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The Plot to Drain Possum Kingdom and Lake Granbury

 

February 24, 2014 by Tony McDonald

Today residents of Granbury are suffering from historically low lake levels that are devastating local property values. Citizens living around Possum Kingdom Lake are not faring much better. The Brazos River Authority blames the ongoing drought and claims that they are doing everything they can to manage the crisis. However, the evidence suggests that the powerful, who control the situation, are profiting off a crisis they designed while citizens suffer. It is worthy to examine what has happened, who has benefitted and how, and how the situation reflects a dangerous growing trend in Texas and American government.

State Rep. Jim Keffer has been involved in the plot to drain the lakes since 2004.

How the Lakes were Drained

It is best to divide the situation into what happened before February 26, 2007, what happened in the aftermath of that date, and what the situation is today.

For about fifty years before February 26, 2007, the Morris Sheppard hydro-electric power plant ran smoothly, supplying power to Brazos Electric.  At the dam that forms Possum Kingdom lake, between 100,000 and 300,000 acre-feet of water passed through the turbines in a typical year. This rush of water produced between 10,000 and 30,000 Megawatt-hours of electricity each year. The water that traveled downstream also kept Lake Granbury full, causing it to be labeled a “constant level lake.” Consistent lake levels, coupled with the beautiful North Texas scenery, allowed the little village of Granbury to blossom as many Texans traveled there for recreation and to maintain lake houses.

However, the levels this arrangement maintained in both Lake Granbury and Possum Kingdom prevented the Brazos River Authority, a quasi-governmental entity with control of the lakes, from selling a large amount of water. Because of the flow through Morris Sheppard, Lake Granbury remained full. That meant water entering the lake from the local watershed spilled over downstream — essentially meaning lost profits for the River Authority. If the BRA could devise a way to drain the lake, like wringing out a sponge, that would give the lake a capacity to capture more runoff. That, in turn, would mean that the BRA could sell more of its water resources in anticipation of a recharge.

In the years preceding 2007, there were developments which laid the groundwork for this balance to be upset. In 2004, the BRA applied for Permit 5851 from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in order to sell over 421,000 acre-feet of water per year to users in the Brazos basin.

Around that same time, the BRA started working with State Representative Jim Keffer, who represents Hood and Palo Pinto Counties, to find a way to sell off the “buffer zone” around Possum Kingdom Lake. So long as the BRA continued to operate the power plant at Morris Sheppard, then the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission would require the Authority to maintain ownership of the land. But if the BRA could find a way for FERC to release the land, then it could be sold for tens of millions of dollars.

On October 13, 2006, Phil Ford, BRA’s General Manager and CEO noted a conflict of interest statement on the BRA website for “Stocks purchased through Merrill Lynch.” Those stocks happened to be in TXU Corp., the energy producer who, at that time, owned Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant near Glen Rose, just to the south of Granbury.
Buyout

On Monday, February 26, 2007, Goldman Sachs, Kohlberg, Kravis, Roberts & Co, and Texas Pacific Group purchased TXU and took it private, executing the largest leveraged buyout in US history.  The group paid $69.25 per share for the company, a premium of 15.4% over market closing the preceding Friday.  The new company was called Energy Future Holdings and its subsidiary, Luminant, would come to control Comanche Peak nuclear power plant.

In the follow-up to the February 26th buyout, Brazos River Authority decided to close the hydro-electric plant at Morris Sheppard Dam, determining the equipment there to be obsolete. They made that decision despite $3.8 Million in issued bonds and millions more sitting in the Authority’s general fund being available to make necessary repairs. Following the decision to close the dam, the Federal Electric Regulatory Commission inspected the facilities at Morris Sheppard in January of 2008 and determined that they passed regulatory requirements. In April of 2008, Luminant dropped objections to Permit 5851 for the sale of water by the BRA in exchange for an arrangement that BRA would sell Luminant approximately 100,000 acre feet of water each year. This is approximately the amount required to maintain full lake levels in Lake Granbury.

Around that same time Luminant was working to expand the nuclear facility at Comanche Peak. In September 2008 they filed an application with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to build units 3 and 4 at the facility. This expansion would require a significant new source of water for cooling purposes.
Buffer Zone

By 2009, levels at Lake Granbury were beginning to noticeably fall. However, with the turbines at Morris Sheppard silent, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ceased to be an obstacle to the sale of “buffer zone” lands at Possum Kingdom. In follow-up to a divestiture policy adopted by the BRA in October 2007, the BRA worked with Rep. Jim Keffer to sell off the lands once and for all. Keffer authored and passed House Bill 3031, which put the nails in the coffin of the Morris Sheppard hydroelectric power plant. Without ownership of the “buffer zone” the FERC would present an obstacle to reopening the dam.

These measures to make the BRA’s decision permanent were necessary because the decision was opposed by Brazos Electric Power Cooperative. The electric company fought the decision in court, but after a court ruled that the River Authority was protected by sovereign immunity, they lost their bid to force the dam to be reopened. With divestiture in place, the BRA cut off other options whereby Brazos Electric could take over and run the dam.

The BRA immediately acted on the authority granted them by Keffer in HB 3031. In July of 2009, they sold all of the “buffer zone” land to Mike Patterson of Arlington for $52 million. This price, despite the fact that a study by the Staubach company in 2006 determined that the value of the land was closer to $150 Million.

In the years following, there was a precipitous decline in levels at both Lake Granbury and Possum Kingdom. Despite these falling levels and an ongoing drought, the BRA still acted in August 2011 to lower both lakes in a one-time sell-off of water to Dow Chemicals. The BRA also declined a request by the Granbury Chamber of Commerce to conduct an economic impact study.

Today, Lake Granbury is starkly dry. The lake is currently 9.27 feet below normal levels and has fallen by almost two feet since July of 2013. Possum Kingdom Lake is even lower, at 13.5 feet below normal. These persistent low lake levels are anticipated to drive down lake-front property appraisals and could lead to decreases in services and higher property tax rates. This has caused citizen groups, like the Brazos River Alliance, Lake Granbury Coalition, who have acquired party status to the cause in an effort to fight the Brazos River Authority to keep them from receiving final approval for Permit 5851 which would make the catastrophically low lake levels permanent.
How the Powerful Players Have Benefitted

There are three groups that have benefitted from the plot to drain the lakes: The BRA and its directors, Energy Future Holdings, and Representative Jim Keffer and his political associates.

The BRA benefitted from the plot by being able to sell off land and water for a profit. By lowering Lake Granbury, like wringing out a sponge, the Authority was able to count future watershed runoff as a resource. Now, every time it does rain, the drops are like pennies from heaven. With this new accounting, the Authority is able to petition the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to sell vast new amounts of Brazos River resources. Likewise, House Bill 3031 allowed the authority to finally sell-off the “buffer zone” lands at Possum Kingdom Lake. After the sale, the leaders of the BRA were positively jubilant with the fact that they no longer had to operate the hydro-electric power plant at Morris Sheppard and no longer had to act as a property management company in handling the leases on the “buffer zone” lands. So the Authority made more money, gained more power, and got rid of the parts of its portfolio that were a hassle.

Energy Future Holdings benefitted from the plot in that they eliminated a competing power plant at Morris Sheppard and they secured a source of water to use for cooling purposes at the proposed Comanche Peak nuclear power plant units three and four. While the impending bankruptcy of EFH and Luminant has sidelined these projects (EFH’s investors bet incorrectly in 2007 that natural gas prices would rise; they have fallen), it is unclear whether EFH’s settlement with the Brazos River Authority will still allow it to sell-off the 100,000 acre-feet of water they were promised to a third party.

How has Representative Jim Keffer benefitted from the plot? As the Chairman of the House Energy Resources Committee, Keffer has certainly benefitted from better relations with Energy Future Holdings. As a local politician, he has also benefitted in doing the bidding of the local river authority. But, Keffer and his associates have benefitted personally as well.

Jim Keffer is the President of EBAA Iron Sales of Eastland. That company produces pipe flanges which are used in municipal water projects. This company has struggled at times, facing foreign competition and rising raw materials costs. In 2008, the company was forced to raise prices by ten percent to combat the rising costs. This past session, plagued by foreign competition, Keffer worked behind-the-scenes with Democrat leaders in the House to pass a bill that would have required the state to purchase all of its iron and steel from domestic manufacturers like his own.

Likewise, Keffer’s son, Chris Keffer, is a lobbyist in Austin who works with political consultant Bryan Eppstein. Together they represent another company that deals in municipal water projects, Inland Pipe Rehabilitation, Inc. They also represent the Tarrant Regional Water District, another large water authority.

These men benefitted from the scheme to drain Lake Granbury and Possum Kingdom Lake because they essentially manufactured a drought. Persistently low lake levels were used as a visual marker to justify the need for additional state money to be spent on water projects. This scheme came to fruition in November of 2013 as voters approved Proposition 6, which Keffer fought for. The proposition allows the state to take $2 Billion in money from the Economic Stabilization Fund and use it to buttress $50 billion in total local spending on water projects. This means more money in the hands of water authorities like the Brazos River Authority and the Tarrant Regional Water District. And when those entities spend that money on projects to move water from place to place, it means more money in the pockets of Representative Jim Keffer as they spend money to purchase his company’s pipe flanges.
Reflections

The plot to drain Possum Kingdom and Lake Granbury benefits seemingly every major player involved in some way. All benefit, except for the simple property owner and taxpayer who live and own property around the lakes. In that way, the plot resembles so many other government schemes at the Austin and Washington level. Oftentimes, in politics and in the legislature, proponents of various schemes will speak in terms of “stakeholders” and “seats at the table.” Politicians will present agreed-to plans that have buy-in from every stakeholder and every person who has a seat at the table. All will benefit, they will claim – and they will be partially right.

But they will be forgetting all of the countless voices who aren’t powerful enough to have a seat at the table. By taking a small piece from every affected person who doesn’t have the money or organization required to hire a lobbyist or form an advocacy group, they spread the opposition around and thin it out so that it can be defeated.

And they expect the people to grin and bear it. But the time has come to say “No more!” No more will citizens sit quietly as the powerful profit at our expense. The people are becoming more and more engaged, and on March 4th, we have the opportunity to choose new leaders who will serve the interests of the people and not just the various special interests with “seats at the table.”

Category: Economy, Election, Featured Articles, Issues, Legislators, Lobby

Tags: Brazos Electric, Brazos River Authority, Bryan Eppstein, Chris Keffer, Cullen Crisp, Granbury, Jim Keffer, Lake Granbury, Possum Kingdom Lake, Tarrant Regional Water District

Tony McDonald

Tony McDonald serves as General Counsel to Empower Texans. A licensed and practicing attorney, Tony received his J.D. in 2012 from UT Law School. While in school, Tony served as Senior Vice Chairman for Young Conservatives of Texas and helped manage its legislative affairs. After law school he served during the 83rd session as Chief of Staff for Rep. Jonathan Stickland. Tony resides in Austin and attends St. Paul Lutheran Church. In his spare time he enjoys mixology and smoking meats on his Big Green Egg.

 
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Posted by on February 26, 2014 in Texas Hill Country, Water Shortages

 

Meteorologists Predict Drought Will Continue in Texas

 

 

Texas Trees In Jeopardy If Drought Continues

NBC 5

A half billion trees died in Texas in 2011, the driest year on record. Millions more could die this year if the drought continues.

The National Weather Service has officially declared last year as the driest on record in Texas and the second hottest. Meteorologists predict the situation won’t improve much this year. That means water restrictions will continue, and we’ll lose millions of trees.

Record-setting heat and little rain in 2011 has left North Texas in a severe drought. The water level at Lake Lavon is down 12 feet.

“It is a challenging time, especially to bring awareness to our consumers and businesses how critical our drought has impacted our reservoirs,” said Denise Hickey, spokesperson for the North Texas Municipal Water District. “As we’re planning to move through this drought period, we’re also planning and initiating additional strategies to bring additional sources online.”

The diminished water supply forced many counties to put residents under water restrictions indefinitely.

The Texas Forest Service says the drought may have killed as much as 10 percent of the state’s trees. That’s 500 million trees.

Photos and Videos

Texas Trees In Jeopardy If Drought Continues

Texas Trees In Jeopardy If Drought Continues

WATCH

Texas Trees In
Jeopardy If Drought Continues

More Multimedia

Some trees in your yard might look dead, but tree experts say don’t cut them down yet. They still might come back in the spring and you should continue watering them.

“A lot of trees are dormant and a lot of trees go dormant early when there’s a drought situation. And they kind of do that for a defense mechanism,” said Matt Grubisich, urban forester for the Texas Trees Foundation. “Most municipalities still let you use a soaker hose, and that is a very adequate way to be able to still water your trees.”

Forecasters expect the drought to last through at least June.

“It’s going to get worse before it gets better,” said Grubisich.

 
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Posted by on January 8, 2012 in Texas Hill Country, Water Shortages

 

34th Annual Oatmeal Festaval!

Great weekend for small town USA to have a festival!  In the 80-90 deg clear skies and no wind.  Lots of locals attend the yearly Oatmeal Festival that kicks off the season of festivities in Hill country Texas.  This year there was a great feast of BBQ, lots of backed goods, great music, dancing, a teriffic auction that helped raise funds for the small town and even a fly over!

If you are in the area in Early September, be sure to check it out!

 

 
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Posted by on November 16, 2011 in Texas BBQ

 

Businesses and Churchs in Bertram Texas

Businesses in Bertram Texas

The Moishe Co.
builds and markets websites. Besides building sites for businesses and non-profit organizations, we also do search engine marketing, this includes helping existing sites to get better rankings in search engines and running ad campaigns for websites. For more information, please visit our website. The Moishe Co. built and maintains this site, http://www.bertramtx.com.

Central Texas Feed & Supply
It’s where we buy our chicken feed, dog food and cat food, located on HWY 29, between the laundrymat and the New Tire Store.
(512)355-3024

The New Tire Store
They always treat us right! Great deals on new and used tires and general auto work.
525 E. HWY 29
(512)355-9701

Hanszen Real Estate
Yep, they are actually in Burnet but we had to list them, if it wasn’t for Mary’s unending patience, The Moishe Co. would not be located in Bertram today. They have lots of listings around here, so if you need a house or some land,
call Mary Hudgins at (512)755-2072

Balcones Gem and Mining Rock Shop
Bertram’s only rock shop and they do custom jewelry.
155 E Vaughan
(512) 525-6905

Grandma’s Antiques, Collectables, and Gifts
is a fun place to revisit the past. Come seen Marti’s Wire Sculptured Jewelry. Open Thursday thru Saturday 10:00-6:00. Or by appointment.
600 County Road 214
(512)355-2387
www.grandmas-gifts.com

Seton Bertram Healthcare Center
160 N. Lampasas St., Bertram, TX 78605
Phone: 512.355.9233

Maldonado & Sons Masonry
Owned and operatored by long time resident of Bertram: David Maldonado Jr. His sons, Samuel Carl and David III are on staff as well. Maldonado & Sons has been in business in Bertram for 36-years. The company specializes in building custom homes from the ground up to include slabs, masonry, tile, fireplaces, sidewalks, etc.
2309 CR 274, Bertram, TX
Phone (512) 355-2439 and fax (512) 355-0601

Farmers State Bank
Serving Bertram since 1918.

Bertram Nursing Home is a fully licensed Nursing facility accepting Medicaid, Medicare Part A, Medicare Part B, Private Pay, and Private Insurance. Owned by the community since 1973.

Texas Mesquite Company
Maker of Mesquite furniture located in Bertram.

Louis & Marti Insall
Independent Shaklee Distributors
(512)355-2387
605 CR 214
Bertram, TX 78605

MVS Electric LLC TECL#25201
512-355-9401
A fully insured and licensed Electrical Contractor. Complete electrical services including commercial, residential, and industrial. References available upon request of services. We have over 14 years experience.

The Chicken Coop Gift Shop
2655 W FM243 Bertram, Texas 78605
512.355.2818

Proprietor: Rachael Shaw
Open Seasonal; October through December on Friday and Saturdays 9am-4pm or by appointment! Cutest little shop around!

A unique gift shop specializing in seasonal items, such as; Seasonal Wreaths, special ordered Wreaths, special ordered wood painted signs, Fall, Thanksgiving, and Christmas items to decorate and gift giving, all kinds of collectibles, and of course chicken and rooster items. Located 2 miles on W FM 243, (toward Oatmeal), on the left.

Do you have a business in Bertram you would like listed here? Just let us know about it, we would be happy to put up a listing for you. Click on contact us in the menu to the left to send us a note.

 
Churches in Bertram Texas
First United Methodist Church of Bertram
115 E. North St.
Bertram, Texas

Bertram Church of Christ
535 N. West Street
Corner of West and Elm Streets
Bertram, TX 78605
512-355-2322

First Christian Church (Disicples of Christ)
410 N. West Street Bertram, TX 78605
(512) 355-2570

 
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Posted by on June 28, 2011 in Texas BBQ

 

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Bertram City Facts

 

•Bertram ZIP code – 78605
•City Hall – (512)355-2197 – water, sewer & trash
•Bertram Police Department – (512)355-2442 or 911
•Bertram Volunteer Fire Dept. – 512-355-2717 or 911
•Population – 1300 (est)
•Elevation – 1265 feet
•Land area – 1.1 square miles
•Gas service – Atmos Energy (800)460-3030
•Electric – PEC – (512)355-2131
•Cable & InternetTime Warner (512)485-6000

 
Map of Bertram Texas

 

Map data ©2011 Google – Terms of UseMapSatelliteHybrid

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on June 28, 2011 in Texas BBQ

 

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2010 Oatmeal Festival

Bertram, Texas

Image by fables98 via Flickr

The 33nd Annual Oatmeal Festival
is coming September 3rd and 4th, 2010
Stay tuned for more details..

Download the bake off entry form

Bertram now has a motel for our visitors!

 

Oatmeal Festival began in 1978 as a spoof of the many chili cook-offs in the state of Texas. Every small town has their own festival to get “city folks” to come out and spend a few bucks and everybody have a good time. We had the rural community of Oatmeal as our neighbor and it was simply too good an idea to overlook. Ken Odiorne, who had lived in the Oatmeal community (in an area he knew as Ignert Ridge), dreamed it all up and with a little prodding from some good folks got it all going. He wrote to all the major producers of oatmeal (the cereal, that is) and asked them for some assistance. Only National Oats, the makers of 3 Minutes Oats, responded. Everything began at that time.

Chili cooks eat hot peppers. Oatmeal cooks ate boiled okra. Chili cooks had beauty queens. Oatmeal cooks had Ms. Bag, who is over 55, Groaty Oat, who is beyond description, and Miss Cookie and Miss Muffin, who are 4 to 8 years old. Watermelon raisers spit seeds. Oatmeal cooks kicked cow chips.

The folks who put together the official map of the State of Texas had also decided to leave Oatmeal off the map because there was not an intersection of main highways there. Well, something had to be done about that. Now we had a cause.

Oatmeal is back on the map. We have a lot of folks who come home to the country every Labor Day Weekend, even if it is hot and dry. And everyone looks forward to the Oatmeal Festival. Over the years the money raised has built an open-air pavilion in Bertram and a community center at Oatmeal. Scholarships are given to local high school graduates every year. Financial assistance has been given to many local events including the Easter Egg Hunt, Santa’s Workshop, and Burnet County Livestock Show.

Oatmeal Friday Night The Oatmeal Festival begins with a barbecue at the Oatmeal Community Center, about three miles southwest of Bertram. There are many things of historical interest in the Oatmeal Community, including one of the oldest buildings in the county, an old rock church. It sits on the top of a hill overlooking a beautiful countryside. Just below the church is an old brush arbor where the church used to meet when the weather was too hot to be comfortable in the building.

Saturday Parade The Oatmeal Festival continues on Saturday morning with a 3K run at 8:03, a Pet Parade at 10:03, and the Festival Parade at 10:33. There are floats from nearby cities, businesses, the Shriners, and political candidates, especially in an election year.

Saturday Noon & After The fun continues after the parade with a barbecue at the Bertram Pavilion. Volunteers serve a generous portion of brisket or chicken, or a combination of both. There are pinto beans, potato salad, cole slaw, onions, bread, and iced tea — a typical Texas feast. There are many deserts if you still have room.

After a hearty meal, enjoy the fun and games in the surrounding area. Just across the street from the pavilion you’ll find the concession stands and the 4H Club Roping Arena. The Directors Booth can help you find all the activities. Some of the games are on the school grounds, a block to the south. That’s also where you’ll find the Bertram School Homecoming at 1:03. So, come to Bertram on the Friday and Saturday before Labor Day, and have a wonderful time.

 
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Posted by on June 28, 2011 in Texas BBQ

 

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Bertram History

Alexander S. Vaughan came to Texas from Missouri in 1853, settling at Cedar Mills, some four-plus miles south of Bertram. Cedar Mills was in the area where FM 1174 and CR 243 now intersect north of Oatmeal. His arrival occurred only seven years after Texas became a state and 17 years after the Battle of the Alamo.

Alexander and his wife, Nancy Davis Vaughan, reared seven children. Their second-oldest son, Thomas Davis Vaughan, joined the Confederate Army in 1861, and fought at the Battle of Galveston. After the war, Captain T.D. Vaughan and his brother-in-law, J. D. Riley, became partners in a general store at South Gabriel, near the river for which the small community was named. There is a marker on CR 323 at the site of South Gabriel.

Until 1882, Captain and Mrs. Vaughan owned the land in and around Bertram. When the Austin and Northwestern Railroad Company was organized and chartered on April 22, 1881, construction of a narrow gauge railway through the area began, specifically for transporting granite from Burnet County (Marble Falls) to Austin for use in the State Capitol Building. In January of 1882, the Vaughans granted A&NW a 100-foot right of way through the Bertram town-site–a forty-acre square bounded by North, South, East, and West Streets.

The railroad to Burnet to Austin was completed on May 2, 1882. On June 25 an excursion train left Austin bound for the new town of Bertram, named for Rudolph Bertram, A&NW’s largest stockholder, bringing prospective buyers of town tracts. Several business establishments and residents had already moved from South Gabriel to Bertram. In July 1882, the Vaughans granted the widening of the right of way to 300 feet, and in 1901 the railway was sold to the Southern Pacific Railroad Co. and changed to standard gauge.

Bertram Train Depot
Bertram Texas train depot

The Vaughan-Riley Store that was moved to the new town on August 10, 1882 was followed shortly by the T.H. Reed Store. The Reed building, constructed of rock from the South Gabriel school building, the city’s oldest existing commercial building, still stands on the northwest corner of SH 29 and FM 243 East (at the light). The post office was moved from South Gabriel to Bertram on December 8, 1882, but citizens selected June 25, 1882, as the official birthday of the town, honoring the date of the train’s first arrival.

Bertram’s fairgrounds, the present location of the city’s baseball fields, hosted the Burnet County Fair, beginning in 1903. The fair was a three-day event held annually and consisted of agricultural exhibits and competitions, culinary and textile competitions, political speeches, baseball games, carnival rides, and the highlight of the fair–the trot and pace races. Twenty-four horses vied for the 1928 prize money of $1,130. The fairgrounds also often hosted the Burnet County Interscholastic Meet, a contest of literary, athletic, and track and field events.

Bertram prospered as an unincorporated town and trading community until the Great Depression of 1929. In its heyday, the town supported four banks, four cotton gins, two large mercantile stores, three drugstores, two lumberyards, a large hardware store, several grocery stores, three automobile garages with maintenance shops, four gas stations, three barbershops, a hotel, several cafes, a privately owned electrical company, town water works, numerous churches, and a large school. In 1928, during the height of cotton season, the ginning of 11,624 bales kept all four of Bertram’s gins operating on a 24-hour basis. Cotton was the major cash crop in the community prior to 1930, and Bertram shipped more cotton, grain, and wool than any other town in Burnet County during this period.

The area underwent change, as did most communities, following the Great Depression and World War II, when many locals left the community. Even through difficult times, the core of Bertram’s pioneer citizenry remained strong, resolute, and proud, and now look forward to the growth and revitalization being experienced at the beginning of the 21st Century.

Bertram street scene circa 1930
Downtown Bertram, Circa 1930

 
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Posted by on June 28, 2011 in Texas BBQ, Texas Hill Country

 

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