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Rep. Michael Burgess talks Build Back Better, redistricting and colleague's censure

Rep. Michael Burgess dove straight into his time with the Denton Record-Chronicle Tuesday to go after a lack of bipartisanship in major bills recently brought before the U.S. Congress.

Burgess, R-Pilot Point, spent his time before the Record-Chronicle’s Editorial Board to discuss a wide variety of issues. Below is a brief overview of some of those topics he covered.

Build Back Better

The congressman wasted little time before criticizing his Democratic colleagues for their lack of bipartisanship in a Congress as evenly split as this one.

The crux of his criticism landed on the Democrats’ infrastructure and Build Back Better bills, but the bulk of his problem with the bills was related to the process by which they were passed rather than the actual content of each bill.

He voted against both bills, which have both passed the House. The infrastructure bill was signed into law, and the other bill is awaiting Senate approval.

The $1.75 trillion Build Back Better Bill would include hundreds of billions to fight climate change, provide universal prekindergarten, expand child tax credits and fund a universal paid leave program for workers, among many other issues.

Burgess did specify that child tax credits and paid leave sound like good ideas, but he said he didn’t like that each would be available to people in the country illegally.

When asked to clarify how he weighs the benefit of various programs in the bill against the possibility that they would make life in America enticing to foreigners who might benefit from their passage, Burgess said the crisis at the southern border is quite extreme.

He said he would have at least liked a debate about whether or not to allow unauthorized immigrants to benefit from those programs.

“I don’t want to do anything right now that will increase the pull factor on people coming here illegally because we’ve got a real problem,” Burgess said. “When I have been down there recently, it is unlike anything I have ever seen.”

He maintained the majority of his opposition to the bill stemmed from his displeasure about the lack of bipartisanship in its creation.

All House Republicans voted against the bill, and all but one House Democrat voted for it.

Jeff Woo/DRC 

U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Pilot Point, addresses the Denton Record-Chronicle Editorial Board during a livestream Tuesday evening.

Redistricting

Burgess’ district was recently redrawn by the state to exclude much of the city of Denton, which would instead be represented by Rep. Ronny Jackson, R-Amarillo.

Nearly every member of Denton’s City Council said redistricting maps proposed by the state Legislature would lead to worse representation for Denton residents.

Burgess hesitated when asked what input, if any, he had on his new district lines.

“Were you consulted in any way?” Executive Editor Sean McCrory asked Tuesday.

“The answer to that question is ‘Would anybody have listened had I had strenuous objections?’” Burgess responded after a five-second pause.

He said his position is that he loves his district and doesn’t want it to change shape, but he’ll run in whichever district includes his house.

Censure

Burgess again attacked the process used when asked why he didn’t vote to censure his colleague, Republican Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona.

Gosar was formally censured this past week after his staff created a video that depicted him killing Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and attacking President Joe Biden.

All faces were edited over footage from the Japanese cartoon Attack on Titan.

Only two Republicans voted to censure Gosar, but the motion passed, which stripped him of his committee assignments.

Burgess said no member of the House should threaten another member, but he didn’t see such a threat in the Gosar video. He said he voted against the censure because the process moved too quickly.


Denton_county
The making of a lake: Progress going as planned for Lake Ralph Hall

Construction officials say work is going according to plan for Lake Ralph Hall, a man-made lake in Ladonia that broke ground five months ago and will eventually supply millions of gallons of water each day to Denton County.

The $490 million project in Fannin County is being directed by the Upper Trinity Regional Water District, which provides water services to all of Denton County and parts of others. Up to 54 million gallons of water — 35 gallons of “raw” water and 19 gallons of reuse water — will be produced each day by the lake, which got started in June with completion expected by early 2026.

The project is still in its early stages and the agency’s board of directors approved $12.5 million in contracts earlier this month. Those contracts went to three aspects of the lake: ongoing facility infrastructure, a raw water pump station and a raw water pipeline and balancing reservoir. Reached last week, UTRWD spokesperson Jason Pierce said construction is chugging along as scheduled.

The two major components being worked on currently, Pierce said, are the 2.3-mile Leon Hurse Dam and a 1.1-mile Highway 34 bridge. The dam’s progress has been mainly site-clearing and water well drilling, with work recently beginning above the ground. But the project’s most visible progress has been made on the bridge.

“There’s 373 concrete beams that will go up on this bridge and they’ve installed about 60 of them already,” Pierce said.

That bridge will have a 10-foot wide pedestrian walkway as well, for hikers and bikers to get across the lake. It’s one of the first steps in the project because it would be much more difficult to build once the lake starts filling up. Ralph Hall is being built along the North Sulphur River, but will also get its water from precipitation.

“This lake is what we call a surface area lake, so it holds the rainfall and it holds the water as it drains from within the watershed,” Pierce said. “It’s a bathtub, if you will.”

The lake will be 12 square miles in surface area and is slated to hold about 59 billion gallons of water, with the deepest part about 90 feet down. As such, construction steps have to be made in conjunction with water intake. Water delivery is planned to start in the first half of 2025, and Pierce said it will take a year or two for the lake to fill — a process made uncertain by North Texas weather patterns.

“At a certain point in time, the lake will start filling and we’ll still be on site while finishing up the maintenance facilities, the pipeline, the pump station and so forth,” Pierce said. “If we get a lot of rain, it will fill up sooner than anticipated.”

Pierce said the lake was designed to withstand the region’s “drought of record,” or the worst recorded drought in history. That happened in the 50s, and if a similar drought happened after the lake’s completion, he said it would have just enough water to withstand it.

A full construction timeline for the lake and its future steps can be found at lakeralphhall.com/construction/project-schedule.


Entertainment
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Seasoned voices finding fresh harmony with Robson Ranch choir
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Ask any crooner, and you’ll learn that the love for singing never goes away — something the Robson Ranch Community Choir knows well, as it gives older residents a chance to indulge this never-ending passion.

The choir is one of 250 clubs at Robson Ranch, a community marketed toward retirees and people 55 and older. Most members of the choir have been involved with music in the past — through teaching, playing an instrument or singing in other choirs.

Frances Hackley, a choir member and its publicist, calls it a talented group.

“I know it may sound like I’m bragging, but we’re really good,” Hackley said. “We’re not just old folks out here gathering dust. We’re working, and we’re learning, and we’re discovering what we can do with ourselves and our voices. We’re still viable and exciting people who enjoy each other and entertaining these audiences.”

The choir starts rehearsals in September in preparation for its annual Veterans Day concert, which Hackley says is one of the choir’s most important because Robson Ranch is home to over 600 veterans, many of which are in the choir.

Jacob McCready/For the DRC 

Robson Ranch choir director Dr. Arturo Ortega introduces the annual Veterans Day concert.

The choir also performs a holiday concert and ends its season with a spring concert. The director of the choir, Arturo Ortega, chooses the music for concerts a year in advance.

“We’re so fortunate that [Ortega] comes here and directs us old folks,” Hackley said.

Ortega has been directing for 27 years and now works with choirs locally. He has been directing the Robson Ranch choir since 2015. Ortega comes from a musical family and said he was a strange child because he was obsessed with classical music.

“I love to shape sound and love to mold it,” Ortega said. “Music is everything to me, so I love to mold it and see what I can do with it.”

To sing with the choir, you must audition with Ortega.

“It’s just a matter (of) if you’re good enough, and sometimes people think they can sing, but when they have to get down and learn music and things, it’s a whole other story,” Hackley said. “We can all sing in the shower, but sometimes with other people it’s a little different.”

Jacob McCready/For the DRC 

Robson Ranch choir members wave the American flag as they sing “God Bless America.”

The choir has a limited number of spots, with a waitlist of people wanting to get in. Despite that, the choir is always in need of male voices. Hackley said men do not typically want to sing for a choir as much as women do.

The choir practices for two hours every Monday evening at the Robson Ranch clubhouse auditorium.

“I put them through the paces, and after two hours it usually feels like we just came back from the gym, but they love the challenge,” Ortega said. “That is something that I truly love about them, they are not afraid of a challenge.”

Ortega said he faces some difficulties because members are not professional voices. He tries to get as close as possible to a professional sound, but he keeps in mind that a lot of the members are doing it for the sake of learning about music and enjoying themselves.

“I always have to find that fine line between something that they will truly enjoy and learn from,” Ortega said.

Ortega said the demographic of the choir makes them unique.

Jacob McCready/DRC 

Director Arturo Ortega conducts the Robson Ranch Community Choir on Thursday, Nov. 11, during its Veterans Day concert at the Robson Ranch clubhouse auditorium.

“[It’s a] very special age group that has an enormous breath of wisdom to embark, and I learn so much from them,” Ortega said. “I think I learn every bit as much, if not more, than they learn from me.”

Hackley said the choir works like a family. They all take care of each other and look forward to practices every week.

“This choir brings so much to this community that’s amazing, just with singing,” Hackley said.


Sanger
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Three teens identified in deadly Sanger crash
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The three teenagers who were killed in a Sanger car crash Sunday died due to blunt force injuries in the crash, according to the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office.

The medical examiner identified the three teens by Tuesday afternoon. They were 14-year-old Kevin Xzavier Angeles of Northlake, 15-year-old Nelson Steven Candelario Lopez Vargas of Argyle and 16-year-old Brian Atian Hutson. Hutson’s town of residence wasn’t listed by Tuesday afternoon.

The medical examiner ruled the three boys’ deaths an accident. Two others were injured in the crash and survived. Donna Green, a spokesperson for the city of Sanger, said they are a 14-year-old boy who was the driver and an 18-year-old male passenger.

The Sanger Police Department started to pursue the truck the boys were in around 5:30 a.m., responding to a report about attempted car burglaries, and the boys fled.

The short pursuit ended when the fleeing truck crashed into a tree in the 700 block of South Fifth Street.

Green said none of the teens were from Sanger but that at least one had ties to the city, which is why they were there. She said they were all from the North Texas area.

Sunday morning, the Sanger Police Department responded to reports of car burglaries involving a white Ford extended-cab truck, according to a news release. They spotted the described truck and attempted to stop the occupants in the 300 block of North Fifth Street.

Officials said the driver took off and lost control of the truck, crashing into a tree less than half a mile away.

Green said Monday that the driver had minor injuries and was out of the hospital, while the other surviving passenger had life-threatening injuries.


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