EDINBURG — Hidalgo County’s municipalities were in danger of losing millions of dollars if the county hadn’t fixed how it keeps an eye on colonias.
State agencies had found multiple violations of the state’s Model Subdivision Rules — most notably, requirements for only one home per lot — during a review of about a dozen colonias northeast of Weslaco.
The county implemented new enforcement procedures and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality cleared the county last week.
“We cured a small piece of the puzzle,” Hidalgo County Judge Rene Ramirez said. “The challenge is to go ahead and look at the entire county to make sure that we don’t get back to this situation again.”
The Texas Water Development Board — which distributes funding to economically distressed areas for water supply and wastewater treatment projects — will consider at its meeting next week whether the county’s changes are sufficient.
The board is waiting to receive the final documentation from the county before it says the county is in compliance, said Leslie Anderson, a spokeswoman for the agency. But it is scheduled to decide on nearly $2 million in new funding requests from the Agua Special Utility District in western county and the city of Alamo.
The Texas Department of State Health Services identified violations after the North Alamo Water Supply Corp. applied forfunding to get sewer systems to the colonias northeast of Weslaco.
Violations included septic systems pumped to fields, alleys, ditches or wooded areas — as well as residents with more than one dwelling on the lots. Multiple dwellings can overload septic systems and create a public health hazard.
While the funding was never actually cut off after the board told the county to fix the issues in February, the violations did put the county in danger of losing close to $50 million for ongoing projects.
The county’s new procedures require it to actively identify and fine violators, said Raul Sesin, the county’s planning administrator. While the county enforces the rules during development, it rarely followed up after the home was built.
The primary issue is finding county staff to police the county’s 900 colonias.
Hidalgo County Precinct 2 Commissioner Tito Palacios has said county constables should be trained to identify violators, who are sent a notice in the mail and given time to comply before the case is turned over to prosecutors.
The county could also ask the Hidalgo County Appraisal District to flag potential violators during the annual valuation process, Sesin said. The flagged homes could then be visited by a handful of code enforcement officers.
“The enforcement is just going to have to be ongoing,” Sesin said. “You’re always going to have individuals who violate the rules that we’re going to have to catch.”
Jared Janes covers Hidalgo County government, Edinburg and general assignments for The Monitor. He can be reached at (956) 683-4424.