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Posts published in “Day: November 20, 2014

Waste Pits Trial ends with mixed verdict

Companies settle for $30 million, International Paper dismissed

HOUSTON – The lawsuit that Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan filed against polluting companies responsible for the San Jacinto waste pits ended last Thursday, with an unexpected result.

Two of the polluting companies, Waste Management and their subsidiary McGinnes Industrial Maintenance Corp. agreed to a settlement before the trial went to final arguments.

They agreed to pay $29.2 million in penalties to the plaintiffs. The third company, International Paper, was excused from the suit by the jury on a 10-2 vote, late in the afternoon.

Speaking at Highlands Rotary club this week, county attorney Vince Ryan said that the money would be split in thirds, with $9 million for expenses and attorney fees, and the rest split between the state and the county. The money will go to the general fund, he said, not for clean-up of the sites. He hoped, as Commissioner Morman had said last week, that some or all of the county money would be used for environmental projects near the river, but the county will have to decide later on this.

The county had originally asked for damages amounting to $25,000 per day for all the time the waste pits existed, back to February 1973. This would have amounted to over $400 million dollars, with interest. However, the settlement was far short of this. Ryan was asked if this was a victory or defeat, and he said that they never expected to get a big settlement, but it was a victory because a message was sent to industry that they were responsbile for their wastes, even years later.

The attorneys for International Paper had argued that they were not responsible for the waste after it was turned over to McGinnes and out of their control.

The attorneys also said that the county had failed to show examples of dioxins escaping from the pits on a regular basis and causing health problems in the population around the riverfront.

Ryan said that this ends the lawsuit between the county and the waste companies, but he feels that the judge was incorrect in ruling that International Paper was not a responsible party, and he plans on filing an appeal very soon. Some evidence was not admitted in court, he said, that would have made a difference.

Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency is still studying various schemes to deal with the waste pits. Six scenarios are being studies by the Corps of Engineers at the request of EPA, ranging from making the membrane cap more permanent, to excavating and hauling away the toxic material. Ryan said that a new estimate has placed this last remedy, which is favored by the nearby residents but not the companies, at $100 million dollars, much less than previously stated.

In his Rotary talk, Ryan said that removing the toxic material is “the only decision that makes any sense.”

Jackie Young, present at the meeting, said that although the settlement was fair, she would like the money to be used for studies of health issues among local residents.

Pony League World Series set for Highlands

HIGHLANDS – Representatives of the local PONY baseball/softball league made an exciting announcement at the Chamber luncheon last Thursday noon.

According to Benny Gonzales, PONY Coast Region Director, and Mike Dean, Highlands will host the PONY League World Series next year, from July 14 through 18th.

Dean said that up to 200 teams may participate, and all the ball fields in Highlands, Crosby and surrounding areas will be used to accommodate such a large gathering. It is expected that the event will have a large economic impact on the area.

If the event goes well, Dean said, it could repeat in Highlands every 2 or 3 years.

PONY Baseball and Softball is a non-profit organization with headquarters in the Pittsburgh suburb of Washington, Pennsylvania. Started in 1951, it is dedicated to helping young people grow into healthier and happier adults, primarily through the organization of baseball and softball leagues. Membership is open to children from age 5 to 18 and the leagues are organized with two-year age brackets.

PONY became an international organization in the late 1950s. Currently PONY has a presence in 21 countries.

Children at the Washington, Pennsylvania YMCA named the organization PONY, which stood for “Protect Our Neighborhood Youth.” This later became “Protect Our Nation’s Youth.”

Age divisions

•Shetland League (ages 4–6)

•Pinto League (7-8)

•Mustang League (9–10)

•Bronco-11 League (11)

•Bronco League (11-12)

•Pony-13 League (13)

•Pony League (13-14)

•Colt League (15-16)

•Palomino League (17-19)

Champions League

In 2009, the PONY Baseball and Softball International board of directors formed a new division—the Champions League—for children with special needs.

Morman: $2 billion in new Pct. 2 projects to be built

HIGHLANDS – Speaking at the monthly meeting of the Highlands-Lynchburg Chamber, Harris County Commissioner Jack Morman outlined “The Future of Precinct 2” for the audience. The event took place at the San Jacinto Community Center on Nov. 13.

Commissioner Morman set the context for his talk by noting that Harris County was growing at a rate of 13% in the last 3 years, and that meant that the county had to grow services and transportation to meet the needs that were created.

He noted that the transportation infrastructure was now at capacity, saying that Proposition 4 which passed on the Nov. 4 ballot, would provide additional funding for highways.

He said that the County had recently passed their 2015 budget, and that even with increases in many departments, it was balanced with no tax increase, due to higher assessed values related to population growth.

Morman spoke in detail about project in his Precinct 2 that are planned to be built to meet the growth needs.

He said that there are four projects planned for the next few years, that will cost about 2 billion dollars. As early as 2017, he expects construction to start on a new bridge over the ship channel, to supplement or replace the current toll bridge at the East Loop. with a new bridge, plus a replacement, there would be 4 lanes in each direction where there are now only two narrow lanes each way. This should be complete with 8 lanes, by the year 2020 he said.

In conjunction with these new bridges, he says the county is planning on widening the East Loop.

Also in planning stages are an expansion of Highway 146 through Baytown and Mont Belvieu, and additional lanes for the Hardy Toll Road, especially in the northern section near the new ExxonMobil development.

Morman noted that he has 15 cities within Precinct 2, and he has projects underway in all of the cities. He said that the success of all these projects is partnerships, with the state and various municipalities to provide funding and planning.

He noted a number of road projects in the precinct, especially FM2100 from Barrett Station/FM1942 to Huffman/FM1960. He characterized this project as the key to opening up the whole Northeast Harris County area for growth.

Crosby-Lynchburg Road will be widened in two phases, he said. Phase I is in design, and will cost $4.2 million. It consists of a 5 lane concrete curb and gutter road with sidewalks on one side, and will run from 1942 to Arcadian Lane in Barrett Station. This coincides with a TxDOT project to widen the road from FM1942 to US90.

In Phase II of this project, the roadway will be widened with a similar design, from Arcadian Lane to Magnolia Street in Barrett, at a cost of $3.58 million.

Crosby-Lynchburg Road is the only North-South route from I-10 at Lynchburg, to FM1960 in Huffman, and traffic jams of several miles long occur frequently because it is now only two lanes in many places, he said. These projects are meant to resolve that problem.

Morman said engineers were studying several intersections, with the intent to improve them when designs are done. These include Wallisville at Thompson, Wallisville at Crosby-Lynchburg, and Crosby Lynchburg where E. Houston and W. Houston do not now align.

He said a speed study has been made of Crosby-Lynchburg, and changes will be made.

Working with Centerpoint, Pct. 2 has installed 40 new streetlights to improve visibility at Highlands intersections. Other locations are being studied, he said.å

Morman’s Pct. 2 includes almost a million residents, has 1300 miles of county roads, the Lynchburg Ferry and the Washburn Tunnel. It also includes 10 community centers, 50 parks, and 380 employees.

His top priority, he said, is economic growth in East Harris County, by improving the infrastructure and developing a business friendly environment in county government.