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EPA ORDERS REMOVAL OF WASTE PITS

WASHINGTON, DC – Executive Director Scott Pruitt today announced the final decision on the disposition of the toxic waste dumps in the San Jacinto River, near the I-10 bridge.

In a press release dated Wednesday, Oct. 11 the EPA said they had issued a final “Record of Decision” based on the best interests of nearby residents, local businesses, and downstream resources including the Galveston Bay estuary. The plan for complete removal of the waste material has been modified to provide cofferdams around the excavation of dry material, instead of wet material in the original plan.

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Overpass planned for Federal Road

RED INDICATES NEW OVERPASS 1100 FEET LONG, AND APPROACHES TOTAL 2760 FEET. PURPLE INDICATES FRONTAGE ROADS AND TURN-AROUNDS.

Federal Road in East Harris County was the site this Wednesday morning of a Groundbreaking for a new overpass, that promises to relieve the long waits many drivers have experience at the pair of railroad tracks that cross Federal and lead into the railroad yard. Drivers headed to or from the Washburn Tunnel, or Clinton Drive, have reported many delays due to the activity of the Port Terminal Railroad, which blocks the road with crossing gates and trains.

However, a partnership of federal, state, and county government agencies has worked out a solution to this problem, which is an overpass over the railroad tracks.

On Wednesday morning, in the traffic circle in front of the Washburn Tunnel, officials gathered to start the $16.32 Million project, officially known as the Federal Road Grade Separation Project.

Speaking at the ceremony were Congressman Gene Green, Pct. 2 Commissioner Jack Morman, and TxDOT assistant district engineer Eliza Paul. These are the three entities that will pay for the improvements.

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GALENA PARK CIP MEETING: Community hears about responsibility for roads

GALENA PARK – The regular monthly meeting of the CIP (Community Industry Partnership) heard from several experts in the building and maintenance of roads and drainage systems in the Jacinto City and Galena Park areas.

Speakers for the meeting included Jeremy Phillips from Harris County Precinct 2, and Lon Squyres, City Manager of Jacinto City. Additionally, Galena Park was represented by Officer Drew Scroggins in place of Commissioner Barry Ponder.

Moderator Diane Sheridan explained that the theme of the meeting was chosen because people are confused about the multiple jurisdictions that are seen on the roads. She said the goal was to determine who is responsible for construction, maintenance, ditch cleaning, flooding, signage, traffic, and law enforcement.

Jeremy Phillips said that Harris County is responsible for Federal, Market, Mercury, Clinton, and Holland with some exceptions.

Harris County has six maintenance camps, and is responsible for 1300 miles of road, 50 parks, Washburn Tunnel, and the Lynchburg Ferry. He presented a map to visually show which roads he maintains.

Working with TxDOT, he said there will be a new overpass on Federal Road at Industrial starting this year and completed in up to 18 months, costing $4.3 million.

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Port of Houston helps drive the Houston economy

PORT OF HOUSTON spokesperson Leslie Herbst

PORT OF HOUSTON spokesperson Leslie Herbst

Activities at the Port of Houston were the subject of the talk last Friday, at the North Channel Chamber’s monthly luncheon. The guest speaker was Leslie Herbst, Community Relations Manager for the Port of Houston Authority.

Herbst reviewed the history of the Port, with antique photos of some of the first facilities and loads. The Port recently celebrated its 100th birthday, she said.

Congressman Thomas Bell brought representatives from Congress to the Ship Channel area in 1912, and got federal money to dredge and expand the facility into a deep water port. Bell is also known for the city named for him, Tomball. The original channel was dredged to 25’ depth, adequate for ships of the day. It was officially opened by the president in 1914.

Herbst said that the Port is one of the four pillars of the Houston Economy, along with NASA and the oil and gas industry.

AERIAL VIEW OF THE SHIP CHANNEL, AS IT APPROACHES THE I-610 EAST BRIDGE.

AERIAL VIEW OF THE SHIP CHANNEL, AS IT APPROACHES THE I-610 EAST BRIDGE.

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Competing Opinions stir up Waste Pits

237 PAGE ARMY COE REPORT leaves parties arguing over what it concludes.

237 PAGE ARMY COE REPORT leaves parties arguing over what it concludes.

Corps of Engineers report vs Area residents is not settled

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Dallas office released an anticipated study last week of the Alternatives to deal with the Toxic Waste Pits in the San Jacinto River.

The study report is a 237 page volume, authored by Army Corps of Engineers from their Engineer Research and Development Center in Vicksburg, MS. The work method outlined in the report sets out to resolve 19 “tasks” which deal with methods of remediating the Waste Pit toxins. The study investigates the previously delineated Alternatives, known as 1N through 6N, covering no further action, or various cap-in-place solutions, or partial or total removal from the site. It also adds a 6N*, an enhanced removal plan.

The advocacy group known as San Jacinto Citizens Against Pollution, with a website KEEPITCAPPED.ORG, claim that the the report justifies their position to leave the wastes where they are in the river, without removal. Their attorney, Thomas Knickerboker, categorically cites various sections of the report that say capping the site is the safest and most effective option. They also say the report points out that “Dig-and-Haul” poses risks, and that toxic chemicals could leak or be dispersed in the removal process. In the 19 tasks presented in the report, these statements are made. But the complete removal is also recommended as an alternative, if done correctly as outlined in the description.

Therefore by discussing pros and cons of all seven Alternatives, it gives each contesting party opinions and facts to support their position.

Jackie Young, director of the San Jacinto River Coalition, and THEA, two advocacy groups that favor complete removal, said “the report does not go into the problems to date with the current cap. In the five years that (the cap) has been in place, it’s experienced a wealth of problems and caused EPA to do a multitude of repairs. We know that just one big storm, one barge strike, could be devastating for Galveston Bay.”

The escalating controversy comes at a time when the EPA is preparing to announce their draft decision on how to remediate the waste pits. This is due in the next few weeks, then the public will have a 30 day comment period, and the EPA will make the final determination by the end of December, according to EPA representative Donn Walters.

In the meantime, it seems that everyone now has an opinion, and has voiced it. Congressmen Gene Green and Brian Babin have publicly called for complete removal as the only safe solution, and this was joined this week by Congressman Pete Olson. Green took to the floor of the House of Representatives last month, to urge the federal government to use the Superfund laws to hasten the removal.

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Morman: Waste Pits must go; major expansion of Beltway 8

COMMISSIONER MORMAN poses after his talk, with Chamber board members and staff. L to R, Christie Gates, Shalonda Dawkins, Commissioner Morman, Kim Gonzalez, Adam Lund, and Margie Buentello.

COMMISSIONER MORMAN poses after his talk, with Chamber board members and staff. L to R, Christie Gates, Shalonda Dawkins, Commissioner Morman, Kim Gonzalez, Adam Lund, and Margie Buentello.

Precinct 2 county commissioner Jack Morman was in good form last Friday, as he addressed a friendly crowd and brought them up to date on activities in East Harris County. Morman started by noting the death of Deputy Darren Goforth that week with a moment of silence.

Then he moved on to some lighter fare, chiding NC Star publisher Gil Hoffman for commenting on his “East Harris County” attire at a recent meeting with a lack of tie and suit coat.

But Morman’s talk contained some serious business, stating that despite the state’s reluctance to remove toxic material stored in waste pits in the San Jacinto River, his opinion was that the pollution had to be completely removed, and he felt the county and his own position would support that. He said that the TDEC studies did not adequately account for catastrophic events such as Hurricanes and storm surges, that could dislodge pollutants and further endanger residents in Channelview, Highlands, and other river communities nearby.

He noted that environmental studies of the river were continuing, with the Galveston Bay Foundation conducting a fish study, and a well water feasibility study also underway.

Morman mentioned the bond issue that will be on the ballot in November. He noted that their were four issues to vote on, and that Precinct 2 would receive $160 million total for roads and drainage, parks, and other needed improvements. He emphasized that if passed, it would NOT mean an increase in the tax rate for the county.

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State Rep. Ana Hernandez presents Legislative updates

STATE REPRESENTATIVE ANA HERNANDEZ led a presentation on recent Legislative actions, along with State Senator Sylvia Garcia and Pct. 2 Constable Chris Diaz. (NORTH CHANNEL STAR PHOTO/Hoffman)

STATE REPRESENTATIVE ANA HERNANDEZ led a presentation on recent Legislative actions, along with State Senator Sylvia Garcia and Pct. 2 Constable Chris Diaz. (NORTH CHANNEL STAR PHOTO/Hoffman)

GALENA PARK – State Representative Ana Hernandez is holding a series of Town Hall meetings, to report to the public on the results of the 84th Legislative Session that finished its work in June.

Hernandez also had the help of State Representative Sylvia Garcia, Pct. 2 Constable Chris Diaz, and at times the help of her 5 year old son Gregory.

Her presentation was aided by very detailed and understandable slides, covering all the major points.

She explained the legislative process, the makeup of the House and Senate, and what their responsibilities are. They meet in odd numbered years for 140 days, she noted. This year they passed 1454 bills for the Governor’s consideration, of which he signed 1286, vetoed 42, and allowed 163 to pass without signing.

The Budget is the most important business, and the two-year budget was set at $209.4 billion, an increase of 3.6%. $41.2 billion of that was for public education, and $19.9 billion for higher education.

Transportation was funded at $23.1 billion, and for the first time all gas tax money will go to road.

Tax cuts were passed, but the Homestead Exemption increase requires voter approval in November.

Healthcare was a major issue, she said, and although an additional $1.7 billion was allocated for Medicaid, due to population growth, the state continues to refuse to accept $100 billion available from the federal government.

House Bill 18 and last session’s House Bill 5 provided high school graduation choices, and Hernandez worked to make sure it included multilingual information packets and information on these choices.

Open Carry of firearms was also an issue for this Legislature, and two bills resulted. They are known as Open Carry and Campus Carry. Open Carry will take effect January 1, 2016 and basically changes the “concealed” nature of today’s firearms carry bill, to an open arrangement. House Bill 910 requires the gun to be holstered.

At this point, Constable Chris Diaz and Deputy Lt. F. Taylor demonstrated various holster types, and discussed their advantages. Hernandez pointed out that businesses can post signs excluding Open Carry firearms on their premises.

Campus Carry will take effect August 2016 for 4 year colleges, and August 2017 for community colleges, and CHL licensed holders will be allowed to have guns on campus, but in a concealed only fashion.

Border Security was discussed, but Hernandez said no effective program accompanied the $800 million funding.

Hernandez passed a number of bills strengthening and simplifying law enforcement procedures.

She established a Texas Women Veterans Program to help these transition back into civilian life.

Sen. Garcia said that 37 of her bills passed, including a revenge pornography bill, a study of homeless veterans, a veterans court jurisdiction expansion, on-line training for deputy registrars for voting. She helped stop the repeal of the Dream Act.

$20 MILLION OF WASTE PITS SETTLEMENT WILL BE RETURNED TO RIVERFRONT AREAS

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan’s office won a $29.2 million lawsuit against the companies that polluted the San Jacinto River with toxic waste from a paper mill in the 1950’s, and now the County Commissioners have voted to return some of that award to the area where the pollution has affected it most. $10 million of the County’s share will be spent on environmental improvements in the Highlands area, according to County Judge Ed Emmett.

In addition, this week State Rep. Wayne Smith announced that the state’s share, approximately another $10 million, will be designated for improvements along the San Jacinto River, and administered by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

In a statement issued by Jackie Young of the San Jacinto River Coalition, the following was said:

“Tuesday, June 23, 2015 Harris County Commissioners voted for the County’s portion of the settlement funds from the Waste Pits Litigation to be used within a 5 mile radius of the Waste Pits and within the San Jacinto River watershed. In November of 2014 two of the three companies Harris County filed suit against, settled for $29.2 million. Roughly $10 million went to Harris County and will now be used exclusively for projects related to the local environment, recreation, quality of life improvement, and potentially for pollution control services.”

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NORTH CHANNEL CHAMBER: Mattress Mack speaks at luncheon

mattress mackI’ve known Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale since about 1980, when we both arrived in Houston from “up north” — he Dallas, me Pennsylvania. Over the years, I have heard him speak dozen of times, yet I never tire of his message, and his delivery. His energy, dedication, and focus is amazing for a man with 300 employees, and major health problems.

His message is about hard work as the key to success, and the importance of the customer and his or her interests.

Over the years, his “stump speech” has been refined, and now it is not just about his life’s story of creating a successful business, but more about the trials, challenges, and triumphs he and his family faced along the way, and the importance of relationships.

Do you know anyone else as optimistic, with a big smile, who has had their building set on fire by an arsonist, undergone major heart surgery, and had a daughter with a serious debilitating disease, OCD?

Mack paced the stage of the San Jacinto Monument Room last Friday, as he told his story to an enthralled room of Chamber members and guests.

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Galena Park: COUNCIL SAYS “NO” TO MAYOR’S REFORMS

Mayor Moya confronts Councilman Simms regarding his insurance paid for by the city

Mayor Moya confronts Councilman Simms regarding his insurance paid for by the city

FIRINGS RESCINDED, MEETING CHAOTIC

GALENA PARK – One day after being sworn in as the new mayor of Galena Park, Esmeralda Moya issued orders to make sweeping changes in the administration and the way City Hall was run. In a stunning move, she fired 3 top administrators and changed the locks on the municipal building.

However, reaction came immediately from the City Administrator Robert Pruett, who stated that the city charter did not give the mayor authority to fire employees, except with the consent of city council.

Moya had fired Pruett, City Attorney Jim DeFoyd, and demoted Police Chief Jonathan Rader.

Monday’s Council meeting was called to try to resolve the actions of the mayor that Pruett deemed illegal, but an executive session scheduled for 4:00 p.m. was boycotted by Moya, who claimed the agenda was not correct. Immediately after, the meeting was reconvened in public session, with all parties present, including an outside attorney Jim Hightower, whom the council had hired to advise them on the legal interpretation of the city charter.

Hightower, of the firm Olsen and Olsen, gave his opinion on the charter, and said that the mayor does not have “unilateral” authority to fire employees, nor to change locks in the building.

After hearing this legal opinion, Councilman Simms took charge of the meeting. He moved and it was passed unanimously that he had the authority to sign checks, and that the mayor did not have the right to fire the employees unilaterally, and they voted to rescind the firings. Moya said she objected and vetoed the vote, but the councilmen voted to override her veto.

As Moya struggled to control the meeting, she stated that she had acted on the firings because that was what the people wanted, and that was why she was elected.

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