Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Kelton Promoted to Executive Director of Operations

 
Shane Kelton’s promotion from Director of Operations to Executive Director of Public Works became effective March 1, 2021.  Kelton's predecessor, Ricky Dickson, served in that role from 2014-2019.

City Manager Daniel Valenzuela waived the Professional Engineer requirement for Dickson.  That waiver remains in place for Kelton.  

Kelton's new position is charged with identifying water users that pose a health/safety risk to the city's water supply.   City ordinances state:

Backflow prevention devices used in applications designated as health hazards must be tested upon installation and annually thereafter

Backflow Preventers. Backflow preventers shall be required by the Director of Public Works in [as] deemed necessary to protect the water system from possible contamination. 

He was invited to attend a March 31, 2021 training session put on by Texas Council on Environmental Quality.  


The City required Kelton to attend the TCEQ training on cross connection control programs.  TCEQ standards have been in place since August 2016.  San Angelo's training occurred six weeks after toxic chemicals entered the city's water supply, disrupting water supply city wide.

Oddly, City staff did not mention the TCEQ training in their final update to City Council on April 6, 2021.

The only other information the city produced on TCEQ's cross-connection control program was a March 2016 inspection.  That inspection found city staff using the wrong form to document cross connection control program inspections.  March 2016 to March 2021, that's a five year vacuum. 

The city's "not zero program" but far "less than rigorous and robust" could go back further than 2016.  Former Executive Director of Public Works Ricky Dickson got the job in 2014.


After Dickson retired his departments got shuffled around.  City Manager Daniel Valenzuela took the first stab.


Then Daniel divided Ricky's departments between the two Assistant City Managers.

The city has been challenged in keeping City Engineer and filling engineering positions. It remains to be seen if non-engineer Kelton can reverse that turnover in addition to preventing toxic chemicals from entering the city's water supply and repairing roads that make some San Angelo streets ride like off road trails.  

For decades Kelton has had an oversight role for San Angelo's streets.  Yes, there has been some serious oversight (failure to notice or do something) in more than one arena.

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Council Hears of Inadequate Cross Connection Control Program


Elected officials heard from Water Chief Allison Strube that the City of San Angelo did not a rigorous and robust program to prevent cross contamination from industrial water users.  Strube said 25 out of 81 industrial sites needed to add or change their backflow assemblies.  That's 31% or nearly one third of industrial sites inspected by out-of-town customer service inspectors.


The Texas Council on Environmental Quality had standards in place since 2016 on customer service inspections and cross connection control programs.  Strube did not address the city's compliance in her statement the city had more than a zero program.

The path forward means meeting TCEQ's existing standards.

TCEQ will deliver an investigative report which the public deserves to see.  The question is how much will TECQ fine the city for its inadequate practices that led to the February 2021 toxic water contamination.

Friday, April 02, 2021

Council to Receive "Final Update" on Water Contamination

San Angelo's elected leaders will hear a "final update" on the toxic water contamination that traumatized the community in February.  Water Chief Allison Strube will give the update in regular session during the April 6th City Council meeting.  

The Texas Council on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) worked with the city on the contamination concern.  TCEQ has long required public water systems to have an effective cross-contamination control program, including customer service inspections and annual backflow test results.

Customer Service Inspectors came from McAllen, Lubbock, Brownwood and Abilene to inspect 85 industrial sites in search of the source of contamination.  City staff are yet to release how many sites were out of compliance and need to make changes to prevent future cross contamination.  Also, TCEQ is yet to release its report on San Angelo's toxic water incident.

The City of San Angelo plans to hire additional staff to ensure safe water comes out of the tap.

The City of San Angelo will be hiring several CSIs in the near future and will be implementing a more rigorous cross contamination program citywide to greatly reduce the likelihood of an issue like this happening again.

Why did the city not have such persons in place prior to the chemical contamination?  San Angelo city ordinances require annual backflow testing.

 Backflow prevention devices used in applications designated as health hazards must be tested upon installation and annually thereafter

Backflow Preventers. Backflow preventers shall be required by the Director of Public Works in [as] deemed necessary to protect the water system from possible contamination. 

City ordinances left it up to the Director of Public Works as to which businesses needed backflow preventers.  That's not Allison Strube.  It's Shane Kelton and former boss Ricky Dickson, now retired. 

I wondered if TCEQ inspections over the last four years identified San Angelo's cross connection control program as lax.  The City of San Angelo provided one TCEQ inspection report from 2016 in response to a public information request.  TCEQ cited the city for not using the required "customer service inspection report."

The city responded in 2016 with "customer service inspections are performed by licensed plumbing inspectors in the City's Inspections Department and they will begin completing the forms and maintaining them on file."

The failure to prevent chemical contamination cost the city dearly and exposed citizens to toxic chemicals.  City Council should make clear this is not the final update on the incident.  Council should ask staff to post all investigative reports, internal and external on the city's website.  

Accountable leaders would ask why the chemical contamination occurred and why the city's water department was unable to prevent toxic substances from reaching citizen's homes.  What program did the city have in place and how well did it comply with TCEQ requirements?     

Pushing a "final update" without hearing responses to those questions and seeing official investigative reports would be a disservice to citizens.

Update 4-12-21:   City Council heard the final update and thanked Allison Strube for her presentation and for her hard work.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

City Failed to Prevent Chemical Contamination

The City of San Angelo admitted it was lax in preventing toxic chemicals from entering the water supply.

The City of San Angelo will be hiring several Customer Service Inspectors in the near future and will be implementing a more rigorous cross contamination program citywide to greatly reduce the likelihood of an issue like this happening again.
Guest inspectors from McAllen, Lubbock, Brownwood and Abilene visited 85 industrial sites in the PaulAnn area. 

As a result, locations with inadequate protection will be required to upgrade or install additional backflow devices to help protect the City’s potable water supply.
City staff did not say how many of the 85 inspected sites need to make improvements.  Staff failed to mention the last time the city inspected any of the 85 industrial sites per Texas law.  That information should be shared with the public.

The city slowly trickles out information while using language of minimization, rare event, one time occurrence:

This is truly a needle-in-a-haystack kind of investigation because the chemical volume that caused the contamination could have been less than a gallon. We do believe this was a one-time occurrence rather than an ongoing issue. 

It isn't a one time occurrence if numerous industrial sites have production water migrating back into the city water supply.  Would you want water from a meat packing plant entering the public water stream?  How would you like to be the next customer down the water line?

This was a one time failure, just like a City of San Angelo water main break or street pothole.  All are part of Ricky Dickson's legacy.  He was the last Executive Director of Public Works (EDPW), the person responsible for backflow prevention according to city ordinances.  

TCEQ requires water providers to meet standards to obtain, treat, and deliver water. A public water system’s Cross-Connection Control Program is inspected during routine investigations made by TCEQ regional staff. Technical assistance in the area of cross-connection control is offered to public water systems by staff from TCEQ's central office.

Dickson served in that role from 2014 to 2020, so surely he got feedback from TCEQ on San Angelo's contamination prevention practices.  Prior to that he was Water Chief and oversaw Operations, which included Water Distribution as well as Street and Bridge.

EDPW Dickson hired Water Chief Allison Strube in 2018 but backflow connections remained his responsibility until his 2020 retirement.

TCEQ revised their advice for controlling cross connection contamination in August 2016.  Four and a half years later the City of San Angelo may catch up.  

It's not lack of funding that caused the PaulAnn water contamination.  The Water Enterprise fund balance grew from nearly $624,000 in 2016 to over nearly $19 million in 2019.  During that same period the Water Fund transferred over $10.5 million to other city accounts.

San Angelo lacked the ability to prevent toxic chemicals from entering our water supply and promises to make change.  It sounds a little like the Texas legislature on the power grid failure.  I look forward to reading the TCEQ investigative report as well as the city's internal investigative analysis.  Surely City Council will require one be conducted and shared with the public.

Update 4-2-21:  City Council will hear a "final update" on the toxic chemical contamination in their April 6th meeting.  This update indicates city staff remains unaware of the business that introduced dangerous chemicals into our public water system.

Rep. Drew Darby on Grid Failure


After watching portions of the two days of committee hearings on the power grid failure, I searched for Rep. Drew Darby's take on what he'd learned.  Darby believes bringing more minds to the table will help.

CBS DFW reported:

Republican state Rep. Drew Darby, who sits on the House Energy Resources Committee that is digging into the outages.  

His rural district includes two or three homes in the Texas oil patch that burned down as the power lurched off and on, and he heard of plants that couldn't burn piles of frozen coal outside. Even before the storm dropped six inches of snow as far south as San Antonio, generators in Texas were required to submit safeguard plans for cold weather. Darby suspects enforcement was scant.

“Typically, you know, the Texas Legislature pushes back on overregulation; Darby said. “However, my view on something as basic to human survival and need is we need to have reliable power and water.

Darby spoke with 6News after the public hearings:

"Certainly communication was one of the great failings of this incident," Darby said. "Communication and lack of regulatory oversight in spite of legislative direction."

It has become clear over the last few weeks that freezing weather had caused many outages at power plants across Texas. Neither ERCOT nor the PUC had power to enforce any such winterization regulations, but it was the lack of solutions and clear answers from agency leaders that had Darby and other lawmakers concerned. 

"I sensed a total, especially with the PUC, a detachment if you will," Darby said. "From the questions we were asking to the responses we were given, the vagueness and elusiveness of some of the responses, the lack of information and clear direction the agency had, was very troublesome."

The system did what it was designed to do by the Texas Legislature.  It failed millions while overcharging, even price gouging in a crisis.  Political appointees dodging responsibility in a crisis is an age ole tradition.

Darby said frozen infrastructure in the natural gas pumps, pipelines and plants was clearly an issue that needed to be addressed. ERCOT's Magness would not give personal recommendations on how such preparations could be regulated Thursday. 

Darby told 6 News the PUC would need to be given authority to enforce such measures, though he didn't know what the complete solution should look like. 

"I think clearly we've got to establish what those weatherization or winterization standards are and then we need to have the PUC implement those standards and make sure that generators follow those standards," Darby said. "Follow up with enforcement. Follow up with verification."

Another issue was the lack of reserve power available in Texas for when the grid is in danger of falling short. Darby said Texas has a reserve margin of only 13 percent. He did not know if that was actually required by the state or if it was another voluntary "best practice" that may or may not be followed by ERCOT. 

Darby shared a stage with Rep. Hugh Shine at a Temple town hall:

One factor in the lengthy power outages for thousands of Texans was failure of operators to winterize generating plants.

“We’ve made choices to prepare for the extraordinary hot summers we have here in Texas that we have every year, absolutely we prepare for that and they prepare for that,” Darby said.

But what he says they weren’t prepared for, was a winter storm as long and widespread as the historic freeze.

“We’re going to change that dynamic so there’s a lot of talk about what we can do and will do and what we have the appetite to do,” he said.

Darby says another problem was communication.

He says ERCOT had to have seen the issues with the power grid coming, but left Texans in the dark in terms of information.

“There was a failure, an utter failure, to communicate that this was not a rolling blackout situation as that term was used, your power was going to be off for a period of time.”

It was millions of Texans without power, not thousands.

The public awaits change and the opportunity to hold accountable those responsible for going days without power in life threatening conditions.  At least fifty seven Texas died during the winter storm, most from hypothermia.

Update 3-21-21:  Neither the Texas Legislature nor the Texas Supreme Court chose to deal with Grid Failure.  Markets win, citizens lose.

A move in Texas to wipe out more than $4 billion in electricity overcharges from last month’s devastating blackouts appears dead in the water after deeply divided lawmakers left town without taking final action on the proposal.

Immunity from accountability wins, citizens lose. 

The all-Republican high court split 5 to 4, with the majority deciding that a legal technicality prevented it from weighing in on the Electric Reliability Council of Texas’s claim to governmental immunity in a case that predated the February disaster. As a result, a lower court ruling granting government immunity to Ercot stands for now.

Piss poor leaders gave Texans a system that not only failed millions but overcharged in a time of crisis.  That system remains firmly in place.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Council to Undertake Restricting Animal Services to City Limits


City Council will entertain restricting Animal Services to San Angelo city limits under the consent agenda on Tuesday, March 16th.  Staff believes there is no need to for the public to hear discussion on the item.  Yesterday, I wrote members of Council asking the item be moved to regular session.

The Animal Shelter Advisory Committee discussed this item in their January meeting.  Health Director Sandra Villareal asked about area rescues picking up the load should the city further restrict Animal Services.  The committee heard that area rescues do not allow the Animal Shelter to give out their information as they have been overwhelmed by the rise in demand from a series of shelter changes and the last year's pandemic.

Another proposed change restricting shelter access involves Community Cats.  The ASAC was to have taken that up in February but their meeting was postponed. That item will come to council in the near future.

City Council should balance Pets Alive's repeated cuts in services to area citizens with actual community need.  It would behoove Council to hear from area rescues on items before acting.

Shelter Chief Morgan Chegwidden's wording in the memo does not paint an accurate picture. 

Although some programs have marginally decreased intake, more work is necessary to achieve a 90% live release rate by 9/30/21.

FY20 intake was 4,560, 3.2 times best practices. Uncontrolled intake is unmanageable for staff and programming. We do not have sufficient resources to provide a live release for these animals.

The Animal Shelter achieved a 90% live release rate for the last several months.  Intake is down from nearly 8,000 in 2016 to nearly 6,000 in 2018 to roughly 4,500 in 2020. 

The city does not have uncontrolled intake.  It has managed intake for pet owners, which does not allow for an owner to surrender their pet to the shelter for illness or death.  It has managed intake for people who bring a stray pet to the shelter. 

Funding went from $750,000 in 2015 to nearly $1 million for the 2020 budget.  Staff rose from 12 in 2015 to 16 for 2020.  
 

It is also odd that a former budget director would not make savings projections from this move.  The memo shows financial impact as "Unknown".  Surely there would be savings from not having to provide care for sick animals. 

Best practices may apply in a community where owners spay/neuter their pets, keep them well fed and watered, up to date on vaccinations and out of the elements.  They may be a disservice in our community given what the city's adoption contractor said in November 2019:

PAWS Director Jenie Wilson said "San Angelo still has a population crisis coupled with a population of irresponsible pet owners which makes it a constant struggle for the shelter and PAWS to prevent euthanasia for space.”

Best practices involve working upstream on causes and reducing the need, like spay/neuter.  It is not a best practice to lop off services in pursuit of a metric.  Kitten season looms and the next cut is in the area of community cats, a top four Pets Alive strategy for the City of San Angelo.

The memo to Council states:

We ask that animals only be allowed into our programming if residing in San Angelo city limits only.

Tom Green County communities frequently receive dumped animals, many from city residents.  County residents contribute to the city's finances via sales taxes.  

An Assistant City Manager and PAWS Executive Director do not live in San Angelo city limits. If they were to bring in a stray pet from their homes in Wall would the shelter take them?  I would venture the Shelter would. 

If someone who works in San Angelo, but does not live in city limits, finds a stray pet while commuting inside city limits, can they bring that animal to the shelter?  The animal "resides in city limits".

Council should bring the item to regular session.  Mayor Gunter is known for asking good questions.  I hope she does just that.

Update 3-16-21:  City Councilman Harry Thomas pulled the item to the regular agenda.  Shelter Chief Morgan Chegwidden said communities in the county are already taking care of their stray animal issue.  If that were true there would be no animals from outside of San Angelo going to the shelter and no reason to further cut intake.  Morgan said 10% or 450 pets came to the shelter last year from Tom Green County, effectively countering her previous characterization.
 
Councilperson Billie DeWitt asked about health as a reason for a citizen to give up their pet.  Morgan said the sick person would make an appointment with PAWS, foster their pet for a period of time and if not successful PAWS would take the pet, not the city's Animal Shelter.  In a round about way Morgan confirmed the shelter does not take pets from San Angelo residents suffering from major illness.
 
Council did not seem the least bit concerned over the poor working relationship with area animal service organizations.  This should be a huge red flag.  Area rescues have written off the City Shelter and understandably so.
 
They approved further restricting Animal Services by a vote of 7-0.  Local rescues will once again bear the burden.

Update 4-13-21:  Cutting community cat intake is a topic at the April 15th meeting of the Animal Shelter Advisory Committee.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Gilbert Consulting to Get Another $60,000 from City


San Angelo City Council will entertain hiring Former Municipal Judge Allen Gilbert for a third year of services.  The item is on the Consent Agenda (H) and will not be discussed for the public's benefit unless it is pulled into Regular Session by a councilperson.  Gilbert shifted from employee to contractor in early 2019.  

City staff are yet to provide information showing Judge Gilbert's contributions to Municipal Court, hours worked, cases closed, etc.  The contact will have been renewed twice without the public learning of the Judge's impact.

Tuesday, March 09, 2021

Pets Alive Continues Choking Animal Shelter Intake


The Animal Shelter Advisory Committee voted 6-0 to restrict services to San Angelo residents only in its January meeting.  The ASAC postponed its February 2021 meeting, but on the agenda is reducing the intake of Community Cats due to lack of funding.   

The memo states "this is the second intake diversion program" for 2021.  American Pets Alive has dramatically reduced services from the city Animal Shelter.  Major illness or death are not valid reasons for a pet owner to surrender a pet.

If American Pets Alive wanted our shelter to be more effective and efficient it would provide the city a veterinarian.  Concho Valley PAWS promised to recruit and employ a veterinarian in February 2018.  It fulfilled that contracted commitment for only a few short months.

PAWS veterinarian conducted spay/neuter surgeries for three months in 2018.  PAWS altered 87 pets, which is 29 spay/neuters per month on average.  They billed the city in May, June and July of 2018 for spay/neuter surgeries.

The Animal Shelter endorsed a Community Cat strategy in October 2019.  CritterShack Rescue is only local rescue officially participating in the Community Cat program established in 2015.  

The city petitioned the Attorney General to withhold information on other rescues participating in the Community Cat program, a request I made in November 2019.  The AG's office approved the city's request to not share information on the Community Cat program.  This stands in contrast to Pets Alive's position of complete shelter transparency.

The City donated its veterinary surgical equipment to Concho Valley PAWS in December 2019. PAWS still issues low cost spay-neuter vouchers for use at local veterinarians despite assuring City Council the equipment would be used.  CritterShack Rescue has long provided a low cost spay-neuter clinic for area citizens.  CritterShack offered to pay for the city's surplus surgical equipment.

City staff have avoided communicating and collaborating with organizations with a track record on Community Cats.  PAWS still has a community cat survey on its website with a promise to seek funding once the data is compiled.  

Shelter Community Cats can sit in the shelter for three months before being returned to their former home.  Pets Alive should know it is not a best practice to have shelter slots occupied by community cats waiting for a veterinary appointment.


Best practice is to trap the day/night before the surgery appointment and take them the next day to the veterinarian for surgery.  Males can be returned to the place they were trapped the day of surgery.  Females are recovered overnight and returned if they are recovering appropriately.  It should be three days, not three months.  

In October 2020 the city laid out how they plan to cut services based on the level of funding.

The City's inefficient model has community cats taking up shelter space due to a lack of veterinary appointments.   No wonder intake exceeds space and resources.

With no funding the city will not even vaccinate cats for rabies, a requirement of the State of Texas.  City ordinance states pets must be vaccinated for rabies before they can leave the shelter.  City and PAWS practice has been to book veterinary appointments for adopters where the pet will get vaccines along with spay/neuter surgery.  Those appointments are often months out and may or may not be kept.  

Data on shelter compliance with rabies vaccinations and spay/neuter surgeries has not been forthcoming from the city or adoption contractor PAWS.

PAWS Director Jenie Wilson told the ASAC in October 2019 she had compliance data on shelter pets meeting the spay/neuter ordinance but a December public information request had the city claiming no such document exists.  Standard contract language on the city's purchasing website addresses public information, ownership of documents and the city's right to ensure a contractor meets applicable regulations.  Apparently none of these terms apply to Concho Valley PAWS.

The shelter has choked off intake while hiding the most basic information on shelter services.  It's been a team effort for the city and PAWS.  Pets Alive has not challenged this dysfunctional arrangement in any material way. 

If the water department operated like the shelter it would cut off water to parts of town it could no longer afford to serve.  Street maintenance would turn streets back to gravel as it could no longer pay to keep them paved.  Citizens experienced something similar due to the PaulAnn toxic water contamination and streets badly deteriorated from the recent winter storm.  

Residents are now experiencing diminished services from the animal shelter.  Yes, it is part of a pattern.

Past intake diversion:

1.  Limited service area to Tom Green County only in FY15, decreased intake from 7,800 to 6,200

2.  Required counseling appointments for owner surrenders in FY19, decreased intake from 5,900 to 4,800.  

3.  Reduced reasons a pet owner could surrender their pet to the City Animal Shelter, removing owner illness and death as qualifying events.

FY20 intake was 4,560, 2.7 times best practices. Uncontrolled intake is unmanageable for staff and programming. We do not have sufficient resources to provide a live release for these animals.

Streets, water lines and pet services.  Citizens keep paying more for less. 

Update 3-12-21:  City Council's agenda for next Tuesday has restricting shelter intake to city residents only on the Consent Agenda. Council should discuss this item for two reasons.  One, animals without homes don't read signs showing city limits.

We ask that animals only be allowed into our programming if residing in San Angelo city limits only.

Two, people outside city limits shop in San Angelo.  They contribute to the city budget via sales tax funding.  PAWS Executive Director and an Assistant City Manager live outside city limits.  If either were to bring a lost pet from their home to the shelter I bet the city would take it.  

Today the city promoted a new facial recognition app reunites shelter pets with owners.

Animal Services has been busy launching a multitude of programs to better serve families and make our community No Kill. So, how can we manage one more task like Finding Rover? The beauty of this technology is that we don’t have to. 

Finding Rover works seamlessly in the background of our pet management software. No staff time is needed after an easy initial setup to review Finding Rover lost pet posts and cross reference newly arrived pets. Animal Services staff already uploads pictures of new arrivals on intake. Finding Rover simply accesses those photographs and notifies both Animal Services staff and the registered owner when there’s a match.

Should Council approve this item it will only try to reunite animals lost in San Angelo proper with owners who reside in city limits.   

Update 3-16-21:  City Councilman Harry Thomas pulled the item to the regular agenda.  Shelter Chief Morgan Chegwidden said communities in the county are already taking care of their stray animal issue.  If that were true there would be no animals from outside of San Angelo going to the shelter and no reason to further cut intake.  Morgan said 10% or 450 pets came to the shelter last year from Tom Green County, effectively countering her previous characterization.
 
Councilperson Billie DeWitt asked about health as a reason for a citizen to give up their pet.  Morgan said the sick person would make an appointment with PAWS, foster their pet for a period of time and if not successful PAWS would take the pet, not the city's Animal Shelter.  In a round about way Morgan confirmed the shelter does not take pets from San Angelo residents suffering from major illness.
 
Council did not seem the least bit concerned over the poor working relationship with area animal service organizations.  This should be a huge red flag.  Area rescues have written off the City Shelter and understandably so.
 
They approved further restricting Animal Services by a vote of 7-0.  Local rescues will once again bear the burden.

Update 4-13-21:  Cutting community cat intake is a topic at the April 15th meeting of the Animal Shelter Advisory Committee.

Monday, March 01, 2021

City Searching for Failed Backflow Preventers


The search for the source of toxic chemicals in San Angelo water continues.   City leaders believe the acetone, benzene and napthalene entered our drinking water supply through a failed or nonexistent backflow preventer.

San Angelo City Ordinances state:

Backflow Preventers. Backflow preventers shall be required by the Director of Public Works in [as] deemed necessary to protect the water system from possible contamination. 

Backflow prevention devices used in applications designated as health hazards must be tested upon installation and annually thereafter

Executive Director of Public Works Ricky Dickson is still listed in the City Directory, despite his absence from the official organizational chart.  

Dickson allowed San Angelo infrastructure (streets and water) to decline significantly during his decades of "we'll fix it when it breaks" management.   

I understand Dickson retired in January 2020.  Prior to that retirement Dickson was the man in charge of requiring backflow preventers.  His staff was in charge of annual testing of critical backflow devices. 

City Manager Daniel Valenzuela informed citizens the city is narrowing the list of possible culprits.  McAllen water staff found a number of businesses with failed backflow preventers. 

The city should share the inspection history of all industrial sites with failed backflow preventers.  When did the Director of Public Works require those industrial sites to have working backflow preventers.  How many were tested upon installation and annually afterwards?

Update 3-16-21:  Water Chief Allison Strube indicated the search for toxic chemical contaminants in the industrial part of town continues.  She said it could've taken a mere gallon of the dangerous chemicals to cause the widespread problems.  Strube gave no information on the number of industrial sites with backflow problems or the last time those sites were inspected.  

Update 3-17-21:  Inspectors from McAllen, Lubbock, Brownwood and Abilene visited San Angelo Industrial sites searching for the source of toxic chemical contamination.  Guest inspectors visited 85 facilities and businesses located in the northern industrial and PaulAnn areas. 

"As a result, locations with inadequate protection will be required to upgrade or install additional backflow devices to help protect the City’s potable water supply."  

The city has not indicated how many of the 85 sites need to upgrade or install backflow devices.  

The City of San Angelo will be hiring several CSIs in the near future and will be implementing a more rigorous cross contamination program citywide to greatly reduce the likelihood of an issue like this happening again.

This sounds like a Ricky Dickson thing.  After a TCEQ visit did Ricky say "we aren't going to do that."?

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Darby Asked about Transmission Congestion and More


On Day 2 of House Energy Committee hearings Rep. Drew Darby continued his focus on keeping power to critical infrastructure, like natural gas line compressors, during a power crisis.  He added a concern about transmission lines, i.e. having the ability to move power from one part of the state to another.  

Darby suggested the PUC pursue another economic model.  A High Plains cooperative has a $400 million bill from the event.  Darby expressed concern how the money will wash through the system and how many companies will not be able to meet their obligations?  Will they expect the Texas legislature to bail them out?

Darby read from an invoice that showed $14.5 billion in short interest from the three day period.  He coached other committee members that the numbers will come in from their communities and things could be very expensive for some.

Rep. Darby asked the ATT representative about use of the Emergency Alert System to communicate with Texans during a crisis, weather or otherwise.

It can happen again, until legislators take action to prevent it.

Update 3-1-21:  Reuters reported:

Texas’s largest and oldest electric power cooperative on Monday filed for bankruptcy protection in federal court in Houston, citing a disputed $1.8 billion bill from the state’s grid operator.  

Brazos Electric Power Cooperative Inc, which supplies electricity to more than 660,000 consumers across the state, is one of dozens of providers facing enormous charges stemming from a severe cold snap last month. The fallout threatens utilities and power marketers, which collectively face billions of dollars in blackout-related charges, executives said.

An ERCOT spokeswoman did not have an immediate comment. The Public Utility Commission, the state’s regulator that oversees ERCOT, was unavailable for comment.

What will the Texas legislature do with a market implosion laid atop an actual disaster?  It is of their making.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Darby Suggested PUC Meet Frequently, Nothing for ERCOT CEO


Rep. Drew Darby questioned power transmission line operators during the marathon Texas House hearing on the five day power outage we experienced from Sunday, Feb. 14 to Thursday Feb. 18, 2021.

Darby continued his empathy for line operators in that they are prohibited by the Texas legislature from knowing their customers.  Line operators. like the power generators, indicated they both know their customers and have many ways of communicating with them, text, website, phone app, and call center.  One firm has a power alert service that informs customers that there power is out.

I called AEP several times and at no time did the person at the other end of the line inform me of what was going on.  I called our local sheriff and asked if AEP kept them in the loop.  They said no and to check the AEP website for outage information.  I did that multiple times over the five day period and our outage never changed from "under assessment", even after the power came back on for good.

ERCOT has a gas-electric working group that failed to ensure natural gas moved from well head to power plants during a crisis.  Darby proposed a new coordinating group to take up this function. 

Rep. Darby had one statement for Chair of the Public Utility Commission DeAnn Walker.  He said the PUC has the power to meet with one hour's notice and said the PUC should have done this frequently during the emergency.

Darby asked nothing of ERCOT's CEO Bill Magness.  I still don't know why AEP couldn't rotate power during the crisis and why we took the brunt for the power failure.  Maybe the next hearing will provide an answer.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Darby Cites Legislature as Critical to Massive Power Outages

 

In the middle of the winter storm Rep. Drew Darby said:

A failure of this magnitude cannot happen again, State Rep. Drew Darby said. 
“As a member of Energy Resources, I intend to ensure that your voice is represented at this hearing and we get to the bottom of what forced millions of Texans to be without power in sub-freezing temperatures,” Darby said.

Darby opened his questioning at the House Energy Committee hearing with:

"Thank you Mr. Chairman.  With all due respect to the process there is a lot of blame but I''m not going to point any.  If we want to look for blame we can look at this building and the folks that occupy these seats, both now and the years predecessors to us.  So my question is going to relate to how to fix it."

Darby went on to identify two sticking points, the 20% limit on electrical generation capacity and his belief that transmission line carriers could not communicate with customers because they don't know who they are.  Vistra Energy CEO Curt Morgan said the second constraint is not true, stating line carriers know the customers they serve, the people at the end of the meter.  I can attest to that having called AEP numerous times during the winter storm to report power outages.

Rep. Darby asked the wind generation representative about the actual wind shortfall during the long outage and about the relationship between wind and natural gas, seen by the wind industry as complimentary and not competitive.   I have more video to review from yesterday's House committee testimony.

Rep. Darby did speak to the national media and told the press:

“In a lot of respects, we’re victims of our own attempt to let free market forces work,” said Republican state Rep. Drew Darby, who sits on the House Energy Resources Committee that is digging into the outages.

“Typically, you know, the Texas Legislature pushes back on overregulation," Darby said. “However, my view on something as basic to human survival and need is we need to have reliable power and water."

The victims were the millions of Texans left without power for days.  

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Rep. Darby to Fix Mess He Helped Create


Our power went out for four hours on Valentine's Day, Sunday February 14th.  It went out again at 1:30 am Monday, February 15th and did not return for good until Thursday, February 18th.  In the middle of our frozen blackout Representative Drew Darby told San Angelo Live.

A failure of this magnitude cannot happen again, State Rep. Drew Darby said. 

“As a member of Energy Resources, I intend to ensure that your voice is represented at this hearing and we get to the bottom of what forced millions of Texans to be without power in sub-freezing temperatures,” Darby said.

We did not experience a rotating blackout as promised by ERCOT.:

Rolling outages were supposed to last about 10 to 45 minutes each. But by Tuesday afternoon, millions were still without power in heat in Texas with no end in sight to the blackouts.

Rep. Darby's Energy Committee is responsible for:

  • electric utility regulation as it relates to energy production and consumption;
  • identifying, developing, and using alternative energy sources;
  • increasing energy efficiency throughout the state; 

An ERCOT video states it and the Public Utility Commission operate under "the guidance of the Texas Legislature."


Representative Darby began serving in the Texas House of Representatives in January 2007.  He served as Chair of the Energy Committee from 2015-2018.  

Representative Darby played a key role in electrical utility regulation in the decade since the 2011 grid failure that produced recommendations for change.  That grid failure lasted roughly 36 hours and impacted 3.2 million people.  Those recommendations went unheeded.

Our prolonged arctic event saw the number without power grow from 2 million to 3 million to nearly 4.5 million.   

"10 years ago, the PUC identified the incapacity to deal with extreme shifts in the weather and did nothing," state Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, wrote Wednesday on Twitter.

As the PUC operates under the guidance of the Texas Legislature citizens know who to hold accountable.   

"Once the grid is back to being fully operational again, we must address why, after ten years have passed, are we in a worse position today than in 2011."

It's because our leaders enabled the abandonment of millions of their constituents, now livid 

“This was poorly managed,” she said. “It was clarifying, to be honest with you, because now we know when things hit the fan, we're in it alone.”

Here's my feedback for AEP, ERCOT, the PUC and the Texas Legislature:

The PUC jumped into action that Monday evening of the crisis and raised wholesale electricity rates and made them retroactive.

The Public Utility Commission (PUC) of Texas has directed the state's main grid operators to raise energy prices, as millions of people are enduring below-freezing weather without power in their homes.

The PUC met in an emergency open meeting on Monday evening to address concerns that "certain pricing mechanisms were not generating an optimal response" to the electricity crisis sparked by the extreme winter weather in the state, according to a news release issued on Monday.

That decisive Monday action got us power on Thursday.  Don't send me an outrageous energy bill applied retroactively either.  


I don't think there is a credit large enough for what we endured to stay alive, prevent damage to our wells and property and keep animals alive.  With a fireplace insert going around the clock the house got down to 41 degrees.  It stayed in the 40's much of the time our power was off.

I do thank the Lord for getting us through it.  He didn't abandon us but our leaders surely did.  San Angelo Mayor Brenda Gunter called it with her statement mid crisis:

"the bigger picture is that the state infrastructure utilities plan failed us all."

Rep. Darby will take on ERCOT, the group he's provided guidance for as an elected official.  Does that mean he's taking on himself?

Update 2-24-21:  Texas energy executives are ecstatic over their huge profits while citizens suffered mightily.

Update 2-25-21:  One Texas Representative went without power for 30 hours.

Update 3-21-21:  Neither the Texas Legislature nor the Texas Supreme Court chose to deal with Grid Failure.  Markets win, citizens lose.

A move in Texas to wipe out more than $4 billion in electricity overcharges from last month’s devastating blackouts appears dead in the water after deeply divided lawmakers left town without taking final action on the proposal.

Immunity from accountability wins, citizens lose. 

The all-Republican high court split 5 to 4, with the majority deciding that a legal technicality prevented it from weighing in on the Electric Reliability Council of Texas’s claim to governmental immunity in a case that predated the February disaster. As a result, a lower court ruling granting government immunity to Ercot stands for now.

Piss poor leaders gave Texans a system that not only failed millions but overcharged in a time of crisis.  That system remains firmly in place.

Update 3-29-21:  Former CEO Bill Magness testified to Congress that ERCOT had no choice but to order rolling outages to prevent long-lasting damage to electric infrastructure.  We got outages, no rolling.

Friday, February 12, 2021

McAllen Water Staff Looking for Tainted Water Source


Mayor Brenda Gunter and city staff gave a press event this afternoon on San Angelo's water crisis as  the community prepares for a Winter Storm and days of record cold.  Water Utilities Director Alison Strube said test results from the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality (TCEQ) had not come in, despite the samples being taken days ago.

Strube was asked a question about the source of the contamination.  She said it had not been identified but City of McAllen water staff have been visiting industrial water users in the PaulAnn area to determine the culprit.  

The State of Texas Department of Emergency Management reached out to McAllen for technical and professional assistance on San Angelo's behalf.  I wondered what distinctive competency McAllen had that our water staff did not.  

The City of San Angelo's woes arose from frequent staff turnover in the City Engineer position and the need to spend millions on outside engineering firms.  Add the City's decades of "we'll fix it when it breaks" maintenance mentality and one wonders what preventive surveillance our Water Department does to ensure industrial chemicals do not enter the potable water supply?

City Council should ask about McAllen's distinctive competency and ensure our Water Department has the same.  They should also ask why TCEQ took so long to get back test results that would help a community navigate out of a crisis?

Update 2-22-21:  The city has not released information on what the McAllen team found, i.e. how many industrial water users had failed back flow preventers and how long had it been since the City of San Angelo last inspected that business.

Update 2-25-21:  City Council will take up the water contamination issue in executive session in next week's meeting. 

Update 2-26-21:  City Manager Daniel Valenzuela updated citizens via video on the search for the toxic chemical source. 

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Pandemic Response Missing from City Budget


San Angelo City Council approved the 2020-2021 budget on September 15, 2020.  The week before the Health Department reported 65 COVID-19 deaths .  During summer budget planning over 50 patients were hospitalized on a daily basis from the coronavirus.  The city has been under a public health emergency declaration since March 2020.  

Yet, the budget document mentioned COVID-19 only two times.  The first was under Hotel Occupancy Tax and the second under Civic Events.  Both mentioned an expected revenue shortfall and the need to use general fund dollars.

Oddly the budget decreased funding for Health Services in the middle of a pandemic.


The city drastically cut health department programs and staffing under CFO Michael Dane's tenure.  It closed the public STD clinic in 2012 and only reopened it after receiving federal money.  The clinic had five staff members the full year prior to its closing shakedown.  The reconstituted clinic, which also gives immunizations, has had a mere two employees since 2016.

The Section 1115 Waiver grant required matching funds, however the city spent little of its own money for health services during the five year grant period.  By the end of 2019 over $600,000 of the roughly $1 million in 1115 Waiver funds received remained in city coffers.

In addition the city cut funding for  its Hazards Division, responsible for public health emergency preparedness and response for 2020-2021.

City Council meets next Tuesday and it is yet to assess its public health response and make course corrections as a leadership body.  COVID-19 deaths reached 269, up 204 from budget approval.

Citizens are living the impact of prior decisions to cut public health services.  Deterioration was not restoration then and it remains so today.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Animal Services Proposes Restricting Services to San Angelo Residents


San Angelo's Animal Shelter Advisory Committee approved restricting services to San Angelo residents only.  City Council will consider this recommendation at their next meeting.

Long ago the City and County agreed to split responsibility for key public services.  Tom Green County took responsibility for the public library and the City accepted responsibility for the City-County Health Department.  When I moved here in 1994 Animal Services was under the Health Department, which offered a wide range of services.   

Does Tom Green County have a right to expect the city to continue providing Animal Services to county residents under that agreement?  That question should be answered at City Council.

The city proposes to limit intake to San Angelo citizens after severely reducing situations in which the shelter accepts a pet.  Death of the owner is not an acceptable reason for the City of San Angelo to take a pet.  

The City no longer takes owner surrendered pets due to things like owner illness or death.  (ASAC approved 4-19-19)

That decision was made before the coronavirus pandemic.  Deaths reached 256 today, 165 from Tom Green County and 91 from other counties. 

Today's ASAC move is expected to reduce shelter intake another 10%.   

Health Director Sandra Villareal asked about community resources for citizens who would no longer be served.  Shelter Director Morgan Chegwidden said local rescues had prohibited the city from giving out their information.  

This should be a red flag for Pets Alive which recommends active community collaboration.   Pets Alive has not contacted area rescue organizations to learn why.  

Update 3-9-21:   The ASAC voted 6-0 to restrict services to San Angelo residents only.  It postponed its February 2021 meeting, but on the agenda is reducing the intake of Community Cats due to lack of funding.   The memo states "this is the second intake diversion program" for 2021.  American Pets Alive has dramatically reduced publicly available services from the Animal Shelter. 

Monday, January 18, 2021

City to Spend Over $1.2 million for Four $20,000 Jobs

 

The City of San Angelo Development Corporation will consider a $1.2 million economic incentive for SkyWest Airlines to begin air service from Mathis Field to Houston Intercontinental.

COSADC will make available up to $1,000,000 in revenue guarantee to offsetdemonstrable quarterly revenue shortfalls in the operation of the air service per the agreement

COSADC shall provide $200,000 to the San Angelo Chamber of Commerce for direct advertising support of SkyWest air service.

SkyWest anticipates the creation of at least 4 FTE employees with an average salary of $20,000, and an initial operational investment of $1,000,000 resulting from the establishment of its regional corporate headquarters facilities within the City.

San Angelo saw Delta (Dallas), Conquest (Austin) and Continental (Houston) come and go from Mathis Field.  American Airlines has been the faithful air provider.  

Providing $1.2 million  for four jobs paying a mere $20,000 seems steep.  That's $300,000 in public money per job created.  There's more subsidy.

City will waive all airport rental and landing fees at the airport for a period of two years to facilitate SkyWest's operations in San Angelo
The value of waiving rental and landing fees was not included in the background packet.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

COVID-19 Crisis Continues

 

The City of San Angelo reported three new COVID-19 deaths, 237 deaths to date  On November 2nd there had been 91 coronavirus deaths.

Positive tests increased from 5,076 on November 2nd to 14,305.  Currently hospitalized rose from 38 in early November to 106 patients as of today.  Total hospitalizations went from 700 to nearly 1,600 over that period..

Shopping in Walmart and Sam's Club this week I encountered a number of people without facemasks.  I was struck by their lack of respect for senior shoppers at greater risk for serious disease, even death.

At City Council Mayor Gunter cited a large number of deaths in the last week (12) and she encouraged people to get tested and seek treatment early if citizens have any symptoms.  Council did not hear from public health emergency staff about their response and actions/funding needed for improvements.  They did hear an item to support people struggling economically due to the pandemic.    The alarm bell is not audible from City Council members other than the Mayor.

The crisis continues given our 27% test positivity rate and the revelation that new variants have been found elsewhere in our country that are more efficient in spreading from one person to another. 

Consider the progression of COVID-19 from studies:

  • The first symptoms begin from two to 14 days after you have been exposed to the virus. A new study from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health suggests a median time of about five days.
  • The average duration of fever was 12 days. Ninety-nine percent of the patients studied had a fever. About 50% felt fatigued and had a dry cough, with 33% having difficulty breathing and complaining of muscle pain.
  • The study showed that 85% of those with the virus only experience “phase one” of the virus’s course. Phase one encompasses the first seven days of symptoms (see below). Those with more critical cases of COVID-19 went on to suffer more severe symptoms that last for two more weeks, on average.
  • Age is a strong risk factor for severe illness, complications and death
  • For those who do not survive the virus, the average number of days from onset of symptoms until death is 18 1/2 days.

Citizens could be developing symptoms now from exposure over the New Year holiday.  Those that perish from the disease could do so the end of this month.   This progression is important to understand.  Mayor Gunter continues to stress our medical community has medicines that can change the course of COVID-19 for citizens.  That word should be spread far and wide.   

Update 1-17-21:  With five more deaths reported today the total is now 250.   The New Year began with 211.  We've had 39 deaths reported in seventeen days.

Update 1-25-21:  Texas deals with high hospitalizations and hundreds of daily deaths from COVID-19

Update 2-1-21:  COVID-19 related deaths for January totaled 64.  There have been 275 deaths reported by the City Health Department since the pandemic began.

Monday, January 04, 2021

Health Department Makes COVID-19 Vaccine Call


Mayor Brenda Gunter and Tom Green County Judge Steve Floyd held a press event mostly focused on vaccines on December 30th.   Yahoo News reported:

For the most part, state health departments say vaccines will be available at some combination of local hospitals, health departments, pharmacies, medical offices, and Federally Qualified Health Centers. The federal government has partnered with large chain pharmacies like CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart. 
Texas said the decisions and procedures would be left up to each of its 50 individual local health departments.

San Angelo City Council cut the budget for the City-County Health Department in the midst of a pandemic.  The only clinical functions left at the Health Department are STD testing and treatment, TB testing and treatment and the administration of vaccines.  The Health Department is not listed a possible source for COVID-19 vaccines.  Sites given include Shannon Pharmacy and HEB's two pharmacies.  

On December 15, 2020 Shannon Medical Center received 1,950 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA COVID-19 Vaccine, and began administering doses to the Phase 1A priority group. The Phase 1B priority group should begin soon.

The City referenced State of Texas priorities for vaccines.  Local police received the vaccine even they are not expressly in the 1A group for receiving vaccines.

The San Angelo Health Department is remaining vigilant and monitoring the developing outbreak, alongside its public health partners, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) and the CDC.  

The Health Department is responsible for Public Health Emergency Preparedness.

Public Health Emergency Preparedness is responsible for planning, preparing for and responding to all types of public health threats and emergencies that impact the health of San Angelo.

COVID-19 vaccine administration is part of that response.  The Health Department has staff capable of administering vaccines to the public.  It's unclear if City staff will play any role in vaccinating citizens.  Department leaders are making that call.  The City chose not to use any federal funding for testing citizens by health department staff.

The San Angelo Health Department does not administer COVID-19 tests. The Health Department is responsible for reporting testing information to the state. 

Houston's Health Department offers COVID-19 testing, alongside many partners.

"Remaining vigilant and monitoring the outbreak" sounds relatively hands off for a department charged with responding to a pandemic that has killed 218 and hospitalized 1,448 people in our community.

Update 1-6-21:  The City announced it would administer a limited number of COVID-19 vaccinations to citizens without a primary care physician