Any time you can reflect on a year and say that, without a doubt, the biggest story of the year was positive and will help change things for the better, you have to mark that down as a good year.

The biggest story of the year in Bee County in 2021 was undoubtedly positive and the effects of it will be felt for years to come.

This is our look back at the top five story lines of 2021:

NAFFCO picks Beeville as site of first U.S. facility

1 After months of negotiations and site tours and multitudes of phone calls and emails, the Bee Development Authority announced on April 28 that it had signed a 50-year lease agreement with NAFFCO, a Dubai, United Arab Emirates-based company that would see the company build its first U.S. manufacturing facility at the Chase Field Industrial & Airport Complex.

BDA Chairman Orlando Vasquez and NAFFCO CEO and founder Khalid Al Khatib signed the agreement on April 27 at a signing ceremony held by the company at its headquarters.

NAFFCO is among the world’s leading producers and suppliers of firefighting equipment, trucks and vehicles, fire protection systems, HDPE pipe and fittings, fire alarms, and security.

Triga Fire Solutions LLC, the U.S.-based subsidiary of NAFFCO, is now in the process of building the production facility, which will be housed in three of Chase Field’s largest buildings: Hangars VT-25 and VT-26, as well as the paint booth and warehouse facility.

When Triga is fully operational – which is projected to be sometime in 2022 – the company will employ approximately 400 workers with a payroll between $10 and $15 million per year.

NAFFCO’s commitment to Beeville has also triggered interest from other companies and also spurred the housing market in the county.

Several potential housing developments are in the works – including one at the site of the former Thomas Jefferson Intermediate School – and at least three other businesses are in various stages of discussions with the BDA and the Bee Area Partnership, the county’s public-private partnership that is dedicated to economic development.

County jail problems

2 Issues with the heating, ventilations and air conditioning system at the recently-built Robert L. Horn Bee County Jail were an ongoing problem throughout 2021.

In June, the jail landed on the Texas Commission on Jail Standard’s list of non-compliant jails following an inspection that found the jail in violation of four standards.

According to the Texas Administrative Code, Title 37, Part 9, Section 259, Paragraph 0.160, “temperature levels shall be reasonably maintained between 65 degrees Fahrenheit and 85 degrees Fahrenheit in occupied areas.”

TCJS Inspector Jennifer Shumake’s report stated, “It was determined the HVAC system has not worked as designed since the facility was populated nor have repairs been made.”

The report also found the jail in violation of other unrelated heat and humidity issues also.

The jail was also found to be in violation of statutes regarding initial custody assessments and reassessments, which are required by Section 271, Paragraph .1(b)(2) and .1(b)(3) in the Texas Administrative Code.

The final violation was from Section 285, Paragraph 0.1, regarding inmate physical exercise and recreation.

“This inspector was not able to verify that recreation was provided and documented as required by minimum jail standards,” stated the report.

County commissioners later approved a temporary fix to alleviate the humidity issues, and Sheriff Alden Southmayd said that the other issues involving inmates have since been remedied.

The jail no longer appears on the TCJS list of non-compliant jails.

The county commissioned a report to determine who was at fault for the HVAC issues, and is still in negotiation with parties to find a permanent fix to the issues.

Beeville frozen solid

3 This story on our list takes us back to February when freezing cold temperatures swept through Texas and left millions without water and power.

In early February, an “arctic blast” started to push through Texas, bringing with it plummeting temperatures, snow and freezing rain.

Temperatures dipped to the teens locally and into the single digits in other regions that “Winter Texans” usually call home.

On Feb. 16, according to PowerOutage.us, which gathers data from companies covering about 99% of utility customers in Texas, at least 4.5 million customers were without power.

On that day between 10 and 11 a.m. in Bee County, according to PowerOutage.us, 11% of the more than 13,000 utility customers were without power.

The fallout from the freeze – and the failure of the power grid overseen by the Electricity Reliability Council of Texas – saw Gov. Greg Abbott call for a sweeping overhaul of the grid to prevent future disasters.

Bridge signs off

4 Robert Bridge signed off for the final time as the chief of the Beeville Police Department on July 30.

After a little more than four years as the leader of the BPD, Bridge retired in late July.

He had been the chief since 2017 following a lengthy career with the Corpus Christi Police Department.

He was the 24th full-time chief of the department.

The BPD is now under the watch of a third different interim chief since Bridge’s departure.

Kevin Kelso and Waylan Rhodes both sat in the chief’s chair before accepting full-time positions at Shiner and Sanger, respectively.

Richard Cantu Jr., who served as assistant chief during Bridge’s entire tenure, is now the BPD’s interim chief.

Mask on, mask off

5 Beeville Independent School District Superintendent Travis Fanning is a staunch believer in the efficacy of masks, and he stood firm on that belief when he defied Gov. Greg Abbott’s order banning governmental entities from requiring the use of masks.

In late August, Fanning, with the support of the district’s board of trustees, reissued a mask mandate for all students and staff after cases of COVID-19 began to spike in the district.

The order directly defied Executive Order GA-38, which forbade governmental entities, including school districts, from mandating masks.

Fanning and the district stood firm on the mandate despite receiving a strongly-worded letter from the attorney general’s office that threatened possible legal action.

Fanning’s mandate stayed in place through the originally-planned date of Oct. 11, at which time Fanning said the district would “strongly encourage” the continued use of masks by all students and staff members.

Honorable mention

Nearly a dozen other stories were considered for inclusion on our list of the top five story lines of 2021.

The other stories were, in no particular order:

• Community mourns the loss of Travis Tindol Jr.

• College sports teams return to the action after NJCAA postpones all 2020 fall sports

• Coastal Bend College introduces esports

• Students call for changes in Coastal Bend College nursing program

• “Monster Garage” star Jesse James finally hits 200 mph mark at Texas Mile

• Bee County computer systems hacked

• Beeville Police Department members stage walkout at city council meeting

• Flipping by Faith owner Chris Estrada inducted into USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame

• County declares disaster related to illegal immigration

• Former Beeville police officer Greg Baron surrenders peace officer license during perjury trial

• Owain Parker wins first national championship in Coastal Bend College history

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Kevin J. Keller is the content director for Coastal Bend Publishing and the editor of the Beeville Bee-Picayune. He can be reached by email at sports@mysoutex.com or by phone at 361-343-5223, or you can follow him on Twitter @beepicsports.