City Council receives disturbing news about water system infrastructure

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By Edna Clark

The first regularly scheduled June meeting for the Town of Van Horn City Council was held Tuesday.  Mayor Pro Temp Pam Young presided over the 2-hour meeting with four of five aldermen present.

Newly hired Gas Manager Edward Torres reported to Council about the current status of the gas department.  The new Jobe plant located south of Van Horn will have had its first gas test on Wednesday.

           A new sand plant will be opening east of Van Horn on the Apache Ranch complex and will also require the same type of natural gas transportation as the Jobe plant.  The company is willing to pay for upgrades to existing gas lines in order to get the natural gas necessary for operations.

Gas Manager Torres informed Council that according to a 2016 study, there were 176 above ground gas leaks and 17 below ground gas leaks that must be addressed and corrected as soon as possible.  He has not found documentation to show areas that have already been addressed and corrected.  Seven gas meters were found to be faulty with gas leaks and require replacement right away.

Armando Saldivar with Saldivar Electric, Inc. addressed Council about the conditions of the electrical systems for all the City’s water wells.  As previously reported in The Van Horn Advocate, the Town of Van Horn has paid out thousands of dollars for repairs and upkeep of the water wells due to electrical failures.  According to Saldivar, none of the City’s water wells have proper electrical grounding or surge protectors that could have prevented damage to the wells caused by lightning strikes. The damage to the wells is minor compared to the risk that City employees face when working around exposed open electrical wiring, lack of proper safety attire, non-existent roofs or covers over well motors, and lack of lighting, in addition to the grounding and surge protector issues.

Council unanimously approved payment in excess of $40,000 to Saldivar Electric, Inc. to repair, replace, and upgrade the water well electrical systems, as well as to purchase proper repair attire for City workers. Saldivar advised Council that his company will begin work next week, and barring unforeseen problems, will have completed work in approximately one month. Additionally, Council asked Saldivar to obtain pricing for generators for each well site.

Assistant Chief Water Operator, Jamie Hudson, and City Secretary, Fran Malafronte, made Council aware of an even greater problem facing the citizens of Van Horn and surrounding areas. Hudson showed Council photographs recently taken of the 40 year-old, 212,000-gallon water storage tank located at 106 W. 3rd Street.  These photos show corrosion on the walls and bottom of the tank.

Epoxy has been applied and more will be applied to sustain the life of the current water tank until a replacement tank can be installed.

Council approved contracting with the engineering group Brock and Bustillos for a fee of $9,000 to determine the best place for installing a new replacement 300,000-gallon water tank as soon as possible. A comparably sized water tank was recently purchased by Sierra Blanca for $385,000.

Ms. Malafronte was given the task of finding financing for these costly, long overdue water system repairs and replacements.  Target time for this massive undertaking will be in October when water demands are historically the lowest time of year.

USDA Area Specialist, Daila McAnally, addressed Council and advised that there are possible low interest loans/grants that the Town of Van Horn would be eligible to receive for the water tank. Unfortunately, the critical status and need for speedy correction of the City’s water infrastructure prohibits the lengthy USDA process.

Ms. McAnally will continue to research further USDA funding that the City can use to replace aged water and gas lines throughout the area.

Sooky Borrego of the Women’s Service League requested assistance with erecting barricades and orange protective street netting in the downtown area where the Frontier Days celebration is scheduled for June 24.  Council approved the request and will also assist in providing electricity for booths and the band stage.

Council approved funding for the annual youth summer reading program at the City County Library.

A Public Participation Hearing on the 2016 Consumer Confidence Report as mandated by the TCEQ was held with no citizen attendance or public interest.

Ms. Malafronte advised Council that an oil and gas easement located near the Interstate 10 rest areas required a new contract with the University of Texas Systems.  She will negotiate to hopefully reduce the billed amount of $100,000 for a 10-year period of time.

Alderman Ryan Martinez asked for an update on First and Bell Streets flooding during a recent downpour of rain.  Ms. Malafronte told Martinez and Council that Union Pacific Railroad has agreed to pay for any damaged properties caused by flooding along the Railroad easement.

Any citizens who experienced flood damage are asked to contact Ms. Malafronte at City Hall at 432-283-2050 for the Union Pacific Railroad phone number and contact person information.

Alderman Nuny Morriss requested updates on replacing damaged, discolored Lamar billboards located throughout West Texas advertising Van Horn.  Ms. Malafronte told Council that she has contacted another gentleman who will create new, better billboards.  New designs will be brought before Council for approval and subsequent installation of the billboards.

The next regularly scheduled City Council meeting will be Tuesday, June 27, at 7:00 p.m..

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