By Alton Porter
A renewed spirit of optimism is being ushered in at the start of this bright new year over at Crockett City Hall, where officials are spearheading a variety of projects that are destined to result in good news in 2018.
"First of all, we want to say the City (of Crockett) is getting off to a good start for 2018, Mayor Joni Clonts said in a joint Courier interview with City Administrator John Angerstein. "It's going to be a positive year for us."
Many of the successes Clonts and Angerstein anticipate this year got their start last year. "A lot of what we are looking forward to stated in 2017, and we hope to reap some fruit in 2018," Angerstein said.
The first item Clonts, who became the city's first woman mayor in May 2017, and Angerstein addressed is the quality of the city's water, how it was much improved this past year and is expected to remain this year.
"The water is good in Crockett," the mayor said. The state's maximum acceptable level of trihalomethanes (TTHMs) in water is .08 milligrams per liter, she noted. That standard was set by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Clonts and Angerstein pointed out, Crockett's level is now .03 milligrams per liter or parts per million.
They explained, the city had some issues meeting the state standard in the past with water it purchased from Houston County Water Control and Improvement District No. 1 and sold to city customers. However, that was not the case in 2017 and is not expected to be a problem this year.
"We've got our last quarter (of 2017) reports in from our labs, and the state also gives us a report on it," Angerstein said. "And we're at .03, which is twice better than what the state requires. They want you under .08. We're well under that (.08) threshold, and maintained a superior water quality throughout the year.
"So, all of those being pluses, our infrastructure, we know what that is. We know the dinosaur we're dealing with. But, the water quality itself—we do have a good water quality that we're providing to our citizens and want to maintain that."
Angerstein explained, "A lot of times, what we're dealing with is some people have been mentioning the water coloring. We flush our system. The state requires all endline valves to be flushed once every 30 days, which we do.
"That is what helps to keep our water clear. When you don't flush the system or (don't do it) in the right sequence, it will muddy the water up. So, you'll get yellowish color. But, as far as the contaminants in the water, we've maintained a good year, a positive year. All four quarters came back well under the threshold for contaminant levels. And, by the state's requirements, we have superior water quality."
Clonts and Angerstein then turned their attention to the $275,000 grant the city recently received from the Texas Department of Agriculture through the 2017 Texas Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program for the repair of city manholes and sewer lines and other projects in the works for 2018.
"Starting with 2018—we've been dealing with it in the last few council meetings—we've talked about the CDBG grant," Angerstein said. "That's kicking off right at the first of January. We've been funded for that.
"It's going to allow us to replace a lot of our manholes. They need service. The mortar joints are cracked. There are bricks that are falling in. Some of them need new lids. We're putting quite a bit of money into manhole repairs.
"Repairing our manholes help by not bringing in storm water into our sewer (system) that we actually have to treat. If it doesn't enter our system, we don't have to treat storm water. We're only supposed to treat refuse—sewer."
Angerstein explained, "Right now, we have right at 40 percent infiltration into our system. About 40 percent of the water we treat is not sewer. It's rainwater—rainwater and groundwater that goes into our sewer. So, all of that is an overload onto our system. So, just finding all the bleeds, so to speak, the places that we're bleeding, trying to stop it there to help us to where we can operate more efficiently. That's going to help us.
"We're putting in a couple of sewer lines, using the (CDBG) money. So, that's going to really help us. There have been a couple areas where our sewer system has been basically bottlenecked. We replaced it up to both sides of the railroad tracks, and we've enlarged our system.
"But, due to the lack of funding to have to bore under the railroad tracks and get permits for it from Union Pacific, it's always been put on hold.
"We're finally going to get that system enlarged and improved. And also, a lot of our system is done in clay tile. We're improving that, going to C900 PVC (polyvinyl chloride) pipe, which has a much longer lifespan.
"With clay tile, a joint is placed every two feet. As the ground shifts and moves, so do those joints. It allows for intrusion by tree roots that seek out water and can (grow) in and completely (block) a sewer line. By putting in new PVC, we won't have those issues that we have now where sewer backs up into streets, the manholes or homes. A lot of that now is caused by clay tiles.
"And, as the ground moves, the clay tile will offset itself, and that becomes an area where the sewage is trapped.
"So that's a big project that is going forward. That's one issue that's going to be a big step for us this coming year."
Turning to another matter, Angerstein said, "Obviously, the big project for 2018 is the USDA Project.
That project, which will have improvements made to the city's water storage system, will be funded by a $3.327 million loan from U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development. It will involve completely renovating both of the city's water towers, Clonts and Angerstein said.
"Currently, the fill pipes on the water towers leak," Angerstein explained. "They're older; they're corroded. We're replacing those. We're blasting the inside and outside of these tanks. We're resealing them, re-priming them and painting them, which expands the lifespan of them for another 15 or 20 years."
In addition to the water towers, Clonts and Angerstein noted the two 350,000-gallon water storage tanks on North Fourth Street in the College Hill area of the city. Those tanks will be replaced with a one-million-gallon storage tank, they said.
"So, there will be a new facility up there," Angerstein said, adding, "Ten years ago, our engineers said (the two tanks) were (prone) to imminent failure. And you can see it. They're leaking. They're bowed out. So, structurally, they're unsafe.
"Replacing them will cost about a million dollars out of the project. It will increase the capacity of water that we can hold on hand, and we will no longer have tanks that are leaking.
"And, after years, deposits have built up in those tanks, and that's more stuff that we have to treat the water for. Having a brand-new tank, is going to help us a whole lot on keeping our water quality up—not having to add as much chemicals into our water to combat contaminants."
Angerstein said, "Hopefully, these USDA projects, which also will include installing new water meters throughout the city, will be completed within 2018.
"Our current water meters are old, and all are manually read. We have two water meter readers. It takes a month for them to go around and completely read all meters within our city."
He continued, "So, this new system eliminates the need to manually read everyone of these. They will all be electronically read remotely. It will be a whole lot more efficient in our billing, as well as not having to have two people on staff just to read meters when something can be done now by the click of a button.
"Those are just areas in which we can improve ourselves without raising water rates and doing things of that nature. We can save money—money that we're currently spending. We can keep it and invest it back into our infrastructure.... And the two (meter readers), we can use them in the Water Department or our Street Department, instead of being tied up day in and day out reading meters.
"Our system is so old that they (meter readers) literally go around with a book in their hands and a pencil and manually write those numbers down on every meter. Every meter is in a box. Half of them are full of water. So, they have to pump the water out. The other half have ant mounds inside. So, none of it is efficient. It's an old system. We're finally going to be up to speed in the 21st century.
"Those—repairing the water towers, replacing the College Hill water tanks and replacing the water meters—are kind of the big three projects scheduled for 2018."
Another sizable project is an energy performance undertaking the city is entering with Johnson Controls.
In this project, the city will purchase up to $778,000 in guaranteed energy savings equipment through a financing contract with Branch Banking and Trust Co. The equipment will be used to help the city reduce its energy consumption.
At a meeting Friday, Dec. 22, Angerstein told Crockett city councilmembers the city's annual electric bill currently is almost $500,000, one of the city's biggest expenses.
The project will help city officials and staff members find areas in which they can be more prudent in the way they spend the city's money for electric service and more efficient in how they use energy.
"It doesn't take a big percentage of savings to equate to lots of dollars in our budget," Angerstein said, adding, officials renewed the city's electrical contract with its provider, Cirro Energy, under a plan that saves the city right at 30 percent on its energy bill. The contract had not been renewed in several years.
"Whereas we were paying about 7.5 cents per kilowatt hour, we're now paying 3.3 cents per kilowatt hour," Angerstein said. "That's a lot of savings. That equated to close to $175,000 in savings in electricity."
On top of that, Clonts noted, Johnson Controls representatives have projected they will help the city save up to $57,000 a year on its electric bill. A big part of the savings will be made possible as a result of converting all city buildings from using light bulbs under current technology to LED (Light Emitting Diode) technology and installing new HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) systems, Angerstein added. The average age of the city's current AC systems is 22 years; some are 30 years old, he said.
"Those are areas in which we have been bleeding," the city administrator said. "(Now,) it's just triaging our city and seeing where we can address the biggest areas of waste. And those are some of them."
As part of the energy performance project, Clonts said the city will tear down the green building behind Crockett Public Library and convert the land to a lot to provide more parking space for library patrons. In addition, the old former hospital building across the street in front of City Hall will be taken down and the lot possibly converted to green space for a park, unmanned visitors center or gazebo-like area where people can visit and relax.
These buildings currently are eyesores, and the city is looking for partners to help make the lots people-friendly, possibly with reading areas and other attractions once the buildings are torn down, Clonts and Angerstein said.
In addition to grant funds for projects to be undertaken this year, Angerstein said city councilmembers included a substantial amount of funds in the current year's budget for replacement of water and sewer mains and lines.
City streets are what "everyone sees and want to be fixed," Angerstein said. "(However,) the first step toward fixing those streets is replacing those water lines. And 2018's budget is the first one in which we have a significant amount (about $500,000) set aside toward replacing water lines, which have leaks everywhere in the city.
"Since we have shown an effort toward replacing those water lines, TxDOT (Texas Department of Transportation) has also shown and are putting forth the effort to replace some of our streets.
"Whereas in the past, unless we gave them a plan to replace some of those lines, they wouldn't put new streets in—South Fourth, Goliad, Houston. Those are all streets that have needed to be replaced for a long time.
"But, they (TxDOT) hadn't put the money toward them since they know we hadn't addressed the water lines underneath them. They're not going to invest that kind of money into our town when we're going to dig a hole in it (in the future to repair the water lines)."
In addition, Clonts and Angerstein said they are hopeful a $275,000 downtown revitalization matching grant the city has applied for will come through that will help fund improvements along Houston Avenue from Fifth Street to Seventh Street.
And the Davy Crockett Classic bike-racing event, that is put on by Local Bike Racing and draws people to the city, is returning to Crockett and the surrounding area Feb. 10 and 11. So, parts of Seventh and Corto streets are being smoothed over with materials the city has on hand in preparation for that event.
Also, city officials are applying for a grant that would add to funds the city has set aside in the budget for 2018 to help purchase new equipment for Davy Crockett Memorial Park, they said.
Clonts and Angerstein encouraged area residents to support area businesses by spending/buying locally.
And Clonts concluded, "If we clean up our town and make it look good, that's going to draw people into our town. And they're going to bring money here. And they're going to spend money here. And that helps the city.
"Whatever is spent here includes tax dollars. It's going to help the city. So, we need to encourage tourism. When you go someplace, promote Crockett. Tell people to come to our town because there are a lot of good things here. We want our town to grow. The more we have here, the better off we're going to be."
"Crockett: A Place to Call Home," is a new slogan Clonts and city councilmembers recently approved to have painted on the city's water tower on the east side of town. That slogan is fitting and sums up what Clonts and Angerstein want residents and others to feel about the city.
"Good things are happening in Crockett," Clonts said. "We don't need any naysayers. We need positive people on board to help us make out town grow and do what we know it can do and become. There is a lot of potential here. We want people to take pride in their town."