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Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Friday, April 25, 2008

Stubborn blaze at service yard keeps firefighters busy

Pecos Volunteer Firefighters spent almost five hours Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning battling a stubborn fire that broke out in the yard of an oilfield service company on the west side of town.

Four fire trucks responded at about 10:10 p. m., to the fire at Anchor Drilling Fluids, one of the new oilfield service companies in Pecos, and located in the 2200 block of West Third Street.

The fire started on the outside of the building, on the north side, not inside the huge warehouse, according to Pecos Volunteer Fire Chief Freddy Contreras.

“It took us until 3 a.m., to extinguish the flames,” Contreras said.

He explained that the material that was on fire was very fine and compact. Firefighters had to take it apart and wet it down, which is the reason it took them so long.

“We went back in the morning, because it was kind of smoldering,” said Contreras. He said they had returned at 7:20 the next morning because the inside of some of the pellets were still smoldering.

The fire couldn’t be seen, because of the way it the material was compacted so tightly. “Once we started moving it and tearing it apart, we could tell, which ones were still smoldering,” said Contreras.

He added they would continue to monitor it in case there was still some danger of the pellets reigniting.

“The material was mainly shredded paper,” said assistant manager Eddie Sotelo.

He said that the fire was contained to the outside of the building, on the north side, and was called in by some neighbors on that side of the business.

There was no damage to the building itself and nobody was there at the time of the fire.

“We had all just left about 45 minutes before they called us that there was a fire out here,” said Sotelo.

“The material that burned is material that we ship out to the oil rigs and it can be expensive,” said Sotelo. He added that they don’t know exactly what the exact cost of the fire was.

Sotelo said that they don’t know if the fire was intentionally set, but that it is a possibility.

The exact cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Reward offered for information on Barstow fire

Officials with the State Fire Marshal’s Office are seeking information on a suspected arson fire at the Ward County Sheriff’s Department office in Barstow on April 12.

Ward County Sheriff’s deputies and the State Fire Marshal’s office were in Barstow on April 15, investigating the fire that was labeled as arson at the sheriff’s department substation.

Ward County Sheriff Mikel Strickland said some type of flammable device was thrown through the window of the building, causing some fire damage.

John Kondratick, with the State Fire Marshals office said that they are looking for the suspect or suspects that set the fire intentionally.

A reward is being offered for any information and can run up to $1,000 for any information leading to the arrest of the suspects.

“It was intentionally set and has been termed as arson,” said Kondratick.

The State Fire Marshal and the Texas Rangers are investigating the incident.

If anybody has any information they can contact the State Fire Marshals office at 1-877-434-7345.

Early voting in city, school races starts Monday

Early voting will begin on Monday at the Pecos Community Center on South Oak Street for voting in the May 10 town of Pecos City and Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD elections.

Voters in both races will cast ballots at the Community Center, 508 S. Oak St., in the school board and city council elections. Early voting is set for April 28 through May 6 and the polling place will be open from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m.

In the city council race, four individuals are running for two positions that will be open on the council, after current members Michael Benavides and Angelica Valenzuela opted against seeking new two-year terms. The newcomers vying for a position on the council are Bernadette Portillo, Oscar Ramirez, Tom Rivera and Cody West.

Voters will also cast ballots in the race for mayor, where incumbent Richard Alligood is unopposed for a new two-year term.

For the Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD board, incumbents David Flores and Paul Deishler are being challenged by newcomer Louis Juarez. There are two positions open for the three-year terms on the school board.

The scheduled May 10 election in Pecos for the Reeves County Hospital board was cancelled, because none of the three positions up for election are contested.

Deputies latest marijuana bust finds 350 pounds

Reeves County Sheriff’s Department Criminal Interdiction Unit took another large load of illegal drugs off the streets on Tuesday, the second major drug seizure this week.

Deputies said the department’s Criminal Interdiction Unit initiated a traffic stop on a 1998 Chevrolet Blazer on Tuesday at mile marker 36 on Interstate 20, three miles west of Pecos, for a traffic violation.

The driver of the Chevy Blazer was Joshua Jarrod Johnson, 23, and with him was a passenger in the vehicle, identified as Bryan Avila, 18.

As a result of the roadside investigation, officers asked for consent to search the vehicle. The driver granted consent to the search, according to the officer’s report, and during the search of the vehicle, officers located a fabricated hidden compartment in the vehicle and inside the compartment, they located approximately 100 bricks of marijuana.

Officers also located approximately 40 bricks of marijuana hidden inside the spare tire.

The total combined weight was about 140 pounds with a value of approximately $100,000.

Both suspects were subsequently charged with possession of marijuana over 50 pounds and under 2,000 pounds, a Second Degree Felony and unlawful possession of a criminal instrument, a Third Degree Felony.

If convicted both suspects face a minimum of five years and a maximum of 25 years in prison.

Johnson and Avila both remain at Reeves County Jail awaiting arraignment.

On Monday, deputies stopped two vehicles on I-20 at mile marker 39 and discovered approximately 350 pounds of marijuana with an estimated value of $250,000. The drivers o the two vehicles, identified as Francisco Archuleta, 31, and Sabino Florez Mendoza, 37, also were charged with possession of marijuana over 50 pounds and under 2,000 pounds.

PEDC hears proposals for new housing, Supercenter

Pecos Economic Development Corp. board members were given updates on plans for new housing construction projects, and on the possibility of a new Wal-Mart mini-Supercenter being located in Pecos, during the board’s noontime meeting on Monday at City Hall.

“We had a builder come in to basically present his credentials and discuss the delivery of housing projects, both single-family and multiple family,” said PEDC president Robert Tobias.

He said the building, Clay Schlinke of Tesero Homes and Development, is originally from Sanderson, but has been building housing in San Antonio and surrounding areas. “That’s where I came in contact with him,” said Tobias, who invited him to meet with the PEDC board.

While Pecos’ population declined by 25 percent during the 1990s and the early part of this decade, the energy exploration boom over the past four years has taxed the city’s housing capacity, with many homes that were left vacant for years being unrepairable. The result has been motels filled to capacity over the past 2 1/2 years and sales tax totals that have doubled since 2003, but shortages of workers in many local businesses due to the lack of available homes.

Schlinke is currently building a 350-family housing project in Del Rio, and had previously built a 20 building multi-unit complex in the San Antonio area. “He just completed a 200-unit apartment complex in El Paso,” Tobias said.

“I hope he is one of the solutions to bringing housing to Pecos,” he added.

The Pecos store’s current manager, Richard Russell, made the presentation on Wal-Mart’s future plans. He told the board the company is looking at building a mini-Supercenter, similar to one that opened in Sweetwater in 2005 and which is currently under construction in Brady.

“They would go from 110 employees to over 300 employees, so from that standpoint they would add a couple of hundred new jobs,” Tobias said. “That would bring new families to town and cause a significant increase in the sales tax revenues the city is now getting.”

“We’re just asking for support in getting a Supercenter here,” Russell said on Thursday. “We’re talking about it and trying to get things rolling right now.”

He said the facility if built would employ about 350 workers. However, there’s currently no timetable for the project, and no site for the new building has been purchased.

Pecos has had only one grocery store, La Tienda Thriftway, for the past decade. The mini-Supercenter would only be about 60-70 percent the size of the larger stores in Midland and Odessa, but Tobias said a new facility would help keep shoppers in Pecos.

“From my standpoint, we’re seeing many people going to Midland-Odessa for shopping, and we’re looking at stopping that leakage in the future,” he said.

Tobias said the board also heard from Reeves County Hospital CEO Al LaRochelle on the hospital’s plans for a new 20,000 square foot medical clinic to be built near the current facility. The hospital is currently seeking bids on the new building, to be located within 1,000 yards of the current facility, and LaRochelle hopes to have the hospital’s four new physicians located there, while also bringing in new dentists to serve Pecos and the surrounding area.

Towards that project, the PEDC voted after an executive session to recommend to the Pecos City Council that just over three acres of land located along Stafford Boulevard west of the hospital be made available for construction of a new clinic. The item was added to the city council’s Thursday evening agenda.

LaRochelle told the council earlier this month he was looking at that land, while continuing to negotiate with Dimension Enterprises LLC, which is seeking to build a similar-sized building for a clinic on land sold to them by the city in 2005 and located just to the south of the sections along Stafford Boulevard.

Tobias said the PEDC has no recommendations at this time for 4.24 acres of land returned to the city by BOF Services. The oilfield company bought the site, located on Interstate 20 and Highway 17 for its oilfield service operations, but agreed to sell it back to the city earlier this month after operations in the area outgrew the site. However, he did say the PEDC would favor some sort of commercial development related to retail sales and access to I-20.

“Oilfield is better off south on Highway 17,” he said.

RCH board eyes minimum wage hike options

Faced with similar employee losses as other government and private entities in the area due to higher salaries in other industries, Reeves County Hospital District board members were scheduled to look at increasing the hospital’s minimum wage, as part of their Thursday evening meeting at the hospital’s classroom.

Hospital CEO Al LaRochelle said the board would be given three options for increasing the minimum salaries at the facility, though he said even the higher pay levels would not be able to match those paid by some other area businesses, mainly in the oil and gas drilling field and related services.

“What I’m trying to do is what the city just did, when they raised their minimum wage from $9 to $11 an hour,” he said. “But that is way higher than what we’re looking at. We’re just trying to keep up with the Joneses.”

“Of all the public workers in the community, hospital workers are at the low end of the scale, and we’re losing people. They’re going to different entities and to the oil patch,” LaRochelle said. “But it also costs money to recruit and then to train new workers.”

LaRochelle said the hospital is still working to cut its annual budget deficit while increasing salaries to cut the attrition rate at the facility. “If we just raise it to $8 an hour that would affect 34 employees and cost $57,000,” he said. “At $9, it would affect 50 employees and cost $153,000.”

However, he added that given the hospital’s current finances, it’s unlikely they can afford the third option of $10 an hour.

“That would affect 63 employees and cost us $274,000,” LaRochelle said.

Along with the worker salaries, he said the hospital would also look at discontinuing acceptance of plans that supplement Medicare, saying that the facility was losing money on those plans.

“They tell them it’s like Medicare, but it’s not. It actually costs hospitals to use these plans,” he said, since the reimbursement rate is below that for Medicare. “We have to post a notice to John Q. Public that we are not going to accept these types of Medicare plans sold by private companies, because the taxpayers have to pay the difference.”

LaRochelle said at the start of the meeting the board would swear in Jim Breese as Precinct 3 representative, replacing Terry Honacker, who stepped down in October after serving for the past two years as Precinct 3 representative on the board. Breese is the only candidate in the May 10 election for the Precinct 3 seat, and will serve for one month in an interim role, before taking the oath for a full two-year term in late May.

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