Cost of the Texas Deep Freeze becomes more apparent as bills are due

Posted at 1:11 PM, Apr 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-23 00:22:32-04

Just as no one could escape the cold of our Texas Deep Freeze, likewise none of us can escape the bills that have begun to come due.

On the first day of the Texas Deep Freeze, 25 News met Joan Chaffin trying to protect her home from the ice that started collecting on her tree limbs.

"The limbs are gonna fall on my house, making a big hole," she said.

Down Adams Avenue, city leaders say similar moves helped the city too.

The cost of the ice storm?

"So far, right now the city of Temple's expenses due to the storm is less than a million dollars $935,000," said Tim Davis, Temple Mayor.

Davis wouldn't normally smile about an unexpected bill of one million bucks, but with some cities spending tens of millions to recover from the Texas Deep Freeze, his bill of a cool million seems like chump change.

"We try to catch major repair needs early and fix them when it's the least expensive to do so," he explained.

Spending a little now, to save a lot, down the road.

In fact, the closest thing we could find to a pothole in Temple? Golf ball-sized divot, in Avenue H outside the Mayor's office.

Temple's most expensive deep freeze item happens to be damage to city equipment, buildings and utilities.

That includes Temple's parks and rec, headquarters shut down for a burst water pipe, and air conditioning troubles at City Hall.

Total damage to buildings equipment and utilities came to more than $428,000 so far.

Next comes road and bridge repairs, at $300,000, overtime came in at just under $120,000.

Bringing the Temple tab to just under a million.

"Part of that $930,000 also is the forgiveness for some of our water customers. Some citizens had a pipe burst in their house and you know water ran for an hour or in some instances water ran for a day or two," said Davis.

How did Temple fare so well throughout the Texas deep freeze?

The answer is simple really Temple did what most good homeowners do, they kept up on their maintenance making sure things got fixed before they got too broken.

Waco also largely escaped really serious bills as it battled trouble at one water plant and numerous broken water mains.

Still, the bill so far is more than double that of Temple.

"All the systems that failed, one on top of another and even your redundant systems failed, and so you're really scrambling to do things in a way to overcome," said Waco Assistant City Manager, Ryan Holt.

Leaking pipes and water mains made for Waco's biggest expense so far, at just under $230,000.

"Unfortunately, when you dig up a street to repair water main, then you have to repair the street," Holt explained.

That and heavy use strained Waco's water plants where the total on repairs came to just $23,000.

"What we saw was a lot of employees just go above and beyond the normal scope of their duties and really stepped in took great care of our city," Holt said.

As in Temple, Waco city employees saved the day and it cost $20,000 less than its Southern neighbor.

Waco's total came in just under $3 million so far.

Both say the bills keep coming in and we may not know the full cost until June.

Joan Chaffin says her lack of serious damage made her effort worth it.

"Anything you can to save your house. That's right. That's right."

In Marlin problems at the city water plant showed up early, and like Chaffin in Temple, Marlin leaders jumped on it from the start.

"We're calling everybody trying to find what we need to get this plant up and running," said Mayor Carolyn Lofton at the time.

Their dilemma got international attention and even got a write-up in the Houston Chronicle, which told of the icy adventures of City Manager Cedric Davis.

"We were on hours out in the ice. You remember we got on an icy road to go get parts from a volunteer, medicine, we network. And we didn't wait a week or so we were on it from within hours," explained Marlin City Manager Cedric Davis.

Keeping Marliln's projected cost of the deep freeze to between $70,000 and $100,000.

The Chronicle also showed, how, easily two-thirds of Texas shared the same problem.

Meantime, several miles to the west, a new problem popped from the ground, the road outside Bob Bradberry's church keeps crumbling.

"It used to be the way they kept the roads. But lately, they don't care. I care so much about the roads now they're tearing up cars," he said.

But when the Texas deep freeze brought rain upon ice upon snow upon the ice, all bets were off.

Streets like Trimmier, Watercress and many more started to crumble, and it'll take more than crumbs to fix it.

"The price tag that we estimated is about $40 million for just the roads. That's right," explained Killeen Mayor Jose Segarra.

What happened? Even though you can still see sealer on the roads, what was left of it couldn't keep water from getting in the cracks.

Just like in a cup of water you put in the freezer... water, expands as it freezes, giving it the

"You can see where a lot of the pavement is up and, you know, it looks like little explosions," said Segarra.

For a long time, Killeen had some of the best roads in Central Texas now it’s home to some of its worst including this street called Little rock which is turning into, well, you guessed it.

Follow that up with the relatively minor expenses of $200,000 for overtime, and another $50,000 for water damage to the city's convention center and the Texas Deep freeze will have cost Killeen $40,250,000 and change.

Change for which the city manager has no doubt begun looking by shaking the Killeen couch cushions.

"He's working on trying to figure out a way to come up with that extra money," said the Mayor.

The city with the second-most expensive tab can partly blame ERCOT for its biggest line item.

When the power grid operator jacked up rates to $9,000 a megawatt-hour it did so in a wild energy market that got even crazier.

It left the city of Bryan with a fuel bill for its power plant in excess of $27,000,000. It's unclear how much BTU will make back from selling power because it's disputing some ERCOT charges.

BTU says bond rating agency Standard and Poors has put it on "credit watch" as a result.

Damage to facilities in Bryan totaled about $2,000,000.

Overtime rounds out the bill at the relative bargain price of a quarter million.

Published reports say bills continue coming in, to College Station.

And it's not just cities, we all hear power bills will go up thanks to ERCOT, and though no one's mentioned it, it's possible our cell phone charges will go up.

"I've seen three cell sites in Waco alone this week where they're adding generators this week," said Holt.

When it comes to paying those bills, BTU says it won't need to raise customer rates, Bryan city said it's still totaling damage and as Killeen's city manager keeps looking under couch cushions, Killeen's council, "the council took decisive action, and they approved $5 million. I mean it's a small part of the 40 million. But that gets us out there on the major roads you know where we see a lot of traffic," said Segarra.

The mayor says he'd favor a hike in the street maintenance fee. Killeen drivers pony up $1.70 a month for the privilege of driving city streets.

"A lot of citizens may not like that but in my personal opinion, that's not a lot of money," he said.

Because Killeen's problem goes way beyond just one ice storm.

"We already had a price tag of about $120,000,000 to repair current roads that we have that are deteriorating," said the Mayor.

That's right, Killeen really needs $160,000,000 for roads.

No surprise to Bob Bradberry, who saw this coming with the help of a computer game.

"I think we finally come to the point like the computer game Sim City. It starts out real good and you build everything and all of a sudden everything falls apart because you grew to be going too fast, it's a problem. And so it looks like you know, We might have outgrown ourselves for a little bit," he said.

A problem he says a lot of Texas cities could face, even without another Texas Deep freeze.