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2008: Wildfires, new police chief and superintendent - Odessa American: 75th Anniversary

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2008: Wildfires, new police chief and superintendent

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Posted: Saturday, September 26, 2015 7:00 am

New digs: As 2008 drew to a close Odessa firefighters left behind an unusually active spring 2008 fire season and a retired battalion chief to start the new year with a new home. By the end of 2008, the Odessa Fire Department already built substations Four and Seven. The new Central Station, 1102 W. Second St.,  opened Jan. 6, 2009.

In 2008, even though the city didn’t report any fire-related fatalities, Ector County had six deaths caused by fires, including one trailer fire March 4 that claimed the lives of three children at 6617 W. Dunn St., in West Odessa.

Inside the city, the Jan. 5 blaze at Heap Equipment, 117 E. First St., caused an estimated $2 million in property damage as it reduced the business to ashes.

Grass fires were also unusually frequent during the dry spring season. Boyd blamed this on vegetation that “had a jump” because of the relatively abundant rainfall that reached Ector County in 2007.  

Around the area hundreds of thousands of acres were lost to wildfire.

New leader at ECISD: The school district had plenty of change in 2008, starting with superintendent Hector Mendez fully taking over the district after serving in an interim capacity.

The new superintendent had to deal with numerous issues, such as increasing TAKS scores, settling a Bible curriculum lawsuit, possibly coming out from under a desegregation order and an evolving career center program.    

In another change of leadership, Roy Garcia took over Permian High principal after serving at Ector Junior High. He said the change he has experienced is largely based on the school’s reputation.   “The recognition given Permian makes the responsibility even more intense,” Garcia said.

Another major issue for the district was the mediation of a lawsuit over the district’s Bible curriculum. A changed curriculum took effect in the fall of 2008, the result of a mediated settlement agreement. A group of parents felt the past curriculum was too religious. The new class is a cultural Bible course taught by Christianna Jensen. “We are looking to see how people lived through the lens of the Bible,” Jensen said.

Also on the legal front, ECISD came close to possible resolution on the consent decree arising from a 1982 desegregation order. The district is eligible to apply for unitary (legally desegregated) status in January, which would release the district from significant court supervision.

Closures and economic woes: A worldwide economic meltdown scorched Odessa with the Nov. 5 announcement that Flint Hills Resources was closing its 51-year-old chemical plant.

The announcement meant 395 workers would have to find new jobs. Flint Hills blamed the closing on reviews that determined the company doesn’t have the capital revenue to make the facility “competitive in a global environment.” The economic outlook led Flint Hills to believe a multimillion dollar investment wasn’t prudent.

Luckily, the area was still trying to fill jobs created by the oil boom. Throughout much of the year, Odessa trailed only Midland in having the lowest jobless rate in Texas.

That resulted in problems for many companies. With trouble finding workers to fill spots, long lines at grocery stores and waits for service at restaurants became the norm.

A Summit future? While 2007 ended with Odessa missing out on the federally funded FutureGen near-zero emissions coal power plant, the area tried to pick up the pieces in 2008. The city found interest from Summit Power, a Colorado company, considering building a coal-gasification plant on the same 600-acre site in Penwell.

The Summit project faced several hurdles, including the need for transmission lines connecting West Texas to the state’s metropolitan areas. The state’s Public Utility Commission helped alleviate some of those concerns in July when it approved a $5.75 billion transmission plan.

Lots of wind: Speaking of wind, turbines continued to dot the skyline of the region. Duke Energy constructed the first phase of the Notrees Wind Farm just across the Winkler County Line. A second phase of the project recently received a reinvestment zone approval to have 11 of 40 turbines built in Ector County.

Two other wind farms planned for the county were slower in progressing, Invenergy’s Pistol Hill Wind Farm and American Shoreline’s 2W Wind Farm. But wind activity continued to take place in several area counties.

New business: Some new businesses came to Odessa in 2008.   In October, Lowe’s Home Improvement opened a new 117,000 square foot store in the new MCM Plaza behind Music City Mall. The store was hoping to create 175 new jobs.

Despite the economic slowdown, more new stores have announced plans to come to Odessa. Developer Larry Lee announced in November that Best Buy would be one of eight anchors in his new Chimney Rock Center development at the corner of Highway 191 and Northeast Loop 338. The $40 million development is expected to have 400,000 square feet of retail space and more than 30 tenants. It could also employ more than 600 people.   Fuddruckers announced it would open a new restaurant in the mall around April 1.

But with new stores coming in others went out. Mervyn’s and Friedman’s Jewelers announced the closing of their mall stores as part of national struggles. Beall’s said it would close its mall location and move down 42nd Street to the Crossroads Center to take the space of Goody’s Family Clothing, another store that closed its doors.

Numerous housing and apartment developments popped up around Odessa in 2008. The Dorado Ranch complex opened in August on Faudree Road. But it didn’t get the publicity it wanted when 15 workers were arrested at the complex in September. Some were charged with working in the country illegally, while others were deported.

New chief in town: A new chief, a pay raise and staff shortages were the biggest issues the Odessa Police Department coped with in 2008. Even though the police were given a 13.64 percent starting pay raise in April, the department became stretched enough to have to operate the front desk with civilians, forcing the department to take such measures as upgrading the lobby to protect the unarmed employees. “There’s a number of reasons” the department couldn’t fill all its vacancies, said Tim Burton, who came from Portland, Maine, to replace the retired Chris Pipes as Odessa’s police chief. He blamed it on the pay, the benefits and even “the until recently successful economic conditions.”

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