Process for new fire station begins

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By Christine Bolaños

Commissioner Todd Jackson is stepping down from his post on the Williamson County Emergency Services District #4 Board effective January 2016. He reportedly is busy and his last meeting will be Dec. 7.

The Board canvassed the results of the sales tax election at its Nov. 16 meeting. The sales tax passed with 582 votes, with 508 voting no.

Fire Chief Anthony Lincoln told The Independent that Jackson’s announcement was made during the Nov. 16 board meeting. He said Commissioner James Baker will take over as treasurer.

Williamson County Commissioner Cynthia Long is in charge of filling the vacancy with a new appointment. He said he does not know exactly when the appointment will be made.

Attempts to contact Jackson for comment before press time Wednesday were unsuccessful.

“We’ll present Mr. Jackson with something for his service at the next meeting,” Lincoln said.

Commissioners unanimously approved a request for proposals for architectural services for the district’s new fire station. ESD officials had previously stated the 1-cent sales tax increase would help fund an additional fire station. Lincoln said the item would have been on the agenda regardless because it is something that needs to be done.

He said a committee will look over the proposals and select the best option. Commissioners Dan Clark and James Baker are on the committee, as well as two yet-to-be-selected fire department employees.

“We’re going to try to have the stuff out possibly in like January so they can get back to us,” Lincoln said.

Of particular interest to fire officials is that commissioners authorized them to proceed with a Community Wildfire Protection Plan made official with a signed proclamation.

Lt. James Oshel attended initial training, organized by the City of Georgetown, to gather information regarding assessment procedure and what is involved with the CWPP.

At its core, the plan seeks to make neighborhoods within the Liberty Hill fire district safer.

Oshel and ESD Board President Sandra Taylor met with a representative from the Texas Forestry Service to collect more information on the project.

Lincoln said the item is a prioritized budget item and the evaluation will take more than a year to accomplish.

Results from the plan’s risk analysis will be shared with Williamson County and become part of the countywide emergency operations plan.

While he could not say for certain all the county’s cities involved with their own similar plan, he knows Leander is working on theirs as well.

“(It’s significant) for the risk analysis and threat of wildfire within our district,” Lincoln explained. “It goes as far as we can’t tell you what to do with your property. If you have too much growth in the event of a wildfire then we very well may not be able to stop your house from burning. Because it is all private property we can only make suggestions.”

Part of the process will be notifying people of results of the risk analysis.

“We don’t yet know if we’re going to list people by address or by neighborhood,” Lincoln shared. But the information will be made public he asserted.

He said fire crews will be trained for the Community Wildfire Protection Plan.

“They’ll go out and do risk analysis and drive the street and get into neighborhoods and look at that,” Lincoln said. “Sometimes we’ll ask for permission to go into private property. They can stop us from going in if they don’t want us to be there.”

Though he said a good chunk of the assessment can be conducted simply by studying the area while driving through the street.

The CWPP will be a living, written document mutually agreed upon by local, state and federal representatives and stakeholders. It will need to identify how a community will reduce its risks from wildfire.

According to the proclamation, the CWPP assessment should address structural ignitability, prioritize hazardous fuel reduction efforts on public and private lands and is developed collaboratively.

“The development of CWPP gives a community an opportunity to influence the manner in which hazardous fuels are reduced on public lands in proximity to communities,” the proclamation reads in part.

The plan is especially important now that Liberty Hill is experiencing rapid growth in once rural areas coupled with an increase in wildfire occurrences, Lincoln said.

Commissioners met with a representative from the Texas Forestry Service at the meeting. The gathering was originally scheduled for Nov. 23 but was moved up due to the visit.

The agenda was posted as usual on the fire station’s bulletin board outside and at the Williamson County Courthouse. Lincoln said the fire station will strive to get ESD Board meeting agendas posted on its website, www.libertyhillfire.org, in the future.

The next meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 7 at the fire station, 301 Loop 332.

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