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Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Friday, November 12, 2004

Air Force seeks Big Bend high altitude training zone

Staff Writer

A high-level flight training area over the Big Bend region of West Texas is being sought by the United States Air Force, which if approved would be operated out of the Air Force’s Realistic Bomber Training Initiative site southwest of Pecos.

The proposal to create the Pyote Training Area was discussed by officials from Dyess Air Force Base on Tuesday, during a visit to Pecos to update local residents on the RBTI program, which currently is facing a challenge before a federal appeals court.

Col. Jeff Beene with the 7th Bomber Wing out of Dyess AFB in Abilene conducted most of the hour-long briefing, which included updates on the USAF weaponry for the B-1 bombers and their use in the current U.S. military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Beene also explained the Air Force’s need for a low-level flight training for crews on the B-1s, which is the focus of the current lawsuit filed by the Davis Mountains Trans-Pecos Heritage Association. Their suit alleged that the training flights, sometimes as low as 500 feet off the ground, can keep skittish cattle from reproducing and stampede them into fences and other obstacles. They also say the vibration coming from above can pulverize the foundations of old buildings.

In a ruling last month, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans said the Air Force and the Federal Aviation Administration must prepare a supplemental environmental impact statement on the route to answer questions about the effects of the bombers' wake turbulence and the impacts on civil and commercial aviation as required by the National Environmental Policy Act.

“Our Air Combat Command is working on that,” Beene told those gathered at the Odessa College-Pecos Technical Training Center. “I sure hope it works out in our favor. It would be a big impact if it doesn’t.”

The bombing route was created to provide low-altitude flight training using high-tech ground stations, and West Texas was chosen because the route was closer to where the B-1 and B-52 bombers were stationed, at Dyess and Barksdale AFB in Shreveport, La.

The stations simulate battle conditions and monitor whether simulated bombs hit their targets. The plan called for flights as low as 300 feet above the ground, though those don't include flights by the Barksdale AFB B-52 fleet. The bombers also use the IR-71 flight area in the South Plains between Lubbock and Abilene, which is for training at higher levels than along the RTBI path.

The Dyess officials also spoke to residents in Snyder on Tuesday about the IR-71 operations, before flying to Pecos for the RBTI briefing. A challenge to the higher-level flights in that area was rejected by a federal court two years ago.

“Please understand this (training) is getting harder and harder to get every day,” Beene said, citing problems with Air Force bases located near expanding cities in other parts of the country.

The newly proposed flights would be far higher up than the current RBTI training missions in West Texas, ranging from 18,000 to 45,000 feet in altitude. “We want to carve out an area above the existing low-level route,” said Beene, who explained the plan would allow training flights to operate both at the lower levels along the current route through the Trans-Pecos area, and at higher levels in the Pyote Training Area.

“We want to be able to transistor from low-level altitudes to high level,” he said, adding that the new area would also allow for training with formation practice involving other models of Air Force fighter planes, and for training either in tandem or against those planes in simulated combat situations.

The Pyote name was chosen due to the historic nature of the Rattlesnake Bomber Base, the U.S. Army airfield northeast of Pecos where World War II bomber pilots trained. But the high-level zone does not include the area around Pyote, or any areas along Interstate 20 east of the I-10 junction.

The Pyote Training Area would run on a line roughly from north of Van Horn to southeast of Fort Stockton, and include the entire area south to the Rio Grande. It would also run south of the RBTI site in Reeves County.

“What makes this attractive is there are very few airline paths through the area,” Beene said, explaining that domestic U.S. commercial flights normally stay on paths that run to the north of Interstate 10.

He added that the Federal Aviation Administration met on Tuesday to discuss the plan. “My goal is to have this operational by summer,” Beene said. Any conflicts would be handled by the FAA control center in Albuquerque, N.M.

If approved, the RBTI site in Reeves County would maintain its current staffing levels, though the electronic emitters used to simulate targets for the bombers would be changed for the Pyote Training Area flights.

“We’d probably be looking to acquire a couple of more sites to put the emitters,” he said. Beene said the training missions at low levels were needed in order to simulate combat conditions overseas for the bombers, which are expected to remain a key part of the Air Force’s fleet for the next 30 years.

“You have to understand that what you’re doing here is making a difference for your United States Air Force,” he said. “To have this so close to us (at Dyess) means we can be more effective with operating costs.”

“We’re one of only two Air Force airplanes that have low-level missions. Because of our low-level following radar we have to continue that mission,” he said. “We have to ingress and egress (enemy) radar systems at low levels. With the terrain-following capability, the only way we can defeat new fighters is to go down to the dirt.”

He did acknowledge the low level flights could be disconcerting, and added that in one of his final B-1 missions in Afghanistan before returning to the United States, the bombers were called in by U.S. Special Forces soldiers scouting out a house believed to contain a major weapons cache.

“We made two high-speed passes over the house in Afghanistan with the B-1, and they gave up everything,” he said. “Special Forces used it quite a lot. Sometimes you don’t even have to fire a shot. You just let them know you have air power and can call it in at any time.”

Chamber given update on PHS grade problems

Extra tutoring and other options are being implemented at Pecos High School as a result of the large number of students who failed the first six weeks, Pecos Chamber of Commerce members were told during their regular monthly meeting on Tuesday.

Chamber members were also told about possible Class 4A or 5A playoff games next weekend at Eagle Stadium, which would involve local organizations assisting with the events.

Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD Superintendent Ray Matthews talked to Chamber members about the grade situation, which left over 100 students ineligible for extracurricular activities last month.

“We’ve addressed the problem at the high school, where a lot of our freshman students failed,” said Matthews told those at the lunch meeting, held at the Pecos Senior Citizen’s Center “We’re trying to overcome that, we realize that nobody wants to be a failure.”

He said that the second six-week report cards are due out this week and that he would be very surprised if the number of failures didn’t improve. “We’ve come up with several options and have implemented them,” he said.

“That’s our job to motivate these students,” he said.

Some of the failures were in just one class. “We’re not making any excuses, but maybe these students thought, well we’re just freshman it doesn’t matter,” said Matthews. “However, we did take appropriate steps in that direction, we want all our students to improve and we don’t want any failures.”

He also reminded the group to vote during early voting held this week for the Nov. 22 tax rollback election. “I can’t tell you how to vote, but it is important to remember that this will help our school system,” he said.

Voters are being asked by P-B-T officials is to keep the property tax rate at $1.50. “It would be very advantageous if we could keep it at $1.50,” he said.

He said a vote to retain the $1.50 tax rate, instead of rolling the rate back by 18 cents, would be for the next three years. “That will mean an extra $5 million,” Matthews said. The use of Eagle Stadium for next week’s playoff games was discussed by Eagle head football coach Patrick Willis.

He told chamber members that they had some playoff games lined up to be played at the stadium due to the installation of the new artificial turf this season. Most playoff teams in the past few years have been trying to hold their games at stadiums with artificial turf surfaces, because of the wear a natural grass field suffers during the three-month of pre-season and regular season usage.

“El Paso is coming to look at the field and have people in line ahead of them to use it,” said Willis.

There will be at least three and possibly as many as six playoff games involving El Paso schools next weekend. Depending on the outcome of this weekend’s games, Pecos will host Andrews against El Paso Parkland or El Paso Austin on Friday, Nov. 19, while San Angelo Lake View will either play El Paso Riverside or El Paso Chapin if that game is not held.

The Lake View game could also take place Saturday afternoon, while El Paso Andress and Wollforth-Frenship also are looking at the stadium for use on Saturday, Nov. 20. Willis said that this would be a great opportunity to have a lot of people from out of town visit Pecos.

Chamber president Al Gomez said that he had spoken to the Lion’s Club who will be helping to seat the individuals during the games. “We need as many volunteers as possible,” he said.

In other business, Debbie Thomas talked about the upcoming Pecos Peddlers Flea Market and Auction, scheduled for Nov. 20, on the grounds of the Reeves County Civic Center. “We have seven vendors, we usually have about 20, but they usually sign up at the last minute,” said Thomas. “We have space for 32,” she said.

This time, the hospital and Security State Bank will also be participants, according to Thomas.

“If anybody wants to participate in the auction, they can bring anything, it can be antique jewelry, a car,” said Thomas. “It’s really exciting to see the auctioneer and we welcome everyone.”

Nancy Martinez told the group that a KOL meeting will be held this coming Tuesday at noon, at the Reeves County Civic Center.

Town of Pecos City and Reeves County will be hosting the event. “This is a very important meeting, because we’ll be discussing our objectives and goals,” said Martinez. A presentation on Main Street and a discussion on the surveys recently sent out will be on the agenda.

“This will help to lay the groundwork for the next year, about improvements on the city,” said Martinez.

Chamber Director Linda Gholson told the group that she had received a call from Wild West Carnivals. “They wanted to know if they could come in to town and I told them I would bring it before the chamber,” she said.

Local tax rebate checks top $1 million for 2004

November’s sales tax rebate check for the Town of Pecos City and for the Reeves County Hospital District were up over 2003’s totals, according to figures released on Wednesday by Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn’s office, though the monthly checks for Balmorhea and Toyah were down from a year ago.

November’s check to Pecos, as its 1 1/2-cent share of the state’s 8 1/4-cent sales tax, was up 19.06 percent, from $66,331 to $78,975, and through the first 11 months of the years, the city has gotten back $742,856, which is a 6 percent increase in tax rebate revenues from last year.

One sixth of the monthly total for the city goes to the Pecos Economic Development Corp. for its operations. For November, the PEDC will get $13,163 from the sales tax total.

Reeves County Hospital’s check from Austin on its 1/2-cent local sales tax was up by a smaller amount than Pecos’ total, but for the year the hospital’s rebate check remains higher by double-digits over 2003’s total. The hospital received a check for $31,276 this month, which is up 7 percent over last year’s $29,222 total. For all of 2004, the hospital has gotten back $335,302, which is up 13.9 percent from a year ago.

The combined 2-cent sales tax total for the hospital and the Town of Pecos City is at $1.08 million for the year. Under state law, local taxing entities can divide their share of the sales tax allocation, but the combined total within any county cannot surpass the 2-cent level.

Like Pecos, Balmorhea and Toyah also collect a 1 1/2-cent sales tax, but their checks for November declined from last year. Balmorhea’s check for $1,076 was down by almost 26 percent, from last year’s $1,453, but for the year, the city’s totals remain up sharply from 2003. Balmorhea has gotten $16,923 back from Strayhorn’s office in sales tax rebates, an increase of 62.4 percent from last year.

Toyah’s 11-month total is virtually unchanged from a year ago, despite this month’s drop. The city received a November check for $476, which was down 38.3 percent from last November’s $772 total. Overall, Toyah has gotten $5,253 back this year, which is $16 higher than they had gotten over the first 11 months of 2003.

Area-wide tax rebate checks were generally higher than a year ago, according to the numbers from the comptroller’s office. Odessa received $1.75 million back from Austin on its 1.25-cent sales tax, which was 20 percent above last November, while Midland’s $2.24 million rebate check on its 1 1/2-cent sales tax again was the area’s largest check and was 7.5 percent higher than last year.

Andrews’ check for $97,130 on its 1-cent sales tax was up 17.2 percent from a year ago; Alpine’s $76,790 check on its 1 1/2 cent sales tax was up 8.1 percent; Crane’s check for $40,169 on it’s 1 1/2-cent tax was up by 60.4 percent; Big Spring’s check for $417,357 was up by 13.2 percent on its 2-cent sales tax; Presidio got $27.278 back on its 2-cent tax, an 14.9 percent rise; Kermit received $33,654 back on its 1-cent sales tax, which was a 22.1percent increase; Wink’s $3,816 check on its 11-cent tax was up by 6.2 percent; and Van Horn, whose $26,194 check on its 1.75-cent sales tax was 10.7 percent above last year.

Those going the other way for the month included Fort Stockton, whose $114,355 check on its 2-cent sales tax was down 3.1 percent; Marfa, whose $15,786 check on its 1.75-cent tax rate was down 5.3 percent; and Monahans, whose $80,717 check for November was 6.8 percent lower than a year ago.

Statewide, increases in tax rebate checks to cities and counties in Texas were up just under 5 1/2 percent for 2004, at $286.2 million. Houston had the single largest check, for $34.2 million, a 6.6 percent increase, while Dallas’ rebate check for November was $20.1 million, which was up 2.9 percent over last year’s total.

Red Bluff OKs hiring political consultant

Red Bluff Water Power Control Board members approved without comment the hiring of a political consultant, and included any potential salary as part of a general expense fund on the district’s 2005 budget, which also was approved during their monthly meeting on Tuesday in Pecos.

Red Bluff has been in dispute for the past several months with members of two of its sub-districts which changed their status from water improvement to water irrigation districts, including a ruling by District Court Judge Bob Parks in September that the district was within its rights not to seat those sub-district representatives on the Red Bluff board. Tom Nance of Ward County Water Irrigation District No. 1 was told by Red Bluff Managing Director Randal Hartman that the consultant’s job would be “anything that comes up to educate people to our business,” after the board approved the hiring on Tuesday. Nance was elected to the board by Ward County WID 1 voters, but the ruling by Parks meant that Nance and new Ward County WID No. 3 representative Ava Gerke did not have to be seated by the other five members of the board.

Following the meeting Hartman said no salary for the consultant had been set. “We haven’t completely tied it down,” he said.

In the new budget, the cost of the consultant is included in the General Expense section under “Legal & Audit” for which the district has set aside $120,000 for the upcoming fiscal year. Red Bluff approved hiring Randy Graham to handle the district’s audit last month at a cost of $2,900, while the board’s legal fees have varied over the past few years, with costs rising due to work on the Malaga Bend salt alleviation project and environmental concerns dealing with endangered species on the Pecos River that could limit water releases.

Hartman sent State Sen. Frank Madla a letter last month, outlining Red Bluff’s side of the argument over the status of the two districts, which Hartman said centered around efforts by Ward County WID No. 1 and Reeves County WID No. 2 to sell Pecos River water back to New Mexico.

In his letter, Hartman said the change in status of the two Ward County districts, from Chapter 55 to Chapter 58 Water Code districts, which also resulted in a change in voting rules within those districts. Chapter 55 water improvement districts only allow residents within the district to cast ballots in elections, while landowners are allowed to vote in Chapter 58 elections, whether or not they reside within the district.

“Like many disappointed litigants, we expect the two districts to continue their efforts to gain control of Red Bluff and destroy it in their effort to control Red Bluff and sell their water to New Mexico,” Hartman wrote in his letter to Madla. “Consequently, we would expect an appeal and not be surprised to see them to seek legislation to allow the two districts to remain a part of or rejoin Red Bluff. Under the circumstances, we are happy and content without them and would prefer to keep it that way.

“We hope you win support us in that effort. Secondly, we would expect to see those two districts to continue to agitate in order to sell the water, which Red Bluff strongly opposes. We hope you would support us in that effort, too,” Hartman told Madla. The budget approved by the district for 2005 will carry an estimated $18,821 deficit, with operating income pegged at $419,840 and expenses at $438,661. Just under half that total comes from the General Expense funds, while salaries total $140,000 and operation and maintenance $37,000.

On the income side, just under half the district’s projected revenues will result from interest payments from the State of Texas on the $14 million Pecos River Compact settlement paid to the district and state by New Mexico in 1989. Water fees are expected to net Red Bluff $130,000, while oil and gas royalties will give the district an estimated $60,000.

Fundraiser set to pay for kids’ Christmas gifts

Elves have been busy raising money for their “kids” and another fundraiser is planned for this weekend.

A door-to-door drive will be held in Pecos to raise money for the “Christmas for Kids” program, which is aimed at helping to bring a cheerier holiday for children of poorer families in the community.

Members raised $1,600 from a barbecue plate fundraiser they sponsored last week, according to head elf Sofia Baeza.

“We apologize to the community for selling out of plates before lunch,” said Baeza. “If we had had 100 more plates, we would have sold them.”

Baeza said that the barbecue plate sale brought in about the same amount of money as last year.

The deadline to fill out an application to be a recipient of the Christmas for Kids is next Friday, Nov. 19.

“There will be no exceptions this year,” said Baeza. “The applications have been slow in coming in, not at the same rate as last year.”

However, she said that people wait until the last minute to fill out the applications, but that the group would like to have them right away in order to check for eligibility requirements.

“We need to screen them and if they are not completely filled out, we send it back to them and this takes time,” she said.

Last year the group helped out 511 children and included 173 families. “At this time 60 families have applied,” said Baeza.

The group is comprised of volunteers who raise funds to provide the essentials for children in the community, who would otherwise lose out on having a Merry Christmas. “Our main goal is to provide a happy Christmas for as many children in the community as we can,” said Baeza. “We don’t just provide toys, but the essentials, such as coats and shoes.”

Baeza said that she wanted to thank everyone in the community, the businesses, organizations and especially the volunteers.

Baeza said that the group would be screening the applications more closely, after using a computer for the third year in a row to match up all the names submitted to the program and finding some duplicate names.

Only one application is allowed per household. If three adults live in a household, only one adult is allowed to complete and turn in an application.

The applications will also be screened to see if the children really do exist and that the names are not fictitious, and family household income will also be taken into consideration.

Baeza also said, “This is for children in Reeves County only,” and the children must be attending Pecos-Barstow-Toyah or Balmorhea ISD, with the exception of babies and toddlers.

“But they must be from Reeves County,” she said.

Baeza said that a lot of their applications come from the schools, but that they are available in some city and county offices, as well as the sheriff’s department. Donations are still being accepted for the program.

Anyone wanting more information on Christmas for the Kids could call the Reeves County Sheriff’s Department, at 445-4901.

Rains should assure ’05 release of water to farmers

Red Bluff Lake could be at its highest level in years this winter, which should allow for regular water releases to farmers along the Pecos River in 2005 for the first time in three years.

Drought conditions along the river in Texas and New Mexico had lowered Red Bluff’s level to about 40.000 acre/feet in 2002, a level too low to permit water releases for irrigation between April and October. The problem continued into 2003, while water releases this year were only possible due to heavy rains in the Carlsbad, N.M. area in April, and came too late for most farmers to make plans to use the water.

The rains have continues in the Trans-Pecos region since April’s storms, and Red Bluff Managing Director Randal Hartman said that as of Tuesday, the lake was holding 94,110 acre/feet of water. “It really looks good,” he said, adding that another 20,000 acre/feet of water is due to be released downstream by New Mexico.

“They had to schedule releases out of Fort Sumner, so they had to release,” Brantley Lake water, Hartman said. He said the releases apparently were due to concerns about endangered species along the river that federal officials said required the water release, and rains in the Brantley Dam area between Carlsbad and Artesia meant New Mexico would have to pass down the water to Texas, instead of keeping it in that late.

“That would take us to 114,000 acre/feet, which would be good,” he said. The total would still only represent 40 percent of the lake’s maximum capacity.

Hartman also told board member Jay Lee that the latest water samples the district had “doesn’t reflect the good water we have now,” which should lower the lake’s salt content. Earlier, the board approved a bill of $6,300 to the U.S. Geological Survey for new salt monitoring equipment at Malaga Bend, as part of the district’s salt alleviation project. Hartman said the district does not have to pay for two other USGS monitors, just north of Red Bluff Lake and at Red Bluff Dam.

Hartman also said it was his understanding that water currently coming into the Pecos River from the Delaware River just above the Texas-New Mexico state line is not counted as part of New Mexico’s water delivery to Texas.

“It’s headwaters are in Texas, and it comes out of Texas, so it’s Texas water,” he said, adding that the Delaware is also gauged and the inflow is deducted from the total outflow on the Pecos entering the north end of Red Bluff Lake.

In other action, board members also approved pay increases for Hartman, secretary Robin Prewit and worker George Brandenburg, along with holiday bonuses for those employees and worker Tommy Moseley.

The board approved monthly raises of $250 for Prewit, $200 for Hartman and $100 for Brandenburg. Hartman explained that Moseley did not receive a raise because his salary already had been adjusted upward when the district bought a new pickup for him to use at Red Bluff Lake. “He was getting a pick-up allocation. Since he didn’t need the pick-up allocation any longer, we took it away and gave him a small part (in salary) out of that,” he said.

Including Moseley’s increase, Hartman said the raises will add $950 a month onto the district’s budget. The holiday bonuses will come to 40 percent of their current monthly salaries, which board member Charlotte Wilcox said was what had been given to employees in past years as holiday bonuses. Gilbert Rico, Sylvia Sadler and Rodolfo Brito

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