It doesn’t seem that long ago that we were welcoming in 2012, and here we are, after surviving the ‘end’ of the world, ushering in 2013. It is true what they say, the days are long, but the years are short, and they seem to only be getting shorter.
Llano has been busy this year, and overall, I would say it was a pretty decent year. We received a little rain, which was very welcome, and were able to stay away from the severe drought conditions we experienced last year. The water in the Llano River never stopped flowing, and even though the Highland Lakes have gotten lower, we did not have to go into the drastic water restrictions that we employed in 2011.
Unfortunately, the rain that we were blessed enough to receive has not been enough to pull Texas out of this drought, and water conservation is still a hot topic in Llano and throughout Texas. Battles over who has more rights to the water that flows through our Highland Lakes are ongoing, with LCRA still proposing the release of water to rice farmers downstream, and business owners and residents who rely on the water for their livelihoods and lives still fighting to keep the water here. It is not an issue that will resolve itself easily, and unless we get a tsunami, the battle will continue indefinitely.
While the Llano River has not ceased to flow since the summer of 2011, city leaders are still grappling with ways to conserve this precious resource as well as provide alternatives should we enter into another drought of record. For almost two years, there has been some discussion of water at nearly every meeting of the City Council, as well as public forums, town halls, and workshops, all in an effort to get a handle on the best way to handle the situation.
Words that were not in most people’s vocabulary have now become commonplace-words like alluvial, effluent, and acre feet. All of these pertain in some way to the fight to maintain, recycle, conserve or store the city’s water stores. Discussions regarding piping water in from the Hickory Aquifer near Valley Spring, drilling alluvial wells along the banks of the Llano River, and tapping into the water found at Riley Mountain are just a few of the options the City has explored. Concerns of cost, the high concentration of radium in the Hickory Aquifer, and whether or not enough water can be found to make the cost of any of the options worth it have weighed heavily on the city’s decision makers.
In addition to the conservation and storing of water, the City is also exploring the option of whether or not effluent (wastewater) can be treated and spit back into the Llano River instead of held in the city’s lagoons, which must be replaced or not used anymore because of repairs required by TCEQ. Currently, the City is researching the possibility of amending its current water permit, which would allow the effluent to be treated and dumped back into the river or reused for irrigation of the athletic fields, golf course, or other areas as needed.
As the City continues to struggle to come up with the best answer, they are also looking for a new City Manager. After five years in Llano, City Manager Finley deGraffenried left his position in Llano for Lampasas in October. Finance Director Lynda Kuder assumed the position of Interim City Manager. The City welcomed new City Secretary Toni Milam, and said goodbye to former secretary, Kerry Williams. Kelli Tudyk joined the Council in May, taking the place of outgoing Alderman Gordon Hefner. Alderman JR Decker resigned, and Dustin McLeod took his place.
Llano ISD said goodbye to Athletic Director David Yeager, and welcomed Craig Slaughter. The Llano Yellow Jackets competed well in football, and enjoyed some big wins. The girls’ volleyball team advanced to area, and celebrated a return to the playoff brackets. Basketball is well under way now, and the teams look promising.
The Llano Yellow Jacket Marching Band lost longtime band directors Wilburn and Carol Meier, and are now under the field direction of Band Director Keith Riley. The changing of the guards did nothing to stop the band from earning their 34th straight Division I rating at the UIL Region 7 Marching Contest held in Brady, and they were able to advance to the State Marching Competition.
Llano ISD also mourned the death of one of its beloved students, Drew Buttery, a senior, who was and continues to be remembered for his talents in music, his success in the academic world, and the outstanding young man that he had grown to be. It was with heavy hearts that family and friends said goodbye to him.
Every year, Llano has more events than nearly any surrounding town, and 2012 was no exception. Beginning with the Llano County Livestock Show in January, Llano drew people from all over the State to the Annual Crawfish Open, Promote Llano’s Blue Bell and Blue Grass Festival, the Llano County Rodeo, Llano Expo, and Rockn’ Riverfest. Big crowds came to ooh and ah at the lights in Badu Park during Starry, Starry Nights, and plane enthusiasts turned out in droves to witness the many aerial events held at the Llano Airport.
This year, the City also celebrated the long-awaited opening of the new Llano Events Center and Rodeo Arena, which was a welcomed edition to the Llano Crawfish Open, and has already hosted many roping events. The golf course was taken over by Two Pro Golf, and has been undergoing much needed repairs and rejuvenation.
Llano County also dealt with the problem of dwindling water supplies, and participated in an economic impact study in conjunction with Burnet County to send with the Central Texas Water Coalition, a group that is fighting on behalf of all of the businesses and residents who depend on the Highland Lakes.
A heated election for the seat of Precinct 1 Commissioner also ensued, with a recount of ballots after the primaries between candidates Clayton Leverett and Tom Engler, and finally a heated contest between the finalists, Peter Jones and Engler. Jones was ultimately elected to the seat and will replace Commissioner Johnnie Heck. Precinct 3 Commissioner Tommy Duncan opted to not seek re-election, and so Ron Wilson will take his place at the dais in January.
Two jailers, Donny Stewart and Scottie Scoggins, were indicted by a Llano County grand jury in the negligent death of Llano County prisoner Shawn Appell, and will face a jury trial in March of 2013. A civil suit was also filed in Appell’s death by his mother Shirley, against the two jailers, Sheriff Bill Blackburn, and the County of Llano.
Almost thirty suspicious fires have destroyed properties and homes in Kingsland since October, and while one arrest has been made by the Llano County Sheriff’s Office, the investigation is still ongoing. In an unrelated fire, a new clinic being built by Seton burned to the ground in June, just weeks shy of completion. Seton chose to start over, and the second building is close to completion as the year ends.
Scott and White opened a new clinic in Kingsland, and construction of the new Wayne and Eileen Hurd Clinic at Hwy 71 and 281 is well under way.
County officials faced scrutiny as they sought ways to cut a lean budget, opting to cut the budget of the county’s libraries, which threatened the number of days the branches would be open as well as the pay of the librarians. After going back through the budget, they were able to come up with a more acceptable plan, cutting book budgets instead of operating hours. The Friends of the Library began looking for ways to raise funds to help buy books and keep programs running. The Llano County Library Foundation was founded to raise funds for the immediate use of the library, as well as establishing ongoing giving to help the library maintain operations in the future.
Citizens recognized for their contributions to their community included the Jacket for Life award given to Wilburn and Carol Meier, the Llano Chamber of Commerce Citizens of the Year – Harold and Joanie Castelman, and the induction of Hatty Sagebiel into Llano’s Hall of Fame.
All in all, 2012 was a great year for Llano. As I reflect on this past year, I celebrate the milestones, applaud the achievements, miss those we have lost, and look forward to the unknown as we roll into 2013.