Salamanders, sewers, Sesquicentennial, Sanctuary and so much more
A salamander, a sewer system, a Sesquicentennial, Sirena and a Sanctuary.
These are just a few of the all-important and alliterative things to happen in Salado during 2014.
Early in the year, Saladoans learned that the Salado salamander as it is commonly known would be listed as Threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, rather than as Endangered.
“The Service’s decision to list these species reflects the best available science and a careful evaluation of the comments received from the public,” stated Adam Zerrenner, the Service’s Austin Field Office Supervisor at the time of the listing. “We will continue to work with local communities, landowners and others to ensure a healthy Edwards Aquifer for the communities and the species that depend upon it.”
“This is a huge win for us (Bell County Coalition),” Bell County Commissioner Tim Brown said. “We still have a lot of work to do but it will be so much easier without the endangered designation hanging over us.”
According to Brown, FWS staffers have indicated that they have “been impressed by our science-based approach to confronting this issue.”
“We made some compelling arguments,” he adds, “that the species should not be listed but those arguments were based on clearly demonstrable facts.”
“We emphasized the protections that are already in place through Clearwater UWCD’s rules and regulations and we convinced them that there are no imminent threats beyond the immediate environs of the springs there in the Village,” he added.
In its announcement and ruling, the FWS stated that the Salado salamander has been found at seven spring sites and that two of these sites (Big Boiling and Li’l Bubbly Springs) are very close together and are likely one population.
“Due to their very limited distribution, these salamanders are especially sensitive to stochastic incidences, such as severe and unusual storm events (which can dramatically affect dissolved oxygen levels), catastrophic contaminant spills, and leaks of harmful substances,” the agency further stated in the Feb. 24, 2014 Federal Register.
In December, aldermen got a first glance at a “Salado Springs Salado Conservation Ordinance,” a six-page document drafted to satisfy the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) by regulating activities around the springs within the Village of Salado in which the Salado salamander lives.
Without aldermen taking any action on the draft ordinance at their Dec. 11 workshop, they asked that alderman Amber Preston-Dankert revise the document and take it back to FWS officials to tone down the regulatory measures of the ordinance which include prohibiting swimming in the Salado Creek in the Conservation Zone.
Local officials will continue to work on the proposed conservation ordinance. Aldermen expressed dismay at the intense regulatory nature of the draft ordinance, especially in light of the fact that regulations as stringent as the proposed ordinance are not in place in areas where other salamanders have been listed as endangered, including the Barton Springs Salamander.
Salado Mayor Danney McCort, in his last action in office, signed a contract to accept the donation of the Stagecoach Inn sewer system earlier this year, setting off intense debate and a favorable bond election in which Salado voters approved $10.55 million for the construction of a central sewer system for the business district of Salado.
How the Stagecoach sewer will be incorporated into the design of the central sewer system has not yet been determined as the Village has just recently signed legal contracts concerning the sale of the bonds as well as beginning to look at the possible design for the sewer system.
That design could be impacted by right-of-way issues on Main Street. Main Street is currently owned and maintained by the Texas Department of Transportation, which has been in discussion with Salado aldermen about taking over ownership of Main Street and the Main Street bridge. Those discussions, which could include a contract for construction of sidewalks along the street, will continue in 2015 and may have a major effect on the ultimate design of the sewer system.
Discussions will also continue in 2015 with the developers of The Sanctuary. Robert Sulaski announced the proposed 300-acre mixed use development that will sit principally in the extra-territorial jurisdiction of the Village. The first workshop with residents was held in October. In December, aldermen authorized Mayor Skip Blancett to appoint four committees for discussions and deliberations on the relationship between the Village and the proposed development.
The Sanctuary proposal will include a boutique hotel, a live music venue with a seating capacity of 1,800, 345,000 square feet of shops and restaurants, 65,000 sq. ft. of office space, 400 rooms of lodging, 350 units of apartments and 525 homes. The Sanctuary will have homes ranging from $225,000 for cottages of 2,200 sq. ft. to $750,000 or more for the manor-type homes planned for the development. The range of homes and styles of homes will be built in such a manner as to compliment each other and to compliment the retail, restaurant, hotel and entertainment district.
Discussions will also continue on a proposal that would make the Salado Civic Center a hub for local government housing the school district offices, as well as county and perhaps Village offices.
This might happen if school trustees, county commissioners and the Village board of aldermen pursue establishing a mutually-owned corporation to take over the ownership and management of the Salado Civic Center.
Salado ISD assumed management of the Salado Civic Center earlier this year when the Salado Civic Center Foundation (originally formed as the Old Salado School Foundation in 1995 to restore and open the old red schoolhouse on Main Street) abandoned its 50-year lease with the school district to manage and operate the Civic Center.
Since then, school board president Jim Reed told fellow school trustees, the county (through commissioner Tim Brown) has approached the school district (through Reed and superintendent Michael Novotny) to discuss the idea of forming a corporation for the ownership and operation of the Civic Center on behalf of participating local governing entities.
Each participating entity would have an ownership stake in the property based upon how much stock it purchased for the value of the corporation (based upon an appraisal of the property).
If entities could agree on a value of the Main Street property, then a stock price could be set and initial costs established for the amount of ownership that each entity would want and need.
This proposal, Reed told school board members at their Aug. 11 meeting, would need to be closely defined in terms of both ownership interest and renter interest in the property.
Aldermen approved expenditures in December to renovate the old municipal building that has for the last few years housed the ambulance crew for Scott & White Hospital Ambulance Service. Aldermen discussed the expenses and proposal that would move the police department into the building and turn the current police department offices into offices for the code enforcement officer and the city manager.
After a year-long contract with Central Texas Council of Governments to provide city management services to Salado, aldermen voted unanimously to hire Kim Foutz as the first full-time city manager for the Village. She started work on Oct. 1 with a full agenda that includes The Sanctuary and other developments in the ETJ of Salado, an in-depth review of the Village ordinances and operating procedures and implementing an agreement between the Village of Salado and the Salado Chamber of Commerce that would bring the two into a partnership going forward. Aldermen and the Chamber of Commerce board both voted unanimously for the measure with Debbie Charbonneau as the executive director of the Salado Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau. That staff was expanded in November and December with the addition of Kerry Fillip as Event Coordinator and Megan Seaton as Public Relations Specialist.
The Bureau will be overseen by a three-person supervisory committee composed of the City Manager Kim Foutz, Village-alderman appointee Dr. Michael McDougal and the Salado Chamber of Commerce Chairman (Dave Hermann initially and Tim Fleischer in 2015). The Salado Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors will operate in an advisory capacity as the Chamber funds its portion of the overall contract.
The Village also entered into a partnership agreement with Keep Salado Beautiful by which KSB would maintain the Salado Sculpture Garden as a village park. The Village will pay a contract of $5,000 to KSB for this work.
For years, KSB has raised funds through a recycling program which came to an end this year.
When this was announced, Clawson Disposal announced that it would begin a limited curbside recycling program for its customers in the Village of Salado. It may extend the program in the future to other customers.
In addition to these new partnerships, the Village of Salado has new elected leadership.
In May, voters elected several new local officials including Skip Blancett who decisively won the race for Mayor of the Village of Salado with 290 votes, more than 100 votes than the second place contender Rick Ashe. Amber Preston-Dankert and Frank Coachman were elected 357 votes, followed by Coachman with 314 votes.
In the Salado ISD Board of Trustees race, Kim Bird and Rodney W. Bell were returned to the board. Kristi Jarvis was also elected to a first term.
Voters also overwhelmingly approved a May measure that allow the off-premise sale of all alcoholic beverages which will allow liquor stores in the Village of Salado, voting 441 in favor and 225 against.
In the fall, the Village saw its first liquor store open, Village Spirits, owned by Robert and Tammy Dudeczka, who led the effort to get signatures to bring the measure to the ballot in May.
In November, a similar local option passed by a wide margin. The proposal for the legal sale of beer and wine was overwhelmingly approved by Village of Salado voters on Nov. 4, 783 in favor and 229 against. In early voting 559 voted in favor and 158 voted against the proposal.
While the year has been one of growth and challenge for the Village, it has been one of remembrance, celebration and growth in our faith community.
First Baptist Church marked its Sesquicentennial with a May celebration that included demonstrations of old fashioned crafts, period dress and games and a picnic on the grounds. The Salado Masonic Lodge opened its doors to the celebrants. When the first church sanctuary was built in the 19th Century it was done in a partnership with the Salado Masonic Lodge. The Lodge was housed in the upstairs and the church sanctuary in the downstairs. In the mid-20th Century, the Baptist Church built a new sanctuary and the Lodge took off the second story of the building to move it to its location on Church St. For some of the older members of the church, the open house served as a trip down memory lane as they recalled how the Masons met upstairs and the church downstairs.
St. Stephen Catholic Church marked a quarter century in Salado this year with a fall celebration. In December, the church broke ground at its property on Holland Rd. The church will build a new sanctuary there with capacity of 500.
In addition to these celebrations, Salado also had its share of tragedy and near-tragedy in 2014.
A Salado man died in a house fire overnight Feb. 5 at Irene Lane that burned down a two-story house with multiple additions to it and a camper trailer. Another camper trailer ignited but was not lost in the fire. Alejandro Torres, a 2002 graduate of Salado High School, was killed in the fire. Berrier said that over a dozen people lost their home as a result of the fire. According to Superintendent Michael Novotny, two of the families to lose their homes have students in Salado schools. One family, Dr. Novotny stated, had two high school students and an elementary student. The other family had a high school student. Salado community responded to a call for support by supplying the families with clothing, furniture, cash and checks. One resident offered to pay for the funeral expenses for the family and also offered to donate $2,000 for each of the children affected by the fire.
A near-tragedy was missed when DPS and Salado Police stopped a white male suspect after he allegededly led DPS on a high speed chase from Elgin to the 285 mile marker on I-35 in Salado on March 14. The tires on the truck were blown out from about the I-35 and Hwy 195 area in northern Georgetown. By the time the driver stopped, both tires on the passenger’s side were off and the rims had collapsed. The scene caused traffic to back up on both sides of I-35 as southbound travelers rubber neck the scene. According to Salado Police Chief Jack Hensley, the suspect allegedly refused to stop for a traffic violation and led police on the chase through multiple counties. Douglas Lewis, 67 of Houston, was arraigned at the Bell County Jail and transferred to Bastrop to face charges.