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Posts published in July 2015

Highlands Little League receives $6000 donation for stolen wiring

New State Law To Help In Fight Against Copper Theft

HIGHLANDS – July 28, 2015 – Three incidents of copper theft earlier this year nearly ended the Highlands Little League team’s season when it turned the lights off on their playing field, ahead of regular season and all-star games.

Today, those young baseball players and their families had reason to celebrate after lawmakers tightened laws to curb copper theft, and the local community and AT&T* went to bat for the team to get the lights back on their field of dreams.

A check presented to the Highlands Little League by AT&T in a community celebration Tuesday night helped cover the remaining portion of their GoFundMe goal to raise $10,000—the cost of replacing 2,500 feet of stolen copper wiring that was needed to get the lights back on and increase security at the thrice-targeted field.

The Houston area copper theft incident also shines a light on how copper theft impacts everyone—in cities across the state—from Little Leagues and churches to large telecommunications and cable networks. In the most recent Texas Legislative session, lawmakers, led by Rep. Wayne Smith and Sen. Larry Taylor, took action to curb these rising thefts.

“The ever increasing crime of copper theft has affected businesses of all sizes, churches, individuals and even baseball Little Leagues,” Taylor said. “This legislative effort to combat this insidious crime included the efforts and input from law enforcement and the Recyclers Association. Based on the successes of local jurisdictions who have recently passed similar rules, this law will go a long way towards reducing the number of victims in the future.”

Added Representative Wayne Smith, “Criminals typically target copper and other metals because they can quickly and easily convert these materials into cold, hard cash by selling them to scrap metal dealers or other metal recycling companies. Changes to state law will help curb copper theft by making it tougher on thieves to cash in their stolen goods.”

Smith authored and Taylor sponsored the new law (House Bill 2187) which takes effect Sept. 1, 2015 and garnered the support of a broad coalition of businesses, law enforcement and community advocates.

“Thieves looking to make a fast buck on stolen copper hurt everyone, and they quite literally nearly turned the lights out on our young Little League team’s season,” said Sam Tittel with Highlands Little League. “From innocent kids to our churches to construction sites of families’ new homes, the impact copper theft has on our communities is tremendous. We’re appreciative of state leaders’ efforts to strengthen the law and crack down on this practice, and we’re grateful for AT&T helping to keep our field lit and the team’s baseball dreams alive.”

Houston is a hotbed for this type of criminal activity. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), Houston has ranked among the top ten metro areas with the highest number of metal theft claims in the US. The problem is not unique to Houston. Metal theft costs taxpayers across the United States more than $1 billion each year.

“Far too many innocent victims pay the price of the greed of these persistent thieves,” said Sheriff Brian Hawthorne, who lives in Chambers County and serves as a Director with the Sheriff’s Association of Texas. “When local non-profits, small businesses or community parks see their copper stolen and their lights, air conditioning or telecommunications severed it’s clear something needs to be done. We’re optimistic the new law will help reduce these unfortunate crimes.”

$20 MILLION OF WASTE PITS SETTLEMENT WILL RETURN TO HIGHLANDS AREA

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.”

“In January, the San Jacinto River Coalition hosted a community event called “Bring the Money Back” where they asked local residents to provide input on the types of projects that they feel would have the greatest long-term impacts. Residents suggested projects such as city infrastructure for homeowners using private groundwater wells, a memorial and education center so that future generations can lear about the pollution that once plagued the local environments and communities, groundwater and soil sampling to find out the extent of contamination in the area.”

Smith announces another $10 million

At a recent Highlands Rotary meeting, State Representative Wayne Smith told the group that working with State Rep. John Otto, chair of the Appropriations Committee and representing the Dayton area, he had managed to get the State’s share, approximately $10 million, designated for return to the Highlands area, and administered through the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Smith said the exact language of the House Bill No. 2 was as follows:

“Section 27. Parks and Wildlife Department: San Jacinto Lawsuit Settlement. In addition to amounts previously appropriated for the state fiscal biennium ending August 32, 20a5, if money is recovered under an agreed final judgment in Harris County v. Waste Management of Texas, Inc., No. 2011-76724-A (295th Dist. Ct., Harris County, Tex. ___ 2014), and deposited to the credit of the general revenue fund, the amount of that recovered money that is deposited to the credit of the general revenue fund, but not to exceed $10 million, is appropriated from that fund to the Parks and Wildlife Department for the two-year period beginning on the effective date of this Act for the purpose of transferring the money to Harris County. Funds may be transferred to Harris County under this section only in accordance with an agreement between the Parks and Wildlife Department and Harris County for use along the San Jacinto River and in its watershed to mitigate the effects of environmental contamination and the effects of that contamination on natural resources and the public use of natural resources. Funds transferred under this section may be used only for one or more of the following:

1. dissemination of information pertaining to marine life, wild animal life, wildlife values, and wildlife management;

2. scientific investigation and survey of marine life for the better protection and conservation of marine life;

3. propagation and distribution of marine life, game animals, and wild birds;

4. protection of wild birds, fish, and game;

5. research, management, and protection of the fish and wildlife resources of this state;

6. expansion and developoment of additional opportunities of hunting and fishing in state-owned land and water;

7. purchase, construction, and maintenance of boat ramsp on or near public waters; and

8. resource protection activities.

Inquiries that the Star-Courier newspaper have made to the TDPW and to Precinct 2 of Harris County have indicated that to date, no definitive list of projects has been generated or decided upon to make use of this money.

Sheriff opens office in Highlands

HIGHLANDS – The new Sheriff Ron Hickman, Gretchen Knowles of Precinct 2 Harris County Commissioner Jack Mormon Office, Precinct 3 Constable Ken Jones, the staff of Woodforest Bank in Highlands and a host of deputies and members of the Highlands-Lynchburg Chamber of Commerce turned out last Wednesday to dedicate a return of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office Storefront.

The storefront is inside the Woodforest Bank Building at 420 S. Main, it will also house the Harris County Joint Task Force. The HCJTF is a task force comprised of law enforcement in the vicinity working together to interdict serious area crime.

Sheriff Ron Hickman at the occasion lauded Constable Ken Jones for the “Outstanding relationship between Precinct 3 and the Harris County Sheriff’s Office as both offices move forward to community policing. “Particularly in Pro-Active Policing our collaboration has had a significant impact. By working together we can do so much more for this community,”

Traci Dillard, President of the Highlands Chamber of Commerce in a special dedication oration attributed the storefront’s return to Highlands to a conversation between Dickie Woods with the former commander of HCSO storefronts years ago. A ribbon cutting ceremony was performed by the Chamber with the Sheriff and Constable holding the ribbon at the scissors.

The Highlands Storefront will serve as a community based outpost of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, serving the public’s need in the surrounding area.

Deputy Jesse “Trey” Valdez III was remembered with a special dedication Wednesday during the grand opening of the storefront. His mother and son attended the meeting and were recognized. Deputy Valdez was kiled in the line of duty on Wallisville Rd. when hit by an impaired driver in a head-on auto collision. A K-9 Deputy was purchased by the East Aldine District for the county, for $10,000 and bestowed with his name in honor of his service.

Sheriff Hickman said to the mother and her grandson, “We support you.”

The Highlands Storefront will operate Monday-Friday from 8:00 AM – 4:00 PM. Members of the community can file criminal complaints, offense reports and seek law enforcement assistance from deputies assigned to staff storefronts in their communities.

Brandon Baird, the manager of Woodforest Banks’ Highlands Branch said, “I know Woodforest Bank is very excited. Woodforest is a community bank and we love that we can host the Sheriff’s Office in the same building as us, it is just a pleasure.”

An array of law enforcement including the bulk of the K-9 Units and a variety of special task deputies were on hand with a variety of local business and service personnel.