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Posts published in April 2019

State sues KMCO for air pollution

Smoke billows from the KMCO plant fire, as seen by the neighbors and first responders on Ramsey Road in Crosby.

Deadly Fire At Crosby Chemical Plant Raises Legal And Safety Questions

HARRIS COUNTY – Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has filed a petition against KMCO alleging violations of the Clean Air Act, but KMCO’s legal issues don’t end there.

Last Tuesday’s explosion at a KMCO chemical plant in Crosby, Texas killed one and injured two.

Separate from Tuesday’s explosion and fire, KMCO is currently in violation of the Clean Water Act, and has had a host of other recent offenses, including violations of the Clean Air Act and a hazardous waste statute, the Houston Chronicle reported.

Tracey Hester of the University of Houston Law Center said that a facility’s record plays into the potential liability it may face in the wake of a disaster.“Just speaking generally, absolutely — a facility that has a record of prior violations, particularly the same kind of violations, escalates its legal exposure,” Hester said. “At the very least, most statutes provide that repeat violations have bigger potential penalties associated with them.”

Facilities with a history of violations have a harder time renewing the permits they need to operate and must face more inspections from regulators, according to Hester. That history could also play into potential criminal charges against decision-makers at KMCO.

“At the end of the day, it is very clearly — on both the federal and state levels — a major factor in deciding whether to bring a criminal action,” Hester said.

Safety concerns

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San Jacinto Day cancelled due to ITC Fire

2019 Festival originally scheduled for April 13

The March 17 tank farm fire at the ITC facility remains an ongoing situation that has closed the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site and the San Jacinto Museum of History since the emergency situation began. At the present time, access to the area surrounding the site is restricted to emergency personnel involved in the cleanup. All preparations needed for a successful Festival & Battle Reenactment by necessity, have been halted.

“While the situation is improving, we do not know when conditions will allow for the public to return to this hallowed ground,” said Larry Spasic, San Jacinto Museum President. “Our overriding concern is, of course, the safety of our guests and the participants involved as well as the animals used in the reenactment and our educational venues. Because of the ongoing efforts of the cleanup and remediation of the pollution in the waterways and grasslands in and around the San Jacinto Site and continuing uncertainties, we feel it is better to act proactively than reactively to these circumstances.”

With an abundance of caution, the difficult decision has been made to cancel the 2019 San Jacinto Festival and Battle Reenactment scheduled for April 13th. All involved are deeply saddened that this important tradition will not occur for only the second time in nearly 35 years.

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New School to meet increased demands to serve students with behavioral disorders, autism

Harris County Department of Education Officials and community members at the groundbreaking of new Behavior School.

HOUSTON, TX – April 5, 2019 – Harris County Department of Education kicked off construction on a new, 47,970-square-foot school to replace Academic and Behavior School West at a ceremonial groundbreaking April 3 at 12772 Medfield Drive in southwest Houston. County and city officials, school district leaders, staff and students attended the event backdropped by a bulldozer, shovels and hardhats.

HCDE Superintendent James Colbert said the new school is needed to provide additional opportunities for students who need specialized education services in the districts HCDE serves. Students attending AB West are challenged with behavioral disorders, autism spectrum disorder and other significant physical and emotional needs.

The new school, which will serve up to 150 students ages 5-22 with intellectual, developmental and behavioral needs, borders Dairy Ashford Road and Westpark Tollway.

“With the addition of our new school, we will have the best education facility to educate students who are autistic and emotionally disturbed from local school districts in greater Harris County,” said Victor Keys, principal at AB School West.

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LEGISLATIVE REPORT: House, Senate continue to move closer to passing budget

AUSTIN — Last week, with 60 days remaining until the end of the 140-day regular session of the 86th Texas Legislature, the House and Senate vaulted closer toward finalizing a state budget.

On March 27, the House of Representatives voted 149-0 in favor of HB 1, its version of the state budget for fiscal years 2020 and 2021. The lower chamber’s bill allocates some $251 billion to cover the two years and puts $9 billion more than the current budget into education reform, including a teacher pay increase and pension funding, and property tax reform. SB 1, the Senate’s version of the state budget, is scheduled for more early-April hearings in the Senate Finance Committee before coming to a Senate floor vote.

SB 1, like HB 1, presently contains some $9 billion for education reform and a property tax break. Since mid-January, the committee chaired by Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, heard more than 750 witnesses present public testimony in 25 meetings, helping members craft a bill that totals more than 1,000 pages. Nelson broke down the $9 billion as follows:

— Almost $4 billion for an across-the-board teacher pay raise of $5,000;

— $2.3 billion in additional money for non-salary public education reform; and

— $2.7 billion for property tax relief.

SB 1 is expected to pass soon in the Senate, and should it do so, a conference committee of House and Senate members must meet to reconcile differences in the two versions of the state budget. Nelson and four other senators appointed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, along with House Appropriations Committee Chair John Zerwas, R-Richmond, and four House members appointed by Speaker Dennis Bonnen, will make up the conference committee. After the versions are reconciled, both chambers will put the measure to a final vote. If passed, the budget would then be forwarded to Gov. Greg Abbott for final approval. (more…)

Sheriff holds safety forum, receives East Aldine Partner’s award

SHERIFF ED GONZALEZ holds the Strategic Partner Award, presented to him by East Aldine Chairman Gerald Overturff, as Deputies Klozik, Scholwinski, Gore, and East Aldine Board Members Patti Acosta and Gil Hoffman look on.

EAST ALDINE – The Harris County Sheriff, Ed Gonzalez, held a Safety Meeting at the East Aldine offices last Thursday evening, March 21st. The meeting was attended by representatives of various civic clubs, neighborhoods, and the Airline District.

Sheriff Gonzalez told the audience that he was depending upon their help to reduce crime, saying, “You are our eyes and ears.”

He said that his goal was to have regular monthly meetings with the community leaders and citizens, and urged attendees to bring friends and family to the next meeting.

Gonzalez made reference to his involvement with the Aldine community, noting that his 9-1-1 Call Center would be part of the new East Aldine Town Center.

The sheriff and his staff then reviewed crime statistics for the area, and discussed initiatives they planned to reduce the crime. Gonzalez said they need more staffing, but that a class of 63 new cadets was graduating this week. He said he is willing to spend overtime dollars to solve specific crime problems, but the “we want to hear of the problems” from citizens. He said they are adding several motorcycle units to the local force, which are especially effective in traffic enforcement.

Gonzalez said that they are trying to use more technology to make up for the shortage of deputies, and told about how they map “hot spots” regularly to determine where the worst problems are. Then they assign an undercover unit, and other marked unit working together to solve the problems in that area. He said he rotates his Hot Spot team around the five districts that he covers. Gonzalez thought that his office could “become more effective” by coordinating all his resources to work together.

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Houstonians learn about mortgage assistance programs

Houston Mayor, Sylvester Tuner, middle, talked about NACA and city Assistance Programs at Greenspoint Mall.

HOUSTON – Mayor Sylvester Turner joined NACA’s CEO Bruce Marks, a Bank of America executive to announce a commitment of $100 million of the Best Mortgage in America to Houston homebuyers. This will create unprecedented homeownership opportunities in Houston for low and moderate income buyers by breaking down the barriers that prevent many working people from buying a home.

The NACA program features no down payment, no closing costs, no PMI, a below market fixed rate, without consideration of one’s credit score. With Houston’s financial assistance and other funds, homebuyers can buy down the interest rate to virtually zero percent.

Additionally, grants are available from the City of Houston to permanently buy down the interest rate on the loan. When combined with the $30,000 grant available from the City of Houston, a NACA homebuyer with a $200,000 mortgage can buy down the interest rate on the loan to a fixed rate of virtually zero percent for the life of the loan.

“This is one of my priorities. I want people to live and work in the City of Houston,” Mayor Turner said. “We are the fourth largest, and most diverse city in the country. We need the best and brightest to be able to afford to live in Houston and contribute to the city of the future.”

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Fiery truck crash closes Eastex 12 hrs

A truck driver was killed when his semi hit a divider at an exit ramp, last Friday morning about 12:45 am on the Eastex Freeway north of Humble. Southbound lanes were closed for the next 12 hours, as TxDOT crews worked to clean up the debris from the fire that consumed the truck and its contents of lawn mowers. TxDOT also had to repair paving where the hot fire damaged it.