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PEÑITAS — As one of the oldest communities in the country, leaders hope a new wastewater treatment system will bring new families and businesses to the area.

“Peñitas is going to be taking over,” Ray Cedillo, the president of the Peñitas Economic Development Corporation, predicted. “This is a moment in our city’s history that will change the economy.”

With a U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development Program $3 million loan and a $6 million grant for the project, Peñitas is expected to bring about 1,200 colonia families sewer service, Victor Vasquez, deputy undersecretary for USDA Rural Development, said.

“Ultimately, this is for economic development in the community,” Vasquez said. “You’re creating opportunities.”

Mayor Marcos Ochoa said the project kicked into high gear in 2005, explaining that in 1993, when the city was established, it was the dream project of the first council.

“They had this dream of this project,” Ochoa said. “They’re the ones that really deserve all the credit.”

Efren Garza, the city’s first mayor, said officials have been trying for decades to get this type of system.

“The community was abandoned,” Garza said of Peñitas’ start. “There was very little going on. It was a dusty border town; it was an afterthought.”

Decades later, the city is booming with the establishment of a Walmart that serves as the biggest sales tax generator in western Hidalgo County. To attract more businesses like the commercial giant, Ochoa said the wastewater treatment plant was vital to future growth.

George Lazaro, the project engineer, said all the contacts made at various governmental levels were eager to assist in the project to address health and environmental issues.

“Everybody that we came to seek their help – at the local level, federal level and state level – they all were willing to share in meeting the vision of Peñitas,” Lazaro said. “They all fell in love with the idea.”

Jerry Bell’s family has been farming in the community since 1945, developing subdivisions and set up water irrigation here in 1948. Bell said he was pleased to see addition of the sewer system to the city’s infrastructure, explaining that it would benefit the whole city.

Ochoa said the construction for the system should begin within the next month. A tentative timeline for the project is expected to take more than a year, he added.

“We already have businesses that are showing a lot of interest,” the mayor said. “It’s going to be good for us.”

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