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Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Friday, August 15, 2008

TxDOT plans review of I-20 overpass safety

Texas Department of Transportation officials will take a look at improving safety measures at the U.S. 285 overpass on Interstate 20, after two accidents last week, including one that left a Van Horn restaurant owner dead.

Jesus “Chuy” Uranga, who had founded and owned Chuy’s Mexican Restaurant in Van Horn for almost 50 years, died from head trauma suffered when the Nissan SUV he was in was struck by a truck-tractor about 10 p.m. on Aug. 6 while on the north side of the U.S. 285-I 20 overpass.

Uranga, whose restaurant received national publicity through NFL broadcaster John Madden, was the driver of a 2006 Nissan Pathfinder that was struck on the driver’s door side by a 2005 Volvo truck pulling a trailer that was coming over the I-20 overpass on U.S. 285. The impact knocked the Nissan into the parking lot of the Amigo’s Shell on the northwest side of the intersection.

Uranga was transported to Medical Center Hospital in Odessa, where he died from his injuries on Saturday. His wife, Mary Lou Uranga, was also injured in the accident. A 10-year-old girl traveling with the couple was less seriously injured, according to Pecos police, while the driver of the truck, 27-year-old Konstantin Tsintsarski of Chicago, Ill., was not injured.

A second injury accident occurred less than 24-hours later, on the south side of the U.S. 285 overpass with I-20. Police and EMS crews were called to that accident at 3 p.m. on Aug. 7, but none of the injuries were life-threatening.

“We’ve had three fatal accidents in that area,” said Pecos Police Chief Clay McKinney. Most of the accidents have involved traffic either crossing U.S. 285 or turning while either coming off of or entering the interstate.

Posted speed limits are 40 mph on the overpass, and flashing lights have been placed on both sides of the overpass warning drivers, but drivers coming into Pecos from Fort Stockton often exceed that speed limit. Town of Pecos City Council members last year discussed ways to slow down traffic coming into town on U.S. 285, but were told other than lowering the posted speed within the city limits, any other measures, like traffic lights, would cost the city money unless TxDOT engineers determine a traffic light is needed.

Kelli Williams, traffic engineer for TxDOT’s Odessa District office, said she only found out about the fatal accident on Thursday. “Anytime we have an accident, especially a fatality, we take another look at the conditions,” she said, while adding there was no timetable on how long it would take to implement any changes.

“We’ll have to take a look at see if there are any other options,” Williams said.

Traffic lights were installed two years ago at a similar overpass intersection, on I-20 at FM 1788, south of Midland International Airport. Williams said that intersection received signals due to an increase in traffic.

“They had put in another truck stop, in which the increase in traffic met the warrants,” she said.

Williams said TxDOT looks at eight warrants before deciding if a traffic signal should be put at an intersection. Those include traffic volume and delays.

A series of fatal accidents at the U.S. 285-FM 1776 intersection 40 miles south of Pecos led TxDOT to install flashing signals and speed bumps and a four-way stop at the intersection, which had been a two-way stop previously, with no slow down for vehicles traveling along U.S. 285.

TxDOT does have plans to install a traffic light on South Eddy Street (FM 765) at the intersection with Walthall Street as part of a street improvement project for the state-maintained road, between Third Street and Stafford Boulevard. Work on Eddy Street, including the installation of new curbs and gutters and the elimination of a traffic merge onto Eddy from West Washington Street, is scheduled to begin this fall.

Commissioners OK comp pay hike for RCDC

Comp time payments for county workers and a presentation from the Texas County District Retirement System were topics at the regular Reeves County Commissioners Court meeting held Monday morning.

Commissioners approved payments for comp time to employees at the Reeves County Detention Center I, II and III, but tabled paying comp time to employees falling under the General Fund.

“They approved paying comp time to these employees, that have comp time before they started getting paid overtime,” said Reeves County Treasurer Linda Clark.

She said that the commissioners had approved a raise for those exempt employees at the prison during their previous commissioner’s court meeting.

“The exempt employees received a three percent increase on Aug. 8 and now we will be paying the comp time in their next paycheck,” said Clark.

Total cost to the county for the comp time is estimated at about $106,549 for employees at R-I-II and about $40,104 at R-III.

“These are just figures, because they are based on estimates before the raise for the exempt employees, so it may be a little bit more or less,” said Clark, who added that no action was take on comp time payments for those employees paid under the general fund.

The discussion on the Texas County District Retirement System involved a presentation by Roxanne Bita, with the TCDRS. Following that, commissioners approved COLAs (cost of living adjustments) for retirees.

A post-retirement benefit increase (cost-of-living adjustment) is an increase in monthly payments to retirees and beneficiaries authorized by the governing board of a variable-rate plan. A flat-rate increase awards a one-time flat increase (3 percent, five percent, etc.), in pension payments. A CPI-based increase awards a one-time increase in pension benefits based on some portion (between 30 and 80 percent) of the increase in the cost of living since retirement, as measured by the Consumer Price Index-Urban (CPI-U).

Bita told commissioners that Reeves County had joined the retirement system in 1971, 37 years ago.

“At that time it was seven percent and it continues to be seven percent and employer match of seven percent in 1980,” said Villa. “That’s the highest it can be.”

She said that since the time the county joined the system, the vesting period has declined from 12 to eight years. Bita added that if an employee leaves the county, the county has to match their money.

“At the end of last year, there were 469 depositing members, but it does not include those that left and left their accounts,” said Bita.

Bita said that there were a lot of people out there that still left accounts open.

“As of 1982, there were 22 retired and 77, that were also included, because we still include beneficiaries,” said Bita.

Bita outlined the three ways that an employee can retire and told the group that the cost of living didn’t affect retirees.

Retirement eligibility: age 60 with eight years of service; any age with 30 years of service and rule of 80 (age plus years of service equals 80).

“You as commissioners can change that,” said Bita.

In other action, commissioners appointed a committee to evaluate responses to request for proposals for Grant Management Services for Texas Community Development Block Grant Contract No. 728339. Appointed to the committee included: Reeves County Commissioners Precinct 1 Saul Herrera; precinct 4 Ramiro Guerra, Jaime Weatherman and a member of Madera Valley Water.

The group appointed Reeves County Tax Assessor-Collector Rosemary Chabarria to calculate the effective tax rate and approve the 2008 Certified Appraisal Roll totals presented by Chabarria and provided by Chief Appraiser Carol Markham.

Chamber gets construction project update

New projects are planned for the community, while one of a series of new motel projects in Pecos has been completed, Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors were told on Tuesday.

The group met at lunch at the Pecos Senior Citizen’s Center to discuss several items, including the projects that have sprung up in Pecos.

Pecos Economic Development Corporation President Rob Tobias told the group that they expect to hear about the developments that will take place behind Gibson’s sometime this week.

“Before the end of the year, the apartments that will be located North of I-20, East of Country Club, we’ll be seeing something,” said Tobias. “The apartments are still going through the process,” he said.

Chamber of Commerce Director Linda Gholson said that the project at Oak Tree Inn has been completed.

Members also discussed the ground-breaking ceremony last Friday morning on the grounds of the new $9 million Paradise Plaza, which will include a hotel, sports bar and have four fast food restaurants located inside.

“We had a great turnout, it was a beautiful day, and for those of you who attended, thank you,” said president Venetta Seals.

Seals said that it was a wonderful ceremony and that everyone is excited about the project.

Welding Supply manager Rudy Villegas told the group that the store will be celebrating their 50th Anniversary.

“We’re in the process of remodeling the store and we will be having a grand-reopening and celebration on Friday, Oct. 3,” said Villegas. “We’ll be sending out invitations and hope you can join us.”

Board member Debbie Thomas reported on Texas Pecos Trails and said that there will be a grant workshop on Aug. 21, similar to the one held in Pecos recently.

“If anyone is interested in attending they can contact Texas Pecos Trails or me,” she said.

“There will also be another grant workshop on Aug. 26-27, at Sul Ross State University,” said board member Nancy Martinez. “It sounds like it will be a really good workshop and will deal with grants from private foundations.”

Martinez said that these are funds that don’t need to be paid back and that they will teach you how to reach out to these foundations and write grants for these.

Reeves County Detention Warden Martin McDaniel told chamber directors that they still need about 100 employees at the facility and housing for some that are already employed out there.

“We are working on trying to purchase the old trailer park, located off of Walthall,” said McDaniel. “We want to renovate it and get homes for some of these employees.”

McDaniel said that he has been receiving some interest in employment from individuals from out of town and that they are in dire need of housing.

Reeves County Hospital Director Al LaRochelle said that they have hired two new physical therapists and are looking for one more.

LaRochelle also introduced one of the newest physicians to the group, Dr. Steven Serrano and his wife, Julie.

Serrano thanked LaRochelle and Seals for bringing him to Pecos and helping him find suitable housing for them and their eleven children.

“By the second day of practice I had a full schedule, which is really unusual,” said Serrano. “I want to thank them for the opportunity to be here, we really like this community.”

Two new doctors, Dr. Kim, internal medicine and Dr. Sayceeda Bilkis, internal medicine, have also joined the staff at the hospital and just signed another physician.

Odessa College Director Michelle Workman said that they are getting ready for the new semester, even though enrollment is down a little this year.

“We be looking at a police academy and jail school instruction, we haven’t had a police academy in a year,” said Workman.

Workman told the group that they are also working on a new science lab and hope to have it completed soon.

Thomas told the group that the West of the Pecos Museum will be hosting dignitaries from Austin, including retired Texas Ranger Joaquin Jackson.

“We’ll be sending out invitations,” said Thomas.

McCormick, Jacquez announce wedding plans

The children of Andrea Jane Jacquez, daughter of Juanita Hannah and Enrique Jacquez, would like to annunce the engagement of their mother, to Joseph McCormick, son of Joseph and Eileen McCormick of El Paso.

The ceremony will take place at 4 p.m., Sept. 27, at the Reeves County Sheriff’s Posse Barn.

Gomez receives degree in Mechanical Engineering

John Michael Gomez, the son of Gilbert and Julie Gomez, graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering, from the University of Texas at El Paso on May 10, 2008.

He is currently employed by Spectra in Houston and is the grandson of Gilbert and Ana Gomez of Pecos.

TXU, CCRC offering aid with energy costs

Temperatures may be skyrocketing, but one thing some Reeves County residents won’t have to sweat over this summer is how to pay their electricity bill.

A partnership between TXU Energy and Community Council of Reeves County, customers will be able to find bill-payment assistance relief through the TXU Energy Aid program.

In 2008, TXU Energy will provide the partnering organization with approximately $9,000 to help customers in need of temporary bill-payment assistance through its TXU Energy AID program. The program, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, is the largest bill-payment assistance program among electricity companies in the nation. Since 1983, the program has provided more than $45 million in bill-payment assistance, helping more than 320,000 valued customers.

Mary Jane Rios, executive director for Community Council for Reeves County, accepted the donation on behalf of the Council and thanked TXU Energy for its contribution. “TXU Energy is privileged to work with outstanding agencies that make a difference in the lives of those they support, such as Community Council of Reeves County,” said Kim Campbell, manager of customer advocacy for TXU Energy. “Our TXU Energy Aid program has been our primary means of showing our customers that we really do care about them.”

TXU Energy customers who want to make a contribution to help others in the community can contact the TXU Energy Aid contribution line at 1-877-281-6359. Customers can also make a one-time contribution or a recurring pledge to the TXU Energy Aid program by completing the information on the back of their monthly bill or when making payments online.

In addition to the TXU Energy Aid program, TXU Energy also voluntarily provides an approximate 10 percent, year-round price discount to eligible low-income customers through its TXU Energy Low-Income Assistance program. TXU Energy is the only retain electric provider in Texas that has consistently offered this program since 2006.

During the summer months, TXU Energy has declared a moratorium on disconnections and will provide flexible payment plans for customers designated as low-income, ill or disabled or who are at least 62 years of age. To avoid disconnection due to non-payment, customers can contact TXU Energy at 1-800-242-9113 and ask for a deferred payment plan.

“We are so thankful to have the support of TXU Energy,” said Rios. “We will be able to help many families make ends meet through this partnership,” he said.

Rodriguez discusses vets’ programs during visit

U.S. Congressman Ciro Rodriguez made a stop in Pecos on Tuesday, to discuss his work in veterans’ affairs and to tour two facilities just outside of town, as part of a nine-day swing through West Texas.

Rodriguez (D-San Antonio), visited the Pecos Research & Testing Center, the former Smithers Transportation Testing Center east of Pecos, to view work being conducted by the federal government, then stopped at the Reeves County Courthouse for a 20-minute presentation to local veterans before going to the Texas AgriLife Experiment Station west of Pecos for a tour of the current biofuel project to convert algae grown in man-made ponds into diesel fuel.

During his visit at the courthouse, Rodriguez presented an American flag to the local American Legion Post Commander Ron Dawley and discussed the status of bills before the House’s Veterans Affairs Committee and his recent trip to Iraq and the Middle East. “We’re still not there, but we’re still working on it,” he said of a measure to speed the transition for soldiers leaving the military and entering into both the Veterans Administration health care system and both the educational and trades systems for post-military jobs. “They’re aware that we’re still working on it and are raising the issue.”

“In the Vietnam era, we failed to be there for our soldiers. Opposition to the war translated into being against our soldiers,” Rodriguez said. “I know now there are some people against the (Iraq) war, but that’s not translating to being against the soldiers.” On the health care issues, Rodriguez said his committee had been successful in raising mileage rates for veterans traveling to VA hospitals from 11 cents to 40 cents per mile, and that they were working on improving VA facilities in the El Paso area.

“Fort Bliss is going to get 28,000 soldiers, so they’re looking at 75,000 people coming in,” he said. “We were able to get $78 million for the health care of the soldiers, because the VA facility there is one of the worst, and we’re looking at improving that.” He added that improvements also are being made to medical facilities in San Antonio. Rodriguez’s 23rd District stretches from San Antonio to the east side of El Paso.

His aide, Rene Munoz said a bill pending in Congress (HR 1527) that would allow veterans not living within 60 miles of a VA hospital or clinic to use local health care providers.

“Veterans more than 60 miles away from the nearest facility can select care within the community,” Munoz said. He added that the bill has cleared the Veterans Affairs Committee and is awaiting a vote from the full House.

Rodriguez’s communications director, Joshua Rosenblum, said the congressman had been in Van Horn before traveling to Pecos, and was headed to Alpine and Fort Davis, as part of a swing through 20 West Texas counties over a nine-day period.

Companies talk to Red Bluff about windmill farms at lake

Red Bluff Water Power Control District is looking at an offer to set up a windmill farm on the district’s property in northern Reeves and Loving counties, board members were told on Tuesday, during their regular monthly meeting in Pecos.

The board was also told the district will be seeking bids for a new auditor over the next few months, and discussed making sure the district’s bank funds were protected against default during the meeting, the first in two months for the board.

Managing director Randal Hartman said two companies have contacted the district about putting power-generating windmills in the area of Red Bluff Lake. The first windmill farm in the state was set up 15 years ago at Guadalupe Pass, and in recent years large farms have been set up between Fort Stockton and McCamey, south of Big Spring and west of Sweetwater in West Texas. But no farms have yet been put up in either Reeves or Loving counties.

“They’ve got a fellow in McCamey who’s the head of the whole deal who talked to me about putting one in, and I’ve also got someone from Austin who’s contacted us,” Hartman told the board.

“It doesn’t bother me if they put it up there,” said board member Jay Lee.

On the audit, Hartman said the district’s longtime auditor Randy Graham has informed them that he will not be able to do this district’s audit for the 2008 fiscal year. Hartman also said the district was looking at Monahans auditor Rocky Rivas to handle the upcoming audit work.

“Have we gotten an estimate yet?” board member Ava Gerke asked. She was told the audit will have to be put out for bid.

“His estimate may be high the first year, but that would be to get all of it together,” said Lee.

“He’ good and thorough,” Lee said, adding that the district’s books could be checked remotely by synching up QuickBooks files with Rivas. “You get an all-year long audit. It’s a better deal, because if you make a mistake, you can correct it before the year is over.”

On the district’s funds, Hartman said Red Bluff had gotten a letter from TransPecos Banks pledging the district’s funds would be protected against any financial problems. “We’re going to look and see if we’re fully covered,” Hartman said, noting that FDIC insurance only covers accounts up to $100,000 unless other safeguards, such as banks sharing in covering any deposits over that amount.

During discussion of the water report, the board noted the level of Red Bluff Lake was down to 76,228 acre/feet at the end of July, its low level for the year.

“All the water we’ve been catching has been below the dam,” Hartman said. “Brantley (north of Carlsbad) has been catching a bit, but they won’t release to us until November at the earliest.”

Gerke added that water from recent rains has been going to the Grandfalls area and to Imperial Reservoir. She also asked if there had been any fish stocking at Imperial lately. Hartman said while the reservoir has been stocked in the past, algae problems would likely kill off the fish right now.

“We can’t really do it because we’ve got golden algae in the river, and if we’ve got it in the river, we’ll get it in the reservoir,” he told the board.

Hartman also said there was no progress to report on the Malaga Bend salt alleviation project in New Mexico, but said that recent reports on the use of algae in salty water to produce biodiesel could result in development projects, both north of Red Bluff Lake and at Imperial Reservoir.

Pecos Trail board seeks nominations

The Texas Pecos Trail Region is pleased to announce a call for nominations for membership for board of directors.

The 11-member board is composed of professionals from throughout the region in a variety of backgrounds including tourism, economic development, parks and wildlife, civic leadership, and historic preservation.

The board is a decision-making entity that facilitates the program strategies of the Texas

Pecos Trail Region. Board members are selected through a nomination process and serve three-year terms.

There is a commitment of one board meeting every other month, plus additional time spent working on such issues as historic preservation, economic development, promotion and education. All candidates, regardless of background, should have an interest in heritage tourism.

The Texas Pecos Trail Region is a regional tourism initiative developed by the Texas Historical Commission (THC) that fosters regional economic development by promoting heritage tourism through the preservation of cultural and historic resources and regional partnerships. The Texas Pecos Trail Region encompasses 22 counties in west Texas including Andrews, Crane, Crockett, Ector, Edwards, Glasscock, Kimble, Kinney, Loving, Martin, Maverick, Midland, Pecos, Reagan, Reeves, Sterling, Sutton, Terrell, Upton, Val Verde, Ward, and Winkler.

Board application packets may be downloaded from the Pecos Trail web site at For more information or to receive a packet by mail or email, contact Regional Coordinator Paula Walker at 325.387.2927or HYPERLINK ""

Deadline for board application submissions is August 29, 2008.

School supply donations being taken

School supplies are being accepted and will be handed out to deserving students in the community.

Individuals who donate school supplies will receive a coupon from Movie Gallery.

School supplies donations are being accepted at the Movie Gallery, 1019 S. Cedar.

The supplies will be donated to the Community Council of Reeves County.

Churches set CCD class dates

The Catholic Churches announced that CCD classes will begin on the week of Sept. 22.

Parents are asked to attend the scheduled meetings so that they can meet the child’s teacher and very information/dates will be addressed at this time.

Parent meetings include: for regular CCD students, Kinder, first, second, fifth and sixth graders, Sept. 2, at 5:30-6:45 p.m., Santa Rosa Hall; parent meetings for First Holy Communion, 3rd and fourth graders, Sept. 2, at 7-8:30 p.m., Santa Rosa Hall; parent meetings for Confirmation I, Sept. 3, at 7-8:30 p.m., Santa Rosa Hall; parent meeting for Pre-Confirmation, 7th and 8th graders, Sept. 4, at 5:30-7 p.m., St. Catherine’s Hall.

Kindergarten plans parent-teacher event

Pecos Kindergarten will have their meet the teacher night from 6:30 p.m. until 7:30 p.m., Monday, Aug. 18, at 300 W. 10th Street.

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