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MENTONE, 1995 - Hazardous waste disposal in Loving County is still up in
the air, following a Texas Water Commission pre-hearing conference in
Dwain Davis, president of Loving County Disposal, Inc., said he was
pleased with the conference, which he feels cleared up some questions
raised by those who oppose the treatment plant and injection wells.
Terry Hadley, public information officer for the TWC, said the primary
purpose of the meeting was to clear up confusion and set a schedule of
hearings. A second pre-hearing conference was set for March 11.
Requirements are more stringent than they were when the application was
originally filed with other investors, Hadley said. "Now that new
investors have applied, they are subject to new restrictions."
Davis began the application process in 1986. He said that he has
financial backing for the venture, and that $35 million in revenue bonds
that Loving County Industrial Development Board may issue is an
alternate financing method.
He said the hearing examiner established that the proposed 11,000-foot
injection wells are not in a fault zone, as claimed last week by Elgin
and Skeet Jones of Loving County and by legal counsel for Johnson Ranch
Partners, owners of property adjoining the proposed site.
"We have exntensive geologic studies done nearly two years before we
applied," Davis said. "There is no fault around there. The Environmental
Protection Agency utilized computer models and core samples, existing
wells and U.S. Geologic Survey to determine there is no known fault."
And the site will have no incinerators to emit smoke or other airborne
substances, Davis said. It is patterned after a plant in Rotterdam,
Holland where the environmental protection agency (TSD) is "a lot
stronger than we ever though about being," Davis said.
"It cost me $153,000 for permission to use these plans," he said.
Present at Monday's meeting for opposing parties were Roger Claxton,
attorney representing Johnson Ranch Partners; John Walton for Walton
Ranches and Cindy Smiley of AmeriTrust, representing the McGinley
properties in Loving County.
TWC staff, Texas Air Control Board staff and public interest counsel for
the governor's office were also present, Davis said.
The hearing examiner said the project had been neglected because the TWC
has placed other projects, such as the Hunter Salt Dome at Houston, on a
higher priority, Davis said. "They are working very hard to get this
done as fast as possible."
"It's about time," Davis said.
He also disputed claims that the site would not be monitored properly
once in operation. Monitoring is done by a third party approved by EPA
and TWC, he said. And he said no state or federal agency has applied to
use it for disposing of their wastes.
The plant is needed to enable industry to stay in business in this
region, he said. "It is definitely not for the state nor federal
Hadley said that much of the delay and confusion is due to differing
opinions of two staffs working on the application. The executive
director's office basic staff reviews the application, but since it is
contested, it has gone before the office of hearing examiners.
Ultimately the decision is up to the three TWC commissioners, he said.
Hearings could begin as early as June, probably in Austin and possibly
in Loving County.
Reynolds and two New Mexico couples joined local residents Randy
Reynolds and Tacy Ellis in presenting their plan for a goat dairy to the
board in a public hearing on three applications for low-interest loans.
Others seeking loans are D.K. Patel of Town and Country Motel and
Ernesto Carmenates, owner of Orpaya Farm & Produce Packing House Co.
Patel seeks financing to remodel his motel, adding 15 kitchenettes so he
can house migrant farm laborers during the summer. He would add two or
three employees, he said.
Carmenates seeks a loan to add 20 acres of bell peppers and build a
packing house for produce he has planted on a farm northwest of Pecos.
He said he has planted 45 acres of squash - three times as much as
originally planned - because the price is so high. He expects to sell
$30,000 worth of squash a week during harvest this summer.
He expects to employ 100 local people this year and train them in both
picking and classifying produce according to U.S.D.A. standards. "I hope
we can keep them busy six months every year," he said.
Carmenates said he would also encourage other farmers to plant
vegetables and he will help market them so they will get a better price
than with brokers.
C.B. Burkhalter, who rasies alfalfa south of Pecos, said he has been
helping Carmenates with his produce operation, and he thinks it will be
good for the community.
"He has a computer that gives a printout of all produce prices every
morning," he said.
Reynolds, speaking for Pecos River Livestock, said goat products have
seen a major increase in the last 12 years. "It is different from the
Several new plants have been established in New Mexico to process milk,
cheese and goat meat, he said. A meat processing plant at Fort Stockton
has shut down, but the company still sells meat to other processors, he
Alpine has the only goat dairy in the area, with 12 goats, and Redford
has a cheese processing plant in the works.
Pecos River Livestock plans to start with 200 goats and expand to 600,
Reynolds said. "Six hundred is a lot, but this climate is extremely
acceptable to goats. They need hot, dry weather.
All the milk produced can be sold just for babies and medical use, he
said. And the meat also brings a good price, from 48 to 69 cents per
Goats are natural replacers, with each nanny producing two kids per
year, he said. "In less than five years we we would live to have two
complete 600-goat dairies."
Land south of Pecos, bordered by dry salt lake beds, is excellent for
goats and is inexpensive, he said. Although taxes are higher here than
in New Mexico, the difference in the price of land makes it attractive,
he said. In Carlsbad, land is $2,000 per acre, and they have to lease
water rights, which are hard to come by with the shortage of water in
the Pecos River.
With 600 goats, the dairy would employ 12-16 people working 40-50 hours
per week, he said.
Ten corporate members will invest $5,000 each in cash, equipment or
goats to start the operation, and the loan would be used to build the
plant and buy equipment, Reynolds said.
One machine costing $4,000 will milk 40 goats in 20 minutes.
Natural emissions from the operation will easily meet EPA standards,
said Tacy Ellis. "I don't think there will be a problem with water
quality or waste. You are spreading waste on 20 acres."
Ellis said marketing will be no problem. She sells milk from three goats
at $3 per gallon to local customers.
"We think we can get $5 per gallon," Reynolds said.
James Wilkie of Carlsbad said the operation could be expanded later to
sell meat, creating additional jobs. "This thing just goes and goes," he
Ellis said the Fort Stockton meat packing operation, Lone Star Cabrito,
folded because they spent too much on packaging, which was 40 percent of
their cost. "We can ship all the meat we want to. If we can package it,
that's another avenue of employment and expanding."
Mayor Andrew Hernandez said the meat was popular when it was offered at
Furr's. "There's a big demand. It was just too high."
PIF President Dick Alligood appointed three committees to study the
applications and report back to the board May 25. A recommendation will
then be made to Reeves County Commissioners, who approve any loans from
the revolving loan fund.
The TNRCC acted upon the reccommendation of hearing examiner Linda
Sorrells, who ruled the proposal by Loving County Disposal, Inc., and
Dewayne Davis met state envoronmental rules.
Davis' plans was greeted with a mixed reaction among Loving County
residents and property owners when Davis first announced his plans in
the spring of 1990 to build a hazardous waste injection site about . Oil
companies and some landowers with oil leases complained in a Sept. 26,
1990, public hearing in Mentone that fracutres in the rock at the waste
disposal site could allow chemicals injected into the well to
contaminate the surrounding oil formations.
Another hearing was held in late 1990 and Davis said at the time he was
close to receiving his permit from the Texas Water Commission, but a
moratorium on any new hazardous waste permits was instituted by Gov. Ann
Richards, when she took office in January of 1991.
Davis had continued his efforts to receive a final permit since then,
and last year, hearings were held by Ms. Sorrells in mid-July, and on
Sept. 23, she issued a proposal for decision which reccommended Loving
County Disposal be granted a permit.
The request was brought before the TWC's successor, the TNRCC, and on
Oct. 27 it asked for additional hearing on the company's Waste Anaylsis
Plan, Tank Assessmants and Certification and Emergency Response Plan.
That hearing was held by Ms. Sorrells in Austin on Nov. 29.
Earlier in 1993, Loving County Commissioners formed an industrial board
to consider issuing revenue bonds to finance the plant. Bill Hopper,
Beverly Creager and Vernon Jones were named to the board.
They have not yet met, said Juanita Busby, Loving County Clerk.
She said Loving County should benefit from the plant once it is in
"If everything works out and it goes in, and we get the taxes, it is
going to be fantastic," she said.
The sludge should have been returned to New York, but had already been
applied to 20 acres of rangeland when Merco discovered it failed the
"They need to do a better job maintaining their sludge," said Reeves
County Judge Mike Harrison, who has fought its importation into Reeves
County."There shouldn't be any sludge out here in the first place."
Subsequent tests showed the sludge was safe and did not pollute MERCO's
ranch. But the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission decided to
levy the fine as a way of cracking down to prevent a repeat, said agency
spokesman Ed Clark.
``We said to the community there, `You do not have to worry about this
project.' So when a problem occurs, the actions of the (commission) are
going to be stringent,'' said Clark in a story circulated by the
MERCO spokeswoman Kelly Sarber said the company accepts responsibility
for the mishap and will ``do whatever is required'' by the commission.
MERCO has a six-year, $168 million contract to haul sludge from New York
City and apply in on the ranch. Some researchers say the material can
make arid rangeland more productive when used as a fertilizer.
But environmentalists have protested the project because they fear the
sludge will pollute the land and water with heavy metals and pathogens.
Bill Addington, head of Save Sierra Blanca, said the incident in
September indicates a lack of oversight.
``Instead of fining MERCO, the commission needs to impose more
safeguards,'' Addington said.
Lupe Garcia, Reeves County Precinct 1 commissioner, said the company's
own testing system does not work.
"That's exactly what will happen in the future because anytime they ship
anything back, it will cost them money. That's precisely what we have
been fighting against. The system is not ready tor sludge to come in
anywhere; especially where money is involved.
"They are going to look for loopholes and put it on the land," he said.
TNRCC's fine is a plus for Reeves County, he said.
"It at least has proven to TNRCC that the system is not foolproof, and
hopefully they will be more aware of that operation. Suppose it hadn't
been safe. They would be hard pressed to say that anything they put down
there is not safe. We have to many shadows and rocks to look under to
feel safe about it."
Garcia led opposition to sludge applications in Reeves County that
resulted in the commissioners court adopting ordinances regulating its
"I just hope this opens up questions for our side where we can be a
little more stringent in what we are trying to accomplish here," he said.
Mike Burkholder, a candidate for county judge, said he was not surprised
by the Merco fine. "All the testing they have paid for themselves," he
"I think it is fortunate that we have ordinances to protect the county
from having sludge imported into Reeves County," he said. "Contrary to
rumors being circulated, I am opposed to sludge and have been. If I am
elected, I will do everything lawful that I can to keep sludge from
being here from New York or any other questionable source."
HDR will first determine whether an extension from I-27 at Lubbock to
I-10 somewhere in West Texas is feasible, said Glen Larum, media
relations officer for TX-DOT's District 6 in Odessa.
If they determine that an interstate highway is feasible, they will
identify the corridor where it should be located, Larum said.
"If it is not feasible, the second phase is to determine what kinds of
upgrades are needed for the highway system already in place," he said.
"At this point it is a wide-open ballgame."
Cities that were left out of the proposed four-lane upgrade to the
"Texas Trunk System" would be included in the second-phase study, Larum
"One of the things that was the subject of negotiation was what the
scope of the study would be, and it took them a long time to determine
if it should include a feasibility of freeway and then what steps ought
to be recommended if the freeway is not feasible," he said.
Groups hoping to attract the freeway to their cities are working very
hard and "making a strong case that it is a feasible proposal," Larum
The I-27 group that Pecos is affiliated with will meet in Crane
Thursday, Mac McKinnon told the Pecos Chamber of Commerce board of
That group is pushing a route to Presidio through Odessa-Midland,
Monahans and Fort Stockton.
"There are some compelling cases being made by these groups that an
interstate would make an important contribution to the transportation
needs of the area in the future," Larum said.
An interstate highway could cost up to $700 million, while four land
divided highways would cost considerably less because they do not
require overpasses for controlled access.
Motran, the Midland-Odessa Transportation Alliance, is working with
other U.S. groups and Mexico to establish a trade corridor from
Topolobampo, Mex. through Chihuahua City, Presidio/Ojinaga, Fort
Stockton and Midland-Odessa to Dallas.
They will make a presentation to the I-35 Corridor Coalition board of
directors Friday in the administrative offices of the Dallas/Fort Worth
Motran met with the Transportation Task Force of the North Texas
Commission on January 20. Perryman and Salvador Avila, representing the
governor's office of the state of Chihuahu, Mex., presented the concept
of the trade corridor, dubbed «MDUL»"La Entrada al Pacifico"«MDNM».
They are seeking the commission's support in promoting and developing
the corridor, which would include four-lane highways, railroad upgrade
and communications systems.
West Texas Transportation Alliance will travel to the Texas Highway
Commission meeting in Austin March 30 to support the trade corridor. In
a meeting scheduled for 4 p.m. February 9 in Fort Stockton City Hall,
maps for the Austin meeting location will be distributed.
Nearly all of the trade with the state of Chihuahua now passes through
the border cities of El Paso and Juarez. The bridge and port facilities
at the crossings in El Paso-Juarez are already overloaded, thus
justifying the construction of the so-called Santa Teresa crossing 20
miles west of El Paso.
This crossing, when completed, along with a proposed north-south
interstate highway in southeast Arizona, will essentially direct all of
the trade with Chihuahua into Arizona and New Mexico, and will totally
bypass the state of Texas.
Enrique G. Terrazas, representing the governor of Chihuahua, said in a
letter to the North Texas task force that ties with Texas would benefit
"The human resources of the State of Chihuahua have the necessary
quality to facilitate the successful integration of the productive
chains of Chihuahua, Sinaloa and Texas so that everyone benefits,
contributing at the same time to achieve a balanced trade balance
between our economies," Terrazas said.
The Texas Department of Transportion, in cooperation with the Federal
Highway Administration, is hosting the meeting to discuss TxDOT's study
to identify possible freeway routes beginning at I-27 in Lubbock and
terminting at points along I-10 between Fort Stockton and Junction.
The study will also identify possible freeway routes located north of
I-40 to the Texas state line - from I-27 in Amarillo.
The open house session from 4 to 7 p.m. will include exhibits and maps
of the area. The study team will be available to discuss the project to
members of the public.
Comment forms will be provided at the open house as well as a private
area to provide comments to a court reporter, who will be transcribing
the comments for the engineering firm conducting the study.
The formal public meeting will begin at 7 p.m. A presentation will be
given by the study team, followed by a period of public comment.
Comments made at the formal public meeting will be limited to three
minutes each. There will be no response to comments from the public.
Citizens with questions for the project team are urged to attend the
open house prior to the public meeting.
Similar meetings will be held in Abilene Monday, in San Angelo
Wednesday, in Lubbock March 23 and in Amarillo March 27.
Written comments will also be accepted by mail up to 10 days following
the public meeting date. Written comments are limited to three pages and
can be sent to Marshall D. Huffman, District Engineer, Texas Department
of Transportation, 3901 E. Highway 80, Odessa TX 79761.
At 4:30 p.m., just after an interview with this reporter, Trujillo
received notice of his termination by Sheriff Arnulfo Gomez. When chief
deputy Fred Lujan delivered the letter and placed J.J. Garcia in charge
as interim warden, Trujillo turned over his keys and bummed a ride home
with Jesse Baeza.
Asked if he would return to the LEC if the U.S. Bureau of Prisons
carried out their threat to remove inmates unless he were re-instated,
Trujillo said "No, not unless it is removed from the sheriff's control."
Sheriff Gomez placed Trujillo in the warden position Oct. 1, 1993 and
had given him pretty much a free hand as administrator.
Trujillo said that LEC operations have improved since he took the helm,
and numerous deficiencies written up by the BOP have been corrected.
"There were several significant findings that needed to be addressed,
including segregation cells, sanitation, food services and medical," he
said. "Those are areas I concentrated on, with the help of the
commissioners who approved changes I made to better the facility.
"We did nothing but good ever since then. With their continued support,
there is no telling how far we can go," he said.
BOP still has some areas of concern, including life/fire safety, he
said. That entails installing smoke barriers and compartments.
"The commissioners have addressed that and are looking into taking care
of that right away," he said.
Completion of segregation cells is three months behind schedule, but
they should be completed by May 20, he said.
In the meantime, inmates who need to be segregated are taken to the Eden
Detention Center by the Transportation Department. They make one or two
trips a week, he said.
Construction of an all-metal recreation building is also behind
schedule, with completion set for mid-April. It will replace a
wood-and-metal building burned down last year by inmates.
Trujillo said that sanitation has improved tremedously. "We have
established housekeeping policies and follow it strictly, keeping
everything clean," he said.
And medical services are improving, with registered nurse Carolyn
Batteas and a med tech who was a doctor in Mexico on staff.
Ralph Hernandez Sr. is in charge of food service. His Army service as a
cook qualifies him for the position, Trujillo said.
One problem that Trujillo had been unable to solve was a vacancy in the
position of assistant warden. Adam Rodriguez has been serving as interim
assistant while Trujillo sought a qualified candidate.
"We have continusously advertised in big newspapers in Dallas, Fort
Worth, San Antonio, El Paso and four in Spanish, trying to attract
individuals," Trujillo said. "We have had individuals apply; I conduct
an oral interview and if I feel he is what I am looking for, I submit it
for BOP approval. They haven't been approved because they don't have
enough experience on corrections or don't have the required education."
But Trujillo had invited a 20-year BOP employee to look Pecos over and
consider the position. Dale Brewer, 57, who is retiring from FCI
Bastrop, brought his wife and children, and they were very pleased with
Pecos, he said.
"He is very interested in getting this position," he said. "I got along
well with him and his wife. They are very good people. All we talked was
corrections on the way back from the airport. He was very enjoyable and
easy to get along with. I could really work with him."
Brewer has experience in team mnagement, a concept Trujillo wanted to
use at the LEC. "It is a type of supervision where you have all the
staff working together to try and address problems of inmates in their
wing," he said.
He said he has not submitted Brewer's resume to the BOP for approval
because he has to first work out some concerns that Brewer has about
Trujillo said that he tried to make changes in the staff recommended by
the BOP after a recent investigation.
Those changes apparently triggered Gomez's actions in firing Trujillo, a
move he had already asked the BOP to approve.
Operations were not affected by dissension in the front office, Trujillo
Two employees leaving at the end of their shift said morale is low, but
it has not affected their jobs. Both said they have been with the LEC
since it opened in May, 1986 and have worked under numerous wardens.
"We don't feel our jobs are threatened by all this," said David Flores,
program manager. "We are not afraid the BOP will pull out inmates. I
have worked out here nine years, and we have always gotten along with
the BOP and feel confident everything will work its way to the best."
Operations are running smoothly, he said.
But he began the day with a meeting of department heads.
"I told them of the situation at hand, the termination of Trujillo, and
said we need to just keep going and everybody do their job," he said.
And he belives that they will, because what goes on in the front office
doesn't affect them.
"I will do the job and keep the facility going until we get a warden,"
he said. "All I want is my job back as personnel and training officer."
Garcia said that Trujillo had demoted him to shift lieutenant without
consulting him or reprimanding him for his alleged infraction.
"He suspended me for five days for insubordination and demoted me to
shift lieutenant," Garcia said.
Trujillo didn't sign the disciplinary writeup placed in his file, Garcia
"I asked the acting warden who it was, and he told me it was Trujillo.
Nothing was brought to my attention," he said.
The prison is full to overflowing this morning, with 574 inmates. Some
are sleeping on cots, he said.
County auditor Lynn Owens said that 574 inmates at $33.50 per day would
generate revenue of $596,000 per month.
The average census for January was 507, he said.
Under the contract with BOP, they can designate as few or as many
inmates here as they choose.
"We have no guarantee of a number of prisoners, so I assume they can
pull them out," Owens said.
Either the county or BOP can cancel the contract with 90-day notice, he
Jon Masters, general counsel for MERCO Joint Venture, said that contract
negotiations are underway with New Jersey for sludge disposal. However,
he said transportation costs may prohibit shipping it to their ranch at
"Money is getting tight," Masters said. "We are going to have to find a
land application closer to the generator."
MERCO is midway through a six-year, $168 million contract to dispose of
New York City sludge on the 128,000-acre ranch.
New York had plans to build eight disposal and treatment plants, but
have decided against building some composting facilities, Masters said.
"They are looking at different alternatives to long-term disposal in New
York to what they originally planned," he said. "It would appear that
New York City is going back to the street with requests for proposals
for long-term application. We anticipate we would be responding to that."
The Sierra Blanca ranch has thousands of acres still untouched by
sludge, and a Texas Tech University study has determined it would be
beneficial to the land if a second application is made on the rangeland,
Tech is in its third year of evaluation on the Sierra Blanca project.
"The scientific results are all very positive," Masters said. "We have a
whole lot more land than we have fertilizer to fertilize it. But is it
economical to transport it from the east coast?"
MERCO is interested in getting Texas sludge, Masters said.
"We are persuing potential Texas generators. We have to evaluate their
product (before contracting)," he said.
The Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission has approved MERCO's
registration for New York City sludge only. Any additional sources would
have to be approved by the commission, he said.
He sees no problem with getting approval.
"We have had only one episode that caused us a problem with TNRCC," he
said. "They seem to feel like we are probably a good project."
MERCO paid a fine about 1½ years ago for applying sludge that failed to
meet TNRCC requirements.
"Beyond that, we have a decent relationship," Masters said. "As long as
the sludge meets all standards, I can't see any reason why they would
Weldon Reed of Amarillo, who proposed applying sludge to Reeves County
farmland, said he is still in contact with municipalities in Texas with
an eye to obtaining sludge.
"If we do anything, it will be with them," he said.
Texas cities are building treatment plants and have clean sludge for
disposal, he said. He expects eastern states to begin applying their own
sludge for beneficial use instead of shipping it to Texas.
"Those states back there are really on the ball," he said.
Jaroy Moore, superintendent of the Texas A&M Research Station, said he
never got a reply to his proposal to the TNRCC for a grant to apply
sludge on cotton farmland at the station for research purposes.
"I have no plans to do anything else," he said.
Pecos residents were among thousands who felt a tremor shortly after
7:30 p.m. Thursday when an earthquake centered 20 miles east-southeast
of Alpine sent shock waves across Texas and New Mexico.
Some ran outside and conferred with neighbors about the strange
sensations of furniture moving, hanging plants swaying and knick-knacks
on the shelves tinkling - a phenomenon new to many in this area.
"We could really feel it," said Pat Tarin, who was sitting in the livng
room with her husband, Jesse.
"My chair started shaking like a wave, back and forth, she said. "I
asked Jesse what it was, and he said it was an earthquake. We have a
little shelf with knick-knacks, and they started tinkling."
Steve Balog thought his joke-playing friends were shaking the travel
trailer where he and his wife Helen had just finished dinner.
"Helen was washing the dishes when it started rocking," he said. "She
turned around and asked what was going on. I said, `Oh, that's Jim
Breese shaking the trailer.'"
But neighbors at TraPark began piling out of their shaking trailers and
vehicles, looking to see what was happening.
Billy Johnson said he, too, was washing dishes when he heard a rumble
and thought it was a passing vehicle.
"I'm used to those big earthquakes in California," he said. His poodle,
who usually wakes up during an earthquake, slept peacefully through it,
Frank Perea said he was working in the control room at the Mobil gas
processing plant at Coyanosa when the chairs started shaking and desks
moved up and down.
"We ran like crazy out of the control room," he said. "I thought maybe a
gas line was fixing to rupture under the control room."
He said an operator in Monahans called to report the tremblor, and he
then checked with the sheriff's office in Fort Stockton.
"They said they had a lot of calls from Ozona and Sanderson," he said.
"It felt pretty bad on us. I called my son in Pecos, and he was outside
playing ball and didn't feel it."
Several persons who were outside reported feeling nothing unusual.
Starkey Warren said he was riding a horse, "and that's pretty shaky
Annie Cook, San Angelo Standard-Times carrier, quickly got on the phone
to check out the shaking. After talking with neighbors, she called
KMID-TV in Midland and they confirmed it was an earthquake.
A reporter at the Standard-Times said they had received hundreds of
calls, as did the Department of Public Safety and other law enforcement
Pecos Police and the Reeves County Sheriff's Department said this
morning they had no reports of damage.
Larry Levario, maintenance foreman for the Texas Department of Highways,
said he and his men were still checking highways and bridges this
morning as a precaution.
"Structures are built to withstand contraction and expansion," he said.
"This wasn't enough to cause damage."
He said no damage was found at a bridge near Ramones Grocery on Texas
Highway 17, where someone reported Thursday night damage had occurred.
Department of Public Safety Sergeant Tracy Murphree and troopers were in
the Alpine area last night and today checking for possible damage. None
had been reported by mid-morning, said a dispatcher in the Pecos office.
Minor cracks in walls were reported to the Jeff Davis Sheriff's Office,
said a spokesman this morning.
Dave Rohr, chairman of the geology department at Sul Ross State
University, said geologic maps show several faults in the area of the
One fault runs along the front of the Del Norte mountains south of
Alpine, and he speculated that was the best possible cause.
That fault is close to the Cathedral Mountain, where the quake shook
loose a portion of its top.
"That's unusual for it to topple a mountain," he said.
The tremblor was strong but lasted less than five seconds, he said. "It
seemed to have affected some areas more than others. A supermarket
located in a flat area had products shaken off the shelves, he said.
Rohr said the quake made a loud noise like a sonic boom, "but it didn't
Although he has long studied earthquakes and teaches his geology
students about them, this is the first he has experienced.
"It should help the enthusiasm of the students for a week or two," he
C.W. Thompson, a Border Patrol agent who lives in Alpine, said he was
enroute home from Midland and didn't know about the quake until he
stopped in Monahans about 9:30 p.m.
"I was expecting to find my fence knocked down and everything broken,"
he said. "All I found was a few things rattled to the edge of shelves. I
was almost disappointed.
"This will give people something to talk about for years," he said.
The latest shock was centered 25 miles east-southeast of Alpine, Texas,
and occurred at 9:33 a.m. CDT. The aftershock, which Survey spokeswoman
Pat Jorgenson termed as ``strong,'' caused no damage or injuries and was
Jorgenson said aftershocks are natural and unpredictable.
``It's hard to say with this type of earthquake,'' she said. ``Shocks
can go on for days, weeks or months. They should decrease, as we expect
them to, but who knows?''
Sul Ross State geologists told The Odessa American that a thrust fault
under the Del Norte Mountains east of Alpine shifted, causing the
The two Sul Ross State University geologists, geology department
chairman David Rohr and assistant professor Kevin Urbanczyk, plotted the
quake's origin by drawing an arc on a map 20 miles east-southeast from
Alpine and checking intersecting fault lines.
Geophysicists at the U.S. Geological Survey's National Earthquake
Information Center in Golden, Colo., placed the quake's epicenter 20
miles east-southeast of Alpine.
Students in Urbanczyk's introductory geology class on the Alpine campus
wanted to know if an earthquake would happen again.
``I told them yes, but probably not too soon,'' he told The Odessa
American for its Saturday editions. ``Judging from the way Santa Elena
Canyon (in the Big Bend) seems to move, it may be 200 years. There is no
way to be able to (predict) it.''
According to Urbanczyk, the main quake occurred at 7:33 p.m. Thursday
and lasted about 12 seconds; then was followed by a 7:34 p.m.
aftershock. Other aftershocks followed at 9:19 p.m. Thursday, and at 3
a.m. and 5:02 a.m. Friday. The 9:19 p.m. aftershock was the strongest,
with a magnitude of 3.3, according to the center's reports.
Only minor damage and a few minor injuries were reported.
The fault near the Del Nortes is a Laramide age fault caused by the
thrust pushing the mountains upward, Urbanczyk said.
They excluded the fault line that caused the Valentine quake in 1931,
because that fault line crosses a highway ``and probably would have cut
the highway in half,'' Rohr said.
``If it had done that, we would have heard about it.''
``This one was a lot, lot milder than the one in '31, and it didn't last
as long,'' said Johnny Sotello, who was 13 during the earlier quake.
``I don't know how to describe the sensation,'' Sotello recalled of the
``I was knocked off my bed. I remember it was about 7 a.m. in the
morning, and the dogs were barking, the roosters crowing, the chickens
were clucking, the cows mooing. And after it was over, the atmosphere
looked real sad, there was dust and you had trouble breathing,'' he told
the Houston Chronicle for its Saturday editions.
Faults in the Trans-Pecos area more closely resemble quake faults in
Nevada than the more famous San Andreas fault in California, Rohr said.
Earthquakes along the San Andreas fault are caused by stresses built up
along the edges of two tectonic plates, but the Nevada and Del Norte
faults occur between basins and ranges on the same plate, Urbanczyk
``The whole of western North America is being pulled and extended,'' he
said. While the Trans-Pecos area is on the eastern edge of this
extension, it's not in the most active spot, he said.
``The very fact that the Del Nortes are there is proof in the first
place that this has been happening over time, just not in recorded
time,'' Urbanczyk said.
State emergency management agency officials and Red Cross personnel are
helping assess the damage, and property owners were asked to call city
hall with their estimates, Sohl said.
Much of the damage occurred Saturday morning with an aftershock
registering 4.0 on the Richter scale hit the already-shaken town of
5,700 residents and a state university.
Sohl said that mountains between the city and the quake's epicenter 20
miles east-southeast of Alpine probably dampened the effect of the
initial quake, which registered 5.6 on the Richter scale.
"It was only 4.5 to 5 when it actually hit the city," he said. "We have
some houses that have pretty good damage and others right close weren't
damaged to amount to anything except to knock dishes off the shelves."
The Methodist Church appears to have the worst damage, with substantial
cracks, he said.
"I am most concerned about some elderly people living in adobe houses on
the south side of town. I am going to go there later today and do my own
assessment," said the mayor, who is a civil engineer.
Although the city has offered safe housing for residents who are afraid
to stay in their damaged homes, Sohl said that none have come forward.
"Early on they said 20 families were evacuated, but I haven't been able
to substantiate that," he said. "The Red Cross didn't know anything
aboout it. I think it just scared them and they ran to one of the
neighbors for a hug; glad they were still alive."
Shaken water lines had some rusty water the first few days, but that has
cleared up, Sohl said. "The infrastructure didn't suffer any damage we
are aware of. A state man is checking our wells, which are all working.
We got out pretty lucky."
In addition to state officials, Sohl has been in touch with both
senators Phil Gramm and Kay Bailey Hutchison about possible federal aid.
"I just had a call from Gramm's office," Sohl said this morning. "He
said we don't have many quakes in Texas. We are pretty well alerted to
Sohl was one of those who thought at first he was having a heart attack
when the Thursday quake hit. "I took two shots of Crown Royal and was
back in shape," he said.
He and his wife were in the house when the shaking started, and they
thought the boiler was about to blow up. "I told my wife to get out,
then I saw waves on the swimming pool and knew it was an earthquake. By
the time we got the door, the shaking had stopped except for us," he
Alpine people are very resilient, he said, "so I don't think we will
have any problems.
Saturday's aftershock was the 13th and the strongest. It occured 25
miles east-southeast of Alpine at 9:33 a.m. CDT, said Pat Jorgenson of
the U.S. Geological Survey in Golden, Colo.
"Shocks can go on for days, weeks or months," she said. "They should
decrease, as we expect them to, but who knows?"
Jo Schweikhard Moss of the state emergency management public relations
staff said state teams are in the Alpine area looking at roads and
bridges, working with the Department of Public Safety and local
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