Take a look back at some of the big stories in Elgin and Bastrop County from 2019
New medical clinic breaks ground
Elgin took another step towards having its own emergency medical clinic again with a groundbreaking ceremony for the future Ascension Seton Health Center on January 16. The medical center will be located at the corner of the newly-built Lee Dildy Boulevard and Roy Rivers Road, within the City of Elgin’s tax increment reinvestment zone. Ascension Seton also finished construction on a new hospital this year in Bastrop.
City sets official truck route
After four accidents involving trucks with oversized loads driving through downtown Elgin in 2018, the City of Elgin designated an official truck route on U.S. Highway 290, approved by the Texas Department of Transportation in January. The Elgin City Council unanimously passed an ordinance on February 5 to officially create this truck route, which would avoid sending permitted oversized loads through Main Street and Taylor Road and would disallow large vehicles on these roads, with exceptions. The truck route signs were put in place at the end of March, with additional signage added over the summer before enforcement began.
Farmers’ market grows back in Elgin
After a two-year hiatus, the Elgin Farmers’ Market is back with weekly offerings of local food and products in downtown Elgin. The farmers’ market first began decades ago, but participation began to decline three years ago before the organization was disbanded in 2017. However, renewed interest from local farmers brought the group back, starting with a market during Sip, Shop & Stroll on May 9. The Elgin Farmers’ Market organization worked with the City of Elgin to establish a permanent place for the market, and the city council approved an agreement on October 15 for the market to be held each Thursday evening either in the parking lot of the Elgin Depot Museum or at Veterans’ Memorial Park.
School district makes plans for growth
The Elgin Independent School District (ISD) made plans to convert its flex campus on West 2nd Street to an intermediate school to ease the effects of a growing student population at Elgin Middle School. The flex campus currently serves as a multipurpose building housing the district’s alternative high school, Phoenix High School; the Elgin ISD school board approved the purchase of a modular building for Phoenix High School to be placed near Elgin High School. The intermediate school would take in fifth graders, who currently attend the district’s three elementary schools, and sixth graders from the middle school. The Elgin Middle School has a capacity of 1,100 students, and enrollment as of July was 1,030.
City begins process of dis-annexation
After months of discussion, the Elgin City Council unanimously voted to proceed with plans to dis-annex half of an area of land southeast of town annexed in 2015 and to begin working on plans to extend wastewater service to the other half on July 2. In 2015, the City of Elgin annexed about 212 acres between the railroad tracks and South State Highway 95 in an apparent strategy to counter Bastrop’s northward expansion. According to Texas state law, the city must provide all available city services to the annexed area within five years; in this case, Elgin is required to provide these services by 2020, which would cost an estimated $2,750,000. One proposed alternative to building this project is disannexing the area. At a previous meeting, city staff recommended a compromise: all property west of the railroad tracks, known as Area 2, would be retained, while the property east of the railroad tracks, known as Area 3, would be dis-annexed. The estimated costs for constructing a wastewater system for this area is about $2.2 million, not taking into account potential partnerships with developments in the area. In exchange for dis-annexation, property owners would be required to sign a settlement or development agreement specifically saying the property would not be developed, all development regulations and planning authority of the city would remain applicable, the property would only be used for single-family residential uses and no refund of property taxes would be sought.
Student support organization starts work in Elgin
After receiving a $13 million grant this past spring and expanding to more schools, national student support organization Communities In Schools (CIS) will begin working in Elgin ISD starting in fall 2019. CIS provides on-campus support for students and families by leveraging existing community resources, connecting personally with at-risk and struggling students and creating a service plan based on their individual needs such as counseling, tutoring or mentoring. This year, CIS began working at Elgin’s three elementary schools and Elgin Middle School, with plans to expand to the rest of Elgin ISD’s campuses; CIS has also begun work at Bastrop ISD.
Elgin business recognized as a local treasure
After doing business in Elgin as an independent operation for over 50 years, Modern Cleaners is the recipient of the Texas Historical Commission’s Texas Treasure Business Award and was honored with an award ceremony on September 19. The original business, called Southside Cleaners, was founded in 1940 by Jesus Ramirez; they now reside at 219 South Main Street.
Elgin area votes against sales tax proposition
During the election on November 5, Elgin-area voters rejected a proposition by the Bastrop/ Travis Counties Emergency Services District (ESD) to collect a two-cent sales tax in its jurisdiction outside the city limits of Elgin. Due to new statewide restraints on collection of property taxes and a growing population to serve, the ESD began looking to the sales tax as a possible way to fund a new station and equipment. A total of 683 votes were cast for the proposition, while 910 votes were cast against it, resulting in a final unofficial result of 42.88 percent for, 57.12 against.
Removal of Confederate marker discussed
After months of discussion by the community, the Elgin City Council was split in a vote on November 5 to remove a highway marker at Taylor Road and Main Street bearing the name of Confederate president Jefferson Davis. The highway marker was first brought to the council’s and the community’s attention by citizen Randy Krapf during a previous meeting on September 3. During two following meetings, a number of people spoke to the council during public comment regarding the marker, many of which asked the city to move or remove it. The marker appears to have been erected in 1937 to designate a piece of the Jefferson Davis Highway, a planned roadway stretching from Virginia to California that was sponsored by the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) in the early 20th century. The marker is within the right-of-way of the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), but they have given the City of Elgin permission to remove it if they wish. Ahead of the November 5 vote, some council members were unsure of the city’s authority to remove the marker since it is in TxDOT’s jurisdiction and voted against removal, leading to a 5-4 vote narrowly passing the motion.
Downtown leaders recognized with award
Two Elgin community leaders were recognized for their efforts during the annual Texas Downtown Association (TDA) President’s Awards Gala on October 30. The first award, TDA’s Downtowner of the Year award, went to Allan Tolbert, who has been working to revitalize the downtown Elgin area and bring down the vacancy rate for years. Next, the Susan H. Campbell Award for Professional Excellence was awarded to Amy Miller, Elgin’s community services director, who has worked for Elgin’s Main Street for 23 years. Elgin was also a finalist for one of TDA’s achievement awards: the Downtown Public Art Plan, an initiative by the Main Street Program to bring more public art to downtown Elgin, was up for the Spirit of Downtown award for cities with a population under 50,000. Bastrop and Smithville were also successful at the awards ceremony. For cities with a population under 50,000, Bastrop won Best New Construction for Spring Street Dental and Best Promotional Event for its Pop-Up Street Project, and the Smithville Area Chamber of Commerce won Best Downtown Partner.
Elgin mourns loss of county commissioner
On January 3, Bastrop County Precinct 4 Commissioner Gary “Bubba” Snowden passed away at the age of 74 in the middle of his third term. He was first elected in 2012. In addition to his work on the roads and bridges surrounding Elgin, Snowden was the liaison for the Bastrop County Animal Shelter. He worked closely with the shelter and oversaw its improvement during his time as commissioner. On January 14, Bastrop County Judge Paul Pape appointed Bubba Snowden’s wife, Donna Snowden, to fill his unexpired term and to continue as shelter liaison. Donna Snowden will run for the Precinct 4 spot on the commissioners’ court during the primary election this spring.
Highway improvement project breaks ground
The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) officially broke ground on a project to improve U.S. Highway 290 between Elgin and Paige on January 31. The project involves widening 8.2 miles of Highway 290 on either side of McDade, adding a grassy median, shoulders and turn lanes where necessary in order to improve safety and mobility. The project costs $34.4 million and is scheduled to be completed in 2021.
Wildlife rescue opens rehab facility near Elgin
Austin-based non-profit Austin Wildlife Rescue opened a new 6.7-acre rehabilitation facility near Elgin, celebrating with a ribbon cutting on February 13. The rescue was previously headquartered at a house in East Austin and continues to operate this location as an intake center.
Smithville Chamber building destroyed in a fire
Early in the morning on March 24, a fire destroyed the building housing Smithville’s museum, visitors’ center and Chamber of Commerce. The building itself was a complete loss, and some artifacts were damaged and destroyed Surveillance cameras captured an individual breaking into the building and leaving soon before the fire began. On March 29, Alfred James Nealy of Smithville was identified as the suspect and arrested for burglary of a building and arson; he was indicted for arson in October.
Mcdade, Stony Point playgrounds
KaBOOM!, in collaboration with the St. David’s Foundation and Bastrop County Cares, built two playgrounds with volunteers in one-day builds in 2019: one in Mc-Dade on May 4 and another in Del Valle at the Stony Point Park on November 16.
Animal shelter opens new pet clinic
On May 5, Bastrop County Animal Services officially opened its new Mary E. Barina Pet Wellness & Spay/ Neuter Center at the shelter. The wellness clinic, which began construction in 2017, hosts a surgical suite and two examination rooms and offers basic treatments and procedures.
First McDade seniors in eight decades graduate
A graduation ceremony for seven high school seniors on May 24 was McDade High School’s first in nearly 80 years since a fire destroyed the high school in March 1941.
County museum puts together Freedom Colonies exhibit
Last year, Doris Williams and Bastrop County Historical Society archivist Carol Kysar began collecting information and items to put together a new exhibit featuring the freedom colonies, or settlements of former Texas slaves, in Bastrop County. The exhibit opened in Bastrop in June to commemorate Juneteenth and remained at the county museum until September, then moved to the Elgin Depot Museum through January 2020.
McDade high school students build satellite
Just months after a group of younger students completed a similar project, a team three of satellite-building high school students from McDade traveled to Cape Canaveral, Florida to watch their creation take flight on July 25. Seniors Luz Ramirez, Juan Rodriguez and Evan Allan worked together during the spring semester to build a satellite after McDade-based aerospace engineering and manufacturing company Quad-M had an open space on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
Landowners, water companies protest new well permit
The State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) heard the concerns of water suppliers Aqua Water Supply Corporation and Recharge, environmental group Environmental Stewardship, the City of Elgin and dozens of landowners over a proposed new set of wells on land in northeast Bastrop County. The Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) applied for a permit from the Lost Pines Groundwater Conservation District (LPGCD) to eventually pump about eight billion gallons of water per year from the Carrizo-Wilcox aquifer; however, the landowners, water suppliers and City of Elgin are concerned that this pumping will draw down their wells, and Environmental Stewardship is concerned that a drawdown in the aquifer would negatively impact the Colorado River. The six-day hearing began on October 15, where all parties presented their evidence and cross-examined witnesses for two administrative law judges from SOAH. The parties submitted their written closing arguments on December 20, and written replies to closing arguments are due on January 31, after which the administrative law judges will make a recommendation to the LPGCD.
Bastrop case gathers national attention
After advocacy from celebrities, media figures, activists, politicians and law enforcement, led by his own family, Bastrop death row prisoner Rodney Reed was granted a stay of execution by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on November 15, less than a week before his scheduled execution on November 20 set in July. Reed was convicted for the 1996 murder of Stacey Stites, but for years has said he is innocent and asked for more DNA testing and a new trial. The case gathered national attention when Phil McGraw of the Dr. Phil Show dedicated two episodes to a close look at the case. Now that his execution has been stayed, Reed’s family continues to advocate for a new trial, as well as for the abolishment of the death penalty.