Shale riches helping South Texas towns pay for upgrades

SAN ANTONIO — South Texas communities seem to have come to the same conclusion: The Eagle Ford is here and they’ll be dealing with it for the long term.

Although no one anticipated the oil boom or was able to plan for it, communities have started devoting more money to long-term planning.

McMullen County Judge James Teal joked this week at the Eagle Ford Consortium’s annual conference that if he had known the Eagle Ford would have been so big, he would have “probably kept my job in oil and gas.”

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But given the historic boom-bust cycle in Texas, Teal and other officials said it was at first difficult to know how to respond to the drilling.

“It’s hard to put that much money on it when you’re not sure if it’s going to last,” Teal said. “I think we’re pretty well convinced it’s going to last for a while.”

Some communities have been able to use the extra tax dollars to add or improve community centers, something that’s generally seen as a once-in-a-generation opportunity.

Pleasanton this week opened a new civic center and 10,000-square-foot library. How did they pay for it?

“Cash,” said Bruce Pearson, the Pleasanton city manager.

Despite increased taxes, the region lacks enough money to take care of damage that heavy industry trucks have caused to the region’s roads. Increased traffic and the newly-awful road conditions are among the most common complaints in the region.

Historic photos: Life in the early Texas oil booms

State Rep. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa said the state needs to step up and help communities cope with a broad range of issues, from roads to the environment. “This is not going away. This is not going to stop,” Hinojosa said.

Developer Marty Wender called the Eagle Ford “a major game changer for San Antonio.”

Billionaire Red McCombs said that some restaurants in San Antonio have had to raise their base pay for inexperienced workers to $10 an hour — a direct result of the higher salaries workers can get in the oil field to the south.

“That is an example of what happens in a community when there is activity like we have in the Eagle Ford,” McCombs. “In our lifetime we never expected the Eagle Ford.”

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