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Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Friday, August 1, 2008

Groundbreaking date is set for hotel, restaurant complex

A groundbreaking ceremony has been scheduled for Aug. 8 on a hotel and restaurant project to be located on Interstate 20 next to the Reeves County Golf Course, which is to be the first phase of an entertainment complex planned for the south side of Pecos.

Paradise Plaza, a $9 million mixed-use development being built by local businessman Leo Hung, will have its groundbreaking next Friday at the site, located just to the east of the Country Club Drive overpass on I-20. The complex, to be built in several phases, is planned to create 75 new jobs in the city.

The 15.54 acre tract, which includes land formerly part of the Pecos Airbase Apartments and now part of the golf course, was acquired by Hung from Reeves County in March o this year. The project’s initial phase will include a 65 bed mid-scale hotel, a four-venue food court and a sports bar and grill and is expected to be completed within three years, according to Nancy Martinez, who will serve as project manager.

The hotel is scheduled to open in September of 2009.

Phase two will include a family entertainment center with bowling, a theater and arcade. Phase two proposes to build a second hotel on the property as well, Martinez said.

Hung is the owner of the property, but will be building the new motel in conjunction with Bobby Bhakta, who already operates a motel in Pecos. The 1st and Ten Sports Bar and Grill will be built by local businessman Steve Valenzuela, and the food court will be owned by Hung.

The hotel, one of six either planned or currently under construction in Pecos, will be affiliated with Country Inns & Suites By Carlson. The hotel chain announced that the property would be managed by Fusion Accommodations, which will be owned by Hung and Bhakta.

"We're excited to bring Country Inns & Suites' excellent value, service and amenities to this growing market," said Martinez. "This property has reason to anticipate success because of the charm and appeal of Country Inns & Suites as well as the fact that it’s an ideal location with solid management."

The hotel will feature an indoor heated pool and Jacuzzi and an exercise room. Other amenities include a breakfast area and a business center with Internet access.

The hotel, food court and sports bar will occupy the western section of the land purchased by Hung from Reeves County, which is now part of two holes the golf course. Hung’s 15.54 acres include part of a third hole, and the county currently is in the process of purchasing 70 acres of land from the Town of Pecos City on the south side of the course, to replace those three holes and construction four other holes to make the facility a full 18-hole layout.

Project looks to harvest fuel out of algae ponds

Algae played a part in the current oil and natural gas drilling boom in the Trans-Pecos area. But that algae was last alive about 250 million years ago.

Right now, two researchers at the Texas AgriLife’s Sid Kyle Experiment Station west of Pecos plan to use living algae to do the same thing algae deposited by the Permian Sea did – produce fuel, but at a far faster pace than the natural method.

Lou and Joli Brown have been working in Pecos for the past four months on a project to harvest biofuel from man-made ponds just recently built at the Experiment Station. The Browns gave visitors to the station as part of last Friday’s Field Day a tour of their operations and explained that the fact that the Permian Basin and Trans-Pecos region were covered by an inland sea millions of years ago helped create the region’s current energy deposits.

“That’s why there’s so much oil in this area. This used to be an inland sea. The algae dried off and the deposits eventually turned into oil,” Lou Brown said. “We’re just speeding it up.”

The project is being conducted in conjunction with General Atomic, a company known for nuclear research, but which is running a similar algae harvesting facility in the San Diego area. The project is expected to take three years, with the first two years already having been funded through the company and Texas A&M, which is working with two other universities on the project.

“At this moment we’re not doing anything proprietary, but in the near future we will be,” Lou Brown said.

“As far as Texas A&M goes, we do report to Lubbock (to the Texas AgriLife Research Station), and then it goes to College Station,” Joli Brown added.

Lou Brown said the decline in traditional area agriculture over the years in the Trans-Pecos meant the Experiment Station had space available for this test project, along with the conditions sought by researchers.

“The main factor is the number of solar days. You’ve got a ton of light and a ton of days with optimal growing conditions,” he said. The high salt content of the water, normally a liability for area farmers, also an asset in this particular experiment, Brown added. “It’s a lot easier to take water that already has salt in it then to take fresh water and have to add it.”

The Browns, who were married this spring, were hired in March, and moved to the Pecos area from Amarillo, after originally coming to Texas from Illinois. Their project is still in its development stages, and Brown said some of the algae samples shipped in from San Diego had to be “woken up” before they would start growing under lab conditions. As a result, work right now is about a week behind schedule.

The process of growing the algae will involve cultivation initially in 300 milliliter lab beakers, and from there moving out to larger and larger receptacles, and through photobio reactors to simulate sunlight inside the station’s building, until finally the algae is transferred outdoors, first to ponds containing 1,000 and 2,000 gallons, and then to the largest ponds being built at the Experiment Station, which will contain 6,000 gallons of water.

“You can’t put 200 gallons of algae into 6,000 gallons and expect good growth,” Lou Brown explained to those in attendance at last Friday’s Field Day. “We’ll take 200 gallons and put it in a 1,000 gallon pond and mix it up with 800 gallons and let it propagate.”

The 200 gallons will come from four ‘bathtub’ raceways that are being set up inside the greenhouse at the station. “I’d say we’d be ready to go outside (to the ponds) by the middle of September,” Brown said. “I would say we’ll harvest our first 6,000 gallon pond in the middle to the end of October.”

Even with the large amount of water in the ponds, they’ll be big enough so that the water level will only be four inches deep, while paddlewheels will be added to the ponds to keep the water circulating.

“The water’s got to keep moving to keep the algae mixed in the suspension,” Brown said. Right now, agitators inside the lab are keeping the beakers containing the initial algae strains in motion before they’re transferred into larger receptacles.

Eventually, when the algae is removed from the 6,000 gallon ponds, it will be dried and nitrogen-starved to force it to produce oil, which will then be extracted from the plant.

“There will be a three-day turnaround on the ponds. We’ll drain a 6,000 gallon pond every three days,” Brown said. “Probably after the first of the year we’ll start mock production plans.”

“The potential yield on paper is you can get 10,000-15,000 gallons of biodiesel per acre per year,” Brown said, citing lab tests. But he added, “If I can get 5,000, I’ll be happy.”

“This is not the most efficient way to grow algae, but it’s the most cost-effective,” he said. Brown added that in contrast, corn produces about 13 gallons per acre of biodiesel per year.

“This is all about efficiency and cost. Will this work is somebody wants to build a 2,000 acre farm,” he said.

Future pond cultivations can be taken from samples already growing in the ponds, though the Browns will have to go back to the lab and start from scratch each time a different variety of algae is tested. He added that eventually the test would involve different pond designs to find out which lay-out is the most cost-effective for growing the algae.

Joli Brown, who is serving as the lab technician for the test project, said researchers at Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Louisiana State University will be the ones determining which species of algae to test in Pecos. She said they may try to look at algae already native to the Trans-Pecos, but at the same time, Lou Brown said the project needs to control both the salt and ph levels of the water, to make sure native algae doesn’t mix with tests involving outside varieties.

“The big hurdle we’re seeing right now is how you get the oil out of the algae. Right now we’re using centrifuges,” he said. However, for a large scale project, the cost of electricity to run the centrifuges needed would negate the energy gains made from the biofuel production.

“Right now, we’re just trying to figure out how to get it out on commercial-sized farms,” Brown said. “The thing is, by the time we have this (test) figured out, they’ll have something worked out.”

While the Pecos Experiment Station was chosen in large part due to its warm temperatures, water salinity and high annual days of sunlight, Lou Brown said the project wouldn’t be hurt by the occasional showers and cooler temperatures that the area has seen over the past week.

“If dry like it was back in June, then we’re dealing with evaporation, so if it’s raining, at least I’m getting a little water,” Lou Brown said. He said evaporation on sunny days can range between six-tenths and one inch of water in the ponds, so sensors have to be used to make sure the water levels remain constant.

“We want to grow algae at between 85 and 100 degrees. If that (pond) liner gets real hot, it could have some detrimental effects on the algae as well,” Brown added.

“It’s a problem if the area temperatures get above 108, because that will start killing it off,” he said. The test ponds also were built using black liner, as requested by General Atomic, which will serve to increase the water temperature. “We’ll put in white liners, eventually,” he said.

Along with initially growing the algae in the lab, Joli Brown will also check the outdoor cultures to monitor levels of nutrients such as metals to keep them at optimum levels, and then to determine the right time to harvest the algae for its oil.

“Phase 3 and 4 will go into the biproduct stuff. What are you going to do with the algae once you get the oil out,” Lou Brown said. Possible options include use as livestock feed, or further extraction of cellulose for additional energy usage.

“With algae, there’s not going to be any waste product at all,” he said. “It’s a multi-faceted organism that is very efficient at what it does.”

School expects lower tax rate, less state funds

Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD board set the district’s 2008 rollback tax rate at $1.221 during a special meeting held Tuesday evening in the Technology Center and board members were told the increasing oil and gas valuations for the district may put P-B-T ISD into the state’s “property rich” school district classification.

Finance Director Cookie Canon told the board that the roll back tax rate had been set at $1.221 and that the effective tax would be $1.14163.

“What the effective tax rate is what you have to tax to raise what you need,” said Canon. The rollback rate is “the most you can tax without calling an election, without an increase” she added.

The effective tax rate, which would raise the same amount of money for the district are the current tax rate, would represent a 23-cent drop in the P-B-T ISD's current property tax rate.

Certified appraisal values for the district were approved, which were done by both the Reeves County and the Ward County Tax Appraisal District. “This year there is a new law that requires that you need two appraisal districts,” said Canon. The Ward County Appraiser handled property within the district in the Barstow area, which previously has been done by the Reeves County Appraisal District.

Total taxable values for 2008 were set at $984,365,610.

“This year’s certified values, our values went down, but it reflects not having Ward County in there this year,” said Canon.

However, when the Ward County totals are included, Canon said the district is getting close to becoming a “Chapter 41” school district. Those districts are considered property rich, and are required to turn over part of their tax funds to be given to property-poor districts.

“I told you, you would not see any more EDA, because it’s for poor districts, it’s because of this,” said Canon. “In a couple of years they’ll tell us we’re Chapter 41,” she said.

Canon said that the Texas Education Agency in Austin would drop and move this district up even further. “We’ve already talked to the financial consultants,” she said.

“There’s still some things that will need to fall in to place,” said superintendent Manny Espino.

Canon said that the only district in this area that would have a fund balance would be Wink.

“The more in value and the more taxes, the more the state takes,” said Canon.

The estimated anticipated collection rate for the current year is 95 percent. The estimated debt collection rate for 2008 is 92.8 percent and the excess debt tax collections for 2007 is $71,569.

Canon said that the tax rate last year was $1.37 and that the notice would be published in the newspaper next week.

“The debt service went down 46 percent and that’s without any raises,” said Canon.

The maintenance tax (proposed rate for maintenance and operations) has been set at $1.04 and the school debt service tax approved by local voters has been set at 0.18100 (proposed rate to pay bonded indebtedness).

The group set a date of 6 p.m., Aug. 26, as a public meeting on the new tax rate. “You had set this date back in June,” said Canon.

In other action on Tuesday, board members approved insurance for the students/athletes for the coming school year.

Canon told the group that she recommended Texas Kids First, the same provider that the district used last year.

“Four agents bid on it, all multiple plans,” said Canon.

Canon explained why Texas Kids First was the best provider for the district and told the group that some of the other providers didn’t even provide splinting.

“Some didn’t cover anything with injections and this insurance provides more for the money,” said Canon.

The group approved declaring music as an acute shortage in the district.

“We posted two new music positions and they hired Gloria (Espino) back,” said Manny Espino.

He said that when he was first hired as a superintendent that was one of the main concerns pointed out to him.

“We’ve tried to fill those positions and do have vacancies,” said Espino. “We want to declare it is a shortage and fill those positions.”

New assistant superintendent Byron Welch told the group that they have one elementary school without a music teacher.

“It’s possible that we might hire someone without the music degree, but that is interested in the position,” said Welch. “We might look at that angle.”

Changes to the mileage reimbursement and per diem were approved during the special meeting.

“It’s very logical that the rate would go up, because of the cost of gas,” said Canon.

Canon said that right now the district pays 44 1/2 cents. “No one knows what the gas will do, so we have budgeted on 50 1/2 cents, and if we see that the gas prices are going to get worse we can change that further in the year,” said Canon.

“Also, they aren’t using their personal vehicles anymore, they are using the school’s,” she said.

The board approved the 50 1/2 cents and the per diem went up $1.00 to $36 per day.

“It will be $8 for breakfast, $11 for lunch and $17 for supper,” said Canon.

Board members reviewed both the Student Code of Conduct and students’ handbooks.

“The newest thing in there is the bullying,” said Welch. “We still have to get with the principals and make sure there isn’t anything we missed or that they would like to discuss,” he said.

Professional appointments included: assignments: Concepcion Aguirre, third grade teacher, Austin Elementary; Mary Chavez, kindergarten teacher, Pecos Kindergarten; Patricia Cotton, second grade teacher, Austin Elementary; Sandra Jaquez, Spanish Teacher, Pecos High School; Anna Estrello Machuca, P.E. Teacher/Coach, Bessie Haynes Elementary; Martha Napoles, second grade Bilingual Teacher, Austin Elementary; Eva Nunez, third grade Teacher, Austin Elementary; Olga Ortega, first grade teacher, Austin Elementary and Hector Roman, History Teacher/Coach, Lamar DAEP. Resignations included: Anna Estrello Machuca, P.E. Teacher, Bessie Haynes Elementary and Helen Kimbrough, History Teacher/Coach, Lamar DAEP.

Church group’s trip to Poland provides look at WWII history

Teg Lozano looked into the past on a recent trip to Poland, and he was fascinated by what he saw.

As Lozano and his missionary team from First Baptist Church cut down trees and underbrush in a Jewish cemetery in Warsaw, they uncovered tombstones dating from the 1850s.

Two men who were recording names on the tombstones gave them a tour and told them about the people and their culture.

“A Jewish man from Chicago has hired a group of people to make records from all tombstones and post them on the Internet,” said Brandon Shanklin, youth director for FBC.

Shanklin accompanied Lozano and another of his youth, Trey Graham. FBC pastor Greer Willis, his family, and Randy Graham also made the trip. Lozano said the cemetery is overgrown with small trees and underbrush that obscures the tombstones. They used loppers to remove the jungle-like growth to expose the tombstones. “It was hard work,” he said.

The group also went to a World War II concentration camp that has been preserved for historical purposes.

“I had heard about the Holocaust and how bad they treated them (Jews),” said Lozano.

After seeing first-hand where the Germans held, tortured and killed the Jews, Lozano said he understood better how badly they were treated and how horrible the Nazis were.

They did not get to see the two big ovens where Jews were exterminated, but they did see the barracks and sewers and tunnels where they lived and hid.

“We saw a pile of shoes and stuff they made them take off. They had a pile of hair in one little glassed-in room,” he said.

On the bright side, Lozano met “a pretty good group” of people and learned that not all Poles are as mean as he had been told to expect.

“Some of the Poles can be pretty harsh. You can be friendly with them, but they still won’t really care,” he said.

On a three-hour train trip from Warsaw to Krakow, Lozano noted the countryside was “real green, not like Pecos at all.”

Men and oxen worked the lush countryside, where it rained often during the week and a half the group was there.

“It was my first trip overseas,” said Lozano. “I would go again in a heartbeat.”

In fact, it was only Lozano’s second airplane trip. They flew from Dallas to Amsterdam, Holland, and from there to Warsaw over a span of 10 hours.

Susan Carson, the missionary supervising the FBC group, led them in prayer walks around Warsaw, praying for youth, people with addictions and for the community.

They attended worship services in a Baptist church and a fellowship in a Jewish synagogue.

“The way the church was formed really stood out to me, because it is different than the way we do church, he said.

The trip was a “real good experience for me and really helped me get closer to God,” Lozano said.

City workers give family travel funds

Town of Pecos City employees did their part in welcoming tourists and making sure their trip went smoothly.

“This morning as I was making my park inspections throughout the city, I came across a family from California that was resting at Maxey Park,” said parks superintendent Adolfo Ruiz. “The lady approached me and told me she was on her way to Dallas, and had left California with only $400 dollars,” he said.

Ruiz said that the she was traveling with four children and had run out of money, but had a tank full of gas.

“The parks department was very generous and with their help and myself pitched some money for her trip,” said Ruiz.

Ruiz said that it wasn’t a lot, but that she was very appreciative of the gesture.

“I managed to get them free breakfast from an old friend of mine, by the name of Mario Alba, who owns La Fiesta Restaurant,” said Ruiz. “He did not hesitate to provide breakfast for them,” he said.

Ruiz said that he wanted the community to know because it feels good to have people like this in our city.

Man seeks help to fund surgery for injured dog

A local man is seeking the public’s help in saving the life of a dog found severely injured on the south side of Pecos earlier this week.

Andrew Braun said he’s seeking a final $80 in donations to finish paying the $700 bill to local veterinarian Dr. Ronald Box, who he said would have to amputate the dog’s left hind leg due to a compound fracture.

“I found him on Tuesday on Veterans Boulevard between Texas and Highway 17,” Braun said. “He was lying in the middle of a puddle and had a compound fracture, so I picked him up and took him over to Dr. Box’s office.”

He said the bone apparently had been sticking out of the dog’s leg for at least a day. “He didn’t think that he could save it. The only way to save him was to amputate his leg,” Braun said.

He added he had put down a $500 deposit on the surgery, and that others he has talked two have donated an additional $120.

Braun said anyone wanting to contact him or make a donation can either do so by phone, at (469) 951-3827, by contacting him at HYPERLINK "", or by stopping by the Enterprise office.

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Pecos Enterprise
York M. "Smokey" Briggs, Publisher
324 S. Cedar St., Pecos, TX 79772
Phone 432-445-5475, FAX 432-445-4321

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