Capital highlights: Abbott vows to expand border 'barrier'
Gov. Greg Abbott vowed last week at a border security summit to build a barrier to slow the flow of migrants through the state’s southern border.
Abbott said details would be forthcoming for the wall, which would be part of a new enforcement plan administered by several state agencies, ranging from the governor’s office to the Texas Department of Public Safety. He said he intends to sign legislation appropriating more than $1 billion for enhanced border security.
“While securing the border is the federal government’s responsibility, Texas will not sit idly by as this crisis grows,” Abbott said. “The state is working collaboratively with communities impacted by the crisis to arrest and detain individuals coming into Texas illegally.”
The president of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) blasted Abbott’s actions.
“Governor Abbott stated that he intends to use Texas state budget dollars not for education, improving our electric grid or for Texas roads and highways,” said Domingo Garcia, LULAC president. “Instead, he says he will continue to build a wall and other barriers along the border with Mexico. This is a huge waste of taxpayer money, and very likely illegal.”
LULAC plans to take legal action on grounds that the federal government has authority over immigration and borders, not individual states.
Lumber price surge not affecting timber prices
One economic consequence of the pandemic lockdown has been a surge in lumber prices of more than 300%, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service. However, landowners who grow and harvest timber are still facing stagnant prices, as they have since the housing crash of 2008. At $30 a ton in Texas, the price has remained about the same for the past decade.
The challenge for timber owners is an abundance of ready-to-harvest timber, according to TFS.
“Landowners have been struggling to get their timber harvested for a while,” said Rob Hughes, executive director of the Texas Forestry Association. “The mills are producing more wood than they have before, but it’s still not to the capacity of how much timber is being grown in their areas.”
A consolidation of sawmills is partly to blame. In 1997 Texas had 168 active sawmills, a number that has dwindled today to about 50. Some landowners have opted to supplement their forest income through carbon markets, which are bought by companies or governments to offset greenhouse gas emissions. One drawback is that the credits can only go to timberland owners if the forest is at risk of being harvested.
“There are a few contracts now that are just a one-year deal,” said Hughes. “These seem more tolerable to the production-minded forest landowners that we’ve talked with. You defer your harvest, and you get paid for that amount of carbon as you sequester it.”
Landowners can contact a consulting forester or a Texas A&M Forest Service office for more information.
A wet May increases reservoir storage
May is historically the state’s wettest month. This year was no exception, with above-average rain in much of the state, according to Dr. Mark Wentzel, a hydrologist with the Texas Water Development Board.
By the end of May, drought conditions covered 25% of the state — down 45 percentage points from the end of April. The La Niña conditions, which are key factors in droughts in Texas, have dissipated and won’t return this summer, Wentzel said.
“If you were trying to reduce drought in Texas, you couldn’t pick a better month to have above-average rainfall,” Wentzel wrote in a press release.
He added that besides greening up the landscape, May’s rain increased reservoir storage to 84.6% of capacity, about normal for this time of year.
New COVID-19 cases rise week-to-week
The number of new COVID-19 cases in Texas in the past week rose to 17,724, up 46% from the previous week, while deaths stayed steady at 213, according to the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University.
The Texas Department of State Health Services reported 1,600 hospitalizations of lab-confirmed cases, up about 100 from the previous week. Vaccinations continue to rise, with 10.85 million Texans fully vaccinated — 37.2% of the state’s population.
PUC lifts moratorium on utility disconnections
The moratorium on utility disconnections for non-payment will be lifted Friday (June 18). Last Friday the Texas Public Utility Commission cited a proliferation of financial support and the need for electricity, water and sewer providers to resume normal business operations.
“This is not an easy decision, and it was not taken lightly,” PUC Chairman Peter Lake said. “But by acting now, customers will be able to take advantage of deferred payment plans or federal assistance ahead of the summer season.”
There are numerous options for ratepayers having difficulties paying their utility bills. The PUC has created a one-page fact sheet that can be accessed at: https://tinyurl.com/4fdch5dt.
Gary Borders is a veteran award-winning Texas journalist. He published a number of community newspapers in Texas during a 30-year span, including in Longview, Fort Stockton, Nacogdoches and Cedar Park. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.