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Daily Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Commissioners OK payments, RCDC contracts

Staff Writer

Reeves County Commissioners approved $850,000 in payments for the Reeves County Detention Center on Monday, along with a contract agreement between the RCDC and Anderson Chemical Company, Inc., for water treatment program for hot and chilled water lines.

Commissioners met Monday morning for their regular meeting and discussed several items, including the lease payments.

The group approved the 2001 lease payment in the amount of $411,862; the 1999 maintenance reserve payment in the amount of $29,166 and the 1999 lease payment in the amount of $420,209.

Commissioners approved the contract with Anderson for water treatment program for hot and chilled water lines for the prison’s newest unit.

“This contract will be for R-III,” said county auditor Lynn Owens, who told the group that they already have a contract with this particular company for the Reeves County Detention Centers I and II.

“This is used for the air conditioning and heaters, to protect the piping,” said Owens. Owens said that the water was treated before it goes into the system and cost about $347 a month.

In other action, commissioners listened to a report on the project Lifesaver, but tabled any action on it, until they can get more information on it.

Fariss Murphy, a volunteer for Alzheimer’s Association, said that she had seen the item on the agenda and took some time this weekend to look it up on the Internet.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Norman Hill said that he had received a call about putting this particular item on the agenda. “They asked me to put it on the agenda, but the lady is not here today, I was hoping she would be,” said Hill.

Murphy discussed some information on the project she had obtained.

“We have GPS’s (global positioning sensors) for cars and there are some necklaces for patients that are ill, with the project Lifesaver the patient wears a watch,” she said. The patient wears the watch and if they happen to wander off they are easier to locate through this apparatus.

“This works in conjunction with the sheriff’s department and from what I’ve read it costs about $3,500 for the program,” said Murphy.

The watch itself runs from $300 to $350. “So this means it will cost less than $500 for the patient,” said Murphy.

“Do we have a big number of Alzheimer’s patients in Reeves County?” asked Precinct 3 Commissioner Herman Tarin.

“There are about 10-12 known patients,” said Murphy. “There may be some that have not been officially diagnosed, or the family just thinks that they are getting old.”

Murphy said that they have a support group and that they sometimes have one to three people attend. “It helps us to read and learn more about the disease,” she said. “Each case is different.”

“I think this program is a worthy thing for the county to be involved in,” said Murphy. “The use of the device could be used for more than just Alzheimer’s patients,” said Reeves County Judge Jimmy B. Galindo. “It could be used for the elderly or the kids with special needs, they have the same tendency to wander off,” he said.

Galindo said that there was use for this type of device in Reeves County and that they would look more into the program as they began to look at the budget for next year. “This is definitely something we want to look into,” he said.

The group approved a contract agreement between the Trans Pecos Task Force and Culberson County for the 2004-2005 year.

“This is the same type of contract we have been entering into with them and the other participating counties,” said Owens.

Property bids for different property struck off on taxes were approved including property located at: 610 S. Sycamore, 1603 Cowan and 513 W. Third Street.

Transportation crew mileage payments were approved in the amount of $1,898.

“We’re in fairly good shape there and all the past due has been collected for this item,” said Owens.

Three arrested after 1 1/2-ton marijuana bust

Two men from Presidio and one from Pecos were arrested last week when the pickup they were in was found to contain nearly 1 1/2 tons of marijuana.

Customs and Border Protection Border Patrol Agents of the Marfa Sector said three men were arrested near Balmorhea and 2,959 pounds of marijuana was seized in the incident, which began last Thursday south of Marfa.

According to a press release by the Border Patrol’s Marfa office, agents at the U.S. 67 checkpoint south of Marfa stopped a 1998 Ford F150 about 7:30 a.m. Thursday morning for a routine immigration inspection. During the inspection, Agents became suspicious of the US Citizen driver and the resident legal alien passenger, both of whom live in Presidio, but no narcotics were found in the vehicle.

When the two men left the checkpoint, agents followed them from Marfa north on Highway 17 toward Fort Davis where it met up with a 2003 Ford F250 pickup. The two vehicles continued through Fort Davis to Balmorhea traveling very close to each other and at a slow rate of speed.

Near Balmorhea, the two vehicles were stopped with the assistance of the Texas Department of Public Safety. A U.S. Citizen, from Pecos, was driving the truck carrying the marijuana. Border Patrol officials did not release the names of the three suspects. The marijuana was wrapped in 1,948 bundles and has a street value of $2,367,480. The three men, the drugs and the vehicles were all turned over to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

“This case is another great example of the skill and training of Border Patrol Agents,” said Marfa Sector Chief Simon Garza, Jr. “I’m proud of the work our Agents do, day in and day out. Today’s seizure keeps a lot of dangerous drugs off the streets of West Texas.”

Since the beginning of the fiscal year on October 1, 2003, the Marfa Sector has seized almost 36,000 pounds of marijuana. The value of all drugs seized so far this year is $39,603,224.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection is the agency within the Department of Homeland Security charged with the protection of our nation's borders. CBP unified Customs, Immigration, and Agriculture Inspectors and the Border Patrol into one border agency for the United States.

City fee schedule evaluated by council

Staff Writer

The Town of Pecos City Council discussed fee schedules on Saturday for city services as part of a special workshop to study possible fee adjustments.

According to City Manager Joseph Torres, the session went very well. The review of the fee schedule “began when I first started here back in January,” Torres said. “A lot of the fees have been in place so long that we decided to allow the citizens a chance to see that we were looking at these issues.”

Torres added that some of the fees had not been adjusted in some time. “For example the peddlers’ fees that were recently discussed in council meetings, hadn’t been changed since 1994, and the beer and liquor licenses hadn’t been changed since 1983.”

He said that Pecos’ fees were compared to other area towns of comparable size, including Monahans, Kermit, Fort Stockton, Andrews, and Big Spring.

Torres added that a big help in the review process was the annual report put out by the town of Snyder. “They put out a report comparing fees from every municipality in the state. The report broke charges down to specific fees charged for water usage, reconnection and disconnection, garbage, sewer, senior discounts and overall total bills.” The Snyder reports shows that Pecos current water rate of $5.89 per 1000 gallons for the first 2000 gallons used is below the $9 charged by Monahans or the $8 charged by Kermit. The report also shows that the average bills for a residential consumer in Pecos is about $10 less per month than those residential consumers in Fort Stockton.

Presentations were given during the workshop by the various department heads over the fees associated with their responsibilities. Municipal Court Judge Amanario Ramon spoke to the council on the court fees imposed in his department, and Fire Marshal Jack Brookshire spoke on the codes governing construction and building permits.

The council also heard from City Secretary Connie Levario on the cost and ordinances imposed on peddlers in the city, and Police Chief Clay McKinney spoke on the costs and possible upcoming fees associated with police reports.

All of the fee schedules were compared against other West Texas cities, Torres said. “We discussed a lot on each topic. We started at 9:30 a.m. and finished around 1:30 p.m. or so. It was a really good workshop.”

The council also held a special meeting yesterday morning in anticipation of the swearing in of the newly reelected council members. Torres said that the meeting was for the canvassing of the votes from the May 15 election, in which Mayor Dot Stafford, Councilman Michael Benavides and Councilwoman Angelica Valenzuela all were reelected to an additional term.

State says 72% of 11th graders passed TAKS

AUSTIN (AP) - Texas 11th graders made strides this year with 72 percent passing all parts of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, clearing the way for them to receive their high school diplomas.

Only 49 percent of juniors passed the test last year.

"These results are awesome," said Education Commissioner Shirley Neeley. "What a way to end the school year. Students and teachers worked hard all year and these results confirm the progress our schools are making."

The passing rate for black students was 58 percent, while 61 percent of Hispanic juniors passed the test. White students passed at a rate of 83 percent.

This year's junior class is the first group of students required to pass the tougher TAKS test in order to graduate. Students who failed the test will have four more opportunities to pass the test.

"Much was asked of these students when state law created the tougher TAKS," Neeley said. "When fewer than half the students passed the first year, there were more than a few people who were worried, but the Class of 2005 showed us what they can do."

The Texas House passed legislation earlier this month that would have replaced the exit-level TAKS with a series of end-of-course exams that students would have to pass before graduating. The measure didn't have much support in the Senate and was not given final approval.

Group favors burning river’s dead salt cedars

Staff Writer

What do you do with 200 miles of dead trees? That’s a question that brought together a number of local residents, state and federal officials, along with local water, soil and conservation agency representatives at the Reeves County Civic Center on Monday, to discuss what to do about 200 miles of dead salt cedar trees along the banks of the Pecos River.

The trees, which have been blamed for soaking up much of the water in the Pecos River since they were first planted along its banks nearly a century ago, were killed off along a 200-mile section of the river between Red Bluff Lake and Imperial Reservoir over the past four years. But now that the trees are dead or dying, officials are trying to decide what the best way is to remove them from the banks of the river, along with figuring out how to finance that removal project.

Reeves County Extension Agent Tommy Dominguez said the two options discussed during the morning session were mechanical removal of the trees, or conducting proscribed burns of the dead salt cedars along the river. Those at the meeting in general favored the second option, and as part of that, most of those at the meeting traveled out to Barstow Dam during the afternoon to view a two-acre section of the riverbank burned off last month by Ward County Water Irrigation District No. 1.

“Our main issue is flooding,” said Tom Nance of the Barstow-based Ward County WID No. 1. He said because the trees have died, their roots won’t hold if heavy rains hit the Pecos River basin south of Red Bluff Lake.

Floodwaters could uproot those trees and drag the debris downriver until they come to a barrier, such as a highway bridge or the 86-year-old Barstow Dam. The debris could then block the flow of the river and force the water out onto adjacent farm or ranchland, while damaging the bridges and dams along the river.

Nance said since the first spraying to kill the trees was done between Red Bluff Dam and Mentone in the fall of 1999, that area is most in danger of having trees uprooted by a strong current in the river.

“I’d like to see some kind of decision come out of today,” Nance said, though officials could not give an exact estimate of what the cost of burning off the trees would be.

Dr. Charles Hart, Extension Range Specialist out of the Texas A&M Extension Service office in Fort Stockton said, “If we look at it from Red Bluff down to Barstow dam, that’s 66 river miles and right at 3,000 acres of salt cedar.” He said that at a cost of $50 an acre removal in that area would run $150,000, though others at the meeting offered both higher and lower estimations.

Because the salt cedars are non-native trees, the removal project qualifies for restoration funds. Hart said Congress is considering an appropriation of between $50 and $100 million for ecosystem restoration projects, but that total is for the entire country and Hart said, “Sixty to 70 percent is federal the rest have to come up with funds locally. Other funding could come through the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

“More than likely we’ll be able to use it for a project like this,” Hart said. “It’s been our goal all along not just to kill the salt cedars but the restoration of the ecosystem of the Pecos River.”

Pecos River Compact Commissioner J.W. Thrasher said the water districts that supply Pecos River water to farmers “might get together with their equipment and get the counties (Reeves, Ward, Loving and Pecos counties) to work something out.” Officials later stressed that the removal of the trees has a better chance of gaining funding if local residents and governmental agencies take the lead in operating the project.

The salt cedars, which were originally planted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to stabilize the riverbank, have forced out not only the underlying natural plants and grasses, but also most of the area’s animals. “There aren’t any mice or birds or lizards - northing lives around them,” Nance said during a tour of the burnt-out area along the river.

“What we found out in New Mexico is even the dead stuff is so dense it’s hard getting through there,” said Mike McMurry with the Texas Department of Agriculture, referring to the inability of native plants and grasses to reclaim the riverbank while the dead trees are still along the shore.

While burning the trees was considered the easier option that trying to get equipment into the thick brush, Nance said even burning the trees has revealed some new problems.

“Some of the trees are starting to fall down into the river during the fire,” he said. Those trees then fail to burn and become potential debris during a flood.

Officials agreed to schedule a second meeting to discuss some of the problems brought up with the proscribed burns, along with possible options in conducting those burns, such as use of a helicopter to spray and ignite alumigel on the trees from the air.

Hart said because areas south of Barstow Dam have only been sprayed over the past two years, the trees there are still not dead enough to allow for burning or removal without the possibility of future regrowth.

“We’re not going to do this overnight. We’re going to have to pick and choose which sections to burn,” Nance said.

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