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20110624_Map-Raymondville-DrainWillacy Co. leaders say they will reinstate support

EDINBURG —Leaders from Hidalgo and Willacy counties met this week to discuss the Raymondville Drain Project, a development that some officials say has been stalled by about a month after Willacy County voted to rescind its support on the effort.

At a workshop held on Monday, Willacy County Judge John F. Gonzales Jr. said the new administration had questions about previous actions on the project that weren’t answered and ultimately decided to withdraw their support to avoid hurting the county in future funding.

“The old information could not be found,” he said of letters from 2001 and a resolution in 2008 between both counties and the U.S. Corps of Engineers, who have been charged with helping in the development. “Not knowing what was in that letter…we had to rescind the 2008 agreement so we know what we’re agreeing to.”

Hidalgo County Drainage District No. 1 Manager Godfrey Garza Jr. said Hidalgo County has been working with Delta Irrigation District, which has the right-of-way for the project, and the Corps of Engineers in charge of the project on Willacy County’s end.

Two years ago, HCDD took the lead on the project as it had the financial capability to meet the non-federal obligations of the project.

“The Corps said because of restrictions in Congress, they were not able to keep their end of the deal,” Garza said. “So at that point we asked them if we could become the lead sponsor on the system.”

HCDD officials met with Willacy leaders to get their support, which was granted in a resolution, in order to move the project forward.

In the development of this project, four different alternatives have been made, which will be examined by the Corps of Engineers to determine which route has the best cost-benefit ratio. The government will also examine which is the best for the environment.

“We’re at the point now where we’re ready to move forward on our environmental portion of the project by working with ranch owners in Willacy County who would be affected by the system,” said Garza.

Not until the final analysis on each route is complete on the Willacy County portion of the project, will officials know which option will work best, he added.

Working on the project for the past 12 years, the districts have earned money from the Texas Department of Rural Affairs (TDRA) and the state’s Office of Rural and Community Affairs (ORCA). Garza said this funding may have been confusing as to which group got the money and for which project.

“There was a project called ‘the Raymondville Drain’ under the Texas Department of Rural Affairs that was getting about $3 million and there was another project in Willacy County that would repair weirs within our main floodwater channel that was believed that Hidalgo County was going to utilize that money to make improvements on the Raymondville Drain when it was Willacy County’s money,” Garza explained. “The money that was being aligned with the Texas Department of Rural Affairs was to be able to clean the existing channel to be able to allow water to flow through it.”

There was no intent to use that money to widen or create new structures. The cleaning of those systems would help the Delta Irrigation District better utilize their system.

Weir repairs on other portions were agreed to be paid pro-rata, meaning both districts would pay their share of the repairs.

“We’ve got probably about $5 million in repair work that needs to be done in this area and thus Willacy County was looking at utilizing those (TDRA) monies to pay for their pro-rata share of the system repairs,” he said. “I think that’s where some of that confusion started on, ‘Why is Hidalgo County taking Willacy County’s money?’”

Willacy County’s judge, however, said the funds for Willacy County were denied after it sent in its package that described how the money appropriated would be utilized. Gonzales said a 2008 resolution that states both counties would work together hurt Willacy County’s opportunity to collect its money.

“That’s what kind of put a stop to it,” Gonzales said. “Our money’s being taken away because of a resolution from the past between two counties.”

TDRA officials have since reinstated Willacy County’s package. Gonzales said the county would be able to re-engage in the resolution for support with Hidalgo County on the Raymondville Drain.

“That’s all we need to make sure we continue working with our neighboring county,” Garza said. “As we move the project forward, we will continue coordinating with the county, advising Willacy County, advising the irrigation district, advising all the entities involved in the project. Because as I mentioned, this is a project we’ve been working on for 12 years, if not longer, and it could be another six, seven years by the time anything really comes to pass. And I think it is in the best interest of both communities to continue working on this project as a regional project because if affects Hidalgo and Willacy counties and it’s for the betterment of the whole community.”

While Willacy County leaders said they would bring the resolution back to their commissioners next week, Gonzales said he’d like to see clarification on some of the terms first. He wants to have HCDD’s “lead sponsor” title defined and set up an agreement for both entities to meet to update the county on the project.

“We felt like at some point we were being left out,” Gonzales said.

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