Marfa City Council reviews broadband survey results, junk vehicle policies and road improvements in latest council meeting

MARFA — City council members gathered this past Tuesday at city hall to work their way through a host of issues including Presidio County’s broadband infrastructure, junk vehicle removal and ongoing road improvement efforts.

Kicking off the meeting was Sierra Sees, a representative of Connected Nation Texas, a nonprofit which conducts studies and advocates for greater community internet access. Sees presented briefly on an extensive survey conducted in Presidio County to get a better picture of resident’s challenges concerning internet connectivity.

The survey, which was also conducted in Brewster and Jeff Davis counties, has been in the works since March, and is meant to serve as a stepping off point for local policy makers. Their detailed findings and a community action plan is publicly available online: https://connectednation.org/presidio-county-texas/.

The survey found homes that did not subscribe to an internet provider either cited cost or not owning a computer. Only 33.58% of homes have adequate internet speeds needed to run multiple devices. Statewide, the number is much higher at 92.5%. Slow speeds and reliable web connections were an issue for private residences as well as businesses, with 61% of homes reporting dissatisfaction with their internet service provider, and 45% of businesses.

Average connection speed in Presidio was 12 megabits per second per household, which supports about three devices. Monthly cost for internet in the county was also nearly double what is considered to be affordable. In addition to focusing on underserved communities and internet affordability, one of Connected Nation Texas’ key recommendations moving forward is to centralize broadband expansion and improvement efforts under the Tri-County Broadband Alliance.

“To date, TCBA has been actively involved in promoting community surveys and attending monthly meetings with CN Texas. With a refreshed mission, TCBA should be comprised of three broadband liaisons — one from each county — and a board of advisors,” the report states.

Council members also firmed up plans to remove junk vehicles from public roads in Marfa. They will enter into an agreement with Rio Grande Towing of Presidio. The city will target vehicles that show signs of being abandoned for years, like vegetation growing through them. They have begun notifying owners of the long-abandoned vehicles via orange stickers, citations and phone calls. Once cited, violators have two weeks to remove the vehicle or the city will tow vehicles to Presidio, where owners will pay for the towing mileage if they want to retrieve the vehicle, and if not, the city would cover the cost through the citation fees or code revenue.

“We’re trying to get together a plan to actually get the towing done. It doesn’t do us any good to tag it and say you got to get rid of it and not give people any way to do it,” said City Manager Mandy Roane.

Council also discussed two different future street improvement initiatives. They accepted an invitation from the company Parkhill to perform seal coating on area streets. Lincoln and Columbia streets were discussed as options for the large-scale repairs because they are well-traveled and near the schools, but the decision was not finalized.

Abiel Carrillo of KSA Engineering joined the meeting to talk through Mesa and Russell roadway improvement projects. He warned the original budget, which is over half a million dollars, might be stretched due to impacts of COVID-19. The city was originally planning on using the city budget to cover these improvements, but had opted to spend funds on a ground storage water tank instead.

Carrillo made recommendations to the council on how to increase the likelihood of receiving grant funding for the project. He recommended the city focus on a strong narrative as well as transformative elements like larger sidewalks which increase walkability and safety.

City council unanimously agreed to a settlement concerning the Gregory Romeu, Devil’s Advocate Armory versus City of Marfa lawsuit in an executive session. The Big Bend Sentinel will report further details as they come to light.

The meeting was bookended by concerns from Councilmember Buck Johnson regarding the redistricting of the county precincts. “I do think we need to pay attention to this county commissioner redistricting, I think it’s going to be a big issue for Marfa,” said Johnson.

Update: A previous version of this story stated the city council accepted an invitation from the company Parkhill to perform seal coating on Lincoln and Columbia streets. While they did accept an invitation from Parkhill to perform seal coating, the actual streets which will undergo the improvements have not been chosen. Lincoln and Columbia streets were discussed, but the decision is not final.