, a four-vehicle accident at 4:30 a.m. Monday 17 miles south of Pecos left five people dead.
Killed were tractor-trailer driver Melinda O'Brien, 43, of Spring and passengers Marielena Martinez Garcia, Ermilio Maya Lujan and Marco Antonio Camacho. All three were from Mexico, said DPS Trooper Richard Crum.
Pickup driver Paul Wesley "Wes" Wilkins, 26, of Kermit also died at the scene.
I-20 detour, repairs cause changes in county
By BRENDEN BRIGGS
Sunday’s collapse of the Salt Draw bridge on Interstate 20 has altered the normal flow of life for many Reeves County residents.
The rerouting of traffic has isolated Toyah, while at the same time has turned a normally quiet road into a busy thoroughfare for Saragosa residents.
Floodwaters in Salt Draw caused by heavy weekend rains caused the eastbound lanes of I-20 to collapse into the turbulent waters about 7:20 p.m. on Sunday. No one was injured in the collapse, but Texas Department of Transportation crews also shut down the westbound lanes of the Interstate over fears that bridge would also fall into the draw.
Traffic is currently being rerouted at the I-10/1-20 junction in western Reeves County through the Balmorhea area, and from there up Highway 17, towards Pecos.
In Saragossa, residents show concern over the vast increase in traffic, especially semi truck traffic that they have seen over the past two days.
The speed limit on State Highway 17 is 70 mph most of the way, but reduces to 65 mph on a sharp curve just north of Saragosa and to 55 mph through the small town, which was the site 17 years ago of the county’s worst disaster, when 30 people were killed by a tornado in May of 1987.
United States Postal Service worker in Saragosa, Rosario Lopez, said that the increase in traffic has left many residents worried over their safety, due in large part to the trucks that she said travel very fast and typically fail to reduce their speed through town.
“Yesterday my sister called me to tell me that four trucks were traveling south carrying sections of double wide mobile homes and going very fast. I looked outside, and they didn’t slow down for the curve on the north side of town, and kept on going through town very fast. I was worried,” Lopez said. “The school children are dropped off on this side of the street, and their parents pick them up and drive them across if they live on the east side, but there is still the danger of pulling out onto 17.”
Highway 17 was opened as the detour route for Interstate 20 traffic on Monday, after it also was closed for a while due to flooding fears on Sunday. U.S. 285 between Pecos and Fort Stockton was used as the detour route overnight, and three tractor-trailer rigs and a pickup collided on the highway early Monday morning while one of the trucks attempted to pass on the two-lane highway. Five people were killed in that accident.
Texas Department of Public Safety Sgt. Richard Jacobs said extra crews would be on Highway 17 enforcing a “no tolerance” rule while the highway is being used as a detour route.
“We had trucks passing school buses this morning,” Jacobs said. Both Pecos-Barstow-Toyah and Balmorhea ISD buses pick up and drop off children along the detour route.
The issue of extra traffic changes a few miles down the road where business at the I-10 Fina Truck Stop, where business has not let up since the bridge collapsed.
I-10 Fina employee Alma Fleenor said Tuesday that a steady steam of trucks has been through the station since Sunday.
“We have been very busy lately. We’ve sold more fuel, had more people stopping, and the restaurant has had a lot of customers,” Fleenor said. “We recently had an employee quit, so we have been short staffed on top of that.”
However, the situation for the residents of Toyah goes far beyond simple traffic woes or short-handedness. Naomi Machuca, waitress at Terry’s Grill and Saloon said residents are slowly trying to put their lives together in the aftermath of this disaster.
“Most of the town has around an inch or more of mud/water in their houses,” Machuca said. “Most people’s carpet is ruined, fences have been knocked down; it’s bad. We are just trying to get our lives back to normal.”
“My biggest concern is the busses that our children ride to school. My little girl already goes to school at 6. If they reroute the busses, she will have to get up even earlier. I just hate to see her on the bus for that long of a time.”
While local business have lost customers coming off Interstate 20 due to the detour, for now, others have picked up the slack until the highway reopens sometime next week.
Machuca said that the Texas Department of Transportation crews, Railroad workers and town residents had all come in for lunch around the same time. “We normally have around 10-15 customers for our normal lunch. Today we had 40,” she said.
“We were just damn lucky that no one got hurt, material goods can be replaced, but people can’t. We had a really good response from the local authorities that came out to help,” Machuca said.
“The Toyah Fire Department, Balmorhea Fire Department, Pecos Fire Department, Reeves County Sheriff’s Office, TX-DOT, drug task force members, even DPS and Reeves County workers all pitched in to help get people out of their homes when the waters were rising,” she said. “Jeff Lindsey brought his front end loader from Pecos and was rescuing people after the fire truck was washed off the road.”
Owner of Terry’s and mayor-elect of Toyah, Sandy Terry, added that not only the authorities had done a great job, but individual citizens had really pitched in as well. “Damon Compton, Wayne Tollett, Saul Machuca, Joe Falcon, and Dolores Machuca Jr. all jumped on that fire truck and helped in the rescue efforts. It was a real community effort,” Terry said. “The Red Cross is down here now and they are doing a great job as well.”
Council to discuss airport hangar
with weather modification group
The Town of Pecos City Council will meet Thursday at 7 a.m. to discuss issues involving the normal operations of the city.
Included in tomorrow’s agenda is an agreement with the Trans Pecos Weather Modification Association for the rental of the Big “S” Hanger at the municipal airport.
The TPWMA has been housed at the Big “S” Hanger since its inception in 2003.
In a communication sent to the council the TPWMA added that in that time, $11,500 has been spent improving the facility.
The purchase of a backhoe will also be considered tomorrow, in addition to items surrounding a proposal for the dog pound.
Among the items proposed for the dog pound are the construction of inside and outside dog runs, adequate heating and air conditioning for the animals, alter policy that forces animals to live on wet floors, change in authorization procedures, limit the number of animals per pen, enforce ordinances regarding animals within city limits, provide flea and tick control, advertise and promote pet adoption days, crack down on animal abuse, in addition to many other items. The proposal has been brought forward/submitted Ruth Lester and Tenie Crider according to the communication included with the council’s agenda.
The council is also set to consider a proposal from Carlos Colinas Vargas for grant writing for the city.
The refurbishment of water storage tanks has been an agenda item previously has been a subject at council meeting with engineers on the project indicating that multiple tanks in the municipal water system needed replacement or refurbishment.
County plans reorganization due to 2004 budget shortfall
By ROSIE FLORES
Reeves County is preparing to start an effort to reorganize its financial affairs due to a shortfall in revenue in the general fund.
“Unfortunately, in the first three months of the year, we have experienced a shortfall in revenue in the general fund,” said Reeves County Judge Jimmy B. Galindo.
The county has faced financial problems since last year, due to its difficulty in finding prisoners to fill the new $40 million Reeves County Detention Center III project. The county contracted with the state of Arizona last month to use the facility to ease its prison overcrowding, but Galindo said that as a result of the overall cash flow problems, the county is in a position that it must reorganize its financial affairs in order to complete its fiscal year.
“The most important aspect is to try to reduce costs without severely impacting the services of the county,” said Galindo.
“We are still going through the analysis of the transition and the reorganization of the county,” he said.
Galindo said that because of this they were unable to release all the details.
“This reorganization effort will be presented during the regular commissioners court meeting scheduled for Monday,” said Galindo.
The changes reportedly will involve the reduction of jobs in some county-funded departments and reassignment of personnel.
However, Galindo said that no county employees would be without a job and more details would be available during the meeting.
Administrator hunt, turf contract on P-B-T agenda
Pecos-Barstow-Toyah school board members will discuss their search for a replacement for P-B-T superintendent Don Love, and a replacement for Pecos High School principal Danny Rodriguez, along with the possible rebidding of contracts for the installation of artificial turf at Eagle Stadium during their regular monthly meeting on Thursday
The group will meet at 6 p.m., Thursday, in the Technology Center, 1301 S. Eddy and the public is invited to attend the open session of the meeting.
Love and Rodriguez have both announced their plans to retire at the end of the school year. As a result, the board will discuss their current superintendent search with the Texas Association of School Boards consultant and will discuss a timetable for hiring high school principal;
The group will also consider and take possible action on rejecting all competitive sealed proposals for football stadium synthetic turf and track renovations and the rebidding of the purchase of football stadium synthetic turf and track renovations project with method of procurement being competitive sealed proposals.
Board members last month awarded the artificial turf installation and track renovation contract to Pro-Green, of Louisiana, the lowest bidder. P-B-T engineering consultant Monte Hunter said that the district had $490,000 budgeted for the turf and the competitive sealed proposal submitted by Pro-Green was for $499,950.
Other items on the agenda include an update on 2002-03 and 2003-04 SOF and 2004-05 projections.
Board members will discuss consider and take possible action on eliminating the enhanced program; on E-rate IP telephone for Pecos High School, Austin Elementary School, Crockett Middle School; requests to purchase foreclosed properties; summer school; 2003-04 budget amendments and the board will set a date to canvass election returns for the May 15, school trustee election.
They will also recognize Business Professionals of America students and review a letter from Teresa Winkles, 2004 Relay for Life Chairperson.
Board members will listen to a report on the TASB salary study; consider and take possible action on request by Windmill Square Players to use the Austin Elementary School Cafetorium and kitchen for melodrama and waive fees; request by the Women’s Division of the Chamber of Commerce for use of the Pecos High School auditorium for the Golden Girl Revue rehearsals and pageant and waive fees; consider and take possible action on Too Good for Drugs K-6 curriculum; listen to a report on the Internal Revenue Service compliance visit April 15 and consider and take possible action on complaint by Rafael Hernandez relating to delinquent property taxes.
The group will meet behind closed doors in closed session as authorized by the Texas Open Meetings Act, Texas Government Code, Section 551.101 et. Seq., Section 551.074: a. To deliberate the appointment, employment, evaluation, reassignment, duties, discipline of a public officer or employee; b. To hear complaint or charge against an officer or employee and consultation with attorney pursuant to Texas Government Code Section 551.071.
The board will reconvene in open session and take action, if any, on items discussed in closed session.
Regular agenda items: tax report, cafeteria report and commodities received, depository securities report, current bills and financial report, investment transaction report, reconciled bank balance and the Reeves County Community Recreation report.
Enterprise seeking appreciation section teacher participation
The Pecos Enterprise would like to remind all teachers that they need to sign the waiver currently at their respective schools if they would like to allow the public to show their appreciation for the work they do everyday.
The release needs to be signed by Friday, in order for each teacher to be able to be sponsored in the upcoming teacher appreciation section, which is scheduled to run in the Enterprise on Thursday, May 15.
High Tuesday 73. Low this morning 43. Forecast for tonight: Partly cloudy. Lows near 50. Southeast winds near 10 mph. Thursday: Partly cloudy with a 20 percent chance of thunderstorms. Highs near 80. Light and variable winds becoming south 10 to 15 mph in the afternoon. Thursday night: Partly cloudy with a 20 percent chance of thunderstorms. Lows near 50. South winds 10 to 15 mph. Friday: Partly cloudy. Highs in the mid 80s. Southwest winds 10 to 15 mph. Friday night: Partly cloudy. Lows near 50. Saturday: Mostly cloudy with a 20 percent chance of rain. Highs near 70. Saturday night: Cloudy with a 20 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms. Lows near 40.
York M. "Smokey" Briggs, Publisher
Division of Buckner News Alliance, Inc.
324 S. Cedar St., Pecos, TX 79772
Phone 432-445-5475, FAX 432-445-4321
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Copyright 2003 by Pecos Enterprise