Burnet County hires crews to remove flood debris, discusses environmental crimes unit

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As illegal dumping cases have surged in the Highland Lakes, Burnet County Commissioners on Feb. 12 approved applying for additional grants to potentially expand funding, which may include an additional position, for the Burnet County Environmental Crimes Unit, which operates under the Burnet County precinct 4 constable's office.





By Connie Swinney
Staff Writer

Burnet County Commissioners Feb. 12 approved bids for companies to remove, dispose and monitor the process of disposing of large piles of debris, trash and flood-damaged structures collected in the wake of the October 2018 Highland Lakes flood event.

The court chose Texas Disposal Systems (TDS) to remove the piles, stored in a section of Quarry Park, adjacent to Granite Shoals.

“We would like to thank the city of Granite Shoals for being the host of this debris that was collected all along the Highland Lakes,” Burnet County Judge James Oakley said.

On Oct. 16, historic flooding from the Llano River swept down the Colorado River into the Highland Lakes causing massive shoreline flooding in communities including Kingsland, Horseshoe Bay, Granite Shoals and Marble Falls.

Burnet County crews have collected debris – approximately 15,500 cubic yards – from primarily unincorporated areas and stored the piles at the Quarry Park site, pending the outcome of state grants and potential FEMA funding.

The TDS contract is estimated to potentially cost about $300,000.

The approved contracts are pre-agreements, adhering to the parameters and pending finalization of CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) funding.

The commissioners selected the Fort Worth-based True North Emergency Management for the monitoring process, which will handle the safety, hazard mitigation and damage assessment aspect of the removal. The accepted rate was $95 per hour.

A TDS representative addressed commissioners following questions about the process.

“What would be the time you'd start to be able to tackle that gem of a pile we got out there,” Oakley said.

Rick Fraumann of TDS offered a timeline.

“We'd have people with a grinder ready to respond in 48 hours,” he said. “Prior to that we would come to the site and do another inspection.”

The process would take at least five day to grind up the materials to minimize the volume of materials to be hauled away.

“You guys have done a great job of keeping it free of household hazardous waste and metal and things like that,” Fraumann said. “That just speeds up the process.”

The companies were selected not only for their competitive bids but in order to stay in compliance with FEMA regulations to assist in pending approval of the county's application for disaster relief funding.

“We have to be very meticulous for FEMA,” Oakley said.

Also, commissioners approved applying for additional grants to expand funding, which may include an additional position, for the Burnet County Environmental Crimes Unit, which operates under the Burnet County precinct 4 constable's office.

The commissioners received an update from Environmental Crimes Deputy Chris Cowan on the progress, successes and future outlook of his duties. Cowan's grant-funded position is the first of its kind in the state.

He explained how illegal dumping cases sometimes morph into felony drug and property crimes cases.

“We've run into illegal dumps which have had mobile (methamphetamines) labs, burglary evidence,” he said.

A number of cases motived Cowan and Burnet County Pct. 4 Constable Missy Bindseil to ask commissioners for potential consideration of increased funding and possibly adding another position to handle the mounting case loads.

Bindseil, who oversees the environmental crimes unit, explained how the unit is limited on manpower and may be stretched beyond the growing case load as well as continued training and travel expenses.

“We do all the investigations. We do the initial reports,” she said. “We don't have a CID (criminal investigation division).”

Oakley said ultimately commissioners would need to figure in any expanded funding or additional personnel needs into the annual budget process, but commended the work accomplished by the unit.

“There are a lot of (illegal dumping) situations out there that need to be addressed. There is a lot of paperwork involved in the process,” Oakley said. “I'm obviously supportive.”

The environmental deputy's position is grant-funded at 80 percent and eventually 60 percent stipend over three years, with the county either finding alternative funds or budgeting for the position to maintain its full-time status.

In other business, county commissioners:

• Approved a financial institution to take on tax notes to pay for a number of projects throughout the county, which included revamping the Burnet County Jail security system; improvements at the Burnet County Sheriff's Office and the county dispatch system. Of the seven bids submitted for the private placement of tax notes for approximately $2.5 million, the commissioner approved J.P. Morgan Chase Bank at an effective interest rate of 2.48 percent.

• Discussed the future of a mutual aid contract with Briggs Volunteer Fire Department, in light of the fact that Emergency Services District (ESD) No. 8 voted to cut ties with volunteer agency. ESD No. 8 officials opted instead to enter into a funding agreement with the adjacent Oakalla Volunteer Fire Department to respond to emergencies.

Effective March 1, ESD No. 8 will only allow Oakalla Volunteer Fire Department to respond to its service area. According to Burnet County Attorney Eddie Arrendondo, commissioners may need to determine the viability of continued contract agreement with the Briggs agency; determine the status of the VFD's accreditation and insurance eligibility; and be apprised of radio subscriptions and equipment ownership if the non-profit entity can no longer operate.

Commissioner Damon Beierle attended a town hall meeting at the Briggs Community Center Feb. 11 and asked the court to eventually consider the future of county funding. (See story on Page 1). Commissioners opted to request a Briggs VFD representative attend the Feb. 26 commissioner's court meeting to answer questions prior to making a vote on continuing the county contract.

• Made a public announcement about an upcoming Texas Department of Transportation Open House scheduled for 5:30 p.m. March 5 at Lago Vista Middle School, 8039 Bar K Ranch Road in Lago Vista. The meeting will address the upgrades to a stretch of Ranch Road 1431, from the FM 1174 intersection to Lago Vista. Considered a dangerous winding trek among the hills, state officials have eyed the roadway for 12 so-called slow-moving, turn out lanes to enhance safety.

Oakley described RR 1431 East as a “viable conduit” and thoroughfare to the Austin area, between Texas 71 and Texas 29.


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