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Brush Clearing Proposal Heard for School Lands
Wednesday, January 23, 2013 • Posted January 24, 2013

Commissioners voted to lift the burn ban on Monday, citing recent rain as a factor. Precinct 2 Commissioner Linda Raschke expressed concerns of removing the ban due to high winds in the area. After consideration, they voted 3-1, with Raschke against, to lift the burn ban, but will watch conditions, and, if need be, call a special meeting to reinstate the ban.

Discussion regarding reconsidering proposals for necessary repairs to the new Llano County Annex on 1431 led to the matter being tabled until the County Maintenance Department could put together a formal specification list of needed work. Bids were received in a special meeting last week, however, concerns were raised about whether or not each bidder received the same specs. In addition, the county must determine whether or not they can reconsider bids, and agreed that the matter needed to be discussed with County Attorney Cheryll Mabray.

A presentation by The Earth Partners regarding a proposal to clear brush on school lands held by Llano County, located in Tom Green County was considered. The county is the trustee to some 17,000 acres, given to schools in the late 1800s. Currently, the land is leased by Basic Energy, and used for hunting and grazing.

The Earth Partners, LP, specializes in restoring land, clearing brush – in this case mesquite and cedar – and then using that wood to produce biomass, in the form of wooden pellets, that are then sold to companies who use them as an alternative fuel source, as opposed to coal.

The proposal is a no-cash transaction, rather, the county would benefit from the removal of nuisance brush, and the company would benefit from the sale of its biomass product. Commissioners expressed concern regarding the destruction of the land by large machinery. Representatives with the company, Stan Meador of San Angelo and Chris Norman of Vancouver, Canada, assured the Court that the machines that they use are forest industry standards that operate with low-pressure tires, which allow them to move over the land without much disturbance.

The biomass industry is increasing, especially in the European markets, according to Norman, who said that due to the rapidly increasing price of natural gas, Europeans are seeking out more viable solutions. Even with shipping costs, biomass is emerging as a more cost-effective option.

The group says that it focuses on creating plans based on the use and functions of each piece of property that it clears, ensuring that a balance is struck between ranching and clearing, working to manage the objectives of all parties involved.

The plan is to open three plants in Texas over the next several years, with clearing to begin sometime in late 2014, should the County agree to allow the group to operate on the school lands.

The presentation was discussion only, so no action was taken, and Commissioners agreed that more information was needed, and they would also need to explore the legalities of entering into the contract; whether Basic Energy would have the authority to sign a contract, or if the County would need to, which would most likely require bids to be sought. Clarification regarding the County’s role in such a transaction will be sought before any decisions will be made.

The County owns several tracts of land, and Commissioners discussed whether or not some of those properties could be sold or perhaps traded for other properties that would suit the counties needs better. Six properties were on the agenda, and Commissioners opted to table the item until more information about each property could be gathered, and the proper method determined regarding disposition of the properties.

The Court appointed David Willmann to the Llano County Hospital Authority Board and Precinct 2 Commissioner Ron Wilson to the Solid Waste Advisory Committee.

Commissioners approved bonds for newly elected officials, including Sheriff Bill Blackburn, County Attorney Cheryll Mabray, Precinct 1 Commissioner Peter Jones, Precinct 3 Commissioner Ron Wilson, County Tax Collector Dexter Sagebiel, as wells as the county’s constables.

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