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Posts published in November 2011

TxDOT studies improvements of I-45, Hardy roadways in future

By GILBERT HOFFMAN Northeast News

The community was invited to two public meetings last week, to comment on TxDOT plans to increase the number of lanes between Downtown and Beltway 8, to ease current and future traffic congestion. The project is officially entitled North Houston Highway Improvement Project. The meeting is part of a required EIS (Environmental Impact Study).

Meetings were held at Jeff Davis High School on Tuesday night, and Aldine High School on Thursday night. The purpose of the meetings was to involve the public in the planning process, and to present information about the history of the project, to explain the environmental review process required, to present a possible timeline, and to invite comments on two draft documents available at the meeting and online.

TxDOT showed a 7 minute slide presentation to start, covering the major points in the study. Their premise is that as population and employment in the Houston area increase, they will contribute to additional traffic congestion on IH45, which is currently classified as serious to severe. The proposed project would alleviate this congestion, they said. In addition, work would bring the roadway up to current design standards, improving safety and efficiency. The design would also improve the ability of the roadway to function for evacuation events.

The costs and sources of funding of this work have not been determined.

The TxDOT officials said that the study will include alternatives, including a “no-build” alternative as required by federal standards. It will also include managed lane/toll alternatives.

Three previous reports dealt with the problems and solutions in this same transportation corridor. The 2003 Report emphasized transit solutions over highway expansion. The 2004 Report detailed a regional transit plan with aggressive bus service and light rail. The 2005 Report recommended highway expansion, with four “managed” lanes added to the IH45/Hardy Toll Road pair.

Present in the presentation room was Barry Klein, observing the process. Klein is an advocate of NO expansion, saying that TxDOT exaggerates the problem for the purpose of justifying more roadway lanes. He posits that congestion always levels off at optimum levels on existing roads, and drivers find alternatives on their own.

TxDOT wants comments submitted from the public by Dec. 5th to be incorporated in the first report. These can be submitted by email to HOU-piowebmail@txdot.gov, and more information is at www.IH45northand more.com. Mail address is PO Box 1386, Houston, TX 77251.

TxDOT plans three more public meetings, and a public hearing before Spring 2012.

East Aldine, Sunbelt put new sewage plant into service Capacity for 2952 homes

EAST ALDINE– The capacity for new sewer hook-ups in the Aldine area increased dramatically this week, as the Sunbelt Fresh Water District put into service a rehabilitated sewage plant facillity on Gloger that has been out of service for several years, due to aging and required upgrades.

The work was accomplished by a grant from the East Aldine District, according to Scott Bean, EAMD Public Infrastructure Manager. The grant was in the amount of $1,631,198 and will allow the District to control 93% of hook-ups to the plant, or 2952 homes or their commercial equivalent.

As pointed out in the transmittal letter to the board from Sunbelt Engineer Jim Ainsworth, the resulting 990,000 gallons of wastewater capacity per day is being achieved at a cost of $1.76 per gallon, as compared with $4 to $5 per gallon if the plant had been built new.

Bean reported to the board that this new capacity will ultimately be used to serve single family homes in the treatment plant service area that currently have septic tank systems.

Ainsworth revealed that it will also allow loads at other nearby Sunbelt sewage plants to be balanced and offloaded to this plant, since they are interconnected. Some of these are nearing capacity.

Sunbelt currently operates six sewage treatment plants in the area. In November 2010 they received a loan from the Texas Water Development Board for $10,440,000 to build replacement sewage treatment facilities at their Woodland Oaks and Oakwilde sites. At that time, customers were paying an average of $73.48 per month for combined water and sewer services. Sunbelt currently serves a total of 7601 water customers, and 6576 sewage customers.

Major marijuana bust in Aldine 7 arrested, 1600 lbs. confiscated

HOUSTON – Seven individuals have been arrested after they were observed unloading approximately 1600 pounds of marijuana, U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson announced today along with Robert Rutt, special-agent-in-charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement – Homeland Security Investigations (ICE-HSI).

The criminal complaint, filed today, charges Rene Salinas Saenz, 34, Jesus Alvarado Galvan, 34, and Otoniel Botella, 34, all of Houston; along with Jose Alberto Barrera Jr., 31, Jorge Luis Flores, 33, Jose Hinojosa-Galvan, 31, all of Roma, Texas; and Luis Faustino Garcia, 51, from Mexico, with conspiring to possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance involving more than 100 kilograms of marijuana.

The arrests follow a month-long undercover investigation during which an undercover agent posing as a truck driver was hired by Barrera to drive a trailer loaded with marijuana from the Rio Grande Valley area to Houston. The complaint alleges that the undercover agent was provided with the loaded trailer and instructions to drive it to Houston where Barrera would take control of it. On Nov. 15, 2011, Barrera picked up the tractor with the attached loaded trailer.

According to the complaint, the men unloaded the marijuana from the trailer at a property located on the 13200 block of Reeveston in Houston and loaded it into two separate vehicles. The individuals then drove away from the property with the marijuana loaded within, at which time they were stopped by law enforcement officers and the marijuana was seized.

The seven men taken into custody yesterday are expected to make their initial appearances before U.S. Magistrate Judge George C. Hanks Jr. later today or tomorrow. At that time, the court will determine whether the defendants will be released on bond or remain in custody at the request of the United States pending preliminary and detention hearings.

If convicted of the conspiracy offense, the defendants each face a mandatory minimum punishment of five years to a maximum of 40, without parole, and a $5 million fine.

The charges are the result of an Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force investigation conducted by federal, state and local law enforcement agencies ICE-HSI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, Houston and Pasadena Police Departments, Harris County Sheriff’s Office and the Texas Attorney General’s Office.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Eric Smith.

A complaint is an accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence. Defendants are presumed innocent unless and until convicted through due process of law.

Groundbreaking for new Sam Houston school

By Luke Hales

A new chapter began Saturday, Oct. 22nd for Sam Houston High School, as local officials gathered for the groundbreaking of a new Math, Science and Technology Center taking place on the campus.

Construction on the facility began this month, and is expected to be completed by August of 2012. The new building will encompass approximately 30,000 square feet of the latest in educational tools, as well as eight science labs, four math labs and two classrooms.

The building is one of the latest in a series of changes to the campus [located at 9400 Irvington Street] meant to increase the quality of education at the school, as well as increase the number of students who graduate. Once referred to as a “;dropout factory”; in a Johns Hopkins University study, the school has already seen a significant jump in graduating seniors — there were 432 in 2011, up from 298 previously.

The building will also house the school’s Junior Reserve Officer Training Coprs (JROTC) classes, according to reports.

A number of local officials were on hand to commemorate the event, including HISD District One Representative Anna Eastman, state representative Armando Walle, and state senator Mario Gallegos.

“This school is near and dear to me” said state senator Mario Gallegos. “I’m really pleased that this building is going up. It has been a long time. These kids deserve these programs”

For more information on the new center, call 713-696-0200.

A sweet celebration

By Kristan Hoffman

Despite fireworks and festivities, the start of 2011 was bittersweet. Shortly after we rang in the New Year, Andy’s younger brother was deployed to Afghanistan with the Marines. Their family has a history of military service, but mine does not. This was my first experience worrying about a soldier overseas, and I quickly learned that when someone you care about is at risk, politics and philosophies go out the window. All you want is for them to come home safe.

For months we prepared care packages like it was our job, like our soldier’s life depended on it. Every other week we filled a Support Our Troops box with flavored sunflower seeds, white tube socks, lighthearted DVDs, and lots of deodorant. We wrote letters filled with the most inane details — about dogs and gardens and sports and celebrities — because we wanted to help him stay connected with “normal” life.

After half a year, we got the good news that our Marine was coming home. (“So please stop sending boxes, because by the time they get there, he’ll be gone!”) His first tour was over, and he arrived safely back in the States at the peak of an August heat. After spending months in the Afghani desert, marching for miles under the scorching sun, our soldier didn’t mind the “hot spell.” He barely even noticed it.

To celebrate his return, Andy took his brother, parents, and me to Chicago for Labor Day weekend. We visited Sue the T-Rex at the Field Museum. We shopped the Magnificent Mile. We laughed until we cried at the Second City comedy show.

But the highlight of our trip was a quiet dinner at Joe’s, the renowned seafood and steak house. After making reservations (several weeks in advance) Andy emailed to ask if they could do anything for his brother. He specified that we weren’t looking for freebies; we just wanted a special night. The manager replied that they could only give us their best server, an offer we happily accepted.

And our server was indeed fantastic. Attentive, friendly, knowledgeable, accommodating, and funny. We had a lovely evening, thanks to his witty banter and many excellent recommendations.

At the end of the meal, we decided to order a couple desserts to share. Our server got a twinkle in his eye and said he knew just the thing. A few minutes later, he wheeled out a tray of nearly a dozen desserts, which we figured were for the tables nearby. As it turns out, every single dish on that cart was for us. Andy’s brother was fairly embarrassed, but his mother and I both got tears in our eyes as our server and the manager came over to thank him for his service.

Although we were already full, the five of us ate as much of those cakes and pies as we could. Not because they were free, or too delicious to waste, but because they were all our fears put to rest, all our hopes confirmed, all our pride, gratitude, and good fortune baked into chocolate and iced with sugar. Those desserts were what our trip was all about. Celebration.

We savored every bite.

Happy Anniversary

By Angie Liang

By the time you read this, my 2nd anniversary of moving to New York City will have passed. Like most weeks, it was rather uneventful and busy with work. Though tired as usual, I couldn’t help contemplating where my life is heading. After two years of working and living in this fast-paced city, I’m surprised to find that I’m still a little uncertain about it.

Moving here was propelled by a great career opportunity that I couldn’t turn down, but my honeymoon period with New York had ended a couple years earlier, during previous internships I’d done here. As I settled into my fourth-floor studio apartment, I no longer felt the excitement and wonder of so many students and young professionals around the world who dream of living here. Instead, I found myself battling expenses, egos, and a dwindling sense of passion.

Before I came to New York, I was active in developing environmental policy on my campus, fundraising for the local children’s hospital, and even planting trees. I danced every week—two-stepping, salsa, clubbing. I went to concerts with friends, hosted dinner parties in my apartment, cleaned up the local river, played piano…

All of that stopped when I moved here.

But it’s not entirely the city’s fault. There’s plenty to do, and a raw energy that radiates through New York’s 8 million residents. Even strangers and visitors remark upon this aura, this vitality that cannot be captured. But it belongs to the city, not to me.

I’ve tried to borrow that energy by tapping into the veins of New York. Walking the grid of streets, I continuously explore and find things to appreciate. I love running my hands through the grassy plants along the Highline, an urban park converted from the old railroad track. I love the tiny, foreigner-filled restaurant in Nolita that exudes coolness but pretends it’s not that hip. I love the farmer’s markets, flea markets, street markets, any market. Most importantly, I love the sassy 13-year-old girl I mentor, and the good friends I have made here.

To help me understand my hazy emotions and desires, I asked some of these friends to explain why they liked New York and whether they’d still be here in two years. Some grew up in the city, others are transplants like myself. The answers I received from them reflects the magic that the city exudes:

“The energy is unlike anywhere else.”

“Always so much to do. Friends are always visiting.”

“Everything about New York is energized, and there are infinite possibilities.”

Yet even with all the positives, most said they did not expect to stay here long-term, echoing my own mixed feelings.

New York has never been shy about its complexity and allure, but I never realized how tough it would be to live in that, day in and day out. I’m here now, but who knows where I’ll end up. That’s the excitement of life. That’s something New York City has taught me to embrace.

TEA issues Final Closing Order to NF

By GILBERT HOFFMAN, Northeast News

NORTH FOREST– The public and the District held a celebration party Thursday night, heaping praise and accolades on the newly appointed permanent Superintendent, Ms. Edna Forté. Several board members, past and present, and the HCC-NE President, Margaret Ford Fisher, wished Forté well in her position.

Unfortunately, by the next day, Friday, the happy thoughts had turned sour, when the District received a letter from Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott, informing them that a Final Decision had been made, and they would be dissolved as of July 1, 2012. At that time, the Houston ISD is ordered to absorb the North Forest district and its 7500 students, according to the letter. Scott’s letter was not entirely unanticipated, but the District has maintained all year that they would be able to correct the long-standing academic and financial problems, and get TEA approval.

Public statements rebutting the closure notice were immediately issued by Superintendent Forté and Congresswoman Jackson-Lee.

The community, with the strong support of Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, has waged a campaign to save the district from closing. In fact, an “Education Town Hall” was held after the NFISD fete Thursday evening, as Lee returned from a meeting in Austin with TEA. Another meeting Sunday afternoon, at 3 pm in the Shadydale Elementary school, continued organizing the community support against the TEA decision.

In his 8 page letter to the District, Scott cited the district and the high school for a 2011 rating of Academically Unacceptable (AU), and further noted that this was the third consecutive year for the district, and the sixth consecutive year for the high school. He continued that the district earned a substantial financial accountability rating for the fourth consecutive year.

Therefore, he stated that these findings “require me to assign the North Forest ISD a 2011-2012 accreditation status of Not Accredited-Revoked and to close the district effective July 1, 2012.”

The letter contains a long and detailed list of deficiencies that the TEA Conservator assigned to the district has identified. Scott indicates that most of these have not been solved satisfactorily.

In regard to previous academic accountability ratings, Scott notes that on Nov. 2nd that appeal was denied.

Scott states that “This order will annex the North Forest ISD to the Houston ISD effective July 1, 2012.

Although a “Final” decision, he notes “The procedures available to the district to request a review of the accreditation status assignment and order of annexation are discussed below.”

Scott also notes that the annexation must be precleared by the US Department of Justice, under the National Voting Rights Act of 1965.

District Statement

In a statement issued by North Forest’s Forté, she said that “the North Forest ISD has retained legal counsel and will continue to fight the closure of the district.”

And in a slap at the TEA, she continues “The Texas Education Agency is seeking to close the district for issues that occurred while under partial or complete conservatorship.”

Jackson-Lee Statement

Based on a meeting that she and NAACP officials had with TEA Commissioner Scott on Thursday, she stated in a press release Friday that “It is not accurate to assume North Forest ISD is going to close especially if they were to receive a fair and unbiased review by the TEA.”

Jackson-Lee said that the TEA Commissioner based his assessment largely on the two years when NFISD was under the control of TEA and their conservator.

“The NFISD now is moving towards the improvements that the TEA failed to accomplish. She concluded “Stop condemning… and give them a chance!!”

Chamber holds Starlight Awards Banquet

NORTH HOUSTON– Starlight was the theme of the Houston Intercontinental Chamber’s Awards Banquet and Installation last Thursday evening at the Hilton Hotel Greenspoint.

A capacity crowd from businesses in the Greenspoint/Aldine areas enjoyed banter from the emcee, Reggie Gray, and joined in honoring those award winners that were noted for making a difference in the area.

The evening also included a live and silent auction, with many unusual items auctioned by Gray as a fundraiser for the Chamber.

The Chamber took the opportunity to thank those who have helped it have a very successful year, by awarding Pinnacle Awards. Recipients of these were Richard Cantu/East Aldine District; Ken Fisher/Noble Energy; Michelle Oshinski/Primeway Federal Credit Union; Phyllis Oustafine/Hawes Hill Calderon; and Linda Mercier/Houston Northwest Medical Center.

The top award, a Lifetime Achievement Award, was given to Jack Drake/Greenspoint District. Drake accepted graciously, and with his usual warm humor. He mentioned his list of achievements in his “lifetime” and included a picture of his two year old grandson.

A Small Business Award went to Andrew Watkins/CEO Watkins Group insurance. The Corporation Award was given to Scott Kliever/CFO SYSCO Corporation.

The Business Partner Award was given to Alejandro Del Valle/CEO Hispanic Business Center. Volunteer of the Year went to Marlene Stovall/American Bureau of Shipping.

The John Zizelmann Humanitarian Award went to Mariana Sanchez/Bonding Against Adversity. The Citizen of the Year Award was given to Heather Dunagin of CenterPoint Energy.

The live auction had some unusual donations, that made the bidding lively and interesting. These included a week’s trip to a fish camp, a large BBQ Grill, tickets in an Astros baseball suite, a Pearl necklace, a Golf package, and a Trip for 2 of your choice, to Hawaii, the Caribbean, or Europe. This included a one week stay in a time share apartment.

Installation of the 2012 Board of Directors also took place. Installed were the following:

Chair, Kirby Sanford/Comerica Bank; Chair-Elect, Linda Mercier/Houston Northwest Medical Center; Past Chair, Jocklynn Keville/Greenspoint District; Secretary, Phyllis Oustifine/Hawes Hill Calderon/ Treasurer, Scott Kliever/SYSCO; Vice Chairs Richard Cantu/East Aldine District; Heather Dunagin/CenterPoint Energy; John Farrell/Attorney; Jeff Kaiser/Kaiser International; Michelle Oshinski/PrimeWay Federal Credit Union; Bill Pilkington/Bentley, Bratcher & Associates, CPAs; Seth Sharr/retired Equiva Services; Andrew Watkins/The Watkins Group.

Also sworn in were the following Directors:

Emilio Aragon/Hispanic Business Center; James Alexander/Commercial State Bank; Bob Beasley/Beasley Tire Co.; Ray Bennett/ABS; Ray Bejarano/Greenspoint Mall; Johanna Boley/LSC-North Harris; Alejandro Del Valle/Hispanic Business Center; Sidney Evans/Reliant Energy; Ken Fisher/Noble Energy; Bill Ginder/Caldwell Companies; Teri Koerth/Airline Improvement District; Wendy Millhouse/Exterran; Carl Murray/Swift Energy; Jeff Procell/Northline Commons; Fred Rake/CEVA Logistics; Rebecca Reyna/Greater Northside District; Dylan Schopper/Northwinds Commercial Realty; Henry Vogel/EFT Insurance; Amber Welchel/Amegy Bank; and Whitney Whitmire, AT&T.

Gray announced that several staff members had been promoted or newly hired. These included Sarita Bubar, now Vice President of the Chamber; Darylynne Ryan, a new staff member in the office, and current staffers Erica Campbell and Rebecca Chumbley.

Major events planned for 2012 were announced, including the 6th Annual Economic Forum on February 2nd, to be held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. Other major events will be a Healthcare Summit, Transportation Summit, Candidate Election Panel, State of the School Districts Panel, State of the Management Districts presentations, and a Community Advisory Countil.

Houston North Forest Chamber of Commerce hosts a “ Visions Gala Day”

By Julieta Paita

Members, sponsors and supporters of the Houston North Forest Chamber of Commerce gathered at Eden Event Center,7450 North Wayside, on Nov. 8 for a “Visions Gala Day”.

Vision for North Forest Chamber of Commerce is about “growing and growing with small business like Union Pacific,”said James Leonard, Chamber president. “We are investors in trying making our community to grow and grow.”

Judge Zinetta Birney, guest speaker, said education in North Forest is a priority.

“North Forest is one of our largestschool districts in the city of Texas, education in my opinion is a subject that must happen and distribute the top issue on my list of issues,” said Birney. “North Forest must find a way of providing service to this community, closure or merging to HISD is not the answer.”

North Forest Superintendent, EdnaForté, as well as some elected officials and Houston Community College-North Forest were among the list of recognized guests.

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee reviewed some of the President’s Obama plans; the American Jobs Act and tax cuts to help American’s small business hire and grow. To know more about this act, you can go to www.whitehouse.gov/jobsact#overview.

Houston North Forest Chamber of Commerce has its monthly meeting every 2nd Tuesday of each month. 713-670-7500. More pictures on page 8.

Colonial Hills meeting tackles water rates, quality problems

By Juliata Paita Northeast News

Colonial Hills Civic Club held a meeting the first day of November to discuss water and waste water rates as well as water quality.

Some of the most important problems discussed were the fact that residents of the neighborhood do not have water. Complaints were heard and a couple staff members from Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) provided some solutions, and they also shared information about how the TCEQ works.

Residents of the area complained about water fees being too high, “higher than the rest of our other bills,” they said.

When dealing with rusty water, the first thing to do is to find out what’s causing the rusty water because in some cases, it comes from copper lines been too old, they said.

Residents explained that they have called the local water office to complain about the high rates and the quantity of the water but nothing has been done yet.

TCEQ representatives said it is best to contact the regional office here in Houston at 713-767-3500 for any problems related to water quality or water quantity. “When you are having issues such as running low water pressure, call the regional office,” they added. “For problems with customer service, that’s 512-239-4691.” They said if once you contact the regional office and they do not solve the problem, the next step is to call them and they will take action to solve the issue.