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Posts published in September 2008

Classes resume at Aldine, North Forest schools

North Forest students to attend Smiley campus

Aldine ISD Spokesman Mike Keeney said that all 70 campuses resumed classes on Sept. 25. Of the 70 campuses, 68 of those returned with power. Only Jones EC/PK and Jones Elementary were forced to resume classes on generator power.

Keeney said that the district was fortunate in that they had no major damage to buildings. The most damage sustained was to the roof of Nimitz, which was repaired within days of the storm and the press box at Thorne Stadium, which has also been replaced.

Last week high school football also resumed. On Friday night Nimitz played Houston Madison. On Saturday MacArthur traveled to Atascocita. The district held a double header on Saturday at Thorne Stadium. In the afternoon Aldine High opened their district schedule against Humble, while Eisenhower played the nighttime game against Kingwood.

School resumed in North Forest ISD on Monday, September 29, at all North Forest ISD elementary and middle school campuses except for Oak Village Middle School, Thurgood Marshall Elementary School and Lakewood Elementary School.

All North Forest High School students will report to the M.B. Smiley campus for the start of school on Wednesday, Oct. 1. The campus is located at 10725 Mesa Drive.

School will resume at the Oak Village, Thurgood Marshall and Lakewood campuses at such time as power is restored to these schools. District administrators and staff members continue to work closely with emergency workers to get these campuses prepared as soon as possible.

Additionally, there will be a parent meeting for all parents of students attending North Forest High School.

Green bill to expand drilling, alternative energy passes House

Washington, D.C. – Rep. Gene Green’s (D-Houston) legislation to increase domestic energy supplies through expanded offshore drilling and investment in renewable energy and conservation won approval in the U.S. House of Representatives today by a vote of 236-189.

“We can no longer afford to play politics while Americans struggle to heat and cool their homes, fill their gas tanks, or lose good-paying jobs due to high energy costs,” Green said. “Our comprehensive bill will provide our nation with the conventional and renewable energy we need to fuel our economy and develop the clean energy technologies of tomorrow.”

Green said his legislation, also sponsored by Natural Resources Chairman Nick Rahall (D-W. Va.) and Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), would allow oil and gas drilling in federal waters more than 100 miles off the coast and provide for drilling between 50-100 miles off the coast at the discretion of individual states.

He said the bill will also: lower energy costs for consumers by releasing oil from the Strategic Classes resume at Aldine, North Forest schools Petroleum Reserve (SPR); increase research, development, and deployment of clean renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies; and invest in critical programs like the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), public transportation, and carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) research.

“This legislation allows us to utilize our own domestic oil and natural gas resources and reduce our dependence on foreign countries for energy,” Green said. “America’s energy security demands an “all-of-the-above” approach to energy policy, and I will work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to enact our legislation into law.”

Select provisions:

* Releases oil from the SPR. Rep. Nick Lampson (D-Stafford) originally introduced this provision as H.R. 6578, which passed the House in July. It would exchange nearly 10 percent of the SPR’s reserve for heavier, cheaper crude oil. This would put more high-quality oil on the market, reducing prices.

* Establishes renewable energy tax credits. Similar to bipartisan bills H.R. 5351 and H.R. 6049 passed by the House earlier this year. The bill includes $18 billion in tax cuts to encourage green technology development and energy independence.

* Creates a Strategic Energy Efficiency and Renewables Reserve. This was passed by the House as part of H.R. 6 in January. It creates a reserve to pay for subsequent legislation that accelerates renewable and alternative fuel development and use, promotes energy-efficient products, and promotes weatherization and utility assistance. The funds would come from drilling lease royalties.

* Allows drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf. Oil and gas leasing off federal waters would be allowed beginning 100 miles off the coast. Individual states would decide whether to allow drilling from 50-100 miles off their respective coasts. Drilling would not be allowed within 50 miles of the coast. National marine monuments and marine sanctuaries will be protected from leasing. National defense areas will be excluded from leasing. The GOMESA law on leasing and moratorium areas in the eastern Gulf of Mexico would be unchanged.

* Incentivizes natural gas vehicles. The bill sets a goal of increasing use of new natural gas powered vehicle. It includes tax incentives such as doubling a tax credit for homeowners who install natural gas refueling equipment.

* Strengthens energy efficiency codes for buildings. This passed the House as H.R. 3221. It calls on the Energy Department to update codes so that new residential and commercial buildings will be at least 30 percent more efficient by 2010 and 50 more efficient by 2020. This could save consumers $210 billion in energy bills through 2030.

* Creates incentives for energy efficient homes. This provision comes from H.R. 6078. It provides incentives for lenders to give lower interest rates to consumers who build, buy or remodel homes to increase energy efficiency.

* Invests in public transportation. The bill includes the Saving Energy Through Public Transportation Act, which passed the House as H.R. 6052. It would expand service and reduce transit fares for commuter rail and buses by providing $1.7 billion in grants to transit agencies over the next two years which could benefit Houston METRO.

IKE Damage at Thorne

HURRICANE IKE tore part of the roofing off the press box at Thorne Stadium, and it landed in the stands. Damage also was sustained inside the press box. Repairs have been rushed, so that the field could be used for Saturday’s games.

Multi-tasking-itis

Dear Angie,

As usual, I’m having trouble focusing. It’s the last day of the week that I can devote completely to my writing, and yet the gravity of that does little to motivate me. I should be taking full advantage of this day to myself, but instead I am resisting the temptations of the internet, television, and a nap. This is no easy feat – all are well within my reach. But I figure that writing to you, while not technically something that will advance my career as an author, is more productive than any of the alternatives. At least it’s writing, right?

Do you ever have trouble getting yourself to sit down and concentrate on a single task? I recently read an Atlantic Monthly article that discussed whether or not “Google is making us stupid.” It argues that modern media (the internet in particular) has reduced everything to snippets, meaning that we grow accustomed to reading, hearing, and watching information in short bursts and thus have lost our ability to stay engaged with longer works. I can’t say for sure if that’s true, but I do know that I am working in one, two, three… eight different windows on my computer screen right now. How’s that for short attention span?

(The article goes on to talk about a great many things related to how reading different types of materials – long, short, ideograms like Chinese characters, etc. – affects the circuitry of our brains, and how perhaps what we input to our minds affects what we output. It’s all very fascinating. You can, ironically, Google it to read the whole thing.)

I remember when we took World History together in our junior year of high school, and our teacher told us that unlike most teachers, she would never yell at us for doing “off-task” things in class. She said that if we were smart enough to be in her honors class, then she trusted us to multi-task. We’d only get in trouble if we didn’t do our homework or weren’t able to answer a question that she asked us.

At the time, I thought that was extremely cool and forward-thinking of her. She understood the way we worked! But now I can’t help wondering if our ability to multi-task is really a blessing in disguise. For me, doing more than one thing at a time usually means I’m just not doing any of those things very well. I think I’d rather be a master of one trade than a jack of them all.

But can I re-train myself to focus on a single task and finish it before I go on to the next?

Well, I wrote this letter to you in one sitting. I don’t think it means that I’m cured, but I think it’s a sign that the diagnosis is correct and the medicine may be starting to work.

Now that that’s off my chest, I should probably return to my writing…

Much love,
Kristan

Yikes, Ike!

Storm devastates Galveston, disrupts local electric service, water, schools, events, games


HOUSTON — A huge Category 2 Hurricane Ike changed everyone’s life in Southeast Texas starting last Friday, and continuing through most of this week. The massive storm, almost 500 miles wide, originally aimed at the coastal area around Freeport, but eventually changed its path and hit Galveston directly, causing severe flooding and structural damage to West Beach, Seawall, the Strand area, East Beach, and Bolivar Peninsula to the east. The storm had winds as high as 110 mph, and surge tides up to 20’ tall.

Amazingly, unlike the Great Hurricane of 1900 that destroyed Galveston, which was at that time the largest and most thriving city in Texas, Ike did not cause a lot of deaths. In 1900, estimates of the dead were between 6000 and 12,000. To date, Ike has been attributed with only about 26 deaths in Texas, and about 61 total along its path through other states.

Part of this minimal loss of life is due to the fact that warnings were issued for days prior to its landfall around 2 a.m. on Saturday morning, Sept. 13. A major mandatory evacuation of all of Galveston was ordered on Wednesday, and of low lying areas of Harris County by the end of the week. Eight zip code areas in Harris County were told they had to leave.

Most school districts, businesses, and other institutions decided to be safe, and closed either Thursday noon, or all day Friday, so that people could prepare, or leave the area. Because the evacuation was spread over several days, and other lessons about traffic control and fuel supplies had been learned from previous Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the mass evacuation did not cause gridlock traffic jams. It is estimated that almost one million people left their homes, in Galveston, Houston and Harris County, and other areas that were on the “dirty” side of the hurricane, in other words Beaumont, Orange and other counties to the east of Galveston Bay.

The Hurricane hit early in the morning of Saturday, and Houston had relatively quiet weather up until the actual coming ashore of the storm. Most of the wind and rain associated with this type of storm occured during the night, and homeowners awoke Saturday morning to discover their neighborhoods floods in the southern parts of the county, but only wind damage to trees, building, signs, fences and other similar structures in northern Harris County and surrounding areas.

However, some notable exceptions included two structures in the city, the Brennan’s New Orleans style restaurant downtown, which burned completely, and some fire damage to the Magic Island restaurant, an unusual structure and magic venue on the Southwest Freeway near Greenway Plaza. Firemen were dispatched to fight these fires, although high winds and heavy rain made the response less than ideal.

Galveston did not fare well. Most of the central city was inundated with flood waters, as much as 8’ high in streets of the Strand. Water breached the Seawall, destroying part of it and all the souvenir shops and restaurants built on piers out over the Gulf. Fires destroyed one major boat house in the waterfront area downtown, and many homes in the affluent western end of the island.

Hundreds of homes on Bolivar Peninsula were completely washed away, with barely any evidence that they had ever been there. Some loss of life was projected both on Bolivar and Galveston, because as many as 15,000 people had refused to heed the mandatory evacuation, and they may have been killed by the force or waters of the storm. However, as of press time, only 9 deaths have been attributed to the storm in Texas.

Since the storm has passed, media reports and photos have shown the complete devastation on the islands, but reporters say it is hard to appreciate unless you are on scene. Authorities have kept the public from returning, and it is not known when Galveston might begin to recover or repopulate as a resort city. It is obvious that a massive rebuilding program will be necessary.

To this end, representatives of the state government, including Governor Rick Perry, and the federal government, including Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, FEMA head David Paulson, and President Bush, have given the area superficial tours and promises of quick relief. However, in actuality aide has been slow to arrive, and there is some evidence that the effort is disorganized. Mayor White and HC Judge Emmett have shown frustration at the lack of results, and expressed it in their news conferences. Congressman Nick Lampson told the Star-Courier that poor performance would bring an investigation by Congressional authorities, and other local congressmen have echoed this sentiment.

Promises from the leadership team have included 10,000 power company workers from CenterPoint Energy, and 7500 National Guard troops from the state. CenterPoint said that they had extra workers coming from states far away, including California, Colorado, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. In reality, recovery has been slow, the public and community leaders complained.

Rain hit the Houston area on Saturday, after the hurricane had passed to the north. This rainstorm was a separate storm, coming from the West. It dropped several inches of water, which contributed to extensive flooding seen throughout the area on Saturday and Sunday. Many roads were closed, including I-45, I-10, and feeder roads on most of the Freeways. Authorities have said this contributed to the slow delivery of some FEMA supplies. In addition, bayous could be seen overflowing their banks, including White Oak Bayou, Greens Bayou, and Halls Bayou. The latter had extensive flooding for a while in the area where the bayou crosses Jensen Drive and US59. Due to the severity of the storms, and flooding and power problems, the city closed both airports on Saturday and Sunday to all commercial and private flights. Limited service was resumed on Monday.

Power outages were the greatest problem for most Houstonians. At one point, CenterPoint reported that almost 2 million of their customers were without power, and that it would be weeks to restore full service. Likewise, Entergy reported 97% of their customers without power, and since they serve rural areas, including the Woodlands, they thought it might take 4 weeks to restore everyone to full power. This lack of power has contributed to other problems for most residents: no gasoline, because stations don’t have power to pump gas, and no ice or refrigeration and therefore only a small amount of food that can be stored to eat. Related to this is the fact that most food stores were closed for lack of power or personnel on Saturday and Sunday and Monday.

FEMA and State authorities had promised prior to the hurricane that they would preposition supplies of food, water, and gasoline so that an orderly return to normal would be possible. Part of the plan is to set up P.O.D.s, or Points Of Distribution, throughout the city, county, and Galveston area, to serve the population until full services can return. These P.O.D.s are being manned by volunteers and federal employees. Red Cross, Salvation Army, church and civic volunteers, and TSA (Transportation Security Agency) have been involved.

In the East Harris County area, several P.O.D. locations are now active: In Highlands, at the San Jacinto Community Center; in Baytown, at West Town Mall, 4100 Decker Drive; Baytown Courthouse Annex, 701 West Baker; and in Channelview, Fonteno Courthouse Annex, 14350 Wallisville. Provisions that are being handed out include 2 bags of ice, 2 gallons of water, and a box of MRE (Meals Ready to Eat) per car or family. These PODs are currently set up, but may change in the next few days, so check. By Monday, about 19 locations were actively distributing food and water.

In addition to the official PODs, there are a number of “shelters” that were established the first night for evacuees or those who otherwise found themselves unable to defend against the oncoming storm. Many of these were in churches, schools, or community centers throught the region. The Red Cross reported that Friday night they had established 75 shelters, serving about 9500 persons. One of the first shelters was set up at Crosby High School Friday night.

Many municipalities have instituted curfews, in response to an expected increase in crime because of the areas with no power. The city of Houston had a curfew from midnight to 6am every night, according to Police Chief Harold Hurtt. On Monday, however, he reported that actual crime and arrests were down from the normally expected amount.

Almost all school districts and college districts suspended classes, most from last Friday until the end of last week. This included Goose Creek, Huffman, Crosby, Dayton and Barbers Hill as wellas San Jacinto College and Lee College.. As of presstime, most districts were planning to reopen, with different schedules announced. Most districts rescheduled football games that had been planned for last week, too.

As of Monday about 87,000 of 2.1 million customers had power restored by CenterPoint, according to the company. FEMA reported that a steady convoy of trucks with supplies was entering the Reliant Stadium staging area, where they were then redeployed to the PODs for the public to pick up supplies.

School Districts look at tax rates increases; Lone Star College district adopts major decrease

School finance is always a hot button issue during the Texas Legislative Session. However with rising fuel and consumer costs local school districts are not able to wait for the state to fix the situation and are being forced to raise property taxes.

The North Forest ISD will hold an election in December, in which they will voters to approve a rollback rate. Under state law the district raise the rate to $1.314339 per $100 valuation without voter approval.

During a pubic meeting scheduled for Sept. 22 the district is expected to ask for a property tax rate of $1.444339. The meeting will be held at the administration building board room at 7 p.m. This rate in broken down into $1.17005 for maintenance and operations and $.274289 for debt service. A comparison of last year’s budget to this year shows that the district, which has seen its share of financial difficulties, will have a 6.36% in its maintenance and operations budget. Its debt service budget, however, will increase by 12.92%. This budget will be used to pay the $69,163,755 the district has in bonded indebtedness. Documents obtained from the district show that the average property owner will see their taxes go up from $602.04 annually to $729.19 or $127.15.

North Forest is not the only local school district facing financial struggles. The Humble ISD will hold an election on Nov. 22, seeking voter approval for a rollback rate. Like North Forest, Humble is seeking a $1.17 per $100 valuation for maintenance and operations. This district said that since 2002 they have cut $27 million from their budget, but that rising costs, frozen state funding and enrollment growth has forced the tax increase.

Not all districts will need voter approval to raise their rates. Dr. Keith Clark, Assistant Superintendent for Finance for Aldine ISD, said that they plan to keep their M&O rate at $1.1338. The I&S rate of $.14362 is expected to go up by one cent.

These figures, Clark cautioned, are preliminary. The school district has not gotten the final tax rolls from the Harris County Appraisal District. Once this data is in, he said, the district will make their final recommendation for the next tax rate. The rate will then be published in the “Northeast News.”

The Lone Star College System has approved a 43-cent decrease in the tax rate, lowering it from $11.44 cents to $11.01 cents per $100 valuation. Cindy Gilliam, vice chancellor of business affairs and chief financial officer for Lone Star College System, said the decrease was made possible by the addition of a wealth of new property in the area.

The system’s territory experienced a 50 percent increase in value from the growth, allowing the college system to lower the tax rate. The college system approved a $219.6 million budget for the 2008-09 year in August and promised taxpayers the tax rate of 11.44 cents per $100 valuation would either be approved as is or decreased. This is the second year in a row the college system has not increased either the tax rate nor the tuition rate.

Kevin Bailey “Roast & Toast” set for Sept. 16

NORTHEAST HOUSTON – Friends and supporters of Texas State Legislator Kevin Bailey are planning an Appreciation Dinner in his honor on Tuesday evening, September 16, to be held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel Houston North-Greenspoint at 6:00 p.m.

The dinner will be in the format of a “Roast and Toast,” with colleagues called upon to characterize their remembrances of his 18 years in office, serving residents of District 140. To date, roasters who have agreed to participate include State Representative and Speaker Pro Tempore Sylvester Turner, District 139; Reggie Gray, North Houston Greenspoint Chamber; former County Judge Robert Eckels, Harris County; Charley Wilkison, Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas; and Justice of the Peace Dale Gorczynski. Jack Drake, Greenspoint District, will be master of ceremonies.

“Kevin is known for bringing basic water and sewer services to residents and enhancing public law enforcement,” said Drake. “By helping to establish Management Districts, Kevin has enabled the business community to fund improvements and services that have brought value to the entire community.”

Bailey authored legislation that established the Greenspoint District, East Aldine Management District and Airline Improvement District, all of which are participating in the appreciation dinner.

To honor Bailey, scholarships in his name are being established with proceeds from the dinner and sponsorships. Sponsors to date include Crowne Plaza Hotel, developer Dwayne Henson, East Aldine Management District, Plumbers Local Union No. 68, IBEW Local Union 716, Greenspoint District, Airline Improvement District, Hawes Hill Calderon LLP, Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell LLP, Allen Boone Humphries Robinson LLP, North Houston Bank, IBEW Local Union 66, Case Contractors, Aldine Independent School District, Nitsch & Son Utility Co. Inc., State Rep. Sylvester Turner, Houston Apartment Association, GFI Management Services Inc., North Houston Greenspoint Chamber of Commerce, and Swank Audio Visuals.

Several hundred guests are expected at the dinner. Ticket prices start at $55, and a table of 10 begins at $750. If you wish to join the evening of fun and appreciation, with accolades, humility and humor – please contact the Greenspoint District at 281-874-2131, or register at www.greenspoint.org.

Mayor White tells Chamber of City strategies for future

Chamber members heard a full program of speakers last Thursday, at the monthly luncheon of the North Houston Greenspoint Chamber.

The featured speaker was Houston Mayor Bill White, who explained that “listening to the customer is a good way to run an organization” whether it is a business or a city.

He elaborated on this theme, talking about the positive values that new businesses coming into the city find: diversity, friendliness, affordability for living. He reviewed initiatives that the city is undertaking to help the quality of life in the city, including reduction of chemicals in the air, lowering of the tax rate every year he has been in office, the Safe Clear towing program on the highways, building of light rail, and the replacement and building of sewer and water lines to keep up with growth and aging infrastructure. To continue to stay ahead of infrastructure needs, he said we need to elect good stewards of our tax money; create a separate fund for renewing of drainage lines; and identify sources of revenue when politicians promise improvements.

In reviewing the status of Houston, he noted that during his term, $100 million in infrastructure projects had been completed, and that another $211 million projects have been started. He noted that the economy in Houston remains strong, in contrast to the rest of the country, with retail sales still growing at a rate of 7% annually. Many businesses are still adding jobs, he said, and Houston has a reputation for a work force that’s growing and hard working.

With more people wanting to live close to their work, a trend is developing for high rise living inside the core of the city.

Hurrican IKE Information

SCHOOLS CLOSED
Due to Hurricane IKE scheduled to hit Galveston and Houston Friday night, all Aldine, Humble and North Forest Schools are closed Friday through Sunday. This includes athletic events which were cancelled or rescheduled for Thursday through the weekend.

EMERGENCY SERVICES
Sheriffs, Constables and Deputies as well as Fire and ESD have gone on overtime schedules to provide services as required.

HURRICANE IKE
Galveston and Houston are on the direct path of Hurricane Ike, which is now a Category 2 hurricane. The whole city of Galveston is expected to be completely flooded and under water. A 20′ high water surge is expected to wreak havoc on low lying areas near the coast. Inland areas, such as Aldine, Humble, North Forest, Greenspoint, and Beltway areas, are expected to sustain heavy wind and flood damage.

HIGHWAYS
Evacuation routes are relatively open with minimal traffic delays. County Judge Ed Emmett has recommended US290 to Bryan and US59 to Lufkin as good exit routes. Also available, but with some delays are US45 north to Dallas, and I-10 west to San Antonio.