The Blanco County Economic Development Committee held their monthly meeting on September 21 at the Blanco Chamber of Commerce. Ralph de Leon invited two representatives from CH2M Hill, a company that handles civil infrastructure projects, including water and wastewater treatment, to speak to the EDC directors and assembled guests.
De Leon explained that, when he and his wife first moved to Blanco and purchased the Blanco County Inn, they made a plan. They’re still working the plan, he said. In the eight years he’s lived here, he has heard rumors that Walmart, Home Depot, and other companies are planning to move in. The city has two plans, de Leon said, and they’re not detailed.
“If the city and the county had more detailed plans, we could be able to facilitate more business coming to Blanco,” Ralph said, “and decide what kind of business comes to Blanco, and decide where these businesses and/or residential areas and/or community things are going to be put. Rather than people from outside of town just coming and telling us this is where they’re going to put whatever.”
“I think one of the most important things that we can do–because this end of the county is the fastest growing,” he continued, “San Antonio is moving this way–we need a plan, otherwise these businesses that a lot of people hope are coming are going to go to 306 or 290/281 rather than coming here. Whether we use CH2M Hill or whoever, we need a detailed, long-term plan and work the plan. It’s not something that I want to dictate; a lot of people have different ideas of what we should do here at this end of the county; if we come to a consensus at least we have something to work towards.”
De Leon introduced Matt Berg and Bill Pehlivanian with CH2M Hill.
They explained the range of the services the company provides, including master planning, condition assessment, regulating growth, maintenance and repair, and more. CH2M works with cities and organizations around the area, including Austin, San Marcos, and SAWS, as well as managing infrastructure and projects such as the 2012 London Olympics and the Panama canal expansion.
They work with the community to decide what’s needed and wanted, Berg said. They’ve provided design plans as well as acted as a contractor to oversee projects to completion.
The EDC directors and audience asked questions about how CH2M goes about planning infrastructure expansions.
EDC director Chelita Riley brought up a common problem in the Hill Country: the lack of water. She asked if CH2M had worked with rainwater collection systems. Berg replied that they had worked on water conservation, encouraged partnerships with companies, developed water restrictions, and created subsidies. They also work with aquifer storage, establishing backup connections, and fixing water leaks.
Blanco had less than 7% water loss last month, City Utilities Director Nathan Cantrell reported. Cities with less than 10% are exceptional and TCEQ steps in above 22%.
Liz Waller-Broyal, owner of On The Square, asked Cantrell about Blanco’s plan for expansion, the city limits’ growth, and how many people will need city water. Cantrell replied that people can come up with plans but it takes money to implement them. The city is currently working on replacing 3,000 feet of sewer line for $250,000; Blanco has over 100,000 feet of sewer line to maintain.
Cantrell said that Blanco has a plan, which includes projects that have been completed, such as road repair on Hackberry and south Pecan, and the plan is being followed.
De Leon asked about the city’s plan for a business building on Highway 281 and Ranch Road 32. Cantrell noted that the city’s agreement with GBRA prevents the city from providing water outside the extra-territorial jurisdiction.
“That is part of why we’re annexing,” Cantrell explained, “trying to get Cielo Springs inside, since they were already in place when we entered into our agreement with GBRA.”
De Leon said annexation is an ongoing process and, if the city has plans for that, so much the better.
“Our plan right now, for the most part, is to annex what we’re supplying to,” Cantrell continued. “Right now, we could annex every year for the next five years and probably not get everything we already supply to inside the city limits. We go down Kendalia Rd., down 102, to the newest section of Cielo Springs, all the way to one resident at The Landing. We had served them before the contract.”
A large company can look at the land all they want, Penny Thomas said, but they can’t entertain the idea of moving into the area without the infrastructure.
Mike Yerington, owner of Hillside Acres Retreat, asked if there was a complete plan that he could see. De Leon added that he has been asking to see a plan for a couple of years. Cantrell replied that the plan is available at City Hall.
De Leon noted that the city now gets its water from Canyon Lake and, when the lake gets to a certain level, the water supply is shut off. Cantrell replied that the city follows the Canyon Lake water restrictions and the city has the 20% of water on the bottom of the lake.
“They cannot legally turn this water off,” Cantrell said. Cantrell added that the city is working toward another water connection but the process is still in the early stages and isn’t being publicized.
County commissioner Paul Granberg was asked how the county has planned for growth. The county’s septic and subdivision plans are how the county handles incoming developments. Granberg said that the water studies have stopped some big problems, along with the economic downturn. When developers hit big wells, like Rockin’ J Ranches did, the plats changed to smaller lots. A computer company in Dallas decided to move to the Hill Country and investigated Johnson City.
“There wasn’t adequate housing for the employees,” Granberg explained. “Most of the employees weren’t happy with the schools. They ended up going to Austin. ...That creates problems, say, if you do bring an additional 60 families, how does that impact the school? Will the school need to pass a bond to build another addition to handle the additional students? Will there be adequate water to handle another 60 housing units in the city?”
The developer buys property, submits plans to the county, the county reviews them against regulations, and they approve it, Granberg said. There are 1,400 home sites at Rockin’ J, potentially bigger than the city. At some point, 20 years down the road, that may be part of the city.
De Leon asked about storing more surface water in the Blanco River. Granberg said that was talked about during the last drought and, because of TCEQ and private property owners, it would take 25 years worth of permitting to get that done. Cantrell added that the city needs to dredge what it has; the 14-foot-tall Wayne Smith dam has dirt three feet below the top edge. Money and permitting is required for dredging.