Burning restrictions hot topic for Commissioners


By LPR Staff

While Caldwell County continues to suffer from the driest year in recent history, the County Commissioners are grappling with the best way to help the area’s agribusinesses with their necessary fall and winter burning.

Sagging rainfall totals in Caldwell County this year have created a tense situation for fire offici

als as high, dry grasses couple with sunny, breezy days to create extremely fertile conditions for wildfires. In the Texas Forest Service’s Keetch-Byram Index, a large portion of Caldwell County has been consistently “in the red,” meaning conditions, including fuel and wind, are favorable for intense, deep-burning fires.

According to Stephanie Riggin, whose company has kept an unofficial tally of rainfall in Lockhart since the mid-1970s, Lockhart has had only 18.5 inches of rain this year – less than half of last year’s total of nearly 51 inches. Since the company began tracking rainfall in 1976, this is the driest year on record, Riggin said on Tuesday. The closest total was in 1988, when Lockhart logged 20.75 inches of rainfall for the year.

For most of 2008, the Caldwell County Commissioners Court has imposed an outdoor burning ban, making it a Class C Misdemeanor to participate in outdoor burning, except for the burning of household trash in an approved receptacle.

This ban, however, has created a difficult situation for Caldwell County farmers and ranchers, who have been unable to clear their land or participate in prescribed burning because of the ban.

During the Court’s regular meeting on Monday, Emergency Management Coordinator Jim Parker recommended the ban be continued, because little rain, if any, is in sight, but noted the stress the ban has created certain agricultural producers.

“This week, I spoke to a prescribed burn specialist about the possibility of agricultural burns,” Parker said. “He can set up an informational session on agricultural burns and offer advice as to what to do and how to do it, if that’s a route we want to go.”

Presently, Caldwell County does not have a procedure in place to allow special use permits for outdoor burning while the county is under a burn ban. That policy is something that Precinct One Commissioner Tom Bonn suggested the Commissioners review.

“I’d like to see prescribed burns as a possibility,” he said, noting concerns he has heard from county residents about their inability to burn brush. “We might be able to do something like that, with publicity and explanation through the local papers to help people understand.”

History suggests, though, that if residents see smoke plumes or witness their neighbors burning brush, with or without a permit, they will be encouraged to burn, as well.

“Any kind of special permit we give could turn into a dangerous situation,” County Judge HT Wright cautioned. “If people see someone else burning, they’re going to burn. It doesn’t matter how much information they have or what you tell them.”

The Commissioners voted finally to leave the burn ban in place.

In other business, the Court Caldwell County Extension Agent Jeff Watts approached the Court with a request from the Plum Creek Watershed Partnership.

According to the PCWP, which has been working with area residents and lawmakers to research and improve the water quality of Plum Creek, one of the key factors in the body’s low water quality is fecal matter contamination by feral hogs. The Partnership has asked Caldwell County and other shareholders to write letters to the Texas Wildlife Services Program, encouraging them to reconsider a grant award that will allow for an agent to work with Caldwell and Hays County on feral hog management.
The management program, Watts said, would include a multi-pronged approach that includes population management in the forms of contraception, trapping and eradication.

The growing feral hog population in Caldwell County has created myriad problems, including crop and livestock damage in the beasts’ forage area, e coli bacterial contamination in the watershed, and traffic hazards that have led to several accidents and at least one death on Caldwell County roads.

In brief news:
The Commissioners approved the county’s holiday schedule for 2009. County employees will receive a total of 13.5 paid holidays.

Caldwell County will purchase five Chevrolet half-ton pickup trucks from Glosserman Chevrolet-Buick-Oldsmobile-Pontiac for the Caldwell County Sheriff’s Department. The trucks will be purchased at the price of $21,772.78 each, and are scheduled for delivery on or before Nov. 30, 2008.

The Court granted a utility easement to the Martindale Water Supply Corporation, which is working on a project to relocate a water main located on FM 1979 in connection with a Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) project to improve the roadway. The easement needed by Martindale WSC includes a portion of the now-vacant property that Caldwell County once used as a dump.

The County paid bills in the amount of $172,308.57, which includes $4,534.30 for indigent legal defense.

The Caldwell County Commissioners meet on the second, third and fourth Monday of each month at 9 a.m. in Room 100 of the Caldwell County Courthouse. The meetings are open to the public, and members of the community are encouraged to attend.


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