Fish kill leads to discovery of unpermitted bridges and dam in Loving County

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LOVING COUNTY -- Local and state agencies are working to figure out who built a dam along the Pecos River without pulling any permits in Loving County.

The Texas Game Wardens first discovered the dam off of FM 867 after complaints of a large fish kill. The Game Warden and sheriff found that the land surrounding a portion of the river was bulldozed to form the dam. Now, the newly dam has partially collapsed, killing off a lot of fish.

The dam has not only raised questions of safety, but what impact it could have on the environment.

“Anytime you come down and start bulldozing the river banks and doing projects, not to say there’s anything wrong with doing it, but lets make sure there’s proper permits,” Loving County Sheriff Chris Busse said. “We want to make sure we’re protecting our resource and make sure it’s done safely.”
The dam isn’t the only concern in Loving County.

Sheriff Busse and the game wardens discovered an unpermitted bridge with really no way of telling who built it. There are hundreds of companies driving in and out of the county daily. Even so, there could be a large scale investigation mounting in the middle of the oil patch.

You could call Mentone, the only incorporated town in Loving County, your modern day wild west. Trucks are constantly filing in to this one horse town along Highway 302, hoping to strike rich in the industry west Texas is known for.

Take a closer look, away from the hustle and bustle, you’ll find an oasis of sorts running through the county: the Pecos River.

Though just down stream, there is something disrupting the view. A bridge connecting Loving County to Reeves County, likely cutting drive time from locations in and out of Orla in half.

“I think it’s to get equipment back across. It saves companies time because they don’t want to drive 10 miles up,” Sheriff Busse said.

Convenient? Sure. But the problem is that there are no permits, nor any known paper work as required by the state.

“We thought it was absolutely crazy,” Sheriff Busse said.

The sheriff and a game warden found the bridge after a few complaints. It is made of wooden ties, held together by a steel frame and lined with tires. Sheriff Busse has more questions than answers.

“How safe is this bridge? There’s no railing on the side,” he said. “If someone is driving across, there’s nothing to prevent you from driving off into the river.”

Our venture lead to another discovery: a second bridge.

“This bridge is even more dangerous, in my opinion, than the first,” he said.

Our crew noted the riverbank had been bulldozed to the side of the bridge, leaving at least a 10-foot mound of dirt. Sheriff Busse says that raises even more questions about the environmental impact the bridges pose.

“It’s a natural resource that the state wants to protect,” he said. “You’re not supposed to be bulldozing both sides of the river without some type of permit.”

Built for convenience will be anything but compared to the challenge local and state agencies now have finding out who’s responsible.

We know the TCEQ and Texas Parks and Wildlife have been notified. The Army Corps of Engineers will be in Loving County this week to begin an investigation of their own.

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A large-scale investigation could be mounting in the middle of the oil patch in Loving County.

Local and state officials have come across two bridges and a dam — all built without required permits. The discovery came after officials began investigating a fish kill in the Pecos River.

Loving County Sheriff Chris Busse believes each structure was built out of convenience for oil companies transporting equipment.

“Instead of driving 10 miles out, all they have to do here is cross the river into or out of Loving County," said Sheriff Busse.

Another challenge: finding what company or companies are responsible. Hundreds of contractors and subcontractors work in the oil fields of Loving County.

Now the sheriff is questioning at what price will natural resources have to pay out of convenience for companies running on a deadline?

Tonight at 10 CBS 7’s Tatum Guinn takes a look at the bridges herself and explores what’s being done to track down those responsible.