BREAKING NEWS: News Channel 25 obtained papers Friday night showing McLennan County has had an active Local Emergency Planning Committee since 2001 and it met as recently as February of this year.
There have been questions the last week about whether that committee existed, especially after a hearing in Austin earlier this week, and a news conference in Waco Thursday that ended abruptly.
County Emergency Management Coordinator Frank Patterson said at that media gathering there was a comprehensive emergency management plan in place.
"McLennan County also has a Local Emergency Planning Committee that has been in existence for many years and meets at least annually, most recently on February 19, 2013," Patterson added.
But that news conference abruptly ended before Patterson showed reporters proof of those meetings.
News Channel 25 saw a stack of documents that included meeting notices, agendas and signed attendance sheets for at least one LEPC meeting every year since 2001, when Patterson revived the committee. Some years there were as many as four meetings.
The meeting this past February apparently was to discuss water supply issues, and also get a hazardous materials update. The signed attendance sheet had more than a hundred names on it.
According to state law, the local emergency planning committee is mandated to form a partnership between local government and industry as a resource for enhancing hazardous materials preparedness.
It's not know if Patterson updated first responders in that February meeting about the quantities of materials present at the West Fertilizer Company at that time.
"For those of you who have unsuccessfully tried to reach me for comment in the past two weeks, I apologize. But the response and recovery for the people of West have been our priority," Patterson said, admitting he hadn't been in a hurry to produce the requested documents.
We were also shown certification papers from the state for the committee's emergency management plan, with separate documents for the county and each city, including West. That plan was submitted in 2009 and approved, and doesn't expire until July of 2014.
Our source also told us the federal grant for $80,000 provided to county emergency management is part of the operating budget for that office, along with funds from the city and county.