Roads discussed and new resolutions adopted during special city council meeting

MARFA — Discussion of road improvement projects made up the bulk of Thursday’s special city council meeting, in which council members also voted to adopt two resolutions –– one regarding broadband internet and the other to allow the Marfa Police Department to accept federal funding to help provide immigration enforcement. In the wake of a flooding event that caused the death of a Marfa community member, the city council also discussed safety measures to improve low water crossing safety.

Low water crossings

Council began the Thursday night meeting with public comments, where resident and City Tourism Director Abby Boyd raised concerns about the city’s low water crossings, and suggested a sensor system, asking council to “not let this go by without taking some kind of action.”

Councilmember Yoseff Ben-Yehuda believed an initial step the city could take would be to put in meter sticks to indicate the water level. Mayor Manny Baeza pointed to last week’s flood, which crested well above 12’, saying meter sticks would have been submerged anyway. “Even with meter sticks, you wouldn’t be able to see them at night time,” Baeza said, suggesting the city add better lighting at water crossings and possibly add gates.

Rio Grande Council of Governments Local Governments Manager Peggy O’Brien told the council she had spoken with the hazard mitigation coordinator about the flooding incident. Residents can express concerns at two public meetings at the USO on July 15, O’Brien said, and if water crossing hazards are added to the mitigation plan, the city might be able to access grants to improve safety measures at low water crossings. A 2 p.m. meeting on July 15 at the USO will cover flood planning, and a 6 p.m. meeting will discuss Presidio County’s Hazard Mitigation Plan.

Road Improvements

KSA engineer Abiel Carrillo gave an update on the Year One Roadway Improvement Project, leading to a discussion where council members gave feedback on the design approach to improving Mesa, Russell and Edinburg streets.

The railroad tracks in Edinburg are “a bit of a waterblock,” Carrillo said, with storm water constantly getting stuck near the Water Stop restaurant. To fix this, he proposed retention swales that would slow water from running off onto the roads. If implemented, this plan wouldn’t stop water from accumulating near the restaurant, but it would, in Carrillo’s words, make “a small dent” in the amount of flooding interfering with driveways.

For Mesa, Carrillo proposed a 26 ft. section from San Antonio to the railroad tracks, citing the need for truck access and the movement of heavy equipment to and from W San Antonio. The 26 ft. road would allow for 13-ft lanes, giving them extra space over regular 12-foot lanes without appearing too wide. Carrillo also proposed a 24 ft. roadway section north of the railroad tracks to help the heavy traffic on Mesa. The city council discussed adding sidewalks to San Antonio St. heading north on Mesa, thanks to substantial foot traffic from children.

Project ideas for Russell Street focused mainly on improving traffic in the busy area, which included extending sidewalks that lead to dead ends. Carrillo and the city council considered Russell’s proximity to Highland, as well as its many residential and community areas — which include hotels, Airbnbs, parks and ongoing construction development happening on El Paso Street — as catalysts for high traffic concentration and the need for sidewalks.

The pavement on Edinburg St. from Hwy 90/San Antonio to Fremont Street is about 24 ft. wide, but this varies in some places because edges are uneven. Improving the roads would mean “normalizing” the roadwidth to 24 ft.

Resolutions 

Marfa’s City Council voted to adopt a resolution supporting a partnership grant between the City of Marfa and Big Bend Telephone LTD. The partnership will deploy fiber optic facilities funded by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, improving internet speed in the city. Tucker Gandy, of Big Bend Telephone, gave a presentation on upcoming grants for the company’s broadband infrastructure — $288 million in total — prior to the vote.

The council also voted to adopt a resolution authorizing Marfa Police Department’s participation in the Operation Stonegarden grant, a program made to increase cooperation among CBP, USBP, and other local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.

Marfa P.D. Chief Steve Marquez took the floor to explain the resolution, which was the only step required to complete an application that would grant them leftover grant funds from Jeff Davis County.

“This is just the follow-up to developing a resolution so we can go ahead and start receiving money,” he said. “This is leftover money, and it’s easier for us to use it for overtime — whatever it may be — than for that money just to go to waste.”

According to the council, the resolution is pending Border Patrol approval and could be changed to meet their requirements. The vote was not unanimous, with Councilmember Buck Johnston voting against the resolution.