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Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Alligood wins mayor’s race in city’s elections

Staff Writer

Town of Pecos City’s new mayor has hit the ground running and is already working on some new programs after scoring a victory in Saturday’s local election.

Voters in Pecos also returned two incumbent councilmen to office and elected a new member and one incumbent to the Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD board, while in Balmorhea, residents there also elected a new mayor and elected one incumbent and one newcomer to the city council.

In Pecos, local businessman Richard “Dick” Alligood defeated Dot Stafford in an election that drew only about 60 percent of the turnout for April’s Democratic Primary runoff election in Reeves County. Alligood received a total of 756 votes, to Stafford’s 462.

“I’m very thankful to all the volunteers that did an outstanding job,” said Alligood. “I’m very appreciate to everyone that went out to vote, to all my volunteers and my family,” he said.

Alligood said that he really appreciated the voters and the confidence that they had in him in electing him mayor.

“I have already hit the ground running and am working on some programs,” said Alligood, who thanked four special ladies that were there for him and worked hard during the elections, Anita Baeza, Anita Rivera, Mary Jane Rodriguez and Alligood’s wife, Ninfa.

“I really appreciate them,” said Alligood. “And thanks to Freddy Flores and Don Alligood, who spent many hours cooking and preparing the delicious meal served to all the volunteers, family and friends,” he said.

Stafford had served as mayor for 10 out of the past 12 years, and was seeking her third consecutive two-year term.

“I feel good,” Stafford said Monday morning as she began cleaning out her desk at City Hall. “Of course I’m disappointed, but I want to thank Mr. Alligood for running a good, clean campaign, and I’d like to thank my supporters, the city workers and department heads, and all the people in Pecos who came out in 100 degree weather to vote.”

She said voters concern over the sharp increase in city water rates approved last year was probably the main factor in her defeat.

“It was a big issue for a lot of people,” said Stafford. She noted that she did not cast a vote on the issue, but added, “I knew it was necessary, because that was the only way we could get funding from the Texas Water Development Board.”

The city was told by the state the it had to make improvements in its water and sewer facilities or face mandated repairs without access to state funds. “We’re just trying to provide service for the community, and it was either increase the rates or keep them where the were and lose the funding,” Stafford said.

“I’m not going to give up,” she said of her plans after she leaves office on May 25. “It was just the Lord’s will that it worked out this way.”

In the City Council elections the two incumbents won out over the one challenger. Michael Benavides received 706 votes, one more than the other incumbent, Angelica Valenzuela, while challenger Mark Bragg picked up 277 votes.

In the P-B-T ISD elections, incumbent Amy Montgomery Miller was voted o a new three-year term on the board, and will be joined by Vanessa Simmons, who picked up the most votes of the four candidates in Saturday’s election.

Incumbent Amy Miller received 574 votes to newcomer Vanessa Simmons’ 675 votes. She’ll take the seat currently held by Steve Valenzuela, who opted against seeking another three-year term

Simmons and Miller beat out challengers John B. Grant, who received 452 votes, and Ron Garcia, who picked up 418 votes.

A total of 1,344 individuals voted during the elections, either during early voting, mail-in ballots or by personal appearance. Over 2,400 people participate in the April 11 runoff election, in which the county judge’s race between Sam Contreras and Al Gomez remains undecided pending a ruling on questions over uncounted ballots from Box 7 by visiting District Court Judge Joseph Conley, Sr.

Conley had yet to rule as of early Monday afternoon on the lawsuit brought by Gomez seeking to overturn the election, which Contreras won by a 15-vote margin.

In Saturday’s city election in Balmorhea, Mike Rodriguez won election to the position of mayor being vacated by Ruben Fuentes. Rodriguez received 74 votes to 33 for Joy Lewis and 28 for Norman Roman, who formerly had served as the city’s mayor.

In the race for city council, incumbent Antonio Contreras was returned to office wit 79 votes, while Sammy Baeza was also elected to the council, with 100 votes. They defeated Hector Rodriguez, who picked up 60 votes.

No elections were held in the Balmorhea ISD, Barstow city and Reeves County Hospital District elections, because no races were contested on those ballots.

Fire guts former lumberyard site

Staff Writers

A fire that destroyed the former Foxworth-Galbraith lumber yard in Pecos Friday afternoon is believed to have been set accidentally, according to Town of Pecos City fire officials, who are continuing their investigation.

The fire at Third and Ash streets forced Pecos Police to close off several blocks of the downtown area, as flames and black smoke spread across the east side of town.

“By the time we had controlled the flames, our main concern was for it not to cross the street,” said Pecos Volunteer Fire Chief Freddy Contreras.

The fire died down at 9:30 p.m. and several firemen stayed at the scene until 11 p.m. “We went back and checked on it at 12:20 a.m., it still had a few hot spots, so we stayed there until 1:30 a.m.,” said Contreras.

Contreras said that 21 volunteer firemen responded to the scene, while police and other law enforcement officials also were called out to assist.

“We had the PD out there and had the sheriff’s department assisting us, along with city street department assisting us with barricades and cones,” said Pecos Police Chief Clay McKinney.”

Unlike other major fires in recent years, which began at night, Friday’s fire was reported at 2:02 p.m. and began in the rear area where lumber had formerly been stored.

“I think they were in the process of tearing the whole structure down,” said Fire Marshal Jack Brookshire. He added that the site had recently been purchased by Ram Kunwar, the California businessman currently in the process of renovating the former Pecos Inn on West Third Street and the State Theatre of South Oak Street.

“He had some people working who had a cutting torch around there,” said Brookshire. That set the grass on fire and it went to the building.”

The fire then spread north, towards the main building on Third Street, where heat from the flames, combined with temperatures around 100 degrees on Friday, affected above-ground electrical, phone and cable TV lines.

The building had been closed for the past five years, but was being used as a storage facility, including some of the old seats and other items from the State Theatre, when it was reopened in 1999.

“There were a lot of old seats taken out of the theater, but I’m not sure what all else they had in there,” said Brookshire.

Contreras said that he didn’t know what was being stored inside the old store, but that there must have been some type of explosive materials.

“We had several small explosions, so we know that there was something inside that was very flammable,” said Contreras.

He said fire crews were back out at the scene again at 5 a.m., and there were still some embers that had re-ignited.

The fire is the second major blaze in Pecos this year involving a highly flammable building. On January 4, a fire in which arson was suspected destroyed the Pecos Recycling Center Building at Second Street and Broadway Court. Flames from that fire and the cardboard inside the building could be seen across the city, and the fire also damaged nearby utility poles. No one has been arrested in connection with that fire.

Brookshire also said on Monday that the exact cause remains unknown in the investigation of a May 3 fire at Balmorhea Lake that destroyed a house and two mobile homes on the southwest side of the lake.

“It started right by the electrical box right outside the storage shed, but the exact cause hasn’t been determined,” he said. Explosions were reported at the time the fire broke out. Three women living inside the home were able to get out safely, and were later given an apartment by the Pecos Housing Authority after almost all of their belongings were destroyed in the blaze.

Council to seek building, I-20 land bids

Staff Writer

Town of Pecos City Council members voted to advertise for bids on the old F.W. Woolworth Building at Third and Oak streets during their regular meeting on Thursday at City Hall, and were told the city will soon be deeded possession of the former Pecos Garment Factory near the West of the Pecos Museum.

The council also voted to seek bids on land near the Pecos Municipal Airport, and was told the city has purchased equipment to handle their own water line valve repairs, during the 50-minute meeting.

Tom Rivera, Main Street Program coordinator for the city, talked to the council about plans to advertise for bids on the 50-year-old building, and restrictions that will be put into the big requirements.

The city was deeded the Woolworth building by its owner, Rudman Partnership last year, after it sat unoccupied since Woolworth closed its Pecos store in 1989.

“We went to the (tax) appraisal office and got appraisals on both the land and the building,” Rivera said. “The land is valued at $15,000 and the building at $62,800.

“We’re looking to put the building up for bid, with the minimum bid being the land value,” he said. “We also want to require certain conditions take place with the bid, and whoever wins is will have a year to put a new roof on.

“The building is solid - you can’t building a building like that anymore - but the estimate for a new roof is $35,000.” Rivera said.

The building is within the Main Street program’s downtown historical district, as a result, qualifies for the city’s five-year tax abatement program for any repairs or upgrades to the structure. Improvements to buildings within the district received a 100 percent tax abatement for the first year, declining 20 percent each year thereafter until the full tax is paid on the improvements in five years.

Council members agreed the rules on use of the building by the winning bidder were needed in order to prevent someone from buying the building and continuing to allow it to deteriorate.

“Most of the buildings downtown have been sold, but nothing has been done with them,” said Rivera.

Along with the discussion of the Woolworth building, Rivera also told the council that the owners of the former Pecos Garment Factory building would deed that structure to the city. Plans now call for the building to be used by the West of the Pecos Museum “Debbie (Thomas, museum curator) got some excellent plans that we’ll discuss in the future,” Rivera said.

The land discussed by the council in the West Airport addition would be to the west of Colt Chevrolet and across Interstate 20 from the 27.2 acres of land the city took bids on in March.

“Last week we received a visitor who is interested in doing economic development in the area,” city public works director Edgardo Madrid told the council. “We showed them all the available area on the frontage road along the interstate.

“We did research that specified the block at six owners. We do still own one area in the block of approximately 12.8 acres,” Madrid said, of which 8.8 acres will be put up for bid. Madrid said he did not want to discuss what the potential buyer’s plans are for the site, and said any action would have to await the results of bidding on the land. “We’ll have to look at the proposals before we approve it,” he said.

During the discussion of monthly bills for April, Madrid told council members the city had spend $38,000 on equipment to replace broken valves on city water lines.

“Last year we were having a problem bringing a contractor into the hare to fix leaks on Ross Boulevard,” Madrid said. “Instead of waiting for the contractor and paying him $12,000, we decided to get this piece of equipment and do it on our own.”

“The problem is whenever we shut off the valves, they’re old and are breaking, so we have to replace the valve,” he said, adding that the equipment was a budgeted item.

Council members also voted to close off Cothrum Street through Maxey Park on May 27 for the Memorial Day weekend concert, which is scheduled for 12 noon until 8 p.m.

Council members were told a Color Guard from the 5077 Maintenance Co. in El Paso would be there to present the American flag, and officials with Dyess Air Force Base were asked if they could provide a B-1 bomber flyover for the event, as part of the jet’s regular training mission through the Trans-Pecos area.

State commission set to decide on 80 mph limit

From Staff and Wire Reports

A measure passed last year by the Texas Legislature to increase speed limits on the two interstate highways passing through Reeves County is scheduled for a final decision by the Texas Department of Transportation later this month, though final action on any increase will also have to wait for area highway repairs to be completed.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed legislation passed last year that would allow TxDOT to increase speed limits on Interstate 10 and Interstate 20 in West Texas to 80 mph. The Texas Transportation Commission could take up the proposed change when it meets in Austin next week.

Five years ago, the legislature approved a bill sponsored by State Rep.. Pete Gallego (D-Alpine) that allowed TxDOT to raise speed limits on qualifying rural two- and four-late highways to 75 mph. The new legislation only applies to interstate highways, but lowers the minimum population density from 15 people per square mile to 10 per square mile. As a result, the new law will include I-20 in both Ward and Crane counties, which did not qualify in the previous legislation.

The change will affect an 88-mile stretch of I-20 from the Interstate 10 junction to the Crane-Ector county line, and a 415-mile stretch of I-10, from the El Paso-Hudspeth county line to the I-10 junction with U.S. 290, at the Kerr-Kimble county line.

However, not all sections of the interstates may get the new speed limits. TxDOT officials said last year areas with curves or other road conditions could see their speed limits stay at 70 or 75 mph, while repair work on I-20 in Reeves and Ward counties and on I-10 in Hudspeth and Culberson counties will delay any enactment of the new speed limit law if it is approved by the commission.

Some advocates for fuel conservation and safety have questioned the wisdom of boosting speed limits, but transportation officials said most drivers are already cruising at nearly 80 mph.

Carlos Lopez, director of traffic operations for the department, said a survey of both interstates found that 85 percent of motorists were driving up to 79 mph.

"If people begin to think that the number on the sign is unreasonable, then they won't respect it," Lopez said. "Just putting up a lower number on the highway isn't going to slow down traffic."

With gas prices at a premium, some groups said drivers should be encouraged to slow down rather than speed up.

Increasing the speed limit "will have a perverse reaction," said Peter Iwanowicz, director of environmental health at the American Lung Association. "Increasing the speed limit will increase fuel use."

U.S. Department of Energy studies show gas mileage usually decreases rapidly at speeds above 60 mph. The agency's Web site says that motorists generally pay an additional 20 cents per gallon of gas for each 5 mph they drive over 60.

Lopez said fuel conservation is already lost for most drivers, who are traveling at 77 to 79 mph.

Safety advocates also fear that raising the limit will lead to more traffic fatalities. "Our concern is that the two biggest contributors to traffic accidents is speed and alcohol," said Jerry Johns, president of the Southwestern Insurance Information Service, an industry group. "That has been consistent for years and years and years."

Statistics kept by the Texas Department of Public Safety show each time the state has changed its speed limits, there has been a correlating effect on the number of traffic fatalities.

Department spokesman Randall Dillard said the 80 mph speed limit is intended to make driving on the interstate safer.

"It's generally considered a safer condition when motorists are traveling at a uniform speed," Dillard said.

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