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It's 2023 and our resolutions are …

Column by Commissioner Cook

  • 19 January 2023
  • Author: Doris Sanchez
  • Number of views: 633

While the county has been successful defining long-range transportation plans of providing north-south and east-west connectivity for residents and commerce, and the implementation of many new roads in the past 10 years, can we, the taxpayers, afford to continue our road program? The cost of land alone has grown to be nearly prohibitive. But with our growth, and anticipation of continued growth, this past planning and construction must surely continue as a goal.

Our future requires that we identify new challenges and adapt approaches to meet them. We have experienced the fragility of our grid, and we’ve experienced the weaknesses in power production, especially with natural gas. You may respond that we, the county, can’t do anything about that. Well, we can lobby the state Legislature to pass meaningful and impactful bills to incentivize and require industry to step up. 

If, indeed, by 2035 we have a significant percentage of our vehicles using electricity instead of petroleum products, we must have more power and a very stable grid to support charging. Well, I’ve heard “power guys” make the statement that people need to charge their vehicles during off-peak times. Tell that to the apartment dwellers who are usually sitting in their cars while they charge at a public charging station.

Here’s a challenge that the electric power companies are not recognizing. If the building industry revises building codes to require level 2 charging stations in all new garages and install fire suppression systems in that space, that will have major ramifications across the state. I’ve breached the topic of having charging stations established at some county buildings; of course, that means that the power grid has to have 240-volt lines with excess capacity in the vicinity to reduce the cost of implementing a charging infrastructure.

Then there’s the issue of available, clean water for consumption. In the past, the county has largely stood aside and let the municipalities and municipal utility districts do the heavy lifting. We are partners, however, with the Lone Star Water Authority, which connected Lake Granger with Jarrell. The Water Code and Local Government Code have much to say about the county’s responsibilities — should they choose to be involved — in water acquisition and management. 

It was stated in December’s Williamson County’s Growth Summit that availability of water is not the issue, it’s the infrastructure that needs upgrades. However, in October, at Taylor’s Chamber Summit, a Brazos River Authority spokesperson stated that 99.9% of its surface water is spoken for (they are the primary providers of water for most of Williamson County). The reliance on wells in the fragile Trinity Aquifer is faltering under harsh drought conditions. We know that every wastewater treatment plant seems to be under expansion to accommodate all the building in the county. Needs are up. Supply is limited. Growth continues. Now there’s a challenge for strategic planning!

What about the impact of continued global warming on our natural resources and ability to maintain our facilities? The county has been implementing LED lighting in our buildings to reduce costs (electricity consumption). Much of our recent construction has been remodeling/updating within existing structures. But we’re now facing needs for expansion of the Juvenile Justice Center and a new administration building.

Will we be pursuing greener construction, design and construction techniques, with lower cost-of-ownership goals as priorities? Will we implement any solar roofing to offset electricity needs or install overhangs to reduce solar heat coming through the windows in our architectural design? Will we build parking under buildings for shade/hail protection and reduced interior heat in vehicles? Can we reduce daily mileage on county vehicles by planning/coordinating trips? Can we increase our use of electrical vehicles to reduce maintenance costs and petroleum fuel use?

We are a county where technology companies want to move. Most of our residents are tech savvy. Could we achieve a goal of providing an affordable service through a broadband infrastructure implemented with private/public partnerships using federal and state grants to lead the state in high-speed internet coverage within our county?

Another challenge we face is that vast subdivision development is occurring in the county where we have no authority for land planning and use designations. That often results in angst by homeowners in the county’s unincorporated areas where they want ordinances for noise, loose dogs or to stop commercial developments being built next door and other problems. Giving counties ordinance authority definitely requires legislative action, which will probably never occur – land rights are revered by those in the state House and Senate.

What will the future hold for us in Williamson County? Can we become leaner, stronger, more self-sufficient in providing those mandated services a county must provide? Will we be ready and able to meet our challenges? Will we be rooftop-to-rooftop homes with a scattering of industrial and commercial facilities and a grid of high-capacity roads? Whatever, it’s going to be quite the ride!

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