Water Board: review of Devine’s
$9.9 million loan and some “potentially ineligible” costs

Shortly before press time, Chief Communications Officer for the Texas Water Development Board, Lauren Munguia, gave the following update on The City of Devine’s $9.9 million dollar loan that is currently under review:

Continue reading “Water Board: review of Devine’s
$9.9 million loan and some “potentially ineligible” costs”

Public Hearing on Devine Water Improvements Project Monday, Feb 6 at 5:05 pm

The City of Devine received a Texas Community Development Block Grant (TxCDBG) Program grant, 7220119, from the Texas Department of Agriculture for a Water Improvements Project. A public hearing has been called for 5:05 p.m. on Monday February 6th, 2023, at the City Hall, 303 S. Teel Drive, Devine, TX 78016  to review the program performance of the activities completed under this grant which will include an explanation of the actual use of the Texas Community Development Block Grant Program funds and invite comments.

The City’s $9.9 million dollar loan is under review by the Texas Water Board.

Devine: Special Meeting Feb 2 to Consider Bond Election and to Select Projects

Notice of Meeting of the Governing Body of The City of Devine


Notice is hereby given that a Special Meeting of the governing body of the City of Devine will be held on the 2nd day of February, 2023 at 6:00 p.m. at the Dr. George S. Woods Community Center, 200 E. Hondo Avenue, Devine, Texas at which time the following subjects will be discussed, considered or action taken:

Discuss and consider for the Council to move forward with a Bond Election and to select projects.

Devine to hold public hearing “performance of activities” under grant

The City of Devine will hold a public hearing at 5:05 p.m. Monday, January 30th, 2023 at City Hall to review and discuss issues regarding a large grant the city received. The grant was designated for a Sewer improvement project and those attending the public hearing will hear a report on the performance of the activities which were completed under the grant. The explanation will include discussion of the actual use of the Block Grant and those present will be invited to comment.
Devine City Hall is located at 303 South Teel Drive in Devine.

Funding delay threatens waterline project, city scrambles to seek $1 million line of credit to keep water project flowing

Water line crews working along Lee Dr. in Devine. At last Friday morning’s emergency meeting, council members were surprised to learn that the contractor had been working nearly 4 months without pay and would have to withdraw if not paid. Issues with the release of grant funds is under review by the Texas Water Development Board. Meanwhile a $1 Million line of credit was sought and approved to keep them working for the time being.

In an emergency session Friday morning (Jan. 20) the Devine City Council voted to establish a $1 million line of credit with the Lytle State Bank to cover interim costs on a multi-million dollar project to replace aging asbestos-cement water lines still serving the public.
District 4 Council Member Josh Ritchey said that a continuing gap in the loan funding committed to by the Texas Water Development Board made the council’s action necessary.
“The current contractor has been very, very good about working with us,” Ritchey said. “They’ve been working almost four months now without pay.”
“This past Friday’s emergency meeting was the first time council was made aware of the payment issue that had been going on,” Ritchey added.
The official notice posted for the Friday meeting warned that “the construction company working on the water lines has expressed its intent to stop working if it is not paid. The notice also states “if the construction company withdraws from the job the withdrawal will have an immediate effect upon the service of potable water to the citizens of Devine.”
For video coverage of the water line project being discussed during the Jan. 17 city council meeting visit the Devine News YouTube channel at youtu.be/9r2YNaB24aM.
In March 2018, the TWDB awarded the city a $500,000 grant and $9.4 million in loans to fund the project. However, new state management assigned to administer the funding have re-evaluated many of the previously approved aspects, according to the engineer.
Asked to comment on the action taken by the council Interim City Administrator Dora Rodriguez issued a press release stating the exact motion voted upon Friday.
“I move that the City of Devine establish a line of credit with Lytle State Bank up to an amount of One Million Dollars ($1,000,000.00) in order to allow the City of Devine to pay interim costs on the water line project that is funded by the Texas Water Development Board …,” the release states.
All payments on the line of credit shall be made from current revenues of the city, the release continues. The mayor and city secretary are authorized to “provide and execute” all documents that may be reasonably required by the bank.
A statement issued to us by the TWDB Monday in response to the city’s issues reads as follows:
“The City of Devine’s 2018 Drinking Water State Revolving Fund project began construction in July 2020 on the first phase of a planned four-phase project. The first contract for Phase I was terminated by the City in April 2021, and in June 2022 , the TWDB approved a second set of plans for Phase I.
“In October 2022, the City notified the TWDB that the overall project had insufficient funds and that it had bid, awarded, and started construction under a second contract for Phase I.”
“The TWDB is currently working with the City to determine eligible costs for reimbursement. When this review is complete, the next step will be to review the bid, followed by potentially providing a notice to proceed for the second contract and release of funds for construction.”
According to TWDB, the city’s water distribution system includes asbestos-cement lines, cast iron lines and undersized lines.
“The City is currently under a Texas Commission on Environmental Quality agreed order for failure to comply with the maximum containment level for asbestos in the water distribution system,” the TWDB SFY 2018 Drinking Water State Revolving Fund annual report states.
The system poses as potential threat to public health and safety and may lead to diminished water pressure and adversely affect the overall water quality distributed to consumers, the report states.
Asbestos-cement pipe, with an average life span of about 70 years, was used extensively in the mid-1900s in potable water distribution systems. Asbestos fibers have long been linked to serious diseases including asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer.
At least one aspect of the ongoing friction with TWDB came up at the council’s Jan. 17 regular session when Mayor Cory Thompson asked the council to ratify a change order in the water line project contract deleting a $39,500 bid item for the removal and disposal of 3,950 linear feet of asbestos-cement pipe.
“We got notified by the Texas Water Development Board that we essentially either stop the project or we go ahead and make this modification,” Thompson said. “So we talked about it, we talked to (City Attorney Tom Cate) and we said ‘Alright, we need to go ahead and sign this today. We can’t have everybody stopping.”
That action was taken on Jan. 6 but still required council approval to ratify it, he said.
City Engineer Raul Garcia Jr. said that the original purpose of the project was the replacement of the asbestos water lines.
“At that time (TWDB) had approved the plans and there was a categorical exclusion environmentally to do that,” Garcia said at the Jan 17th meeting.
However, a recent turnover in staff at the TWDB led to further review of the documents submitted by the city, Garcia said. The agency reversed its earlier approval to remove and dispose of the asbestos laden water lines.
“They wanted to back track to Phase I to see if we had done anything and, luckily, no asbestos lines were removed,” Garcia said. “Nothing has been done on this phase yet.”
Rather than remove the lines and risk spreading asbestos fibers Garcia told the council he recommended keeping the lines in place but unused.
“What we are going to do it keep the line in place, abandon them and, at a later date whenever the city can afford it or we get funding for it we remove at that time,” Garcia said.
Several council members questioned whether abandoning the lines was the best course of action.
“Basically we’re going to leave them there to die,” District 5 Council Member Debbie Randall said.
Ritchey said leaving the lines in place “sounds like a huge liability moving forward.” District 2 Council Member Angela Pichardo and District 3 Council Member David Espinosa questioned whether the asbestos might leach into the environment as the disused pipe continued to decay.
Garcia noted that any AC pipe abandoned in Texas Department of Transportation right-of-ways are required to be filled with concrete. But the city would probably limit its interaction with the pipe to cap it and compact the area with added backfill.
“That’s where we have problems with the asbestos,” Garcia said. “When you break it, when you saw cut it, it’s the dust and residue that is dangerous.”
On a motion by Randall, seconded by Pichardo, the council voted to approve the change order. District 1 Council Member Ruffino Vega was absent from the meeting.
However, resolving the issue of removing and discarding the asbestos-cement pipe proved insufficient to satisfy the TWDB with the status of the entire project, Ritchey said Monday. Hence, the emergency meeting held on Jan. 20.
“This is just more fallout from that new person coming in and applying their own projected role to the project,” Ritchey said. “They want to reapprove everything the last person approved. How much was in error by the last person I don’t know. “
The city administration has reached out to U.S. Representative Tony Gonzales for his help in negotiating a solution with the TWDB, he said.
Devine’s water pipe replacement project has had a troubled history even before its current woes. In March 2021, Phase I was suspended after the council’s decision to fire the general contractor, Triun LLC. However, work with Triun resumed in September. In August 2022, the council approved a $3.47 million bid by Qro Mex Construction, Inc. for the current phase of the project which includes installation of 20,343 linear feet of 8-inch water main, 3,327 linear feet of 5-inch water main, 6,613 linear feet of service line, plus various valves, hydrants and fittings.
One aspect of the project creating water supply problems for resident of southeast Devine was also discussed at the Jan. 17 meeting when Pichardo reported widespread water outages affecting her district beginning the previous week.
“We haven’t had water in our district for three to four days now,” Pichardo said. “They turn it off during the days. As I was leaving we still hadn’t had the water turned on for the residents who are pretty upset.”
Rodriguez confirmed that an unknown number of homes were experiencing low water pressure during weekdays requiring contractors to establish two emergency “tie-ins” to replenish the system.
“Yes, we’ve been getting lots of calls,” Rodriguez said. “Again, this is something the contractors have to do to be able to tie-in to the new lines to get away from the asbestos.”
At the root of the complications is trouble finding the older lines due to a lack of good maps dating back to their original installation, she said.
“Come to find out there was an issue with one valve,” Rodriguez said. “They had to go back and get hold of our engineer because, again, like I said, that area of town we don’t have the maps. For whatever reason, back in the 1950s, we didn’t have good maps.”
The contractors traced as much of the existing network as possible before construction began “but there are some things that are popping up that no one was aware of, even public works,” Rodriguez said.
The affected area lies southeast of the Union Pacific railroad tracks and runs south along FM 3176 and as far east as Live Oak Drive. Included in the area are major businesses such as Wal-Mart and Sonic located on East Hondo Avenue.
Service was restored over the January 14 weekend but cutoffs resumed the following Monday, Pichardo said. In particular, residents were annoyed that door-to-door notification was not received until after the cutoffs began.
Rodriguez said the contractor, Qro Max Construction, were responsible for distributing the notifications. However, the work originally was scheduled to begin Jan. 17, not as early as Jan. 11, she said.
Ritchey said Monday that the water service disruption has since been resolved.

Neighbors speak up about water concerns, traffic problems with new county subdivisions including 2,800 acre development

Sky View subdivision representative Dan Mullins, left, confronts neighboring property owners Joe Finger, center, and Frederick Gierisch, during a public hearing at the Jan. 12 Medina County Commissioners Court meeting. Finger and Gierisch expressed their concerns about the impact the new development would have on water resources and traffic.

By Anton Riecher
Water, traffic and security were the principal concerns cited by property owners during public hearings before the Medina County Commissioners Court regarding pending action on several new subdivisions.
Precinct 3 landowner Frederick Gierisch said that he has seen rapid depletion of his water resources in recent years. Now developers of the Sky View Ranch subdivision off FM 1796 are petitioning the court for preliminary approval of the project.
“My water well, in five years, has gone down 50 feet and I’m right across the fence from their development,” Gierisch said.
Beside the hearing on the Sky View Ranch development, commissioners also heard from landowners on creation of the Megan’s Landing Public Improvement District and revisions to Private Road 1505 in the Holiday Villages of Medina subdivision.
Precinct 3 Commissioner David Lynch presided over the Jan. 12 meeting in Lutz’s absence. New County Judge Keith Lutz and Precinct 4 Commissioner Daniel Lawler were not present as they were attending the Texas Association of Counties conference in Austin.
Beside the impact on water resources, Gierisch told commissioners that Sky View Ranch is a 2,800-acre development involving 220 lots. Figuring three members to each new household the new development represent added pressure on local roadways.
“It might add as many as 600 more people to an FM road that can’t handle the traffic that it has now,” he said.
Landowner Joe Finger of D’Hanis mirrored Gierisch’s complaints in his comments.
“I can’t drill another well,” he said. “My well is at the bottom of the table. If my well dries, and it has dropped an average of about 10 feet every year, everybody in my area will be as out of luck as I am.”
Like Gierisch, Finger said increased traffic on FM 1796 represents a growing menace.
“You’re going to get somebody killed by putting that many people on that road when it is not meant to handle the traffic,” Finger said.
Dan Mullins, representing the developer, said steps have already been taken to address the concerns raised by Gierisch and Finger. Regarding water, landscaping is being restricted to only 5,000-square-feet of irrigation.
“So on a 10-acre tract nobody is going to come out and sod the whole thing,” Mullins said.
Regardless of Mullins’s reassurance, commissioners voted to approve a motion by Lynch giving preliminary approval for the subdivision only if it receives the okay of county consultant Alan Stanton of Westwood Engineering on the water use impact.
Precinct 2 Commissioner Larry Sittre asked Mullins to consider reconfiguring the arrangement of lots to reduce the number of homes bordering FM 1796.
“This is, to me, a safety hazard to have 24 lots come out on that state highway,” Sittre said. “That is not good.”
The public hearing for the Megan’s Landing Improvement District received a ringing endorsement from Sittre who praised the inclusion of what he described as one of the largest systems to recycle irrigation water in Texas.
“We’re in the worst water crisis and this will save probably 60 percent of the water,” Sittre said. “Sixty percent of the water that goes to homes goes on the yard. This is going to be 100 percent recycled water on the majority of yards.”
During the public hearing on the Holiday Villages of Medina development a representative for Texas Holiday Villages asked that commissioners schedule final plat approval for their next meeting.
“We expect today you are going to hear some complaints about the private roads, their construction,” the representative said. “I just want to make sure that the court notes that those roads have been inspected both by independent third parties and the county and passed that inspection.”
Texas Holiday Villages has entered into an agreement with the local homeowners association to guarantee the road for the next 10 years, he said.
But property owner Paul Wade said the developer’s decision to reduce the minimum lot size from one acre to a quarter acre is bound to impact the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone. Also, the security of the gated community has been compromised by unrestricted access from Castroville Road.
“They paint a pretty picture of what they will do for you as long as it doesn’t cost them,” Wade said.
The Texas Holiday Villages representative said access from Castroville Road was only temporary to allow in construction equipment and has since been closed. Tom Crawford of the homeowners association said plans are in the works for a more substantial fence to block that entrance.
In other business, a report from County Auditor Eduardo Lopez put the available county funds at $20 million compared to $18.1 million at the same time last year. The commissioners approved $2.1 million in accounts payable with $19,599 in funds disbursed since the last court session.
Commissioners approved a request by Darcy Hasty, director of Medina County Pre-Trial Services, to permit her office to adopt the use of a smaller, more sophisticated breathalyzer testing device used to check the status of offenders while on the job.
Chief Deputy Gilbert Rodriguez sought approval for the sheriff’s office to comply with a request by the state attorney general to assign an investigator to the issue of Internet child abuse. The state pledged to reimburse the county for the computer equipment needed.
Commissioners asked for further information on payment of an architect in regard to redoing the parking lot of the courthouse annex completed in 2020. Lynch explained that the architect was needed to make the county’s case that the parking lot be redone.
Sittre said he was opposed to any effort by the contractor to cover the parking lot project from contingency funds.
“They screwed up our parking lot and they want to take it out of our money to fix it – no,” he said.
The commissioners voted to authorize advertising for a public hearing on reducing the speed limit for CR 640 in precinct 3. Meanwhile, Precinct 1 Commissioner Timothy Neuman said he wants the cost of advertising about applications to replat to be borne by the property owners in the future.
“My precinct has paid nearly $3,000 to advertise for this,” he said.
The commissioners’ tabled action on Neuman’s proposal until further legal research can be conducted.

Chamber election of officers January 16

The Devine Chamber of Commerce will elect its officers on Monday, January16, 2023 for the year at the annual meeting of the members.
All offices are re-elected each year for a one year term.
Chamber members who would like to get more involved are invited to run for an office by emailing their intent and the office being sought to devinechamberofcommerce@gmail.com by Wednesday, January 11 to be placed on the ballot.
Current President Bonnie Manning encourages chamber members to come to the meeting and run for an office if they want to become more involved in helping the business community thrive in 2023 and our community.

Double executive sessions make for lengthy Devine council session

The Devine City Council held two closed executive sessions during its regular meeting Dec. 13 – one to discuss a possible settlement regarding city efforts to condemn three Devine Municipal Airport hangars and another to review applications for city administrator.
No action was taken following either closed session.
In November the council voted to condemn hangars 8, 8A and 10 by means of eminent domain. The formal motion refers to acquisition for “the Public Use of Designing, Developing, Constructing, Enlarging, Extending and Improving the Devine Municipal Airport.”
More than 27,715 square feet of hangar space is involved in the action.
The council also voted in November to advertise in professional publications for a new city administrator. City Administrator John Vidaurri resigned effective October 22, 2021, leaving city secretary Dora Rodriguez to step into his vacated role on an interim basis.
The city is seeking candidates with five years’ experience as a city manager or administrator who also hold a bachelor’s degree and degrees in public administration, management or business.
In other action, the council asked city attorney Thomas P. Cate to draft an amendment to the city’s alcoholic beverage ordinance based on the discussion among the council members.  The draft motion was made by District 4 council member Josh Ritchey and seconded by District 5 council member Debbie Randall.
Mayor Cory Thompson said the current ordinance restricts alcoholic beverages within a 300-foot radius of schools and church. However, downtown Devine is all but officially dry due to an overlap of these radiuses often surrounding churches that are no longer in use.
“I’m often getting requests from business owners who want to sell alcohol but are located within these zones,” Thompson said.
City staff has been unable to find any official reason why the council chose to enforce a standardized 300 foot radius for these locations back in 1976, he said. Whereas modern minutes record the council’s action in detail, older minutes tend to be brief and uninformative, Thompson said.
Today, the ordinance is often not enforced 100 percent, particularly during events such as the Fall Festival or October Fest. Thompson noted that the Veterans of Foreign Wars chapter is within 100 feet of school property.
“For the most part I would like to see the ordinance go away but there are certain points I’d like to keep,” he said.
In particular, the mayor wants to keep the official closing time at 1 a.m. He also wants to continue requiring application for city permits to serve alcohol.
An addition that Thompson proposed to the ordinance is no glass bottles on public property. Alcohol would be allowed but containers must not be obviously displayed.
“Places like Marble Falls or parks in Travis County alcohol cannot be visible,” Thompson said. “If the beer can is in a coozie no one has a problem. On the other hand, no one wants to see an open ice chest.”
Noting that the ordinance had previously been amended in 1981 and 1990, Thompson said it has always been an “ever evolving document.”
“We can always readdress this,” he said.
In other discussion about ordinances, the council tabled action on fence restrictions under consideration by the planning and zoning commissioners. In particular, Randall expressed concern about fences that obscure traffic by being too tall, too close to the corner or opaque.
Some board fencing makes it impossible to see the cars waiting at stop signs at certain intersections, Randall said. Ritchey said he would like to see any new ordinance focus on safety factory rather than the style of fencing.
“Lots of stuff in their now is not palatable to a lot of folks, including me,” he said.
The council also discussed new code requirements regarding the collection of solid waste. Randall said she was in favor of requiring homeowners to promptly collect their waste containers after trash has been collected. 
She said an impromptu survey via Facebook that she conducted found that most people would support rules to get the containers out of the street and off the curb. However, some folks simply replied “just let people be,” she said.
Thompson said leaving the containers in the street often restricts the flow of traffic on narrow residential streets. Also, maneuvering around the containers can make exiting driveways more hazardous.
The council took no action but asked Cate to draft changes for a future vote.
Misty Thompson of Thompson Houston Real Estate addressed the council about obtaining an extension on master plan approval at the 13.71-acre Cactus Flats subdivision. The council granted a three-year extension.
“We were not aware there was a time limit,” Thompson said. “Approval was only good for three years.”
To date only four houses have been built in the subdivision.
Also regarding subdivision development, the council approved a $103,693 road construction project for Shaver Street between West Davis Avenue and Kempf Street. The council voted 4-0 to approve based on a motion by Ritchey.
The council voted to make a correction in an earlier proclamation in honor of National Wreaths Across America Day on Dec. 17. Among the 3,702 participating locations across the country Devine was represented by the Devine Current Events Club, not the Devine Garden Club.
Business woman Brittany Sullivan-Ott offered the city council a deal during its regular meeting, offering to pay to repaint two sadly faded “Welcome to Devine” signs.
“It’s very faded in my opinion,” she said. “I’m tired of driving by it.”
Repainting the signs will cost $1,500 apiece, she said. Her only stipulation was to add the logo of her two businesses – C&R Grill and Alamo Truck Accessories – to the refurbished signs.
Other than that, Sullivan-Ott asked only for help installing the replacement signs. Both signs are located on Devine ISD property.
The motion by District 4 council member Josh Ritchey, approved 4-0 by the council, puts a four year limit on the new signs. Once expired Sullivan-Ott can replace them again or turn the honor over to some new willing entrepreneur.

Drainage improvement may dominate proposed May city bond issue election

At the podium, Ralph Montgomery of Monticello Circle addresses the Devine City Council about flooding issues plaguing his property. The council discussed this and other flooding problems during its Nov. 13 meeting.

By Anton Riecher
Flooding received the most attention during the Nov. 15 session of the Devine City Council with speculation about adding $4.8 million in drainage improvements to a possible bond issue election in May 2023.
Ralph D. Montgomery, owner of two houses at 406 Monticello Drive, addressed the council about “tremendous runoff” from Fox Run and Libold Drive affecting his property.
“I bought the property four years ago and I’ve had this problem ever since I bought the place,” Montgomery said. “It only happens during heavy, hard rain.”
Video coverage of the council session is posted at the Devine News’ YouTube channel.
Over the year the problem has grown worse with water backed up into the alley behind his home “coming in the back door” during the last major rain, he said. He blamed the new flooding on construction near his home.
Dealing with the problem at Montgomery’s address and throughout a large portion of District 4 would require a system of box culverts to reroute water from north of Mockingbird Lane, Mayor Cory Thompson said.
Thompson noted that the city staff has been unable to locate building permits on record for the construction at Montgomery’s address.
“Was there nothing in the seller’s disclosure when you bought the property because this isn’t a new problem?” Thompson asked.
Montgomery said no. He also told the council he took offense that the original construction at the site was for a business and not a home.
“It’s all been approved by the city,” Montgomery said. “How did it get built if it wasn’t approved?”
Thompson said a much less expensive alternative of building a wall to divert the runoff had been rejected as ineffective because openings must be permitted for driveways.
Montgomery complained that the city had previously built a wall from the alleyway behind a nearby home to Monticello Circle as a means to divert the water. However, that wall has seen no maintenance and is now overgrown with grass and weeds.
Thompson asked city engineer Raul H. Garcia to develop “a more realistic plan” for handling the drainage issue. District 2 council member Angela Pichardo told Montgomery the city would have to find a solution best for “the overall population.”
“If we do fix your situation it would fix quite a bit” of the District 4 flooding issues, she said.
The council also addressed drainage in the 400 block of W. Park Avenue near the intersection with Washington Drive.
“To permanently fix the problem will require a street reconstruction project of the adjacent streets that contribute to this area,” Garcia said.
As with Monticello Drive, the issues on West Park may require bond issue funding on the May ballot, Thompson said. However, since the flooding is attributable to the contours of the property anything major that would divert natural drainage would require federal approval.
On motion by District 5 council member Debbie Randall, seconded by District 3 council member David Espinosa, the council voted 4-0 to direct Garcia to come up with price estimates. District 4 council member Josh Ritchey was absent from the meeting.
In other action, the council passed a motion to correct action taken in April to award a contract for a water transmission line to Qro Mex Construction Company for the base bid of $146,818, plus $100,000 for the additional work contained in an alternate bid.
While the original motion still stands it “should have been worded slightly differently,” Thompson said.
On action of Pichardo, seconded by Espinosa, the council approved the purchase of available property adjoining Curcio Park for future expansion. City Attorney Thomas P. Cate explained that delinquent taxes owed on the property to various entities totaled about $12,500.
Peggy Lester, a resident of Warhorse Drive, asked the council to consider moving a propane tank at the city water tower. She said she was concerned that the tank could pose an explosion risk if struck by lightning.
City staff reported that the tank was placed on site to fuel an emergency generator during the winter storm of February 2021. The tank is already scheduled to be moved.
The council voted to approve the installation of a street light at 509 Howell Ave. after owner Mary Uhl agreed to cover installation costs in the neighborhood of $180.
Also approved was action to lease a portable building near the golf course clubhouse to Devine Golf Group for storage at a cost of $200 a month on a yearly lease.
Council members approved plans for the Devine Women’s Golf Association and the Devine Golf Group to conduct a golf cart parade at 7 p.m. Dec. 16. No street closure was required for the parade.
The council approved rescheduling its Dec. 20 regular session meeting to Dec. 13.