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Posts published in March 2019

ITC Fire event is not over, says OEM director Lina Hidalgo

JUDGE LINA HIDALGO, head of Office of Emergency Management, holds a news conference on Monday to update the public on status of the ITC fire and clean-up. (photo Gilbert Hoffman)

DEER PARK – Well into the second week after the huge chemical storage tank fire at the ITC site in Deer Park, authorities and emergency crews are still busy trying to deal with the aftermath of the blaze.

ITC, or Intercontinental Terminals Company, has issued dozens of press releases and conferences, but many of the public feel that the facts of the fire have still not been revealed.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, who is also the head of the OEM, or Office of Emergency Management, held a press conference on Monday. She thanked all those first responders and other government agencies that had worked quickly and in a coordinated way to deal with the disaster.

However, she had a clear message for all, saying, “This Incident is not Over.” She emphasized that the immediate problem was containing the chemicals and to minimize contamination of the air and water around the site.

Multiple agencies are dealing with the problems, including the EPA, TCEQ, Harris County Pollution Control, Harris County Health Department, Fire Marshal’s office, and various first responders around the area.

Channelview ISD holding first bond election in 10 Years

The bond proposal was developed and recommended by the Citizens’ Bond Planning Committee (CBPC), a diverse group of CISD parents, staff, local citizens, and community leaders.

This May, Channelview ISD residents will have the opportunity to vote on a $195.4 million bond election.

A bond is similar to a home mortgage. It is a contract to repay borrowed money with interest over time. Bond elections allow communities to vote to give the Board of Trustees authority to sell bonds to pay for items such as school construction, capital projects and land acquisition.

A school district’s tax rate is comprised of two parts. Part one is Maintenance and Operations (M&O) which funds day-to-day expenses such as salaries, general maintenance, bus repairs and fuel, educational materials and utilities.

Part two is Interest and Sinking (I&S) which funds debt repayment for the purchase of new building construction, existing building renovations, land purchases, program-specific equipment, technology and school buses. The Channelview ISD bond election would only affect the District’s I&S rate. By law, I&S funds cannot be used to pay teacher or staff salaries.

Currently, Channelview ISD’s I&S tax rate is $0.356 with the M&O tax rate standing at $1.04 for a total tax rate of $1.396. The current rate is the lowest it has been in seven years and is the second lowest tax rate when compared to surrounding school districts. Over the past seven years, the Channelview ISD Board of Trustees has lowered the tax rate $0.10 from $1.496 in 2012 to the current rate of $1.396.

The last time Channelview ISD held a bond election was a decade ago, in November 2009. Projects included in the 2009 bond were completed on time and on budget by November 2012.

Cody Bill passes House with 145 – 0 vote

AUSTIN – The final vote in the House of Representatives got unanimous approval of those attending the session on Tuesday for HB 76, the Cody Stephens Bill.

According to Scott Stephens, who has made it his mission to get Texas to use E.C.G. machines in addition to the exam a doctor does with a stethoscope, “The Texas House of Representatives voted to pass HB 76 today with no opposition! This was a huge step for us and for Cody’s Law, bringing us so much closer to getting heart screening into every school across Texas.

“This is a wonderful cause for celebration. We definitely want to take a moment to acknowledge all the hard work from Rep. Dan Huberty, lobbyist Kathy Grant, everyone who testified at the Public Education Committee hearing, and all of you who called and wrote letters to your representatives to vote in favor of HB 76.”

Community leaders hear from newly positioned legislators

Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia of the 29th Congressional District, Senator Carol Alvarado of Senate District 6 and State Representative Christina Morales of District 145. (Photo by Allan Jamail)

By Allan Jamail

Houston, TX- Saturday, March 23, 2019 – Yolanda Alvarado, a well known and respected civic leader, invited community leaders to a meeting with legislators serving in new positions. Elected officials present were Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia of the 29th Congressional District, Senator Carol Alvarado of Senate District 6, and State Representative Christina Morales of District 145.

Congresswoman Garcia said, “It’s been somewhat of a challenge adjusting to the cold freezing snowy weather and its effect on one’s ability to move about in D. C., but I’m managing it okay.

“I’m very concerned with the ITC fire and will be closely monitoring the after-affects it could pose on the air and water quality, and the impact it can have on the health of residents. We must investigate its cause and how to prevent similar disasters in the future. The 29th District encompasses large portions of the Houston ship channel including the Port of Houston, cities of Houston, Pasadena, Galena Park, Jacinto City, South Houston, and Aldine.”

Garcia continued, “My committee assignments on the House Financial Services Committee and the House Judiciary Committee are vital to the Houston region, the State of Texas, and the nation. I’ve always fought for working families, and my appointments will allow me to use that experience to continue these efforts.”

State Senator Carol Alvarado is serving her first term in the Texas Senate. She is Vice-Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Texas Ports and represents Senate District 6 encompassing the Eastern portions of Harris County along with the cities of Baytown, Pasadena, Galena Park, Jacinto City and South Houston.

Alvarado said, “The fire at the Intercontinental Terminals Company (ITC) facility in Deer Park is a local disaster that is still ongoing. While the threat of the fire has passed, the clean up and investigation that must follow has just begun. I am closely monitoring each stage of recovery including clean up at the facility, clean up and containment in the nearby bodies of water, and investigation into the cause. We are receiving ongoing updates from various agencies and organizations including TCEQ, EPA, Harris County Emergency Management, and ITC themselves. There are still many unanswered questions at this time but I can assure residents that we will push to get the answers our community deserves.”

DEER PARK FIRE AFTERMATH: Commissioner Adrian Garcia closes parks for safety

HARRIS COUNTY, TX – Friday, March 22nd 2019– As a precaution, Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia is closing eight Precinct 2 parks with waterfronts in the Intercontinental Terminals Company (ITC) incident area. A number of school districts have also closed, as a precaution.

“After the news of the ITC dike breach earlier today, I decided to close some of our parks out of precaution because my main priority is keeping our residents safe,” Garcia said. “We want to ensure our parks are safe and able to function in the way our community expects and deserves. I want to give the EPA, TCEQ and others the time they need to continue their testing.”

The following Precinct 2 parks will be closed with all scheduled events cancelled until further notice:

• Bay Area Park in Houston (Bay Area Community Center is open)

• Clear Lake Park in Seabrook

• Sylvan Beach in La Porte

• Juan Seguin in La Porte

• Rio Villa Nature Trail

• Meadow Brook

• River Terrace

• Moncrief Park

The Lynchburg Ferry remains closed to the public.

LA PORTE: Seabreeze Park and Klein Retreat in La Porte will remain closed until further notice.

Health Recommendations

According to Harris County Public Health (HCPH), and based on current air monitoring reports, there continues to be a low health risk for the community.

Huge Deer Park tank blaze seen citywide

FINALLY EXTINGUISHED: Chemical storage tanks in Deer Park near the San Jacinto Monument blazed for days in spite of efforts to extinguish them. The smoke cloud was seen throughout the Houston Region, as far west as Katy. Nearby residents were concerned about the affect that the fire and smoke might have on their health. By Wednesday of this week, the fourth day, the flames and smoke were gone. (Photo courtesy KPRC)

Fires in two oil facilities in East Harris County the weekend of St. Patrick’s Day took the shine off the green. Saturday there was a fire at the Baytown Exxon Olefines Plant and St. Patrick’s Day was the time of the origin of the fire at Intercontinental Terminals Company in Deer Park.

Baytown and Exxon firefighters and mutual aide rushed to 5000 Bayway Drive at about 1:00 p.m. on Saturday. All said and done, there was no shelter in place or evacuation called for there, and the fire was successfully contained without injury.

Sunday morning as many went to church a fire started near a chemical storage tank in Intercontinental Terminals Co.’s grounds in Deer Park. Firefighters struggled to contain the blaze to five tanks but when low water pressure occurred in the early hours of Monday, three other tanks caught fire. This cancelled authorities’ predictions of a rapid containment for the blaze.

The terminal is closed and evacuated, it stores gasoline additives and paint thinners. Some say these chemicals can cause difficulty breathing, coughing, headache and irritation to respiratory systems.

The Environmental Protection Agency, TCEQ, and the Harris County Pollution Control are closely watching air quality.

Galena Park Commissioner Chersky becomes new police chief

Galena Park’s new Police Chief Rodney V. Chersky, appointed by Mayor Esmeralda Moya, confirmed by Commissioners January 15, 2019. (Photo by Allan Jamail)

By Allan Jamail

Galena Park, TX. March 20, 2019 – In January, Galena Park City Commissioner Rodney Chersky stepped down to become the city’s new police chief. After being re-elected in May 2018 with 61 percent of the vote, Chersky moved out of the city.

According to Chief Chersky, “City Attorney Robert Collins advised me I could continue as Commissioner to fill out my new term, but I would not be able to seek re-election because of no longer being a citizen of the city. My leaving the city was only temporary, and I’d planned to move back before the next election.”

Chief Chersky said, “In late 2018 I was approached by several police officers about becoming the police chief, since the new interim chief Sergeant James Knox didn’t want to become the permanent chief. Knox had agreed to assume the chief’s duties until a permanent chief could be hired. He had served as Interim Chief before under three mayors.”

“Mayor Moya in January approached me and asked me if I would be interested in the chief’s job. After giving it lots of thought and being assured by the mayor she’d do everything possible to work with me to help make the needed improvements I wanted to make, I decided to accept the appointment,” said Chief Chersky.

The chief said he has many goals.

Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia honored at annual NALEO Gala

Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia receiving award at NALEO’s annual Gala.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Yesterday, over a hundred national leaders and lawmakers joined together with the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), the nation’s leading Latino leadership foundation, in honoring Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia the Edward R. Roybal Award for Outstanding Public Service.

“NALEO – thank you for this honor, to be a part of Edward Roybal’s legacy,” Congresswoman Garcia said during her remarks. “It is truly amazing to see the progress that has been made over our lifetimes, the legacy that will help future generations push progress forward.” At the ceremony, national leaders spoke of Congresswoman Garcia’s hard work and years of public service.

“She is a voice for voiceless – dedicating herself to protecting the most vulnerable members of our community, as a social worker, legal aid worker, and as a leader who has served at every level of government,” said U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in her tribute. “In the Congress, she is a pioneer for progress.”

CAPITAL HIGHLIGHTS: Supplemental funding legislation draws from “Rainy Day Fund”

By Ed Sterling

AUSTIN — A few of the funding priorities expressed by the executive, legislative and judicial branches are not covered in Senate Bill 2, the state’s tentatively approved appropriations bill for fiscal years 2020 and 2021.

So, on March 13, the Senate voted unanimously in favor of SB 500, $6 billion in supplemental funding to plug many holes. Some $4.3 billion of the total would be taken out of the Economic Stabilization (“Rainy Day”) Fund. Authored by Senate Finance Committee Chair Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, the legislation proposes the following allocations:

• $3 billion for Hurricane Harvey recovery expenses;

• $2.1 billion to address the Medicaid shortfall;

• $100 million for school safety, with an amendment that gives districts greater flexibility on the type of safety equipment they can buy;

• $300 million to improve state hospital facilities;

• $542 million to address pension liabilities for the Teacher Retirement System and provide retired teachers a “13th check” up to $500;

HB3 Education reform could add money to schools, lower property taxes

Dan Huberty excitedly explaining legislation related to school finance reform in Austin.

AUSTIN: State Rep. Dan Huberty, R., District 127, has ridden shotgun on a $9 billion school finance reform bill that is to send more state money to public schools and lower school property tax rates, according to lawmakers. To enact the plan, passage is required by both the House and the Senate.

“The Texas Plan” or House Bill 3, has had Huberty hopping around explaining to Republicans and Democrats that a $9 billion increase in the base funding for each student and compressing school districts’ property tax rates by 4 cents statewide, among other policy items is not only possible but necessary. Pre-K for full days for eligible students also benefits, and sending more money to school districts with higher concentrations of disadvantaged students. In his State of the State Address, Governor Abbott named three “emergency items,” they are teacher pay, school finance reform and property taxes reform.

Harris County approves voting at any poll location

LEFT TO RIGHT: Houston Comptroller Chris Brown, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, Harris County Clerk’s office Administrator of Elections Michael Winn, Harris County Clerk Dr. Diane Trautman, Harris County Tax Assessor & Collector Ann Bennett, and Justice of the Peace Precinct 3 Place 1 Joe Stephens at the announcement. (Photo by Allan Jamail)

By Allan Jamail

HOUSTON, TX – Harris County Clerk Diane Trautman announced last week, “The Texas Secretary of State David Whitley approved Harris County — as one of six Texas counties with a population of more than 100,000 — to participate in the Countywide Polling Place Program. With over 2 million registered voters, this makes Harris County the largest county in the country to implement this program. The state program allows eligible counties to establish non-precinct based Election Day Voting Centers.”

“The voters of Harris County have made it clear that a Countywide Polling Place Program would have a positive impact on elections, and I am confident that the transition to a Countywide Polling Place Program will be successful. If the Election Day Voting Centers increases just one percent, with 2 million registered voters, that is a significant increase. We’re hoping for a 1 to 10 percent increase,” Trautman said.