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The city of Dilley is making bids for several grants this year that are expected to help lift the community out of a cycle of infrastructural failures. Streets, utility lines and other critical elements of the city’s essential services have been in need of repair or upgrade, and while Dilley continues struggling with recovery efforts after water line failures and damage resulting from a hard winter freeze earlier this year, plans are underway to make vital improvements that include wells, water tower, parks and recreation spaces, airport upgrades and emergency responder communications.
City Administrator Juan Estrada has a career in grant applications and creating partnerships between government entities, and believes that this year the city will mark a number of milestones in its modernization.
Coincidentally, 2021 also marks the city of Dilley’s centennial. The community was organized into a city beside the railroad line in 1921, and consisted largely of families working in agriculture and ranching.
Today, the community boats a number of retail stores, fuel stations, residential neighborhoods, a Class 3A school district, and an economy that has become dependent on travel, oil and gas, agriculture, and the service industry as well as benefiting from employment opportunities at the nearby Texas Department of Criminal Justice Dolph Briscoe Unit, the Sendero Ranch family housing center for refugees, and a railroad freight terminal.
Demands on the city’s infrastructure, however, have proven greater over the past decade than Dilley has been able to manage. Water and other utility lines have corroded, wells have deteriorated, equipment has failed, and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has cited the city government with warnings over the condition of its utility services. Meanwhile, community members have demanded improvements to public facilities, street paving and essential services.
Estrada believes that grant applications by the city this year will make critical differences to the city’s position from having to keep up with emergency repairs to improving the quality of life of its residents and attracting new business that will boost the economy.
Among the grant applications presently in the advanced stage of approval is one by Dilley to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), which will pay for new sidewalks on both sides of FM 117 from its intersection with Main Street as far as IH-35, a much-used pedestrian route for students. As of April 12, Estrada said, the city was “selected to move forward,” indicating that funding will be made available.
Construction is set to begin soon for a project through the Community Development Block Grant, which pays for a 12-inch water line replacement of antiquated infrastructure from Leona Street to the water tower on Kinsel Street. Estrada is encouraged by the project’s prospects and notes that funding can be managed frugally to cover more than anticipated.
“The bids came in lower than we expected,” the city administrator said last week. “So we are hoping with that extra money we can connect the water line to the water tower.”
Dilley was awarded a $14.5 million grant in 2020 from the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) that requires a $7.2 million match. The city administrator, however, believes that Dilley may be able to tap into the funding without having to put forward a lump sum of cash that it cannot afford.
Estrada told city councilors at a meeting in April that the grant process is pending, with the third phase of the infrastructure project contingent upon results of the city’s 2020 audit.
“The audit is on the agenda for approval,” Estrada said. “Jeff Snowden has been communicating with [engineering firm] Core Civic and TDCJ. Dilley does not have to come up with the seven million.”
Estrada said in a brief interview this week that Snowden, who is a utility services consultant for the city, is calculating the demands the respective entities place on the city’s water supply. At the heart of the funding, both believe, is a shared-burden agreement.
“If the prison is putting a thirty-percent demand on the system, it will pay thirty percent of the grant,” the city administrator said.
Estrada said he received an email this week indicating the grant application had been completed.
City employees are researching a second TWDB grant that would encompass the planning and design of the water tower and water well on the town’s north side, a largely residential district commonly known as Hilltop. If awarded, the $746,000 grant will pay for the design and engineering, and the city will have “a shovel-ready project” that would be appealing on an application for a construction grant, Estrada said.
The city completed a park master plan in early 2020 that provided extra points on a Texas Parks and Wildlife grant application for restoration of city facilities. Estrada said an announcement will be made on May 23 and, if Dilley is successful in its application, the city plans to upgrade its soccer and baseball fields, refurbish the pavilion at the east-side municipal park and may install a splash pad.
“This is like the grant I got when I worked at the school,” Estrada said. “We were able to get four baseball fields, five tennis courts, a walking trail, a fishing pond and some exercise equipment.”
The winter of 2020 placed a strain on the city’s infrastructure, subsequently causing a well at the municipal water plant to break. The casing had become corroded and gravel began to enter the pipes, prompting contractors to recommend plugging the well.
“It had already been refurbished once,” the city administrator said of the damaged well. “It is not repairable.”
Estrada said he and his team have applied for the TWDB Urgent Rural Water Assistance grant for economically distressed areas. He anticipates Dilley receiving the full amount, totaling $1.2 million.
Dilley’s municipal airport lies to the west of the city, its runway parallel to FM 117. Poor lighting at the facility and inadequate fencing of the property were the principal factors in the city’s application for a grant from the state transportation department. If the city is awarded the funds in full, the grant will pay for replacement of runway lights and fencing along the farm-to-market road and a private property boundary.
“It will also fund a pilot control program, which is a radio system that allows the pilot to control the lights when getting into Dilley before landing,” Estrada said.
The city is currently awaiting reimbursement of $200,000 from the federal government’s CARES Act grant.
Frio County 911 Emergency Coordinator Ray Kallio has joined forces with Estrada to apply for a $61,000 grant for a repeater signal tower. The application was submitted to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and will supply first responders in Dilley with hand-held radios. The city is slated to receive the funding in June 2021.
A second Texas Department of Agriculture CDBG grant totaling $250,000 will provide water and wastewater services to a trailer park along CR 3808 for the first time, according to Estrada.
“All of these grants would not be possible without the backing and support of the mayor and city council,” the city administrator said.