By Kathi Bliss
In an effort to prepare for the potential of another oil-drilling boom, Caldwell County staff has begun exploring the possibility of enacting rules requiring permits and fees for oil and gas drilling.
According to County Administrator Ron Heggemeier, several “land men” and “oil men” in the community have suggested that the Luling area might be saturated with drilling rigs within the next few years. Heggemeier said he was concerned that Caldwell County might suffer the same fate that other South Central Texas counties have suffered, with roads and bridges being damaged by the increased large-truck traffic brought in by drilling.
With the hopes of offsetting the financial struggles that could be created by the additional maintenance that would be required in that situation, Heggemeier approached the Commissioners on Monday with a suggestion that they start considering what power Caldwell County has under State law to regulate drilling activity.
While options for regulation are somewhat limited, he said, Texas counties do have the option of creating “weights and measures” departments, and requiring permits and fees for drilling. The funds generated by those permits, he said, could be used in turn to repair roads and bridges that might be damaged by increased traffic.
Heggemeier said the county has already taken an important step in helping to regulate drilling, with the purchase of four portable scales earlier this year.
Though no official action was taken on the idea, the Commissioners seemed to reach a consensus that the County should be proactive in taking action to mitigate the damage that might be caused by increased drilling, and that any standards and regulations put in place should be as strict as they can be under law.
In other news, the Commissioners voted unanimously to purchase a 130 kW generator, and to enter a contract for electrical services for the installation of the generator, as well as a “preventative maintenance contract” on the server.
The reasons for the need for the generator were unclear, and it was not publically discussed where the generator, meant to provide backup power for the IT Department, would be installed. While the vote was public, most of the discussion about the measure took place behind closed doors.
In general, governmental bodies are allowed to meet in executive session only in matters of real estate negotiations, personnel matters and to receive legal advice. When questioned as to why the purchase of a generator qualified as a matter appropriate for executive session, Assistant District Attorney Mack Harrison said the Court was legally entitled to meet behind closed doors to discuss “security issues,” and things which fall under the State’s “Homeland Security Act.”
Though the cost of the project was listed as $44,761, County Judge Tom Bonn offered a correction after the executive session, explaining an additional cost of $14,458 was being approved for the contract for electrical services with Grumbles Electric, bringing the total cost to $59,219.
The annual “preventative maintenance” contract is estimated at $1,500 per year.
In brief news:
The Commissioners Court heard from representatives of Caldwell County Brown Santa, which made a plea for public assistance in funding their program.
Brown Santa historically serves around 400 children each year, and is working to generate money to fund the community service this Christmas. Bernadette Chushall asked the Court to consider the possibility of making an annual donation to Brown Santa in the future.
The County also entered an interlocal agreement with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) for the use of two VFH transmitters in exchange for access to the County’s communication network. The radios will be delivered and programmed in the near future, but will remain the property of TxDOT. It is not expected that the additional radio traffic generated by TxDOT’s use of the communication systems will put any burden on local radio traffic.
They approved participation in the Capital Area Council of Government’s (CAPCOG) regional Emergency Notification System for another year. The ENS system provides auto-dialing services with emergency messages in the event of emergencies or disasters, such as last February’s flooding event.
The Court was set to consider a contract for a construction manager for the WalMart project, but opted to pull the item from the agenda in order to re-advertise the project for bids.
They did approve a contract with M&M Roofing and Siding for repairs to the Scott Annex building at an estimated cost of $27,600.
The Commissioners also examined the employee paid holiday calendar for 2013, offering employees 13.5 paid holidays during the calendar year. They opted to cancel their regular meeting scheduled for Nov. 26, 2012, because of the time constraints caused by the Thanskgiving holiday.
The County paid bills in the amount of $344,242.67.
The Caldwell County Commissioners routinely meet on the second, third and fourth Monday of each month at 9 a.m. in the Conference and Training Room of the LW Scott Annex, 1403 Blackjack St. (FM 20E) in Lockhart. The meetings are open to the public and interested stakeholders are encouraged to attend.