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1 Year After Blast, West Mayor Sees Progress

(credit: KTVT/KTXA) Jack Fink
Jack moved to Dallas after three years at WESH-TV, the NBC affil...
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WEST (CBSDFW.COM) - In West, it is a new day.

Street by street.

Block by block.

House by house.

The town’s mayor, Tommy Muska, likes what he sees. “It’s a smile on my face,” he said.” We can live with dumpsters for a while. Dumpsters are progress. That humming is progress.”

Besides homes, the mayor said that streets and schools are also in the process of being repaired and rebuilt.

Thanks to a donation by St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Charities, the town recently hired the same economic development consultants who helped New Orleans and Galveston start over after Hurricanes Katrina and Ike.

For the first time since the town’s darkest day last year, Muska said that folks who live in West are beginning to ask a painful question: Should a new fertilizer plant be built in West? “That’s a hard pill,” Muska said. “That’s going to be a hard pill to swallow for some people.”

With the West plant gone, the mayor said that farmers must travel up to 30 miles away to get the fertilizer that they need. Muska added, “You know, it’s a needed industry, somewhere in this area. Is it right here in West? I don’t know. Will it be zoned in an area where people won’t build around it? Hopefully. Hopefully, we’ve learned a lesson there. Will it be safe? You bet.”

In a town where everyone knows the mayor, he and his 24-year-old Ford pickup truck are more than just a familiar sight. Muska said, “Well, I’m not only the mayor, I’m a friend. This is my neighborhood.”

While the mayor looks toward the future, he will never forget the 15 people who lost their lives that day, mostly first responders, including some who volunteered with him at the fire department. “You don’t ever get over it. I still, I still right now, you say that, I see Cody Dragoo and his little smile, and I see Joey Putejovsky and his dimple,” Muska said.

As he drove around town recently, the mayor spotted the two flags flying over the ambulance shed. Someone lowered them to half-staff after the explosion, and they’ve remained that way ever since — a powerful symbol for the town.

Muska said, “I was born and raised in this town, and I swore, after this happened, it wasn’t going to die on my watch.”

Follow Jack Fink on Twitter: @cbs11jack

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