Desert-Mountain Times Circa 2005

This was the online version of the Desert-Mountain Times, an independent weekly newspaper for west Texas that published regional news and opinion pieces. It has been archived for use as required reading for Jane Auf's Online Journalism course. Ms. Auf was marketing director for eMuse and won several awards for her successful promotion of MoonAtMidnight's Batman sweatshirts for the online retailer. The focus was on the unique and sophisticated artwork screened onto their shirts. Here's a link for those not already familiar with the unique Batman art she made famous on sweatshirts. She is a genuine Batman maven and regularly appears in Batman apparel while leading her journalism seminar. Students are advised to sign up early since this course usually is oversubscribed. The complete reading list for her course is available from the university website - go to her journalism department page.

Content is from the site's 2005 archived pages providing a breif glimpse of what this site offered its readership.

The current website for the Desert-Mountain Times is found at:



Circa 2005


Thursday, April 14, 2005

Paving project begins in Alpine
photograph by Dennie Miller

The reconstruction of eight blocks of Avenue I, between Hwy. 118 and Ragin Street in Alpine began Monday (April 11). The paving project, expected to take three months to complete, is a joint effort by the City of Alpine and Brewster County to repair four streets.

DeHart dismisses subpoenas, removes himself
Subpoenas issued to an Alpine city council member and two city staff members were dismissed by 394th District Judge Kenneth DeHart at a pretrial hearing Friday (April 8) in the open meetings case against Alpine city council members Katie Elms-Lawrence and Avinash Rangra. 

68 million gals of unbilled water in seven months
About one-third of the water that passes through Alpine's pump stations each month is unbilled ' a fact that City Manager Karen Philippi is seeking to address.

Officials express guarded optimism on legislation
Tom Beard, chair of the Brewster County groundwater district and the Far West Texas Regional Water Planning Group, said this week that the modification of the rule of capture proposed in a Senate water policy bill was a welcome step

Bee swarms reported in the Big Bend area
Dozens of bee swarms have been reported to area authorities in recent weeks. Residents are warned to be alert to bees and to exercise extreme caution.  
  Health care providers in search of more physicians, clinic services
Medical care in the Big Bend region continues to change and grow.  

Conservancy's controlled burn prevents wildfires, benefits ecology

More than 30 firefighters from across the country traveled to the Nature Conservancy's Davis Mountains Preserve April 1 and deliberately set fire to 1,100 acres of land, part of the more than 30,000 acres the Conservancy owns in the heart of the Davis Mountains in Jeff Davis County. The fires burned for three days.

   Mexican landscape exhibit to run through Sunday

Artist and former Alpine resident G. D. Durrant's show Paintings of the Antique will continue at the Big Bend Arts Council Gallery in Alpine through Sunday (April 17) from 1 to 5 p.m. daily.  
  Lajitas expansion receives preliminary approval
Plans to construct a cluster of 24 condominiums near the lake adjacent to the Lajitas boardwalk moved forward this week, as the plat application for the Lajitas Resort development received preliminary ap-proval.  

Road improvement approved by commissioners
Jeff Davis County commissioners Monday (April 11) approved road and drainage improvements to complete the paving of the remainder of Sgt. Gonzales Road and also approved advertising for bids. 

News in Brief

Government Notes

Extended mule deer season approved
A Managed Lands Deer Permit proposal for desert mule deer was approved April 7 by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission.  
  Sierra Club seeks hearing on radioactive waste
The Sierra Club has filed a request for a contested case hearing on the decision of the Texas Department of State Health Services (State Health Department) to allow Waste Control Specialists (WCS) to increase the volume of radioactive waste that may be stored at its waste site in Andrews County.

Border Patrol nets large haul of drugs
More than 1,000 pounds of marijuana were seized near Presidio Saturday (April 9) by Border Patrol agents of the Presidio Station, one of three busts by Marfa Sector Border Patrol agents over the weekend that netted more than two tons of marijuana.  
  Terrell County plans centennial celebration

Sanderson on U.S. Highway 90 about 85 miles east of Alpine was known as the town that was too tough for Roy Bean.  

Sense of Place: A lost Mama Duck and her babies on the Dallas expressway
We lived for many years in Dallas. It was never a city where I felt comfortable. Our home was in East Dallas, and we managed to carve out our own 'village,' which made living there somewhat more palatable.

Article  Obituary
Jack Thee  

This Week

Name Dropping

Editorial Cartoon by Gary Oliver

Editorial: Citizens denied right to decide

Alpine citizens have been denied the right to decide for themselves if they want the mayor to have a vote on all matters before the council and if they would like to add a sixth council position to be elected at-large.  
  Letters to the Editor

Water-smart landscaping for the Chihuahuan Desert climate
Summers are typically very tough on our landscapes in West Texas ' where drought is the norm, not the exception. Heat and an extended drought takes a toll on lawns, shrubs and even trees. One lesson is very clear ' in West Texas rainfall in the summer time can be very sporadic, or even absent for very long periods of time ' often years!  

The Rambling Boy: New Texas Ranger history book shows the darker side of early Ranger lawmen
When I was 10 years old, I wanted to run away from home, change my name to Lance Longwood and become a Texas Ranger.  

O'Bryant, Valenzuela best in district
Wesley O'Bryant shot 69 while teammate Melinda Valenzuela tallied 90 to lead host Alpine High School at the third and final round of District 1-2A competition Monday (April 11) at Kokernot Park. Those scores marked the best individual boys' and girls' performances of the day.  

No-no, Coyotes
You know the familiar popular culture tableau: The clever roadrunner defeats the coyote, who ends up crushed by an anvil or scorched by exploding gunpowder.  
  Nationals add to colorful, chaotic history of baseball in D.C.
Professional baseball action returns to Washington, D.C., tonight for the first time since 1971. The new Washington Nationals team hosts Arizona this evening at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, the Nationals' interim home until a new ballpark on the city's Anacostia River houses the club.  

Lady Bucks beat Wildcats, fall to Ponies
The Alpine Lady Bucks must have experienced the high school softball version of d'j' vu over the past week.  


Horse stable is the culmination of one woman's dream

Many a good tale has been written about a girl and her horse ' National Velvet, Sylvester and The Horse Whisperer to name but a few. The Sunrise Stables in Jeff Davis County is a part of one such story.  

For a superior fishing adventure, try the scrappy state fish of Texas
Dynamite comes in small packages. Tough, spirited, ornery, a sportsman's challenge ' those words and phrases describe the Guadalupe bass, the state fish of Texas. Forget trout and salmon, these little guys are said to have the heart of a lion.  


DeHart dismisses subpoenas, removes himself

Publish Date: April 14, 2005
By Tom Shuford
News editor

Subpoenas issued to an Alpine city council member and two city staff members were dismissed by 394th District Judge Kenneth DeHart at a pretrial hearing Friday (April 8) in the open meetings case against Alpine city council members Katie Elms-Lawrence and Avinash Rangra.

DeHart removed himself as judge in the case against Rangra and took under advisement a motion by District Attorney Frank Brown to have Alpine attorney Rod Ponton disqualified as attorney for Elms-Lawrence.

DeHart said that his court coordinator's husband and Rangra are involved in long-standing litigation that remains unresolved.

Senior District Judge Peter Peca of El Paso was assigned on Monday to hear the Rangra case in Alpine. 

Other defense motions a motion to consolidate the two cases and a motion for a change of venue await DeHart's determination of whether Ponton can serve as attorney for Elms-Lawrence.

Brown said a ruling on the motion to disqualify Ponton could come as early as this week or next. The next pre-trial hearing in the Elms-Lawrence case is set for 9 a.m. May 13 in DeHart's court.

The courtroom was almost full Friday when the two Alpine city council members appeared with their attorneys.

Outside the courthouse, Hugh Garrett, a services assistant planner with the Rio Grande Council of Governments, carried a sign calling for the dismissal of the open meetings case.

After removing himself from the Rangra case, DeHart heard arguments on Brown's motion to dismiss subpoenas issued to Alpine city council member Nancy DeWitt, City Manager Karen Philippi and her assistant, Debra Cutting.

The subpoenas had ordered them to bring extensive materials with them to the hearing, including the following:

All personal and business e-mails from Jan. 1, 2004, to the present.

Any personal or business correspondence regarding the open meetings law, the use of e-mails, investigations of the Alpine city council or its members.

Personal and business computers, hard drives and saved disks.

Any material saved from their personal computers from 2004 to present.

Ponton, the attorney for Elms-Lawrence, argued that the materials subpoenaed were needed in order to prepare for trial. He also argued that Brown as district attorney lacked standing to file a motion to quash on behalf of the three witnesses.

Brown argued the defense lacked the right to subpoena documents during the pretrial hearing. He said he had no problem with the three officials being being subpoenaed as witnesses.

DeHart dismissed the subpoenas and told the three that they were free to leave the courtroom. He then took up the motion by Brown to disqualify Ponton as attorney for Elms-Lawrence.

Brown cited the fact that Ponton had served as attorney for council members Anna Monclova and Manuel Payne when they were called to testify before the grand jury that indicted Elms-Lawrence and Rangra.

Ponton argued that waivers of conflict signed by Elms-Lawrence, Monclova and Payne should overcome any theoretical conflict of interest problem that would be posed by his questioning them as witnesses during the trial.

Brown questioned both Monclova and Payne as to their understanding of the waiver they signed in March. Payne testified that he still considered Ponton to be representing his interests.

Elms-Lawrence, when called as a witness by Ponton, said she understood that he had represented Monclova and Payne when she hired him to represent her.



68 million gals of unbilled water in seven months

Publish Date: April 14, 2005  |
By Tom Shuford
News editor

About one-third of the water that passes through Alpine's pump stations each month is unbilled a fact that City Manager Karen Philippi is seeking to address.

From September through March, according to figures provided by the city, that has meant nearly 68.8 million gallons have passed through the system unbilled.

A large amount, Philippi said, can be attributed to old water meters that seriously underreport the number of gallons used by consumers.

We have plenty of meters that are 30 to 50 years old, Philippi said.

Philippi said that she can find no record of any systematic replacement of meters in Alpine. But the water infrastructure upgrade project proposed by Naismith Engineering of Austin and approved by the council includes plans to replace 1,081 water meters nearly one-half of Alpine's meters.

In the current city budget, funds were also allocated to begin a routine replacement policy on meters.

I'd like to see us change out about 8 to 9 percent each year, Philippi said.

The difference between the number of actual gallons used by a household versus gallons registered and, therefore, billed is lost revenue, Philippi said.

The minute a meter is placed in the ground, Philippi said, mineral deposits begin building up on the gears.

Water passing through the meters turns the gears to register the number of gallons being used by the household or business. As the meter ages, the gears still turn but at an increasingly slower rate because of mineral deposits, Philippi said. Most manufacturers warrant their meters for 15 years or one million gallons, whichever comes first.

The first two numbers of the serial numbers used by many meter manufacturers give the year of manufacture. The majority of Alpine's 2,450 meters are past the 15 years guaranteed by the manufacturer.

One reaction to meter replacement may be citizen unhappiness, as the new meters record usage more accurately and bills rise accordingly, Philippi said.

When a similar meter replacement program was instituted in Houston several years ago, Philippi said, many citizen complaints were received as bills went out.

They complained that they had been given a €˜bad' meter, Philippi said. They'd compare their new bill with previous bills and assume something was wrong with the meter.

Philippi said the council may want to give some sort of one-time temporary break on a bill where there is a large increase.

Last September, the audit of city finances called for aggressive procedures to be installed to reconcile the difference in number of gallons pumped and gallons sold.

Philippi said the following policies are being instituted to reduce the percentage of unaccounted for water:

Routine replacement of aged and faulty water meters to reduce underreporting of gallons used.

Keeping records of usage on metered, but unbilled usage, such as city buildings.

Metering previously authorized, but unmetered uses, such as watering city parks.

Tracking estimated usage on previously untracked usages, such as testing of fire hydrants, filling of tanker trucks.

Tracking estimated loss on main breaks, spillages from storage tanks and flushing of lines in routine maintenance, repairs and line extensions. 

Other loss can still occur through slow leaks underground that go undetected for long periods of time.



Officials express guarded optimism on legislation

Publish Date: April 14, 2005

By Andrew Stuart 
Staff writer

Tom Beard, chair of the Brewster County groundwater district and the Far West Texas Regional Water Planning Group, said this week that the modification of the rule of capture proposed in a Senate water policy bill was a welcome step.

It has the beginning of a new look at the rule of capture, Beard said. It doesn't go far enough, but it's a start.

The century-old rule of capture has traditionally allowed landowners or lessees to pump water from beneath their land without liability for the impact on their neighbors. The Senate bill, however, would make high-volume, non-domestic users such as water marketers liable for damages to domestic and agricultural water users.

The Senate bill could significantly transform water policy in the state. Hearings are underway this week in Austin, and the bill could be up for a vote in the Senate within two weeks.

Beard also praised the bill for recognizing land stewardship as an integral part of improving groundwater supplies. The bill could provide funding to landowners for rangeland improvement practices such as prescribed burns or brush management that facilitate the percolation of rainwater down into aquifers.

Healthy grassland is the best way we can €˜create' new water, Beard said. For the first time, we're writing into Texas law that sound rangeland is connected to water. That's pretty positive.

Senate Bill 3, introduced by State Sen. Ken Armbrister, proposes a number of changes to water policy in the state. In addition to modifying the rule of capture, the bill calls for adding a fee for residential and business water use and creating regional bodies that would oversee local groundwater districts.

There have been meetings ever since we filed the bill, Armbrister spokesperson Mike Sizemore said Tuesday (April 12). More than 150 people have participated pretty much everybody who's a stakeholder.

Sizemore said he did not anticipate any major or substantive changes would be made to the bill as a result of the hearings.

After a Senate vote, the House would take up the bill, probably by early May, Sizemore said.

Environmental groups and others across the state have responded positively to the bill.

Janet Adams, general manager for the Presidio and Jeff Davis County groundwater districts, said, however, that the speed with which the bill is set to move to adoption could create problems in the future.

I haven't quite seen anything like this before, Adams said. There are too many people in the state that will be affected by this to move this quickly. There are going to be adverse effects on people we don't know about.

Adams noted that while the bill would require rural water supply corporations, such as those that provide water in Fort Davis and South Brewster County, to charge the new water fee, the water supply corporations would not be eligible to receive funds generated by the tax because they are not a political subdivision. 

According to the bill's current language, only cities and other political subdivisions would be eligible to receive funding generated by the tax for water infrastructure improvement projects.

The bill calls for the formation of regional groundwater councils that would assist local groundwater districts and also make sure that groundwater districts within a region managed resources consistently.

Adams said she was concerned that the current language of the bill might allow the regional councils to overrule the decisions of local groundwater districts about how to manage aquifers.



Bee swarms reported in the Big Bend area

Publish Date: April 14, 2005  |
By Roy Hamric

Dozens of bee swarms have been reported to area authorities in recent weeks. Residents are warned to be alert to bees and to exercise extreme caution. 

A dog died after being attacked by a bee swarm about 6 p.m. Monday (April 11) in the Nine Point Mesa area of South Brewster County, Brewster County Sheriff Ronny Dodson said. 

He said his office has had eight reports of bee swarms this week. 

A man and woman, the owners of the dog, were stung by bees and treated by Terlingua EMS medics.

People need to be very aware and alert, Dodson said. The best advice is to walk away slowly and not to wave your arms about if you find yourself in a swarm.

Dodson said the swarms of small bees are very aggressive. Some of the bees may be from Mexico. They are on the move with their queen bee looking for places to establish hives.

Fort Davis Fire Chief Kelly Bryan said eight to 10 bee incidents have been reported in the Fort Davis area.  No injuries were reported.

It's impossible to tell if the swarms are tame Americanized bees or Brazilian killer bees, Bryan said. The best thing to do is leave them alone.

Dodson said caution should be taken whenever one is approaching abandoned buildings or RVs. His office has found bee swarms in abandoned structures, especially in the South Brewster County area and around Marathon.

The Alpine and Terlingua fire departments and the Brewster County Sheriff's Office have been trained to deal with bee swarms. The fire departments have protective bee suits. Dodson said his office has ordered the protective suits.