Senate Border Subcommittee Examines Border Infrastructure Problems
AUSTIN - The Interim Senate Subcommittee on Border Affairs held its first meeting of the 77th interim today, Tuesday, November 27, 2001. Chairman Eddie Lucio of Brownsville opened the meeting by thanking everyone who had been part of getting the Queen Isabella Causeway reopened a month ahead of schedule. A span of the causeway was smashed two months ago when a barge hit one of the support beams. The temporary loss of the bridge brought the tourist-based economy of South Padre Island to a halt.
The future of transportation, housing, and water supplies are all vital issues to border residents and will be examined carefully by the subcommittee.
Kris Heckman, Governor Rick Perry's Transportation Policy Coordinator, testified that measures passed by the 77th Legislature need to be implemented quickly so that residents of colonias can have reliable access to their homes. Colonias are generally unregulated subdivisions along the border which are lacking in water and sewer services and may not even have paved roads.
Acting Texas Secretary of State Geoff Connor said that while new laws can help keep new colonias from forming, existing settlements need help getting reliable water and sanitation, as well as roadways.
Ignacio Madera from the Texas Water Development Board testified that his agency is working with the local counties to identify colonias that need help. The Board will share that information with other agencies.
Witnesses said roads remain a top priority for colonia residents. Currently any rain at all can make the roads impassible, keeping children from school and parents from work. Other officials from border areas told stories of children who had to walk through the mud and of parents who couldn't afford indoor plumbing. Committee member Eliot Shapleigh of El Paso said dirt roads are more than an inconvenience --they also relate to a lack of safety. Homeowners can't get fire insurance because fire trucks can't get to their homes.
Chairman Lucio agreed with the needs and said that while the amount of funding for projects to remedy such problems might be limited, a more ambitious program would have been much more difficult to get through the Legislature. And this, the chairman continued later, doesn't begin to address other border problems such as health care and unemployment.
During the interim, the subcommittee has the following charges: it shall identify unique challenges facing the Texas-Mexico Border region and determine strategic economic development initiatives to assist the region in overcoming the identified challenges. The Subcommittee shall recommend initiatives to improve trade and tourism that create a sound foundation for economic development and determine the amount of funding necessary to implement the initiatives. The Subcommittee shall determine whether such investments will leverage other significant funds or if funding is unlikely from other sources. The Subcommittee may also make recommendations to facilitate commerce and lessen congestion at ports-of-entry at the Texas-Mexico border.
There will be four subcommittee meetings outside of Austin this interim. Those will take place in El Paso, Brownsville, Laredo, and San Antonio before the committee issues its report to the 78th Legislature.
Members of the subcommittee include Chairman Eddie Lucio of Brownsville, John Carona of Dallas, Eliot Shapleigh of El Paso, David Sibley of Waco, and Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio. The subcommittee recessed subject to call of the chair with its next meeting at a time place to be announced later.