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Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Lunchtime event for Bonilla set at courthouse

From Staff and Wire Reports

U.S. Congressman Henry Bonilla will be in Pecos on Tuesday, for a lunchtime gathering at the Reeves County Courthouse, as part of a thank you by the county to the congressman, who is seeking an eighth term in office in what this year could be a two-stage election.

Bonilla will be at the courthouse for the noontime event following a morning stopover in Fort Stockton. The county is honoring Bonilla for his work in helping secure a long-term contract with the U.S. Bureau of Prisons for housing inmates in the three-year-old Reeves County Detention Center III addition.

The BOP, which had not signed a contract with the county for RCDC III in the past, agreed in June to house up to 1,400 inmates at the facility, which was originally built to house 960 inmates at a cost of $39 million. The federal agency’s 10-year $200 million agreement came as the county is working to sign new deals with the BOP for RCDC I and II, which house over 2,000 federal prisoners.

Bonilla’s trip comes as he’s involved in an election campaign against at least two Democrats, including a former South Texas congressman, and possibly others as the result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in June that a Republican-drawn redistricting map in 2003 created a 23rd Congressional District that was in violation of the Voting Rights Act. Bonilla, 52, represents Texas' sprawling 23rd district, which was at the epicenter of a legal fight over whether the voting power of Hispanics was diluted because of a pro-Republican Texas congressional map engineered in 2003 by former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

The Supreme Court ruled in June that the district, which stretches from San Antonio to the Texas-Mexico border and out to far West Texas, failed to protect minority voting rights.

On Aug. 4 a three-judge panel issued a new map, altering the lines of five districts, to restore Hispanic voting strength to the 23rd.

Under the new plan, a special election will be held on Nov. 7, the same day as the general election. Ballots in the five redrawn districts will include all candidates certified by the state, regardless of party. If no one gets more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two vote getters in each district will have a runoff.

Under the new map, Bonilla's district includes the heavily Hispanic and Democratic neighborhoods of south Bexar County, but that's also part of his hometown of San Antonio, where his mother still lives.

"It's clearly heavily Hispanic, but they haven't had an opportunity to vote for a Republican of Henry Bonilla's caliber," said Bonilla spokesman Phil Ricks.

Before the GOP-led Texas Legislature redrew the lines in 2003, Bonilla's support among Hispanics in his district was slipping. After a narrow win over Democrat Henry Cuellar in 2002, the lines were reconfigured, shifting some Hispanics in the border city of Laredo into a neighboring district to give Bonilla an edge over a Democratic candidate. He won re-election in 2004.

In the new 23rd District, 61 percent of the voting-age population is Hispanic, compared to 51 percent in the district where he was elected.

The change has led Ciro Rodriguez, 59, a former U.S. congressman who has lost to Cuellar in the past two District 28 primary races, to enter the election. He’s joined by Rick Bolanos, 57, who won the primary in March for the 23rd District nomination on the Democratic side, and have declared their candidacies, and others could emerge.

During a visit to Pecos in late June, Bolanos said any new election plan could lead Bonilla to face multiple opponents who could split the district’s Democratic vote. But he said last week he would "absolutely not" bow out.

"We've been fighting the good fight since November," said Bolanos. "Other Democrats are seizing the opportunity. Are they really passionate about their constituents, and if so, why didn't they enter the fray a long time ago?"

Ricks said he doesn't know of another Republican planning to run for Bonilla's seat.

Board considers options on PHS graduation date

Graduation for Pecos High School seniors in 2007 could be held on a Thursday instead of on Friday in order to keep it from being held in June, Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD board members were told during their regular meeting held this past Thursday evening. Board members also approved a rollback tax rate for 2007 that would be 13 cents lower than the current $1.50 rate, and went over budget “wish lists” during their meeting at the district’s boardroom.

Graduation has been held on a Friday for the past few years, but this coming year the last day of May will be a Thursday.

“This is just for discussion right now, but we will need to make a decision soon, since the students will be ordering invitations and gowns,” said Superintendent Manny Espino.

School is scheduled to run past Memorial Day again this year, and Espino said that he had had his secretary look up dates when the graduation ceremony was not held on a Friday. “I think it’s more convenient to have it on a Friday for individuals coming out of town, but then to some other people it doesn’t matter, that’s why we put this on the agenda as a discussion item,” he said.

Espino told the group to think about it and for them to discuss it again and come up with an appropriate day that everyone can be happy with.

Other graduation dates not held on Friday include: May 1993- Wednesday; May 1991- Thursday; May 1990-Tuesday; May 1989- Thursday; May 1987 -Thursday; May 1986- Thursday; May 1985- Tuesday; May 1981- Tuesday and May 1980 - Tuesday.

“I think it’s more convenient to have it on a Friday, family-wise,” said board member David Flores. “Friday is better for those coming out of town.”

June 1 is on Friday this year, but the reason officials are eying May 31 for graduation is that’s the last working day for all teachers and staff.

“Like I said, it’s not an issue right now, but we will need to make a decision soon,” said Espino.

In other action, board members received a copy of a “wish list” for the district as well as projects that have already been completed and those that have been budgeted.

“We need to prioritize and see what else we need to get done,” said Espino.

“That’s the reason for these handouts, so that you all can see what has been done and what some of the needs of the district are,” she finance director Cookie Canon.

Board members set the rollback tax rate at $1.37, which would be the rate that would trigger a rollback election.

“What we had last year was $1.50,” said tax assessor-collector Lydia Prieto.

“What this is doing is showing how much we have to tax to raise the same amount of money,” said Canon.

Under the state’s new school reform plan, districts that are at the $1.50 rate are expected to see those rates cut to around $1.35 per $100 in valuation for the upcoming year.

Prieto predicted that they would have a 95 percent collection rate.

School reviews TAKS strengths, weaknesses

Science was a problem for fifth grade elementary school students this past year, according to Accountability Ratings for Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD that were discussed by board members during, their regular meeting.

Juanita Davila, special programs/curriculum director for the district put together a presentation for the board and explained the Texas Education Association’s Accountability Ratings, which gave one of the district’s two elementary schools a “recognized” rating while the other received a rating of “unacceptable”, based on TAKS tests during the 2005-06 school year.

Austin Elementary was recognized while Bessie Haynes Elementary was rated academically unacceptable. Pecos High School and Crockett Junior High received ratings of academically acceptable; while Pecos Kindergarten and Lamar AEP Center were not rated. Superintendent Manny Espino said that there significant improvements everywhere.

“That’s what we look at, if it’s dropping anywhere,” he said.

“The writing scores for al the students at Bessie Haynes were excellent,” said Espino.

“The have some good writing scores and reading isn’t bad either, we’re about 60 percent to meet the standards,” he said.

“We’re making progress in all areas,” he said.

Espino said that the problem at Bessie Haynes was the science group, and Davila told the board this is the first year that fifth graders were tested in science.

“That’s the one that got us, the science,” she said. “Now we know which group to focus on.”

Davila took the group step by step in explaining the accountability rating, including which groups were tested, how many students were tested and the results of each group.

“We had five 100’s in the group that had 99 percent at Austin,” said Davila. “That’s excellent, we’re not to far off from the exemplary rating at that school.”

Davila said that there were improvements when you look at the scores from 2005 and the scores from 2006 in reading and writing.

“We’ll be working with these two groups that got Bessie Haynes an unacceptable rating,” said Davila.

Espino said that the administrators have been meeting every day and will continue to meet to come up with a solution.

“We’ll be monitoring those scores and focus on the students who are having trouble with the material,” said Espino. “If this student seems to grasp the material and this other one doesn’t, we’ll work with them diligently.”

Espino said that they will also be monitoring all the students on a week by week and six-weeks by six-weeks basis.

“We won’t wait until it’s time for testing, but will continue to work with the students,” he said.

Who is evaluated for TAKS?

Districts and campuses that test students on any TAKS subject: Reading/ELA - Reading is tested in grades 3-9; English language arts (ELA) is tested in grades 10th and 11th. Note that this is a combined indicator.

Writing - Writing is tested in grades fourth and seventh.

Social Studies - Social Studies is tested in grades eighth, 10th and 11th.

Mathematics - Mathematics is tested in grades three, four, five six, seven, eight, nine, 10 and 11. The first two administrations of grade five TAKS mathematics results are included.

Science - Science is tested in grades five, eight, 10 and 11.

(Performance on the grade eight science test will not be used for accountability purposes until 2008).

Center for Big Bend Studies helped area students GEAR UP for career

By Erin Caro, Editor, Center for Big Bend Studies

Project archaeologists William "Andy" Cloud and John Seebach recently joined other professionals during a career night presentation at Kokernot Lodge. Over 30 seventh grade students from Pecos and Balmorhea shuffled from table to table, where various professionals from a lawyer to an information-technology specialist discussed their careers. They answered questions about the education and moments of revelation that turned an early interest into a lifetime avocation. Another group from Fort Stockton, Imperial, and Sanderson came through the previous week for the same activity.

The students are part of Project ReACH (Realizing and Attaining Collegiate Heights), an enterprising program administered by Sul Ross State University. Funded through the federal GEAR UP initiative (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs), the program will receive $3.2 million in federal funding over the course of six years to assist 665 seventh grade students through their high school graduation. ReACH provides early college preparation and scholarships to participating students from low-income school districts.

The grant funds programming, tutoring, incentives, workshops, and on-campus activities, such as the career roundtable, to enable students to grow accustomed to a college environment. As an added incentive, Sul Ross will award $25,000 to participating ReACH graduates who enroll at the university in 2011.

GEAR UP and ReACH funds aid students from 14 West Texas school districts: Alpine, Balmorhea, Buena Vista, Fort Stockton, Grandfalls, Marathon, Marfa, Pecos, Presidio, Sanderson, Sierra Blanca, Terlingua, Valentine, and Van Horn (Culberson County).

Cloud and Seebach asked each group,"Do you know what an archaeologist does?" With few exceptions, most students thought that they dug up dinosaurs. The pair corrected this common misconception, explaining that they really study past human cultures through artifacts, deposits, and features.

They used the question as a springboard to discuss details of their often hands-on jobs and the importance of education for entering a field such as archaeology.

"First, you're a scientist," Seebach said. "You ask questions about the past, and then you do field work. Archaeology employs an arsenal of specially-trained scientists to do soil, plant, and radio-carbon analyses."

Both stressed that it was crucial in any career to have good mastery of language and communication skills.

"Even if you're a scientist, with the necessity of publishing your results, you can't neglect English, writing, and basic grammar," said Seebach.

After the introduction, interests turned to that which most interested the young students; how did Cloud and Seebach decide to become archaeologists? Each described seeing archaeological sites in Texas at a young age - about that of the students eagerly listening around the table - and how they were inspired to learn more.

"I was in Pecos, Texas when I decided I wanted to become an archaeologist. I was 11 years old. I climbed up in a rockshelter in the Guadalupe Mountains, and I was fascinated," Cloud said.

"I tried to relate my story, tried to connect with them, being from Pecos. We weren't necessarily trying to push them toward archaeology, we were just explaining what we did and the importance of education in realizing their dreams," said Cloud.

Before each talk concluded and a new group of students approached the table, the presenters gave their closing advice. Cloud concluded one group's session, saying, "You want to be happy in whatever it is you decide to do. You'll be more likely to be happy if your career interests you, which means you should pick something to study and do because it fascinates you. Don't be afraid to follow your dreams."

As the ReACH program assists these students for the next five years, the hope is that this message encourages their aspirations and makes their futures bright with possibility.

For more information, contact Erin Caro, (432) 837-8834.

Cause of Mentone geysers still unknown

Nobody would ever mistake Loving County for Yellowstone National Park. But for at least a couple of days, the nation’s least-populated county and its most famous national park shared a similar phenomenon - geysers of water shooting out of the ground. Local residents were greeted Thursday evening with a 60-foot plume of water spraying out of the ground across the street from the Loving County Courthouse in Mentone, a day after water first began coming out from that site and from another one 1.3 miles to the south.

The water display had begun the previous day, and stayed at its peak until late Friday night, when it began going down. Loving County Sheriff Billy Hopper said the flow disappeared about the time workers began capping the well mid-morning on Saturday.

Hopper and the Texas Railroad Commission suspect a breach of a natural gas formation into the area aquifer was to blame for the geysers, which began about 5 p.m. on Wednesday at the two locations, one of which died out on its own less than 24 hours later. The other had a diversionary wellhead placed on it by Railroad Commission personnel.

“We finally got it capped off Saturday morning,” he said. “We do have the well head open out the side, to get it away from the area, and we do have a little gas coming out.”

“The water started going down late Friday evening. About 3:30 in the morning is was about 30 to 40 feet, and by the next morning around 9:30 it had quit, just before we put a cap on it,” Hopper said.

In Midland, Railroad Commission hydrologist Bill Hartzoge said weather conditions held up capping the well on Friday.

“The well head was there Friday, but the lightning and storms prevented us from getting it seated,” he said.

On Thursday, Hopper said the incident began with the appearance of two geysers out of existing water wells, one on the Wheat Ranch south of town and the other a well behind a home owned by Elgin Jones, on State Highway 302 just east of the courthouse.

The well downtown had been inactive for about a decade before Wednesday’s eruption, while the one at the Wheat Ranch was in use for watering around the ranch house, Hopper said.

The flows on both geysers stopped early on Thursday, but the one behind Jones’ home resumed spraying water later that afternoon, while the geyser at the Wheat Ranch well did not continue.

“All the pressure is probably going to this one well now,” Hopper said on Thursday, adding that along with the water, “There are some pretty good rocks coming out of there.” “I haven’t seen an artesian well in this part of the county in 60 years. The last one I remember was two of them in Pecos when I was just a kid,” he said.

With only about 50 residents, Loving is both the state’s and the nation’s least populated county, with the unavailability of drinkable aquifer water being one of the main reasons for the lack of residents. Hopper said testing of the water coming out on Thursday showed it to be about the same chemical makeup as the water that normally comes out of area wells. “Just as a layman I suspect this is gas driven,” Hopper said. “The gas got into the formation. The problem is now to find it.”

Hopper said while the well is right in the main part of the town, the area around it is unoccupied.

“No one is in the houses nearby,” he said. “The trailer in back has someone living there, but they have another place they can go right now.”

One drilling rig is currently located just southwest of Mentone, but Hopper said he didn’t know if that was the cause of the geysers.

“There’s a drilling rig in the area, but normally they’re working too deep to hit this (aquifer),” he said. “The seismograph crews have come out where, and they may have opened up a well that’s been plugged for years.”

“That’s our assumption about what’s going on. It’s probably a deep gas plot that made its way to the surface,” Hartzoge said.

Water was running into street in front of the geyser and into the yard behind Jones’ home Thursday night. Hopper and deputy James Clark had the street closed off in case gas did begin to come out of the hole, and a hydrogen sulfide (H2S) monitor was in one of the sheriff’s department vehicles nearby, though Hopper said, “Hydrogen sulfide, from the depth of the well where this is, is not very prevalent.”

On Monday, Hopper said the gas coming from the well is just being allowed to go through the line diverting it away from downtown and into the air. However, he added, “If the gas comes up enough, we’ll flare it.”

Hartzoge said workers from Midland and Weatherford were at the site to determine what course of action to take, and that he was unaware Monday morning that any gas was coming from the well.

“The last I had heard it was completely closed,” he said, adding that they were still not sure of what caused the sudden underground pressure build-up. However, he added if gas was coming out of the well, Railroad Commission workers in Mentone would gather samples to test its composition.

“We have no idea what the source of the gas is. Everything we’ve tested so far has proved to have integrity. We have not been able to find any problems,” Hartzoge said. “All the well heads, everything we’ve check was sound as of 8 o’clock this morning (Monday). They have not found anything.”

Woman killed, six others hurt in Friday crash

A woman from Washington state was killed and six South Texas residents were injured Friday afternoon, in a one-vehicle rollover on U.S. 285 about 10 miles north of Pecos.

Nemicia De Juarez, 61, of Wapato, Wash., was pronounced dead at the scene by Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace Lamberto T. Herrera following the accident, which occurred at 2 p.m. according to Department of Public Safety Trooper Cletus Tapp of Pecos. De Juarez was one of seven passengers inside a Ford Expedition headed towards Pecos on U.S. 285 when the accident occurred.

Tapp’s report said Melissa Mueller, 28, of Raymondville, was driving the Expedition southbound when the rear right tire on the SUV separated, causing it to drift across the center median onto the left side of the highway. Mueller overcorrected, causing the Expedition to go into a skid and overturn 1 1/4 times, ending up in the left barrow ditch of the highway.

De Juarez was one of five people in the vehicle not wearing seat belts and was ejected and killed. Her body was taken to Peaceful Garden Funeral home, while the others were transported by ambulance and private vehicle to Reeves County Hospital.

The most seriously injured of the others was Odelle Montemayor Soria, 59, of Raymondville. She suffered head trauma and lung contusions in the rollover. The others, also from Raymondville, all were listed in stable condition following the accident, with a variety of cuts, abrasions and contusions.

Along with the driver, they were identified as Pedro Hinojosa Soria, 64; Juan R. Delgado, Jr., 39; Rosie Delgado, 39, and Amanda Soria, 21.

Storms that hit Pecos on Friday blew in from the north, but weather was not listed as a factor in the cause of the accident.

Weekend storms cause problems across region

Thunderstorms that passed through Pecos on Friday and Sunday caused some power outages, minor street flooding and some damage in the area, while other area cities were also hit by heavy rains over the weekend, from a system that’s expected to bring rain to the Permian Basin and Trans-Pecos regions through the middle of this week.

Friday’s late afternoon storm was the heaviest of the two that hit Pecos, while the main force of Sunday’s storm was felt to the east, in Ward County and the Barstow area. The storm on Friday dropped about an inch of rain downtown at KIUN radio’s studio, while the late afternoon storm on Sunday left only about .05 inch of rain in the city.

Lightning and high winds from the Friday storm was blamed for power outages about 5 p.m., and some homes and businesses were without power for up to 12 hours.

Officials with the Texas-New Mexico Power Co. office in Pecos and with its parent company, Albuquerque-based PNM Resources, said approximately 218 customers lost power, and that most power was restored over the next 12 hours.

“Because we maintain a local presence in Pecos, our crews were on hand and ready to respond quickly to the outage,” said Donald Hunt, community relations liaison for T-NP in Pecos.

Sunday’s showers hit the area about 5:30 p.m., and continued on and off for about an hour. The western edge of the storm was in Pecos, with heavier showers reported over Barstow from the rains, which came in from southeastern Reeves County.

Storms from the same system were blamed for stranding dozens of Odessa motorists in their cars and forcing some people from their apartments. The storms also caused minor damage to mobile homes in Fort Stockton.

Eddie Brite, of the National Weather Service's Midland office, said the slow-moving storms lingered over Ector County.

"The storms developed across the area all day and all afternoon," Brite said in Monday editions of the Odessa American. "The storms were in place and were continuing to dump water and more water."

A downpour in and around Fort Stockton in Pecos County caused minor flooding and damage to some mobile homes Sunday, said Joshua Ureta, the city emergency management coordinator.

Brite said wind speeds reached as high as 66 mph in Fort Stockton, while in Odessa the highest wind recorded was 36 mph.

Correctional Officer of the Month July

Joe L. Mendoza has been employed with the Reeves County Detention Center I/II since October 21, 2002, and has been selected as Correctional Officer of the Month for July 2006.

“We would like to thank him for all his hard work and dedication,” said RCDC I/II Warden Ed Gonzales.

Correctional Officer of the Month July

John Diehl, Sr. has been employed with the Reeves County Detention Center I/II since January 13, 1997, and has been selected as Correctional Officer of the Month for July 2006.

“We would like to thank him for all his hard work and dedication,” said RCDC I/II Warden Ed Gonzales.

Employee of the Month July

Orlando Alvarez has been employed with the Reeves County Detention Center I/II since April 26, 2004, and has been selected as Employee of Month for July 2006.

“We would like to thank him for all his hard work and dedication,” said RCDC I/II Warden Ed Gonzales.

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