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Reeves County Sheriff's Department, Pecos Police Department and the
Department of Public Safety were all dispatched about 5:30 a.m. to
investigate the gas pipeline explosion, which occurred just north of
Verhalen on Texas Highway 17.
Traffic along the county's main north-south route was blocked by the
blast, which occurred just off the shoulder of the highway's northbound
lanes and left debris scattered over the road. The highway was blocked
between FM 3334 and FM 2448, forcing drivers heading north from Verhalen
and Saragosa to use alternate routes.
DPS Trooper Burleigh Locklar, Jr. reported this morning that there was
no damage to the highway and no injuries were reported. The road was
reopened shortly before 8:30 a.m.
Fireman form Pecos and Balmorhea were called to the scene, but could
only stand by and watch for nearly an hour as gas roared out of the
pipeline with the sound of a jet engine. Flames shot as much as 50 feet
in the air and could be seen from as far away as the south side of Pecos.
The force of the explosion and fire set several nearby utility poles on
fire, downed electric lines running overhead, and created a line of
brush fires in a field just to the east of the blast site.
The pipeline was owned by Midland-based West Texas Gas, Inc., which
recently purchased it from Delhi Gas Pipeline Co., officials said.
Firemen were finally able to get close to the site shortly before 7 a.m.
after WTG workers cut gas feeder lines located 10 miles to the north, at
FM 869 intersection with Texas 17.
Georgia Black, West Texas Gas secretary at the company's Fort Stockton
office said this morning that WTG officials were speculating whether or
not the cause of the blast was linked to Thursday night's earthquake,
which measured 5.6 on the Richter Scale and occurred about 60 miles due
south, between Alpine and Marathon in northern Brewster County.
It damaged homes in both cities and was felt throughout Reeves County
and as far away as Dallas and Austin in Texas, along with the northern
part of Mexico and south central areas of New Mexico.
Delayed incidents, such as gas line blasts, have occurred in the past
following earthquakes. However, John Minsch, a geophysicist for the U.S.
Geological Survey's National Earthquake Information Center in Golden,
Colo., said there was no way to be sure the gas line blast was the
result of damage from Thursday's quake or the aftershocks that followed.
"Unless someone was there right after the earthquake occurred and
noticed the gas leaking, there's no way to say if that was the cause or
not," Minsch said.
Black also said that WTG workers are currently out at the site of the
explosion and that the gas has been shut off for repairs.
Weinacht goes on to say that Walker, R-Plains, submitted a press release
to the Pecos Enterprise on his intentions to represent such a bill.
Weinacht said last week that he opposed Walker's suggestion that the
county consider cutting the Reeves County Sheriff's Department budget if
it decides to keep the county court-at-law. Walker denied ever making
such a statement.
Commissioners voted earlier this year to back a proposal by Galindo to
eliminate the court-at-law as a way to help eliminate a projected
$200,000 deficit in the Reeves County's budget.
The move was opposed by several local law enforcement officials, and on
March 16, Walker's legislative director, Warren Mayberry, told the
Enterprise that Walker did not want to file the bill until he is sure it
is going to be for the best benefit of the community.
Mayberry said at that time, "the process we are going through now is
simply weighing the pro's and con's," and that, "the representative
really like to get the constituents' feedback."
Walker later said he would not file the bill, which needs approval from
both the Texas House and Texas Senate to take effect. On March 23, Bill
1615 was filed in the Texas Senate by Senator Frank Madla to abolish the
court-at-law, but it has not yet been brought up for an initial vote.
Walker said this morning he had not received Weinacht's affidavit yet,
and added, "I'm not going to file the bill," because he had asked for
public response, of which he received and said that, "the majority were
wishing to keep the court-at-law."
After saying the first-term legislator did say he would sponsor the
court-at-law bill, Weinacht's Friday news release says "Now, Gary L.
Walker is saying that he 'didn't give a blanket guarantee,' 'friends'.
Yesterday, (April 13) Gary L. Walker told our County Judge that he,
'will accept full responsibility for any tax increase'. I prepared the
following statement for Gary L. Walker's signature so there will not be
any mistake about what type of 'guarantee' was given this time."
The statement reads:
"I, State Representative Gary L. Walker, am fully aware of the economic
circumstances facing Reeves County. I have reviewed Reeves County's
revenues and expenses and understand that expenses are exceeding
revenues. I received a copy of the unanimous resolution of the Reeves
County Commissioner's Court requesting that I abolish the Reeves County
Court-at-Law. I refuse to honor the request of the Reeves County
Commissioner's Court and I accept full responsibility for any tax
increase that may result from my failure to act."
Walker stated that he was tired and fed up with the accusations that are
directed at him, and that he will be in town at the Pecos Valley Country
Club this Friday to present a speech for the A & M Club honoring
veterans who have fought in previous wars but, "I will certainly be glad
to answer any questions," said Walker concerning the RCCAL issue.
Walker said that there are a lot of ways to reduce spending, but the
argument that doing away with the court and eliminating Judge Lee
Green's salary hardly justifies the abolishment of the county's branch.
Walker said Green's salary, which is about $53,000, when divided by $12
million, the county's budget, is only 4/10 of a percent.
In the same regards, Walker said, when an average salary of about $2,000
a month is calculated against this figure it comes out to $8 an hour,
"when put into perspective," said Walker.
Walker also said that he never did propose that the Reeves County
Sheriff's Department budget be cut to curtail the county's deficit. "We
did discuss," said Walker, "that revenues (about $400,00) had been lost
due to loss of prisoners."
The prisoners lost were those previously being housed by the U.S.
Marshal's Service at the downtown jail. Problems cited by the agency
with the downtown jail led to the prisoners' withdrawal last year.
Ruben Alvarado, Chief Engineer for the Texas Low Level Radioactive Waste
Disposal Authority's project, said the project in eastern Hudspeth
County was designed to withstand moderate earthquakes which were known
to occur at times in West Texas.
"The proposed facility was analyzed assuming a Magnitude 7 earthquake
occurring six miles from the site, as well as a magnitude 6 event
occurring immediately beneath the site," Alvarado said in a press
release today. "In both cases, our evaluations showed that the facility
will perform satisfactorily with no failure of canisters or covers. We
are confident that the proposed disposal facility will perform
satisfactorily with no failure of canisters or covers. We are confident
that the proposed disposal facility will perform as designed following
an earthquake of this magnitude."
Information is currently being gathered by the authority to obtain a
permit from the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission for
disposal of waste at the site, located seven miles southeast of Sierra
Blanca and 125 miles northwest of the epicenter of Thursday's quake.
A magnitude 7 quake would be one similar in size to the one which struck
the San Francisco Bay area in 1989. Under the Richter scale, a magnitude
6 quake would contain one-tenth the force of a magnitude 7 trembler.
"He (Alvarado) said that this size quake would be no problem," TNRCC
press spokesperson Linda Fernandez said of the waste site's design. "It
will be able to withstand a quake 10 times this magnitude."
Alvarado said the authority has operated a micro-seismic network in
Hudspeth County since the late 1980s, when the Sierra Blanca site was
first considered. "The data collected with these instruments, coupled
with data collected by seismograph stations located elsewhere, will
allow for an evaluation of the effect of this earthquake on the disposal
site using actual date from a real event," his statement concluded.
The Sierra Blanca site was chosen following objections from El Paso
County about the original Hudspeth County site, located north of Fort
Hancock near the El Paso County line. Among the objections cited by El
Paso County officials when the case was brought to court was area's
"The site was just moved 30 miles over to Sierra Blanca. The same
physical conditions apply there," Alvarado said, while brushing off the
validity of the earlier questions of earthquake safety.
"With respect to the complaint, we did not consider it that critical a
problem," Alvarado said by phone this morning. "We have always taken it
(earthquakes) into consideration."
State Rep. Pete Gallego, whose district includes both the proposed
radioactive waste storage facility and the site of Thursday's
earthquake, was unavailable for comment this morning. A spokeswoman in
Gallego's Alpine office said the representative was with his father, who
was undergoing surgery today.
Gallego voiced concerns Tuesday after the House tentatively approved
exempting the authority from obtaining a solid waste disposal permit for
"There has been very little respect for and concern for the individual
needs of the community," Gallego told the Associated Press on Tuesday.
"All we're asking for is the safety net."
Fernandez said the bill, passed by a 76-65 vote, would "have minimal
effect at best," on the site.
"I have never suggested to County Attorney Bill Weinacht to cut the
budget of Reeves County Sheriff's Department," said Walker (R-Plains),
in response to Wednesday's story.
Walker's statement was disputed by both Weinacht and Reeves County Judge
Jimmy Galindo, who spoke with Walker this morning.
Weinacht said on Wednesday he disagreed with Walker's suggestion that
the county might have to cut the sheriff's department budget in order to
pay for continued funding for the county court-at-law. Galindo proposed
cutting the court budget gap of over $200,000.
"The most recent conversation that I had with the county attorney, at
the earliest, not as erroneously printed in the Enterprise, would have
been the early part of February, more than two months prior to the date
stated of the article," said Walker in a faxed response sent out
"The most factual thing that appeared in the news release received by
the paper is that 'controversy over the future of the county court at
law appeared after commissioners voted earlier this year to seek the
abolishment of the court,'" said Walker. "In a span less than three
weeks, my office received roughly 230 letters against the decision of
the county commissioners and we are still receiving letters against the
abolishment of the court, we received not more than five letters in
support of the commissioners decision," he said.
"In this three week time frame I was in contact with County Judge Jimmy
Galindo who approached me regarding the necessary legislation to abolish
the commissioners' court mandate," said Walker. "At this time I informed
him of the necessary filing procedure and that I would have my staff
research this issue. Let me reiterate that at no time did I give Mr.
Galindo a blanket guarantee that I would file the bill to abolish the
court-at-law," he said.
"True to my word, my staff and I researched the issue, talked with
Senator (Frank) Madla's office and decided from the groundswell of
opposition that it would not be in the best interest of Reeves County to
abolish the court-at-law at this time. Upon reaching this decision, I
personally, not my staff, talked to Mr. Galindo regarding my decision
not to file this bill. The next day Mr. Galindo requested from my office
under the Open Records Act that a copy of all petitions, letters and
names received be faxed to him. That same day, we complied with his
request," he said.
"Roughly a week after my conversation with County Judge Galindo, Senator
Madla contacted my office to discuss the status of the bill. He informed
me that he filed the bill on the Senate side and wanted to know if I
planned to sponsor the bill in the House. I told him that I was not
filing the bill and had no plans to do so in this session," said Walker.
In effect, Walker stated, the bill had no House sponsor which was not
understanding the Senator had from Mr. Galindo.
"These are the facts, this information is not hearsay nor is taken from
second hand unfounded statements. I will admit that in local government
as well as state government there is always room for economic trim," he
said. "However, I would not begin to tell any county in my district how
to manage the fiscal matters entrusted to local elected officials by the
tax payers of that county," Walker said.
"My friends I hope that this has set the record straight. I am here as
servant of the people, merely a liaison between the people in District
80 and the Texas legislature. I encourage you to write to me and talk
with my staff so that we can do what is best for Reeves County and all
the counties in District 80."
"I implore you to establish the same open lines of communication formed
with my office to convey your concerns to the county officials who are
servants on the local level. Please keep the lines of communication open
so that no matter the level of government, local, state, or federal, it
is better government," said Walker.
In response, Galindo, who said he spoke to Walker this morning about the
situation, said there was "no question," Walker had discussed the
sheriff's budget earlier this year.
"He had been reading the articles about the county's budget problems,
and he said if opposition got hot we should look at the sheriff
department's budget, because it's not bringing in the money it did in
the past years," Galindo said. "He went into the number of prisoners
held in the detention facility to past years."
Galindo said this morning he had not misled Madla on the issue. "I told
the Senator Walker had not agreed to sponsor it, but asked him to give
us some time before he made his decision whether or not to sponsor the
Weinacht also said Walker discussed the cuts, while meeting with them
about sponsoring the bill.
"He sat right in front of me and Jimmy and pointed to the sheriff's
budget and said 'Here is where to make the cuts,' "Weinacht said.
Galindo said in his talk this morning, the first-term representative
restated his plan not to sponsor the bill in the Texas House.
"That is certainly his right and prerogative," Galindo said. "The other
thing I pointed out was I lived up to my promise to Reeves County voters
to attempt to abolish the court-at-law, and he has accepted full
responsibility not to abolish it.
"If there is a tax increase or a proposed tax increase, he's accepted
full responsibility for it," Galindo added.
"He pointed out that it is less than one percent of the total budget,
which my be true, but my motive was to begin to consolidate services
wherever we could, and that was one area where we could save $50,000,"
the county judge said.
Court-At-Law Judge Lee Green's salary is more than $53,000 per year. The
court ran a $7,000 deficit last year. Green blamed that on fewer cases
being filed and said the court had run a profit in previous years.
"I have never seen local representatives treated the way we have been
here," said Galindo, who had served as a legislative aide in Austin
before returning to Reeves County. "The state representative is standing
as a roadblock because of a 'groundswell' of 280 people. That does not
represent the 4,500 voters who vote in local elections."
Weinacht said Walker is scheduled to make an appearance in Pecos on
April 21 at the Pecos Valley Country Club.
Controversy over the future of the court-at-law appeared after
commissioners voted earlier this year to seek the abolishment of the
court. The action was taken at the suggestion of County Judge Jimmy
Galindo in an effort to cut costs in the fiscal 1996 county budget, to
be drawn up later this year.
A bill has been filed in the Texas Senate by Sen. Frank Madla, but
similar action must be taken in the Texas House, then approved by both
the House and Senate before it can become law.
Weinacht suggested earlier this week in commissioners court that Pecos
police were focusing on clubs frequented by lower-income Hispanics to
make driving while intoxicated arrests, in an effort to boost the
court-at-law's case load and fine totals.
"Sheriff (Andy) Gomez and I agree that criminal cases should not be
filed just to pay for the County-Court-At-Law," said County Attorney
Bill Weinacht. "The sheriff does not handle DWI's the way the police do
and I respect him for that."
"However," Weinacht said, "Keeping the County Court-At-Law could affect
the sheriff's budget because Representative (Gary) Walker has been
studying a copy of our county budget and says he realizes that we will
have to either make cuts or raise taxes."
Walker was elected last November as District 80 Representative, which
includes Reeves County. He was unavailable for comment today, but said
last month he in continuing to study the proposal after receiving
petitions both for and against the move.
"When Judge Galindo and I met with Representative Walker he suggested
that the commissioners court cut the sheriff's department budget instead
of the County-Court-At-Law, if there was strong opposition to abolishing
the County-Court-At-Law," said Weinacht.
Weinacht said he disagrees with Representative Walker because he
believes that the county should not cut the sheriff's department budget
when we can provide the same services to the county by abolishing the
As of this morning, Senate Bill 1615, filed by Sen. Madla last month to
abolish the Reeves County Court-At-Law, has been referred to
jurisprudence, at the committee stage, an aide to the senator said.
Before a bill is actually voted on by the entire Texas Senate it first
must be filed and then referred to a committee. Any one senator then
requests that the bill be heard by a committee and if it passes a
committee vote would then go on for approve by the Senate as a whole.
"From my perspective, the issue of the Reeves County Court-at-Law is
about money," said Reeves County Judge Jimmy B. Galindo. "We no can
longer afford to pay our County Court-at-Law Judge $53,620 a year for
two hours of work per day."
County commissioners voted to seek abolition of the court-at-law earlier
this year, and a bill to that effect has been submitted in the Senate.
It must pass both the House and Senate, and then be voted on in a
general election before the court can be dissolved.
The county is currently facing a deficit in regard to financial matters
and commissioners have been trying to curb expenses and lighten the
burden. The question of abolishing the court-at-law came up again on
Monday, during a dispute between County Attorney Bill Weinacht and local
lawyer Walter Holcombe at a meeting of county commissioners.
"Reeves County is one of very few counties that's a rural county that
has the benefit of a county-court-at-law," said Reeves County Chief
Juvenile Probation Officer Alberto Alverez. "The court serves as the
designated juvenile court, other counties don't have that benefit."
"It plays important roles, in that we have to have an attorney or court
to oversee the juvenile system," said Alvarez. "The county-court-at-law
judge is more well-versed where the juvenile system is concerned."
"Assuming the court is done away with the (county juvenile) board will
then have to see who well be responsible for trying the juvenile," said
"Some people in this community would have you believe that only
attorneys can handle judicial cases," Galindo said. "The truth of the
matter is that there are over 200 non-lawyer county judges throughout
the state of Texas who handle judicial matters everyday."
"What we have is a situation in which some people are demanding a
Cadillac solution to a problem, when we can only afford a Volkswagen
solution," said Galindo.
"With regard to juvenile matters, according to Texas Statutes, the
constitutional County Court of Reeves County has juvenile jurisdiction,"
he added. "It may not be the 'designated' juvenile court, but it
certainly has jurisdiction."
"The chief county administrator is the designated judge," Alvarez said.
"It takes time to learn the juvenile system and the county judge is
usually not very well versed in this area.
"He could learn it, but the problem it poses is that it takes a lot of
time to do that and by the time he does, if the four-year term is up and
he chooses not to run or is not re-elected, the process will have to
begin all over again, in learning the juvenile system," Alvarez added.
"The judge may also ask the family to reimburse the county for legal
fees and most of the time the family is indigent and unable to pay,"
"It's hard enough collecting probation fees, much less legal fees," he
"When you have the county-court-at-law the know the legal aspects
concerned with the juvenile and how the system works," he said.
In most cases the juveniles must have an attorney appointed to them and
the law provides that they do have one, regardless of their financial
situation, Alvarez added.
"There is some criticism from our Juvenile Officer Albert Alvarez that I
am not an attorney," said Galindo. "I don't know that not being a lawyer
is that bad of a flaw these days."
"Like I said, there are over 200 counties in the state of Texas who
operate their county courts with non-lawyer county judges," Galindo
said. "However, we seem to have a juvenile officer who insists on having
a Cadillac solution to our financial problems.
"Now, if he would like to lower his $272,554.87 budget by some $53,620
dollars, right now, I wouldn't have a problem with that, but that would
mean that we would have to terminate two or three staff persons at the
Juvenile Detention Center to save his friend, Lee Green," the county
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Copyright 1996 Pecos Enterprise
324 S. Cedar, Box 2057, Pecos TX 79772
Phone 915-445-5475, FAX 915-445-4321