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YEAR IN REVIEW 2018

Compiled from the files of the STAR COURIER

JANUARY

Judge Don Coffey files for re-election. New Highlands Fire Station opens. Gene Green’s vacant Congressional seat attracts 7 Democrats and 4 Republicans for the March 6 Primary Election. Josh McKinney is found dead on Mizell Street in Highlands, date Yvonne Ramirez charged. Nate Scott is the Highlands VFD Firefighter of the Year. New Highlands/Lynchburg Chamber board announced, Jim Wadzinski is president. Crosby Fire Department names Warren Thompson as Firefighter of the Year. Crosby ISD Superintendent Keith Moore resigns. Court papers reveal that the PRPs have been funding Superfund opposition citizens’ groups.

FEBRUARY

Rotary Chili Feast is held Feb. 3rd. Steve & Linda Miller win the car in the Raffle. Bras for the Cause raises a record $200,000 plus for Cancer. Pct. 2 Commissioner Morman speaks at the North Channel Chamber. Crosby ISD hires interim superintendent, Kirk Lewis. Don Coffey wins the Terry Davis Award from the Highlands/Lynchburg Chamber. Crosby/Huffman Chamber holds its annual awards ceremony. TxDOT holds public meetings on I-10E improvements.

MARCH

Houston Rodeo Trail Rides start. Worker killed in local tire shredder plant Genan. County Attorney Vince Ryan sues Opioid manufacturers. Crosby Sports Association opens their Little League season. Primary Election Results: Lucia Bates defeats Don Coffey; Sylvia Garcia wins Democratic race for Congress. Pct. 2 Opens Juan Seguin Park at the South Lynchburg Ferry landing. Goose Creek ISD proposes 2 bond referendums totaling $437 Million. 3 Country singers appear at the Crosby RocknC Round-up. Big Car Show is held at RocknC Round-up.Grand Parkway Section H, US59 to Hwy. 146, starts construction. Governor authorizes $3 Million for flood mitigation study. Highlands Little League Queens are Lily Phillips, Kendra Earls, and Kamryn Schuelsky.

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Rotary Club celebrates 70th anniversary

Judge Joe Stephens presents Rotary Club president Denise Smith with a proclamation congratulating the club on its 70th Anniversary.

The Highlands Rotary Club marked a milestone this year, by reaching its 70th anniversary of its founding.

The club held a combined Christmas party and 70th Anniversary celebration last Sunday, at the Monument Inn.

Almost a hundred past and present members and their families attended the gala event.

Led by club president Denise Smith, the program included an oral history of the club from its beginning, and vintage and recent photographs depicting the activities and history of the club and many of its members. The photos were presented by Gilbert Hoffman, who acknowledged that Alton Neatherlin, publisher of the Highlands Star and a past president of the club, had published most of the vintage photos in the newspaper.

Weston Cotten introduced guests, and acknowledged several clubs whose members were present, and a large number of past presidents of the Highlands club. There were also a number of District 5890 officers present.

A special award was presented by Johnny Gaeke to club member Chester Stasney, for his 51 years of membership, which included club president in 1972-73. Gaeke thanked Stasney for mentoring him when he joined the club.

The highest honor in Rotary is to become a Paul Harris Fellow, and Past District Governor Bill Palko presented this award to three members, Johnny Gaeke, Chuck Radney, and Carol Radney. In addition, past member and past president Richard Robinson presented his wife Pat with the same Paul Harris Award.

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Mid-term Election results in change of principals involved in Superfund site

The November 6th Mid-term election brought about a number of changes in our elected officials, and some of these are involved in promoting or maintaining progress on the Superfund San Jacinto River Waste Pits.

Three U.S. Congressmen have been involved in getting the site on the Superfund role, and now two of them have been replaced. Gene Green has retired, and his seat was won by Sylvia Garcia. Ted Poe has also retired, and Dan Crenshaw was elected to fill his seat. Brian Babin remains in office. These three Congressmen have repeatedly prodded the EPA to put the site on the “Priority List” for remedial action, and to continue to monitor progress.

The Superfund site is in Harris County Precinct 2, which will have a new Commissioner in January. Adrian Garcia will hold the position and replace Jack Morman. Morman has been vocal in supporting the clean-up and removal of the toxic wastes at the site, which have the potential to pollute the river and Galveston Bay.

The County Judge is now Ed Emmett, but will be replaced in January by Lina Hidalgo. The county received $10 million dollars from the lawsuit against the Responsible Parties, and has administered that money along guidelines from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

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Election results: Emmett, Morman defeated in upset


Winners include Sylvia Garcia; Ted Cruz; Lina Hidalgo; Adrian Garcia

HARRIS COUNTY – With 100% of the results counted, political experts are declaring winners in Tuesday’s election.

In the national Senate race, incumbent Ted Cruz had a strong statewide win, defeating popular Beto O’Rourke by 51% to 48%. However, Beto carried Harris County with 58% of the local vote. Other statewide results included Governor Greg Abbott winning 56% of the vote against Lupe Valdez; and AG Ken Paxton receiving 51%.

Harris County’s straight ticket voting showed 44% Republican, and 55% Democratic. This might explain two major upsets: County Judge Ed Emmett, the popular incumbent, was defeated by Democrat challenger Lina Hidalgo who received 49.62% of the vote, to Emmett’s 48.32%, with a third candidate, Libertarian Eric Gatlin receiving 2% of the vote. About 5000 votes separated the top two candidates, but Gatlin received 24,085 enough to swing the election to either of the other two contenders.

Republican County Commissioner Pct. 2 Jack Morman was defeated by Democrat and former Sheriff Adrian Garcia, who had 50.11% of the vote, versus Morman’s 49.89%. The difference was a mere 490 votes.

History was made in Congressional District 29, where the first Hispanic woman from Texas won a seat in Congress. Sylvia Garcia, formerly a Texas State Senator and Harris County Commissioner, received 75% of the vote against her Republican challenger, Phillip Aronoff.

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee was returned to office in District 18, with 75% of the vote, versus her opponent Ava Reynero Pate with 21% votes.

In Congressional District 2, formerly held by Congressman Ted Poe, Dan Crenshaw received 53% of the vote, and Todd Litton 45%.

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EPA expands Superfund interviews to two days in Highlands, with wrap-up session

Congressman Brian Babin examines the Geofabric materials to be used in the ongoing repairs of the cap over the toxic waste pits in the San Jacinto River. Babin visited the site in July, with EPA Region 6 Remedial Chief John Meyer.

HIGHLANDS – Janetta Coats of the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has announced that she will be in Highlands on Tuesday, Sept. 11 from 1pm to 5pm, and Wednesday, Sept. 12 from 1pm to 7pm, conducting one-on-one interviews with residents that have been affected by the waste pits, or have an opinion for the official CIP record. Interviews will take place at the Highlands Community Center, and last about one hour each. Everyone is welcome to participate, by calling Coats at 1-800-533- 3508 to schedule an interview. A Round Table Discussion will take place from 5pm to 6pm on Wednesday.

Coats issued the following statement on the CIP interview process:

We appreciate your willingness to participate in the interview process to update the San Jacinto River Waste Pits Community Involvement Plan (CIP). The community interviews are conducted to gather information for the CIP. The interviews are a way to meet with community members and learn about their site-related needs, concerns, and expectations, as well as how the community gets information and prefers to received information from EPA.

The CIP is a required activity under the National Contingency Plan (NCP) to ensure the public appropriate opportunities for involvement is a wide variety to ensure public involvement. We will interview a broad range of people in order to gain the greatest variety of perspectives about the site, including PRPs, if needed.

In general the objective for the community interviews will include:

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Crosby ISD hears report on “spending beyond its means”

The Crosby ISD Board of Trustees presented a plaque to Dan and Jennifer Meaux of Crawfish Shack for being Recognized by the Texas Association of School Boards Business Recognition Program for Businesses that exceed standards for generosity.

CROSBY – At the Monday Board of Trustee’s meeting of Crosby ISD as promised Dr. Scott Davis, new superintendent of the district presented his findings in a report.

About 60 community members who were in attendance. The report included information on recently discovered financial issues and he stated, “The district has been spending beyond its means.”

Later during the meeting the board concerned with the safety of the children held a discussion on school safety and security measures, specifically, the hiring of three additional school resource officers. At $98,000 to $99,000 each per school year.

This reporter checked with law enforcement from throughout the area and learned that about $40,000 of that is for a deputy’s yearly salary.

Sherman Eagleton at his fundraiser on Thursday stated to this reporter that he did not know what decisions the schools were going to have to make because funds are tight but “I am going to see after the well-being of these kids, that is a priority.”

According to the school district’s officials, “Dr. Davis and new Chief Financial Officer, Lesa Jones, discovered a cash flow issue that appears to date back to the Spring of 2017. This cash flow problem resulted in the district partaking in a short-term loan and internal fund borrowing from the district’s Debt Service and Construction Funds to cover operational needs and the district’s payroll obligations. Prior to Davis’ arrival, $5.65 million had been borrowed from the Construction Fund to cover the district’s payroll obligations. When Davis arrived in late June, he had to borrow an additional $1.99 million from the Construction Fund to cover expenses for the July 15th payroll. To date, the total amount borrowed from the Construction Fund stands at $7.64 million. Davis stated that the plan is to repay the $1.99 million he had to borrow by the end of November 2018. He and Jones worked closely with the district’s bond counsel to determine if there were any qualifying expenditures made in 2017-2018 that could be subtracted from the total amount due to the Construction Fund. Approximately $2.25 million of capital expenditures have been identified as potential qualifying expenses leaving $3.4 million outstanding that the District intends to repay by December 2018.

Recovery from the financial issues is expected to take 3-5 years. While additional short-term loans, also known as Tax Revenue Anticipation Notes (TRAN), will be required to subsidize the cash flow shortage, the plan will be to create a diminishing dependence on these loans over the next several years by implementing cost-saving measures including a 10-20% budget cut, absorbing staff positions through attrition and potentially a reduction in force, if necessary.

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GUARDS BLOCK ACCESS TO IMMIGRANT KIDS FACILITY

Armed guard, Chief G. Fuentes blocks State Senator Sylvia Garcia (left) and State Representative Ana Hernandez from entering the children’s detention facility in their district. (Photo by Allan Jamail)

State Officials Sylvia Garcia and Ana Hernandez turned away

By Allan Jamail
Edited by NCS staff

CHANNELVIEW, TX. – North Channel – Friday, June 29, 2018 — State Senator Sylvia Garcia and State Representative Ana Hernandez went to Casa Montezuma, a child detention facility in their district, to check on migrant children being housed there. The children have either been separated from their parents who immigrated to the United States seeking political asylum from violence and persecution, or else they arrived without parents.

Armed officers in uniforms bearing the name Fort Bend County Patrol swarmed Garcia and Hernandez, stopping them and telling them they could not enter to see the children even though they both proved they were elected state officials.

Allan Jamail, a photojournalist for the North Channel Star, accompanying the state officials, had his camera grabbed by an officer whose uniform identified him as Chief G. Fuentes. Fuentes told the visiting group that the area is private property and off-limits to visitors and photo-taking.

Fuentes said, “Visitors must first make an appointment by phone to visit the facility,” but when Garcia and Hernandez told Fuentes they’ve called for days but no one will answer the phone, Fuente then said, “I know because they don’t want any visitors, so they’re not going to answer the phone.”

Not easily persuaded to leave without first checking on the welfare of the kids, for almost an hour a standoff with security in over 100 degree scorching heat, finally Fuentes agreed to allow Garcia and Hernandez to go to the front door to make an appointment for a visit on another day.

The door was locked and no one inside would come to the door or answer the intercom system, so after numerous attempts Chief Fuentes said, “You need to leave because no one is going to come talk to you or allow you inside. They don’t want visitors.”

Fuentes said he was only doing his job, but Garcia and Hernandez responded and told him he was preventing them from doing their jobs to check on the welfare of children in their District.

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Cook-off promises best rodeo yet

First Place Tailride the crew on horseback and the ones aboard presented
a fine vista for judges last Saturday.

CROSBY – The rodeo here begins with the cook-off, and the cook-off contains the rodeo parade. Last weekend, both occurred, and this week it is time for the show – cowboy sports and concerts.

Bag of Donuts led the concerts this year, and they were as outlandish as during the regular rodeo last season. Fans packed the parking lots.

This year Coy Hearn headed up the parade that went the traditional route north on FM 2100 and went under the Overpass at Kernohan Street.

Eddy Glover presided over 90 teams in the cook-off, a record. This year, party and great food were a most successful combination. Of course, Sony Armstrong is president and Major Rick Larkin is Chairman of the Crosby Fair & Rodeo.

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Crosby mourns Santa Fe shooting, local lad

Keenan Smith eulogizes Christian Garcia at a special memorial inside Crosby Church. Pastor Smith had ministered to the lad’s spiritual development. Smith talked of Garcia’s dedication to serve his country and his God in life. He was murdered in the Santa Fe shootings on May 18.

CROSBY – Secondary education is supposed to be about building a future not about eliminating the hope of the future yet in incident after incident the school shootings continue.

This time Dimitrios Pagourtzis, 17, walked up to the art class of Santa Fe High School on May 18 at about 7:40 a.m. and opened fire with a shotgun. He then entered the building and threw explosives about the area. He killed ten and thirteen were otherwise wounded including a Santa Fe Police Officer in critical condition. That officer and a Texas State Trooper had engaged him and Paguortzis surrendered after being injured in the shooting. He is now charged with capital murder.

As the data about munitions piles up, as the information about benefits and dangers of metal detectors become clear and all the piles of rhetoric mount, it becomes clear that officials don’t know what to do.

The youngest student to die was Christian Riley Garcia, a new freshman at Santa Fe High School. Witnesses indicate Pagourtzis jumped up on the new guy, yelled “surprise,” and shot him in the chest.

The Garcias had lived in Crosby. They got three acres from a relative and decided to make Santa Fe home. A new and beautiful beginning for a faith based family. Pastor Keenan Smith had baptized Ryland and knows their story well.

“This is the worst thing that can happen to a parent that loves their children. The only comfort there can be in a time like this is in knowing they had dedicated their life to Christ,” declared Smith to reporters after a brief memorial. “I don’t know what comfort there can be for others.”

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EHRMC Hospital closed permanently

HOUSTON –– East Houston RMC has decided to permanently close its facility on I-10 near Uvalde, due to repeated damage from flooding of Greens Bayou.

On November 3, 2017 the following statement was issued by Troy Villarreal, president of HCA Healthcare Gulf Coast Division:

“HCA Healthcare Gulf Coast Division is announcing today that East Houston Regional Medical Center, a campus of Bayshore Medical Center, will not reopen due to its history of flooding as well as recent extensive damage from Hurricane Harvey.

The hospital has been closed since all patients and staff were moved to safety two days before Harvey made landfall. Although it is equipped with flood gates designed to withstand three feet of water, East Houston Regional Medical Center took nearly six feet of water during the storm.

The hospital is located in a low lying area, and prior to Harvey, was severely damaged by flood waters in 2001 by Tropical Storm Allison as well as by Hurricane Ike in 2008. We considered potential options to continue to treat patients at the facility; however, given this history and the likelihood of future flooding problems, we determined that the most prudent course is to close the facility. We have a long history of caring for the East Harris County community, and through nearby Bayshore Medical Center and Clear Lake Regional Medical Center, we will continue to do so.

Physicians credentialed at East Houston Regional Medical Center have privileges to practice medicine at Bayshore Medical Center, and we will continue to assist those physicians interested in practicing medicine there and seeing their patients at the facility.

For over 40 years, HCA has been treating patients at East Houston Regional Medical Center. Though the facility has been damaged in the past, we have rebuilt many times. We’ve endured three floods since 2000. Our team looked at every potential option for continuing to treat patients at the facility. In the interest of safety, we have determined there was no way to continue operations at this current site. It’s just not the safest way forward for our patients or our employees. We remain committed to the East Harris County community, though. Patients may still seek care at our Bayshore Medical Center and Clear Lake Regional Medical Center facilities, both of which are close by.

In addition, management and human resources teams are working closely with East Houston Regional Medical Center employees to identify career opportunities in one of the 16 facilities within the HCA Healthcare Gulf Coast Division and throughout HCA.

HCA Healthcare Gulf Coast Division will work with a local realty firm to determine the future of the East Houston Regional Medical Center property.

It was a difficult decision not to reopen East Houston Regional Medical Center, but one we are confident best serves our patient population. HCA Healthcare Gulf Coast Division remains firmly committed to the East Houston community and Bayshore Medical Center’s essential role as a community hospital serving East Houston and surrounding communities.

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. The cost is now estimated at $115 million instead of the previous $97 million.

The proposal includes both the Northern and the Southern impoundment areas. 212,000 cubic yards of dioxin contaminated material will be removed from the sites for proper disposal.

Local environmentalists and officials praised the decision of the EPA, including Jackie Young of THEA and the San Jacinto River Coalition. Young has led the fight for removal of the pits for a number of years, prompted by serious health problems she attributes to pollution from the waste pits.

Others who issued statements in favor of the decision included Harris County Attorneys Vince Ryan and Terry O’Rourke, Congreeman Gene Green, and Precinct 2 Commissioner Jack Morman.

Jackie Young told the Star that she was pleased with the decision, but would continue to be engaged in the issue, and be a “watchdog” over the removal project.

One opponent to the decision, the “KeepItCapped” group, issued the following statement:

Statement From McGinnes Industrial Maintenance Corp. (MIMC) Regarding the U.S. EPA’s Record of Decision

“We cannot support a plan for the site that provides less protection to all affected communities than the existing cap already has provided. We are deeply concerned that the decision announced today could result in a release to the San Jacinto River and downstream areas. We disagree with EPA’s claim that the local or downstream areas can be protected during removal. We will review U.S. EPA’s Record of Decision in its entirety.”

Here is the full text of the EPA press release, and the Final RECORD OF DECISION:

DALLAS – (Oct. 11, 2017) The cleanup plan to address highly toxic dioxin contamination at the San Jacinto Waste Pits Superfund site in Harris County, Texas has been approved. The selected remedy will protect human health and the environment by removing highly contaminated material from the site and securing less contaminated areas. The plan provides certainty to people living near the site by permanently addressing risk posed by the contamination. It also provides certainty to other economic interests including the businesses that rely on the San Jacinto River for navigation and the Interstate-10 transportation corridor.

“Today, we are announcing our decision to ensure the San Jacinto site is cleaned up for the benefit of the entire community,” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. “As exemplified today, EPA is prioritizing Superfund clean-up by making decisions in a decisive, timely manner. The San Jacinto Waste Pits site was added to the National Priority List nearly a decade ago, and I am pleased to announce a decision has been made to permanently address the highly toxic materials to ensure health and safety in the surrounding communities.”

EPA’s cleanup plan includes installing engineering controls such as cofferdams before excavating almost 212,000 cubic yards of dioxin contaminated material for disposal. A small amount of material will stay on the site where controls will prevent access, eliminate off-site migration and monitor the natural recovery into the future. The estimated cost for the remedy is $115 million and is cost-effective; representing a reasonable value for the cost incurred.

EPA’s final cleanup plan, called a Record of Decision, addresses comments on the proposed plan concerning the risk of water spreading dioxin contamination downstream by installing controls such as cofferdams to allow for dry excavation of the waste material. Changes in the construction method will effectively eliminate any potential for spreading contamination to downstream areas. The $97 million proposed plan outlined wet excavation of material.

The Superfund site consists of two sets of impoundments, or pits, built in the mid-1960s for disposing solid and liquid pulp and paper mill wastes that are contaminated with polychlorinated dibenzopdioxins (dioxins) and polychlorinated dibenzofurans (furans). In 2011, the impoundments were covered with an armored cap as a temporary way to contain the contaminants.

EPA’s decision, fully explained in the Record of Decision, is based on extensive studies of the contamination, human health risks, and environmental risks of this site. The final cleanup plan considers the ever-changing San Jacinto River, which encroaches on the site, and protecting important downstream resources including the Galveston Bay estuary.

EPA’s selected remedy will permanently address the highly toxic dioxin waste materials, meets the federal regulatory requirements of the National Contingency Plan for cleanup of hazardous sites, and is protective of public health and the environment. EPA will release an Administrative Record, which consists of all documents used to support its selected remedy.

EPA added the San Jacinto Waste Pits site to the National Priorities List of Superfund sites in 2008, after testing revealed contamination from dioxins and furans near the waste pits. The northern set of impoundments, about 14 acres in size, is located on the western bank of the San Jacinto River, north of the Interstate-10 bridge over the San Jacinto River. These northern impoundments are partially submerged in the river. The southern impoundment, less than 20 acres in size, is located on a small peninsula that extends south of the Interstate-10 bridge. EPA is the lead agency for addressing the site and cleaning up the contamination, with support from several state partners and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The Administrative Record, including the Record of Decision, for the San Jacinto River Waste Pits Superfund Site is available online at: https://www.epa.gov/tx/sjrwp and at the following locations:

Stratford Branch Library

509 Stratford Street

Highlands, Texas 77562