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Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Salt dome storage plan raises aquifer concerns

Plans to use water from an aquifer to carve out a salt dome for use as a oil or gas storage facility has created concerns among farmers in the Coyonosa area and officials in Reeves County, who want to make sure the project doesn╠t contaminate any sources of irrigation or drinking water for the area.

Waha Storage and Transportation, LP, a subsidiary of Enstor Corp. out of Houston, is seeking permission to create the storage area on two sections of land in far eastern Reeves County. The two sections of land are along FM 1450, just to the west of the Pecos County line and the Coyanosa area, where farmers use underground water to grow onions, Pecos cantaloupes, cotton and other crops

¤In order to create the cavern they╠re going to have to inject water and then get the brine water out of their,Ë said Edgardo Madrid, the Town of Pecos City╠s water department director. He said Enstor is planning to use 200 million barrels of water over a five-year period to create the cavern in the project, which Reeves County Auditor Lynn Owens said last week had an estimated price tag of $90 million.

Madrid said Mark Henthaws with the Texas Railroad Commission visited with local officials, in support of Enstor╠s plans. ¤He came here and explained this is a common practice in this area,Ë Madrid said, adding that a similar facility is located near Kermit in Winkler County, operated by Unocal.

The water would come from the Cenozoic Pecos Alluvium Aquifer, a shallow level water source that farmers use for crop irrigation in Coyonosa. Madrid said the city had been in contact with the Middle Pecos Growndwater Conservation District, based in Fort Stockton, which is worried about salt contamination of the aquifer. The district includes Coyanosa, but does not include the parcels of land purchased by Enstor.

Zan Matthies with the Middle Pecos district said in an e-mail that Coyanosa, Pyote and Odessa get drinking water off the Pecos Alluvium Aquifer. He also said the Town of Pecos City gets water from their, but Madrid said that based on a study by Arcadia, the city╠s engineering consultants, the water supply for the Town of Pecos City would not be affected. ¤Pecos is on the Santa Rosa Aquifer,Ë Madrid said, which is a deeper aquifer than the Pecos Alluvium. The salt dome site is also about 10 miles east of the city╠s Worsham and South Worsham water fields.

¤Even though it won╠t affect the city (water), we really need to see that it won╠t affect the Pecos aquifer,Ë Madrid said. ¤The county and city are ready to coordiate to help the farms in the area.Ë

Enstor is seeking an Enterprise Zone designation for their project. City and county officials met last Wednesday to discuss the situation. County Judge Jimmy Galnido said during the Oct. 11 Reeves County Commissioners Court meeting that , ¤The first concern would be our water fields.Ë

Madrid said that Reeves and Pecos County planned to have new studies done by Arcadia and another engineering firm out of San Antonio on the project, and they could also consider having part of Reeves County join the Middle Pecos Groundwater Conservation District, to give it more control over the project.

¤It might be possible to prevent them from doing this project, or for them to get the water from another aquifer,Ë Madrid said, adding that Enstor already has identified a second aquifer, the Capitan Reef Formation, from which they could get the 200 million barrels needed to carve out the salt dome.

Madrid said that aquifer rests to the north of the Coyanosa area and stretches into Ward and Winkler counties. It╠s also the aquifer Unocal used to carve out its salt dome near Kermit, but it would add to the cost of the Reeves County project.

¤To do that the company is going to have to construct deeper wells and construct 13 miles of pipeline, so it would be more expensive for the company to drill those wells,Ë Madrid said.

TxDOT officials do U-turn on restoring I-20 rock map

The rock map of Texas removed from the U.S. 285 overpass last month under a Texas Department of Transportation landscaping program will be put back in place as part of the project, TxDOT officials said on Thursday.

The map had been part of view for westbound drivers approaching the U.S. 285 exit since 1997, when it was placed there by Zavala Middle School seventh grade students. But the removal of the map in September without warning resulted in protests to both the agency and to the Pecos City Council from local residents.

That included a statement by Charlotte Slack to the council during their meeting on Thursday morning, just a few hours before TxDOT announced it would reverse its previous decision.

¤We╠re going to be putting the flag montage back on the concrete,Ë said Glen Larum, public information officer for TxDOT╠s Odessa District. ¤We just have to do a change order with the contractor, so he╠ll work on the other faces first.Ë

¤It was really the students╠ project that pointed us in the direction we took to landscape the interchange,Ë said District Engineer Lauren Gardu│o, who oversees construction and maintenance issues for a 12-country district including Reeves County.

¤We thought the community was okay with our original proposal, based on the feedback we got while the project was being developed,Ë Gardu│o said in a TxDOT news release. ¤But it is obvious now that we missed some important input.Ë

Larum said last month the main problem with the map was maintenance, since the students involved with the project have since graduated from high school. The original 1997 agreement to place the map on the overpass said that students would continue to keep the map in good condition.

TxDOT officials said the lack of maintenance, combined with the erosion of the surrounding dirt, was causing problems at the site, which is located in a section of town with a high salt content that makes growing plants difficult.

¤In addition to the erosion, the only place where grass would grow on the embankment was inside the rock outline,Ë Gardu│o said last month, ¤and that added to the maintenance problem.Ë

Slack was the first person to notice the map╠s removal and voice a formal protest. On Thursday, she told the council, ¤They insisted they got community input, but I don╠t think they tried very hard for that.Ë

¤(Garduno) admitted to me only after I voiced my concerns and other people did that they planned to put a plaque there,Ë Slack said. TxDOT officials said they would place a plaque, commemorating the students╠ efforts, among additional landscape features at the interchange, after the initial protests were voiced about the map╠s removal.

The plans also included native plants and ¤Welcome to PecosË ironwork made by Pecos school students, and an outline of Texas inscribed in the concrete. The outline of Texas was to also feature area brands, a project which students will be invited to participate in.

But Slack said she and others weren╠t happy with those plans, and after talking to the council on Friday, said she talked with Town of Pecos City utilities director Edgardo Madrid, who said he would be meeting with TxDOT engineers that afternoon, and invited her to talk with them as well.

Slack and Austin Elementary principal Cindy Duke joined Madrid at the meeting. Duke was a seventh grade teacher at Zavala seven years ago when her class was given approval by TxDOT to install the rock map of the state on the northeast embankment of the overpass. ¤She (Duke) said are you going to put river rocks or little rocks, and they said it would be just like it was, and she said are you going to paint it like it was, and they said ╬yes╠,Ë Slack said on Friday.

The landscaping project was designed to replace the dirt embankment with concrete forms, Larum said last month. The apron [called rip-rap] will prevent embankment erosion. Similar projects already have been completed along Interstate 10 in Fort Stockton and near Balmorhea.

TxDOT will be responsible for maintenance at the U.S. 285 location.

Larum said TxDOT engineer Mohammad Mobed met with Pecos City Council members and with Reeves County Commissioners and County Judge Jimmy Galindo to outline the landscaping plans, though at the time there was no specific mention of plans to remove the rock map.

State resource team sets Thursday meeting

Members of the Texas Main Street program╠s Resource Team will be in Pecos Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to conduct a survey of town needs and to hold a public hearing to report their findings to the community Thursday evening.

Town of Pecos City Main Street coordinator Tom Rivera told city council members during their meeting this past Thursday that the Town Hall meeting with the Resource Team will take place at 5:30 p.m., this Thursday Oct. 21, at the Community Center, 508 S. Oak Street. The public is invited to attend.

The meeting was among a number of items touched on by the council during their meeting. The city was approved a year ago for the Texas Main Street Program. First Lady Anita Perry was in town on March 30 for the official dedication of the program, while the Resource Team is made up of staff of the Texas Main Street Program and a group of volunteer professionals.

¤During that town meeting they╠ll present their findings and show recommendations,Ë Rivera said, at which time the Resource Team will present feasible short- and long-term recommendations for Downtown Pecos.

Council members were presented with the result of the survey on Sept. 23 by Rivera, who said the surveys were taken at several sites in town over a month-and-a-half period and would be used by the Resource Team.

The council also was briefed during their meeting by Rob Gilbert, vice president of sales for Peddle Valve, Inc., the subcontractor for Johnson Controls, which has been installing new water meters in the city for the past three months. He said the project was expected to be completed by this week, though city utilities director Edgardo Madrid said there still were some items that needed to be repaired by the companies before the project could be declared complete.

¤Everybody╠s been great to us. We had a real good time in Pecos,Ë Gilbert told the council.

Madrid also said the city was progressing on work in building the new skateboard park at Seventh and Alamo Streets.

¤The restrooms╠ concrete pad is already poured,Ë he said, after work was delayed for several months while city crews worked on completing the South Worsham water field project.

Madrid was also asked about problems with trash piling up in dumpsters recently. He said the problem was connected to the recent rains, which forced Duncan Disposal to transport some trash to their landfill west of Odessa when access to the new Pecos landfill was cut off by muddy roads.

¤Charter (Duncan) is only using two trucks instead of three since the trucks are not going to Odessa, but the rain forced Charter to use the Odessa dump again,Ë he said.

The council approved accounts payable in the sum of $524,117 during the meeting. That included a file management unit purchased for the Pecos Criminal Justice Center at a cost of $14,454, and accelerated payments on a CJC van, city accountant Mark Rushing said. He added that the CJC had also had reimbursed $56,000 into the general fund.

The Council also agreed to a request from Pecos Housing Authority Executive Director Nellie Gomez to waive $5,940 in taxes owed to the city by the PHA. The move was an extension of a waiver granted by the city to the PHA in 2002.

¤The taxes are waived so the Housing Authority can use the money for other things,Ë she said.

Council members also reappointed former mayor Bill Hubbs to the city╠s position on the Midland International Airport board, and set Nov. 20 as the date for a surplus item sale.

¤We have lots of surplus equipment at the city that is no long in use,Ë Rivera said. ¤There are a number of surplus vehicles, and I╠m working with the chief (police chief Clay McKinney) to put some of their forfeited vehicles up.Ë

School board alters cheerleader demerit rules

After meeting behind closed doors to a Level III complaint by parents, Pecos-Barstow-Toyah school board members agreed to amend the rules for cheerleading, during their meeting Thursday night.

Louise and Emmit Moore had filed a Level III complaint with the Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD, because their daughter had been dismissed from the cheerleading squad.

Louise Moore said that the couple had not filed a lawsuit, but rather they had filed a restraining order that would keep the district from removing her from the cheerleading team. The initial action was filed in early September, prior to the Eagles╠ Sept. 10 homecoming game against Kermit.

¤All this happened during homecoming and since she╠s a senior she really wanted to participate as a cheerleader,Ë said Moore. ¤This restraining order was so that they couldn╠t remove her and she could still participate during that week.Ë

Moore said that the sponsor had removed her daughter from the team, citing five demerits she had received. ¤However, we felt that some of those demerits were not warranted, she didn╠t deserve them,Ë said Moore.

¤Some of those tardies were excused and she had reasons for being tardy,Ë she said. ¤In another instance, she was yelling across the room at her friend and the sponsor thought she was yelling at her.Ë

The Moores spoke to the school board, superintendent and the board╠s attorney behind closed during Thursday╠s regular school board meeting.

Following the closed session, P-B-T ISD Superintendent Ray Matthews read out the decision that was made behind closed doors.

¤They decided to change the policy where the cheerleader sponsor will evaluate the parties and make them excused or unexcused,Ë said Matthews.

¤If they are excused they will not count as a demerit and they will be looking at all the tardies,Ë he said.

The tardies will be examined, from June 2004 until now. ¤This will include all the cheerleaders, including those that have been dismissed as well,Ë he said.

Matthews said that all the tardies would be evaluated to see if they are excused or unexcused. ¤If they have some that are excused and not be counted as demerits they will be placed back on the team,Ë he said.

The group also met with the district╠s attorney about drug testing, but Matthews said, ¤No action was taken on that subject.Ë

The subject came up during the September board meeting.

¤It was just one parent that was asking about it, we had the high school principal do some research and now we╠ve discussed it with the attorney,Ë said Matthews. ¤However, there has been no action taken on the subject.Ë

Firm asking out of track resurfacing deal

Work at the Austin Elementary School Gym and the turf at the Pecos High School football field has been completed, but track renovations still need to be taken care of.

¤We had the bid with the field turf, but now the company that was supposed to do the track renovations are insinuating that they might want to get out of it,Ë said P-B-T ISD Superintendent Ray Matthews during the district╠s regular school board meeting, held last Thursday in the Technology Center.

¤The board needs to approve it and we need to seek other bids,Ë said Matthews.

FieldTurf won the bid to install artificial turf and redo the track╠s surface back in March, at a cost of $517,000. The track work portion of the bid was supposed to cost around $40,000, and Matthews said that it would probably be best if the district sought other bids, before they let the current company out of their contract.

¤They said they might want to get out of it, but we need to look at some other bids before we let them out of the contract,Ë said Matthews.

Matthews said that he had spoken with architect Monte Hunter who suggested that they go out for competitive sealed proposals.

Matthews said that it would cost about $400 to advertise for the competitive sealed proposals.

¤What kind of timeline do we have?Ë asked board member Steve Valenzuela.

¤We╠ll have to wait until after football and before track,Ë said Matthews. ¤There could possibly be some issues with that, that we╠ll need to work out,Ë he said.

Matthews said that the track had undergone some damage during the installation of the turf at the field.

¤We╠re trying to recoup that as well, the damage that they did at the track,Ë said Matthews. Board members agreed to go out for competitive sealed proposals and to begin the work as soon as possible.

Matthews told the group that turf installation at the field had been substantially completed. ¤They are using it, it╠s really nice, everyone should make it a point to go out and see it,Ë he said.

¤We are going through a punch list and taking care of little items,Ë said Matthews. In other business, Matthews congratulated Austin Elementary School for receiving a rating of ¤Recognized.Ë

¤All the campuses did really well, we╠re proud of them, but Austin was outstanding,Ë said Matthews. ¤And the high school came out of needing improvement to academically acceptable,Ë he said.

Board members authorized delegating authority to the superintendent for waivers on requesting class size.

Matthews said that there is currently one class at Pecos Kindergarten that has 23 students in that class.

¤What we did is we added an aide for that class to help out,Ë said Matthews. ¤They came to the board to ask for a waiver, and if the board approves, we can just do it so that the superintendent can do it, with just my signature,Ë he said.

The group approved a shared service agreement with the Regional Day School Program for the Deaf, something that has been in place for a number of years.

¤We just need to approve it to keep it going,Ë said Matthews.

¤The only thing we pay is the excess cost,Ë said Special Education Director Donna Davis. Davis said that it is funded by the State of Texas and costs the district only $8,000 a year per child.

¤It╠s an excellent service and it would normally cost a lot more, but we just pay the excess,Ë she said.

Davis said that there is currently one child that attends the program there and one that receives it here.

The Boy Scouts requested the use of the Austin Elementary School cafeteria and waive fees and Odessa College Law Enforcement Academy will be using the Pecos High School Auditorium for the graduation ceremony scheduled for Dec. 3 at 7 p.m.

Board members approved a bid for foreclosed property located at 618 W. Sixth St., in the amount of $1,000, a bid by Emma Jasso.

By-law questions stall PEDC appointment

Naming a new board member to the Pecos Economic Development Corporation proved to be tougher than expected for the Town of Pecos City Council on Thursday, as it tabled any action pending resolution of problems with the corporation╠s rules dealing with the terms of its appointed officials.

The problem stemmed from the length of the terms for each member as listed in the current articles of incorporation. The rules are in conflict with state law on the length of time officials on economic development corporations can hold their seats.

¤State law says the most you can serve is six years. It doesn╠t say anything about terms,Ë said city attorney Scott Johnson. But the current PEDC by-laws allow members to be appointed to three consecutive three-year terms.

Johnson said the city was seeking to change its rules to allow for only a maximum of two consecutive three-year terms, to conform with the state law. The council was told members could be returned to the board later, but would only be able to serve six consecutive years. However, Mike Burkholder, chairman of the PEDC board, said he would prefer the rule change on terms be made through the board itself, and asked that they be allowed to make the change in a meeting scheduled for next week.

¤We addressed this in July when I became chairman,Ë he said, adding that he named board member John Grant to study revisions to the PEDC by-laws on appointed terms.

Burkholder was named PEDC Chairman and acting president of the corporation over the summer, following the resignation of Oscar Saenz from the board and the resignation of president Gari Ward. Both have moved out of town; Saenz to the Dallas area and Ward to Tucson, Ariz., though his resignation doesn╠t officially take effect until Oct. 31.

Burkholder also said that the board was looking at setting up variable terms for its members, as opposed to the three-year terms discussed by Johnson.

¤We╠ve been in violations for six years. I can╠t see one more week making any different,Ë said Burkholder, who told them any changes by the board would then be submitted to the council.

Councilman Danny Rodriguez then criticized the PEDC for a lack of communications with the council over the six years since the PEDC was created. ¤We have an organization, but we haven╠t had any communication.Ë

¤My door is open. I╠m available,Ë Burkholder said. ¤You can get me any time you want me. I╠m dedicated since being thrust into the (chairman╠s) position to do whatever to make this a success.Ë

Burkholder also said he had been unable to get in touch with Rodriguez recently, which brought a rebuke from audience member Sammy Urias. ¤He╠s been at the high school for the past two years,Ë said Urias, referring to Rodriguez╠s former job as Pecos High School principal.

Mayor Dot Stafford cut off Urias╠ remarks but later allowed him a chance to speak, and he told the council they should completely eliminate the PEDC.

¤I was against the economic development (corporation) when it was brought before the council. It has not done anything for us,Ë he said. ¤Oscar Saenz developed this to get two abatements for Anchor.Ë

Saenz worked at the Anchor Foods plant in the mid 1990s, when it received a tax abatement from the city and county. He retired three years before Anchor sold out to McCain Foods, which shut the plant down nine months after the purchase, in May of 2002, costing the city 700 jobs.

¤What other businesses has it brought?Ë Urias said. ¤We need to abolish it and bring the tax money back into the city. We need to give it to the local businesses and give companies five year abatements and then they leave.Ë

Stafford defended the PEDC, saying it had helped bring in the Odessa College Technical Training Center, and had acquired the land for the U.S. Air Force RBTI low-level bomber training site southwest of town. Earlier in the meeting, Burkholder said he had been in contact on Oct. 12 with officials with the Texas Transportation Institute and Applied Research Associates, who are looking into reopening the Smithers Tire Testing Center track east of Pecos.

¤I╠m to meet with them on Nov. 1 to develop plans for the test track,Ë Burkholder said. ¤We╠ve had extensive communications about the test track for the past three months.Ë ¤It looks like a done deal, but it isn╠t a done deal, because we haven╠t leased the land yet, but it╠s close,Ë he added.

Grant would later discuss the problems he has had with other board PEDC members since being named to the board, and added he is considering resigning from the board. ¤I╠ll make that decision fairly quickly,Ë he said.

On the actual appointment to the PEDC board, council members were divided. Stafford recommended local businessman Leo Hung, but said she had received a letter from Joe Keese with TransPecos Bank recommending Bruce Salcido of TransPecos Foods to the board. TransPecos Foods took over the Anchor plant in September of 2002, while Keese was named to the PEDC board in July to replace Saenz.

Councilman Michael Benavides had a third nomination, Jimmy Dutchover, the transportation director for the Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD and a member of the P-B-T Credit Union, while Rodriguez said he needed more time to think about the nomination. Mayor Pro-Tem Gerald Tellez suggested doing both the nomination and the term modifications at the same time, and tabling both issues until a later date, while Grant said the council should wait until a new board member is named before making any changes to the articles of incorporation.

Rodriguez was also told by Stafford that the PEDC board would be the ones too pick a permanent replacement for Ward.

¤Before we name a new president, I would like for the new by-laws to be implemented,Ë said councilwoman Angelica Valenzuela, who is the council╠s member on the PEDC board. ¤What if the board hires somebody like Gari Ward again? What can the city council do to get rid of them?Ë Urias asked.

¤You╠ve got to have faith in he council,Ë said Stafford, while Grant said despite his differences over the governance of the PEDC, it has had some successes over the past few years.

¤I think the board will be responsive to the whole community better under the new by-laws,Ë Grant said, before the council tabled the item.

Burkholder also told the council the PEDC was having abstract company Elliott and Waldren do a pro-bono study of ownership rights to 1,800 acres of land around the Pecos Municipal Airport. He said the city may have title to mineral rights in the area, which could increase the city╠s property valuations, based on possible oil or gas drilling leases. The city saw only a minimal rise in valuations this year, which added to its budget problems, while increases in oil and gas prices added $75 million in valuations to Reeves County, the Reeves County Hospital District and the P-B-T ISD.

Fundraiser set for Ybarra at Saragosa Hall

An asado plate fundraiser will be held beginning at 10 a.m. on Friday at Saragosa Hall to raise money for Flora M. Ybarra, who is undergoing medical treatment after suffering a sudden illness.

The plates will be $5 apiece, and can be picked up at Saragosa Hall on East Sixth Street. Orders of four plates or more can be delivered after 10 a.m. on Friday, by calling (432) 445-5225.

Balmorhea ISD gets top ranking on state╠s fiscal management list

Balmorhea Independent School District officials announced that the district received a rating of ¤Superior AchievementË under Texas╠ new Schools FIRST Financial accountability rating system.

The Superior Achievement rating is the state╠s highest demonstrating the quality of Balmorhea ISD╠s financial management and reporting system.

This is the first year of Schools FIRST (Financial Accountability Rating System of Texas), a financial accountability system for Texas school districts developed by the Texas Education Agency in response to Senate Bill 875 of the 76th Texas Legislature in 1999. The primary goal of schools FIRST is to achieve quality performance in the management of school districts╠ financial resources, a goal made more significant due to the complexity of accounting associated with Texas╠ school finance system.

¤We are very pleased with Balmorhea ISD╠s Schools FIRST rating,Ë said Balmorhea ISD Superintendent Mary Lou Carrasco. ¤It shows that our district is making the most of our taxpayers╠ dollars. The rating shows that Balmorhea╠s schools are accountable not only for student learning, but also for achieving these results cost-effectively and efficiently.Ë

The Schools FIRST accountability rating system assigns one of the four financial accountability ratings to Texas school districts, with the highest being ¤Superior Achievement,Ë followed by ¤Above-Standard Achievement,Ë ¤Standard AchievementË and ¤Substandard Achievement.Ë

Districts with serious data quality problems may receive the additional rating of ¤Suspended-Data Quality.Ë Districts that receive the ¤Substandard AchievementË or ¤Suspended-Data QualityË ratings under Schools FIRST must file a corrective action plan with the Texas Education Agency.

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