Lines & Shadows

A former farmworker wanted only a utility system for her Fort Bend colonia. Seven years later, there's still tainted water and untreated sewage -- but raw words and the stench of politics flow freely.

This is her next-door neighbor, a renter who declines to give his name.

"Don't listen to him," Hernandez advises, doing nothing to head off a spat. The two get into it.

"You don't scare me! You don't scare me!" she growls.

"She's just a bunch of bull, that's all," the man mutters before storming off.

Controversy seems to follow Hernandez everywhere these days. "If I have to go to Washington, I will go," she vows. "And if I have to march to Austin with a jackass and buckets, I will go. But I will get the water. Believe me."

That unshakable faith has inspired many residents. Others believe the issues have grown too complex, that the county should take charge. Since her battle began, officials and residents in other Fort Bend colonias have put politics aside and achieved impressive results.

Fresno-Arcola formed a freshwater district and passed a $39 million bond election this year for water and sewer services. Residents of the Fifth Street colonia between Missouri City and Stafford worked with Fort Bend Interfaith Council and netted $3 million in federal, state and local funds for utilities. Now many in the neighborhood are connected to services for the first time.

Even if the problems over Four Corners and Rio Brazos are quickly worked out, utilities would not arrive until almost 2003.

Most people in those two colonias agree that politics no longer should be an issue. Nick Sanchez, a 68-year-old retired construction worker, ponders the question of whether he would support Hernandez or the county. He shrugs his shoulders and replies in Spanish: "I prefer that we get water and sewer."

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