Marfa City Council discusses broken fire hydrants, replaces new food ordinance and greenlights Pride Marfa

MARFA — On Thursday, Marfa City Council made some tweaks to a recently-passed controversial food ordinance, discussed the ongoing issue of out-of-commission fire hydrants, okayed temporary street closures for a Pride Marfa event, and more. All members were present for the meeting.

Amended food ordinance

Council briefly revisited a new food ordinance, just passed at the end of March, requiring food establishments to obtain city-issued permits following an inspection ensuring the presence of adequate grease traps — that ordinance was rescinded and replaced with a new ordinance specifically regulating fats, oils and grease (FOG) and requiring a FOG permit for food establishments. 

The Texas Department of State Health Services will be performing health inspections on food establishments moving forward, not the city. City Manager Mandy Roane cited the change was initiated due to a sudden response from DSHS in regards to the ordinance, who was previously unresponsive to the city on the matter. Roane said ​​food establishment owners may contact local health inspectors for more information: Josh Turner at [email protected] and Cheney Taylor at [email protected]. It will still fall to the city to check establishments for proper grease traps. 

City Attorney Teresa Todd explained that the revised ordinance creates the requirement of a FOG permit, and makes it a violation for anyone to operate an establishment that requires such a permit without one; any establishment that requires a grease trap must comply with the ordinance and prominently display it inside their business. A fine of $2,000 will be imposed on establishments found in violation of the ordinance. 

The council voted unanimously to rescind the ordinance titled “Regulation of Food Establishments” and adopt the amended ordinance titled “Regulating Fats, Oils, and Grease (FOG).” 

Defunct fire hydrants undergo repairs

Roane reported that out of nine fire hydrants that had been out of service, three hydrants have now been repaired. Roane clarified later via email that two more of those fire hydrants are expected to be back in working order by the end of May, while one may need to be replaced altogether. 

At Thursday’s meeting, she said that the fire hydrants that had been fixed required “basic repairs,” and more advanced fixes would be done in August, after water works employees had undergone the necessary training.

At Thursday’s meeting, she said that Fire Chief Gary Mitschke and Public Utilities Supervisor Chuck Salgado had assessed the locations of the city hydrants and determined that there are no structures prohibitively far from a working hydrant.

“Between the hose that the fire department has and the locations of the fire hydrants, we can get water to the structures in town,” said Roane. 

The Big Bend Sentinel reported in June of last year that at least 11 fire hydrants were malfunctioning or inoperable. The Judd Foundation Architecture Office had just been destroyed in a fire, and a faulty fire hydrant across from the building added roughly 20 to 30 minutes to the time it took for firefighters to subdue the blaze. The city then developed a plan for fixing the fire hydrants, but ran up against a lack of funding and training, which pushed the repairs to the next fiscal year.

Street closures approved for Pride Marfa

Pride Marfa organizer and previous Marfa resident Christopher Gonzales joined council over the phone to discuss the Pride event to take place in town June 17-19, which will include a free, family-friendly block party to take place on June 18. That event — featuring drag karaoke, food vendors, retail and art vendors, a makeup station and a stage setup — will take place on June 18 and will necessitate the temporary closure of the streets flanking the courthouse, West Highland Avenue and East Highland Avenue from Washington Street to Lincoln Street.

The event will “allow people to get exposure to Marfa’s queer community,” said Gonzales, “to get an understanding of what we represent.”

Though requested for 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., council voted unanimously to approve the street closures until 3 p.m. to allow plenty of time for setup, breakdown and cleanup. 

Gas bill assistance implemented 

Council voted to join an agreement with Big Bend Community Action Committee, Inc. that will provide assistance for those struggling to pay their water bills. The committee has helped folks struggling with gas bills in the past, said Roane, and have found the funding to help with water as well. 

“We have some customers with really high water bills and they’re trying,” she said. “They’re making payments, but they’re not really catching up, so they do have this funding now that will help with water fees.” 

Customers will have to reach out to BBCAC, which will walk citizens through the process of getting assistance with their bills, said Roane. 

Council voted unanimously to enter into the Low Income Household Water Assistance Program’s Water Provider Agreement with BBCAC. 

City joins municipalities in lobbying for lower AEP rates

American Electric Power (AEP) has filed its intention to increase rates, said Todd, and Marfa had the opportunity to join other municipalities in contesting that rate increase. After some discussion, upon establishing that AEP would have to cover legal costs regardless of outcome, council decided it couldn’t hurt.

“If we’re not going to incur any legal fees, I would say we go ahead,” said Mayor Pro Tem Irma Salgado.

“It ain’t gonna hurt,” concurred Councilmember Eddie Pallarez.

Mayor Manny Baeza abstained from voting, but all other council members voted in favor, and the motion carried.