Mel Hamner Delivers, as Promised
In 2016, people in Precinct 1 were looking for a change of pace in Bastrop County. That changed when they elected Mel Hamner as County Commissioner in the jurisdiction that includes downtown Bastrop, Hunter’s Crossing, Tahitian Village, Lake Bastrop Acres and parts of Cedar Creek.
Hamner told voters they deserved a straight shooter who would systematically get roads in shape, who would take personal responsibility for improving the community and who would keep them informed about what is going on in their county government. That’s what they got when they elected Hamner.
Below is a chronicle of achievements on Mel Hamner’s watch.
Delivering roads and bridges on time, under budget
By the fall of 2019, Hamner’s Precinct 1 road crew had upgraded or resurfaced more than 15 miles of road touching each voting precinct, including North Pope Bend Road, Smith Road, Colorado Boulevard, Colorado Bluff, Pershing Blvd, Green Valley Rd., Tucker Hill Ln., Old Mc Dade Road and Mooney Road as well as 6.8 miles in Tahitian Village.
Among the exceptional achievements was upgrading a frequently flooded bridge on Riverside Drive that had washed out four times in less than two years. Now, instead of a maximum capacity of being able to withstand a 25-year flood event, the structure is capable of tolerating a 250-flood event. It has a life expectancy of 100 years.
Similarly, a severely undersized drainage system in Unit 3 of Tahitian Village was upgraded with larger culverts and a retention pond to help curb flooding for about 30 homes that were inundated during the 2016 Memorial Day flood. Originally estimated to cost $1 million, Hamner’s team found several cost-saving opportunities to get the job done for $100,000.
South of Hunter’s Creek, a bridge on Shiloh Road had undergone five 100-year (or greater) flood events during the 40 years since it was initially installed. Storms in 2015-16 had left residents driving miles out of their way for months because the bridge was out. With changes to the bridge’s original design, Hamner’s road-and-bridge crew spent $300,000 to replace it, less than the originally forecast $1,000,000.00 cost. Its life expectancy is now 100 years. The Shiloh Road bridge is expected to lessen the likelihood of future flooding in Hunter’s Crossing within the City of Bastrop.
Improving Life in Lake Bastrop Acres
During his 2016 campaign, Hamner heard a common complaint from the residents of the Camp Swift/Lake Bastrop Acres area, a medium income community north of Bastrop. No one ever listened to their issues, they said.
Within months, the new commissioner held the first-ever county town hall meeting in that community and participated in two Clean Sweep/tire clearing operations. Using the local garbage collection vendor he ordered two 30-yard dumpsters to be delivered in the area for the cleanup both years.
After the meeting, Hamner began working with other area governments (including the federal prison nearby) along with the Texas Department of Transportation to get a traffic light installed at the intersection at the intersection of Pershing and Highway 95.
Honoring Our Veterans through Leadership
For decades, Bastrop’s American Legion Post 533 was proud of the Vietnam-era F4D jet fighter on display at its entrance on Loop 150 but by 2017, it was a sad sight, faded grey with chipping paint. With Hamner’s assistance, the group raised $20,000 to return it to its original colors: green and brown on top so that it would be invisible to enemy fighters higher in the sky and grey-blue on the bottom so that it would be camouflaged from anti-aircraft fire below.
Similarly, Hamner coordinated with the Purple Heart Chapter for Central Texas to get both the City and County of Bastrop as well as the Cities of Elgin and Smithville designated as part of the Purple Heart Trail, a nationwide effort to create a symbolic, honorary system of roads, highways and bridges to offer tribute to the men and women who have been awarded the Purple Heart medal. The Purple Heart is awarded to those wounded or killed while serving with the U.S. military.
In addition he has worked with the local Eagle Scouts to place a monument in Elgin’s Memorial Park to honor Purple Heart recipients.
Respectfully Preserving Our Heritage
In late 2018, Hamner became aware of a deteriorating cemetery site about a half mile east of SH 20 that featured half a dozen eroded and toppled headstones marking the graves of African Americans. A nearby stream had cut a deep ravine in the cemetery resulting in exposed human remains.
After talking with U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, Hamner enlisted the help of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to address erosion issues to help save the abandoned cemetery. He has been coordinating with the Corps to initiate remediation of the burial ground, a lengthy process that involves finding funding and the completion of various studies before restoration can begin.
Converting a Private Nature Trail into a County Park
Working with County Judge Paul Pape and local conservative groups, Hamner led an effort to get the privately developed Lost Pines Nature Trail converted to a County Park. The county acquired 24 acres of parkland to take ownership of the Lost Pines Nature Trails south of Bastrop.
The parkland will be a new asset for the county, granting it 2 miles of scenic nature trails as well as a jumping off place for boats and kayaks onto the Colorado River. The park runs along Riverside Drive south of the Tahitian Village subdivision and serves as the trailhead for an adjoining 90-acre nature preserve.
The land was donated by Bastrop County Water Control Improvement District No. 2, which had owned it since 1988. Initially, the Lost Pines Chapter of the Texas Master Naturalists have agreed to continue cleaning and maintaining nature trails, minimizing the county’s responsibility.
Raising Money for Our Nation’s Best Warriors
For several years, even before his election to office, Hamner has organized fund-raising golf tournaments to sponsor the Texas National Guard Best Warrior Competition, a contest that determines the best four guardsmen in the state, both physically and mentally.
The six tournaments have raised more than $42,000 so far, engaging as many as 93 players at each tournament. Funds are used to sponsor the Best Warrior awards dinner as well as providing monetary rewards for the competitions’ winners.
Keeping Citizens Informed
To address complaints that citizens were not aware of the progress of county projects, Hamner initiated a regular public information effort via Facebook to inform the public the progress of projects and effective use of county tax dollars. Several days a week, he updates Facebook members on the progress underway.