Burnet County bans aerial fireworks

BURNET — Citing fire danger and the extreme drought conditions that have parched  Burnet County, the Commissioners Court Tuesday ordered a ban on aerial fireworks in all unincorporated areas. 

During the regular meeting, the commissioners also extended the burn ban; discussed possible federal funding for U.S. 281 road and bridge repairs; learned a U.S. senator’s connection to Highland Haven helped speed up a flood relief project; and marked the continued construction on the new private-public jail.  

In the matter of the fireworks, no one can sell, detonate, ignite or in any way use fireworks classified as “skyrockets with sticks” or “missiles with fins” in any rural portion of the county —especially on New Year’s Eve — until further notice, according to the order approved during the meeting. 

A violation is a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine. 

However, the order does not prohibit common fireworks, only bottle rockets. 

On the other hand, County Environmental Services and Floodplain Director Herb Darling said the commissioners do have the authority to impose a complete ban on the sale and use of all fireworks for 60 hours if necessary. 

“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that,” said County Judge Donna Klaeger. 

Also during the meeting, the commissioners maintained the burn ban they have imposed on rural areas since June. 

Weather experts predict the county can expect “below normal precipitation through February,” Darling said.

Highway money

In other business, two commissioners praised Klaeger for speaking to the Capital Area Regional Transportation Planning Organization during a meeting last week in Austin. 

CARTPO includes elected officials from Burnet, Bastrop, Blanco, Caldwell, Fayette, Hays, Lee and Llano counties. 

In the wake of the judge’s address to CARTPO on Dec. 5, the state agency announced Monday it will recommend more than $35 million in federal funding for repairs to the U.S. 281 bridge over Lake Marble Falls and for several improvements along 281 south of the city of Burnet between Park Road 4 and Delaware Springs Boulevard.

During her speech, Klaeger gave CARTPO officials a concise summary of the need for both projects, as well as the status of project design, ease of implementation, level of local support, right-of-way acquisition and other details.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Bill Neve attended the meeting as an observer and said the speech by Klaeger was “excellent.” 

“I had no doubt,” added Precinct 3 Commissioner Ronny Hibler who, along with Klaeger, is a member of CARTPO. 

Congress and the president may approve a special “regional economic stimulus package” for transportation projects in February, officials have said. 

“If any money comes down, (the Burnet County projects) will be the top two priorities (for the CARTPO region),” Klaeger said. 

The county will assign high and low priorities to several other transportation projects and seek funding for them during upcoming weeks, Klaeger added. 

Highland Haven project

As the meeting continued, the commissioners learned a long-awaited federal check could be in hand by the end of the week to aid the Highland Haven Dry Creek Crossing Improvement Project.

After nearly 13 months of delay, final approval of the flood mitigation project is on the desk of the Federal Emergency Management Agency regional administrator where it is ready for his signature, Darling told the commissioners. 

FEMA official Don Fairly told Darling he will “pay attention and forward a copy to me as soon as it is signed,” Darling said. 

“I would look for us to have many bids on this project, and hopefully, they will be competitive bids,” Darling added. 

Approval of the project moved faster after Texas Republican U.S. senators John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison made “inquiries” into the matter, Darling said. 

“It is amazing what inquiries from two U.S. senators can do,” Darling added. 

Indeed, Hutchison is a frequent visitor to Highland Haven, and her chief of staff is a resident, Neve noted. 

Last week Neve announced he would ask Hutchison to look into the delay of the Highland Haven project, without knowing she had a personal connection to the area.

“It sure turned things loose,” Neve said. 

Three hours after the meeting, Neve told The Daily Tribune FEMA would approve the project by the end of the day, and requests for bid proposals would be announced during the Dec. 16 meeting. 

“That is what I call swift action,” Neve said. 

New jail

Turning to another matter, Neve confirmed the new private-public county jail near the Ellen Halbert Unit for Women is still on track to open April 1, and construction of the new detention facility is “far ahead of schedule.” 

Neve is president of the Burnet County Public Facility Corp., charged by the state to supervise construction of the new facility. 

Also, the commissioners reaffirmed the new jail could provide the Texas Department of Criminal Justice about 450 extra beds for inmates enrolled in substance-abuse programs and probation violators from intermediate sanction facilities, as long as TDCJ pledges to pay for the use of the beds and imposes no additional physical requirements on the jail.

However, the new jail would not accept TDCJ “maximum security” inmates or work-release inmates, the commissioners indicated. 

The issue of the county providing surplus beds to TDCJ is in “substantial compliance with public hearing requirements,” unless TDCJ insists on a public hearing, according to a letter forwarded to Klaeger by attorney Robert Bass. 

Before the meeting ended, the commissioners approved from the county emergency management fund a contract of $22,500 from Jan. 1 to Sept. 30 for the Burnet County emergency management coordinator. 

By law, the EMC will be hired by the county judge and work for the county judge, Klaeger said, adding she plans to appoint the EMC soon. 

Also during the meeting, the commissioners: 

n Congratulated County Compliance Officer Stephanie McCormick for her selection as the Governmental Collectors Association of Texas Employee of the Quarter.

n Recognized Neve for his appointment to the Lower Colorado River Authority Lake Buchanan-Lake Inks Regional Council and Precinct 4 Commissioner Joe Don Dockery for his appointment to the LCRA Lake LBJ-Lake Marble Falls Regional Council. 

n Approved a request for exemption from subdivision regulations for 1.07 acres out of 10 acres, Caleb Miller survey near County Road 211. 

n Approved Uni-First for the maintenance county road and bridge crew uniforms. 

raymond@thepicayune.com