Following a Public Hearing at the January 14 meeting of the governing body of Blanco, council members voted to approve rezoning of property at 526 Chandler Street (across from the Cemetery) to light industrial to pave the way for a new manufacturing plant. Tom Finch, CEO of Tailwind Trailers, explained the process by which epoxy-impregnated fabric is cut out, shaped over a form, and baked. The result is a trailer which can be pulled by a motorcycle or other vehicle. “We believe it would bring business here,” said Finch. Customers come from as far away as Australia and France, he said, and would leave with “a bag of stuff” they have bought in Blanco. The trailers, which are currently manufactured by Aircraft Technologies, are sold direct over the Internet. He characterized the process as very environmentally-friendly and said he hopes to hire local people as the business grows, perhaps as many as 30. High school graduates would be trained at the facility, which will consist of two buildings on the old Weirich Concrete Plant site—one for manufacturing and one for sales and display. The manufacturing building will have 6 inches of insulation and special tables with a vacuum system to capture the dust generated in the cutting process. P&Z member Martha Gosnell reported to council that all materials are EPA-approved, and that the environmental risks of the manufacturing process will be “negligible.”
In other environmental news, Public Works Director Nathan Cantrell elaborated on a report sent to all water customers in the City of Blanco, which stated that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has notified the city of contaminants in the drinking water. The Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) for trihalomethanes, a byproduct of purifying drinking water using chlorine gas, is .080 milligrams per liter. The third quarter reading for 2013 was .081 mg/L, and the fourth quarter reading, .082mg/L. The report states that consuming this water over the course of many years may cause cancer or other problems of the kidneys, liver, or central nervous system. Cantrell said that improvements to the water plant are being made, including installing blowers to aerate water in the 500,000 gallon storage tank with the goal of bringing down the level to.030 mg/L or less by the end of November. Nathan pointed out that the latest reading shows a level of .058 mg/L.
Brad Farbstein, Real Ale Brewery owner, reported to council that the new pre-treatment plant installed at the brewery has greatly lowered the strain on Blanco’s aging sewer plant, with a drop in biological oxygen demand (BOD) from 11,000 to 390 and a drop in total suspended solids (TSS) from 1000 to 312 with the totals still trending down. “We’re trying to bring it down so that the city will be minimally impacted,” said Farbstein; “we appreciate the city’s patience with us. We are getting to a point where we are happy with it. This will allow our business and other businesses to come and increase the tax base of Blanco.”
Mayor Chuck Homan responded, “It is so wonderful to be where we are today compared to where we were two years ago. What Brad is pulling out of there makes our plant look awesome.” He added that the city has purchased 110 acres of land which will be used to irrigate using the city’s wastewater. The land, located east of the sewer plant, will become part of the city as a result of annexation, adding to the city’s footprint. “It was a good deal for the seller and for the city,” he said.
City Attorney Eddy Rogers announced that TCEQ has granted the city an amendment to its permit to discharge waste water and irrigate for the next three years, but that the city must build a new sewer plant by the end of that time. “The plant is 60 years old; it’s time we got something new,” he continued. “We can rely on Nathan to get the best plant for the least money,” concluded Rogers.
Blanco Historic Preservation Commission member Retta Martin recommended Jo Nell Haas for a position on the commission, and council voted to approve. Martin said she is “thrilled to have Jo Nell on the commission,” calling her a “proactive historian” who worked to save the Old Blanco County Courthouse and fought to save Blanco State Park when it was in danger of being closed. She also said that Becky Greathouse has agreed to be the commission’s Historic Preservation Officer.
Donning her Keep Blanco Beautiful hat, Martin reported that members of the Blanco High School Leo Club were to begin helping KBB take down the Christmas decorations in Bindseil Park on Wednesday. Once again she expressed her disappointment that all businesses were not lighted during the Courthouse Lighting at Thanksgiving. “It’s like the Christmas spirit is gone,” she lamented. “It is a lot of work, and the businesses are not lighting up,” she said, adding that KBB spent over $750 on Christmas lights. Chamber member Curt Knutson suggested that forming a non-profit, as Johnson City did, and having vendor booths on the square, might stimulate community interest. Martin concluded that KBB will need city help in taking down decorations and city support in burying utilities in the park to replace the extension cords that are currently used.
Council members voted to give grants to the Old Blanco County Courthouse Preservation Society, the Blanco Volunteer Fire Department, and Blanco Volunteer Ambulance Corps for reduced rates on their water use. “We found out that what we are doing is ‘shady,’” said Rogers, that it is illegal for the city to give away water. However, the city can make donations if there is “a municipal benefit,” and that the benefit is obvious for these entities, both for safety reasons, and in the case of OBCCPS, the enhancement of the town square by watering the courthouse grounds. In answer to a question by Fire Chief Ron Sallman, Rogers clarified that the water the fire department takes from hydrants for their trucks will continue to be free but said he would check with the Texas Municipal League to make sure. EMS and the courthouse will receive annual grants of $800, while the fire department will receive a $1000 grant.
Chief Ron Sallman reported that an anonymous donor has paid to have automatic door openers installed on doors at the fire station, cutting response time by 30 seconds to 1 ½ minutes since the doors will automatically close after the trucks go through them. The same donor also paid to replace the keyless entry system at each door to the building at a cost of $1K per door. Sallman said he is also pursuing grants to pay for sleeping quarters in the fire department, so that the building can be manned 24-7. He said the department will ask for donations for supplies and open up some space for around $17K. Grants from Texas A&M University are also in the works for new brush trucks and new bunker gear. “We’re utilizing the grant programs as much as we can,” added Sallman. He pointed out that the wrecked vehicles that have appeared outside the fire station are being utilized for “extraction training,” teaching fire fighters to use equipment to cut into vehicles and rescue wreck victims. There are also wooden structures for fire fighters to practice climbing on. Other new purchases for the department include hand-held radios. All vehicles are now up to date on maintenance, and a maintenance schedule has been set up. Sallman concluded his report by thanking the city and the community for all their support, as well as Assistant Chief Robert Stewart. In December the department made 22 calls, responding to four grass fires, one false alarm, and six motor vehicle accidents, and provided 10 assists.
Blanco Police Sergeant Stewart, reporting in the absence of Police Chief Mike Ritchey, said officers “are doing a really good job.” Crime statistics for 2013 are up from the previous year in the areas of public assists, disturbance calls, city ordinance violations, felony-evading arrests, and agency assists. In 2014 there have already been four major traffic accidents, including one fatality as the result of a motorcycle accident.
Finally, council members voted to order an election for May 10, 2014, to elect three council members. The terms of Martin Sauceda, Al Turner, and Bobby McClung will expire this spring. The filing dates are January 29 to February 28. Information on filing can be found at Blanco City Hall.