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Drainage Plan to Benefit Hidalgo County Colonias

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Posted: Nov 14, 2012 6:38 PM

Updated: Nov 14, 2012 11:47 PM

HIDALGO COUNTY - A new drainage plan is expected to bring flood relief to thousands of residents in 28 Hidalgo County colonias.

A 5 On Your Side investigation uncovered information about the plan that may improve living conditions for some 30,000 colonia residents.

Construction is set to start next year, Hidalgo County officials said.

Oscar Salazar is one of the colonia residents who will benefit from the new plan.

He bought his home at Bar Three colonia in 1998.

"We are just afraid if it rains," Salazar said.

His neighborhood floods after heavy downpours. He said things got worse when people started dumping refuse on land across from his house.

"The water doesn't have where to go," Salazar said.

Salazar's plight was the focus of a 5 On Your Side investigation on Monday.

Hidalgo County Precinct 1 Commissioner Joel Quintanilla visited the colonia to speak with the residents.

"We're going to fix drainage problems in colonias, including Bar Three," Quintanilla said.

Quintanilla said the county will get $14 million from federal government disaster recovery funds to fix drainage problems in his precinct.

"Precinct 1 alone has 400 colonias. At least 30 to 35 percent have these same problems; they don't have adequate outfalls for drainage. We have underdeveloped subdivisions," Quintanilla said.

The plan calls for engineers to install 1,400 feet of pipe on the edge of a ditch to allow water to go into the pipes and into the main ditch.

"This will relieve the water after a rain event," Sam Maldonado said. He is the engineer designing the drainage plan.

Maldonado and his engineering company will build the drainage plan for six to seven of the colonias. He said they may install up to 3,000 feet of pipe in Bar Three.

Maldonado will present his plan to the commission next month. Construction could start in early 2013. But those plans may come to a halt if the developer of the subdivision doesn't let the county run the underground pipes through his property.

"He's not responded in the past," Quintanilla said of the developer.

"Our office has tried to call and sent some e-mails as well," he said.

He said the land is private property and certain regulations prevent the county from forcing the owner to comply.

"The situation the county is faced with is that we follow the model subdivision rules constituted by the state of Texas. There are a lot of gray areas ... (that) is the problem," Quintanilla said.

The Texas Model Subdivision Rules allow developers to get away with not installing proper drainage in colonias like Bar Three, he said.

"You have to develop on half-acre lots in rural areas. You have to provide septic tank system for the residents. You have to provide some paving, and the basic services, like water and electricity," Quintanilla said.

As for drainage, the development has to have a form of detention or retention, Quintanilla said.

He said a big ditch in the colonia could pass as a retention area, but it doesn't retain any water.

If the property owner refuses to let the county install the pipes, the county will take the man to court, Quintanilla said.

Quintanilla confirmed that the owner of Bar Three is Hollis Rankin.

A CHANNEL 5 NEWS crew went to Rankin's office. Ranking initially said he didn't own any property in Bar Three.

Rankin refused to speak with CHANNEL 5 NEWS but later admitted to owning the property and selling it to Bob Gaston, a real estate agent.

"I never bought one acre of land from Mr. Rankin," Gaston said during a telephone interview.

Records at the Hidalgo County Tax Assessor's Office list Ranking as the current owner of Bar Three. He is delinquent on taxes on many of his properties.

The county may have to repossess Bar Three colonia from Ranking, officials said.

"We need to change these model subdivision rules," Quintanilla said.

Quintanilla said he and other commissioners are lobbying legislators in Austin to change the rules. He said their petitions are falling on deaf ears.

Quintanilla said the $14 million will go toward the building of the Mercedes Delta Lateral Drainage System.

He said the Rio Grande Valley is set to get another $100 million for a Willacy County drainage system.

Topics: bar three, colonia, hidalgo county, joel quintanilla, hollis rankin

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