News

By Lora-Marie Bernard

PHOTO CREDIT: www.asla.org

Galveston County Commissioners Court voted last week to unanimously approve a resolutions that expands the territory of the Gulf Coast Waste Disposal Authority and gives it more authority to manage with a regional approach.
The resolution supports Texas House Bill 4308 and dovetails into other efforts related to the proposed coastal barrier spine.  The bill would expand the territory and powers of the Gulf Coast Water Disposal Authority to include the upper Gulf Coast Region, as opposed to only Chambers, Galveston and Harris counties.
“Being how Galveston is prime for a storm surge, we need to act quickly and show the federal government that we’re on the same page with the rest of the state,” said Commissioner Joe Giusti at the meeting.
The district would be an instrument to operate and maintain “a coastal barrier constructed with federal funds to protect the upper Gulf Coast region in this state from hurricane-induced storm surges,” according to the bill.
Rep. Wayne Faircloth introduced the bill in the Texas House of Representatives on April 4. It was referred to the special purpose districts last month where it remains. A public hearing was conducted on May 4. Texas Sen. Larry Taylor filed a companion bill in Texas Senate.
Commissioner Ken Clark, who presided at the commissioners’ court meeting on May 9 in place of County Judge Mark Henry, asked about the status of the House bill and noted the companion bill had passed.
According to the Senate Journal, the chamber dispensed with the required readings of the bill and approved it by a unanimous vote on May 3. It is now in the special purpose district committee with Faircloth’s bill.
Guisti said he wasn’t sure if there would be changes to the House bill or not. He was anxious to see the county resolution adopted as a show of quick support for the effort. He said the resolution was related to receiving federal funds to build the proposed barrier.
“There’s time for changes to be made even if not this session,” he told Clark. “Right now we need to show solidarity that this needs to happen for our county.”

By Lora-Marie Bernard

Construction on an $8.9 million project to relieve traffic congestion at Five Corners in League City should begin before summer, according to a recent city press release.
The intersection of FM 270, FM 2094 and FM 518, known as Five Corners. Delays have slowed reconstruction for several years.
The state awarded a bid to Main Lane Industries in January. A plan to issue a notice to proceed before summer, according to the release.
The contractor will have up to 90 days from then to begin construction underway. The grace period allows the company to order and deliver materials.
Since the project stalled, the city has continued to make progress behind-the-scenes. One noticeable movement culminated in the demolition of a business, said John Lothrop, assistant director of engineering for League City.
“The most notable sign of progress thus far was when we demolished Mattress Firm late last year,” he said in the release. “It may have seemed insignificant to anyone passing by, but for us, the demolishment of the building helped move the project along one additional step in preparation for actual construction.”
The state requires all rights-of-way acquisition to be complete before it goes out for bid. City officials acquired the rights-of-way and notified the state. The state then began relocating cable, fiber, electricity, sewer, gas, and water lines in the area. Buildings and signs within the construction limits were then demolished and removed.
“The state takes a measured approach towards awarding projects,” he stated. “We’ve been working to move the project along since receiving the environmental clearance from TxDOT in October 2015. It was our responsibility to design the project, acquire rights-of-way and relocate utilities so the State could move forward on construction.”
Also, the city hired a firm to run a flow study n operational traffic model of the approved state design.

Maritime activity for the Bolivar peninsula gets OK

By Lora-Marie Bernard

COUNTY commissioners recently approved the intentions of a property owner in Bolivar Peninsula to begin a maritime economic push along 37 acres of it and create a management district to that will support new development.
The commissioners approved a resolution at its last regular meeting on April 25 to create the Bolivar Management District. The proposed entity will promote maritime economic development on the western edge of the Bolivar Peninsula. In that same resolution, they granted Bolivar Ventures permission to work with members of the Texas Legislature to secure legislation that would create the district.
“By promoting maritime economic development, the district will assist in the creation of terminaling (sic), a maintenance yard, and other facilities by providing dredging, infrastructure, utilities and security on current industrial lands,” stated the resolution.
Boliver Ventures owns 37 acres on the western edge of Bolivar Peninsula. The resolution describes it as outside of the Port Bolivar Townsite, Samuel Parr Survey.
Management districts are also known as “improvement districts” and are created under the Texas Local Government code and are usually approved after studies show they align with county and municipal goals. They are structured to set up opportunity for the city and the developer to collaborate on initiatives and projects.
In the case of the proposed Bolivar management district, commissioners state in the resolution that Bolivar Ventures plans benefit the county by creating better jobs and eliminating underemployment as well as unemployment. The resolution further states that the district’s plans would diversifying the state’s economy and expands transportation and commerce.
“The County Judge and Commissioners have concluded that creation and support of the district will create direct and indirect benefits to the citizens of Galveston County,” the resolution further states.

Image Credit: crystalbeach.com

PUBLIC DOMAIN
A regular roundup of local-authority activities by Lora-Marie Bernard and Trishna Buch

By Trishna Buch

THE STATE’S sales-tax revenue was worth $2.44 billion last month, up 2.5 per cent from the amount for April last year as revenue from fossil-fuel sales exploded and people came out of winter hibernation and took to eating out again.
Despite dips in vehicle and overall retail sales, the month’s total took the amount collected in February, March and April to a sum 3.3 per cent higher than in the same three months of last year.
Oil and natural-gas tax revenues for the month were $285.1 million, up 93.9 per cent from April last year, but the state public-accounts comptroller’s office said part of the reason for the large difference was that, last year, refunds had artificially depressed the month’s fossil-fuel-related collections.
The month’s vehicle sales and rental taxes were $222 million, 11.2 per cent less than in April last year, and motor-fuel taxes were $316.1 million, a 4.4 per cent increase.
Announcing the April figures, Texas public-accounts comptroller Glenn Hegar referred to the overall increase as “modest growth” and said it “reflects increased business spending in some sectors”.
He said: “While net collections from oil and gas companies remain depressed, receipts from the manufacturing and wholesale trade sectors were up markedly.
“The results of consumer spending appear mixed, with increased tax collections from restaurants but a slight decrease in retail trade”.
Sales tax is the largest source of state funding and accounted for 58 per cent of Texas’ total tax collections last fiscal year.

Loading up with big cats

TWO LOADERS together worth more than $161,000 will be joining Texas City’s industrial-vehicle fleet in the near future.
The city commissioners approved the purchase of a backhoe loader and a telescopic loader during their meeting on Wednesday.
The backhoe loader, which will cost $89,956.99, will be supplied by construction-machinery dealership Mustang Cat and the telescopic loader, costing $71,381.21, by equipment manufacturer Bobcat of Houston-Pearland.
The funds will come from the city’s capital-equipment replacement fund.

This week’s meetings

Monday
• La Marque council, 6:00pm
• League City work session, 6:00pm

Tuesday
• Dickinson council, 7:00pm
• League City council, 6:00pm

Thursday
• Santa Fe council, 7:00pm

All meetings held at named city’s city hall unless specified otherwise. –TB

Ike Dike becomes a ‘hurricane wall’

By Lora-Marie Bernard

THE LONG effort to have a hurricane barrier system built along the upper Texas Gulf Coast was given a shot in the arm this week when television news channel CNN announced a series on the proposed structure.
Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership president Bob Mitchell told members in an e-mail on Tuesday that CNN had begun working on the series and said eight years of work promoting the system by his organization and Texas A&M University’s Galveston campus “is really beginning to pay dividends”.
The two bodies have been gathering support for a storm-surge-protection system for the upper Texas Gulf Coast since TAMUG professor Bill Merrell proposed the idea in the wake of Hurricane Ike in September 2008, leading to its popular designation as “the Ike Dike”.
Merrell will be featured in the CNN series, which comes on the heels of reports that Texas’ general land commissioner George Bush had formally requested help for the barrier from president Donald Trump.
In late April, Bush sent the White House a letter cosigned by more than 60 state and local leaders asking for $15 billion in federal funding for the system.
CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller will conduct the TV series, which is due to include an explanation of the current effort and a description of the proposed barrier.
The CNN Extreme Weather website has already published an in-depth article by Miller about the barrier, which it calls a “hurricane wall”.
Hurricane Ike killed 74 people and caused $29.5 billion worth of damage, making it the third costliest hurricane in US history.

 

Biomedics bring new hope for MS cure

By Lora-Marie Bernard

A UTMB researcher and his team have uncovered a genetic process that could help doctors diagnose multiple sclerosis before it develops in a victim and could also lead to new treatments against the debilitating autoimmune disease.

The team, led by biochemist and molecular biologist Mariano Garcia-Blanco, has found that two particular gene variants could make a person three times more likely to develop multiple sclerosis.

They and other UTMB medics have been collaborating with scientists from Duke, California, Berkeley and Case Western Reserve universities to study two variants in the human DNA code.

Garcia-Blanco said his research began 10 years ago when a colleague began discussing the mutations in certain genomes.

His colleague told him he had found a genetic variant, “the first variant associated with multiple sclerosis”, which they called IL7R.

Garcia-Blanco likened decoding the information contained within IL7R to splicing a film.

He said the “film editing” process in human bodies is different for IL7R, as a result of which thr variant can make one of two forms of protein.

He said: “One form, the receptor, sits on the cells. In the other form, the receptor becomes soluble IL7R. So this soluble IL7R is a protein.”

Identifying how the soluble IL7R operates was important to the team, he said, adding: “We don’t completely understand why having too much of that soluble IL7R is bad, but it is.

“So having too much soluble IL7R floating around in the circulation predisposes you to autoimmunity. We have very strong suspicions that it is not only multiple sclerosis but several other autoimmune disorders.”

With that information, Garcia-Blanco said the research team published information in 2007 that showed an association between the IL7R variant and multiple sclerosis before undertaking a deep analysis of how the splicing can be manipulated.

Those studies led the researchers to find a second variant and Garcia-Blanco said: “We wanted to know the genetic “editors” but we also wanted to know what were the “editors”, or proteins, that actually were involved in deciding whether to make more of this soluble IL7R”.

They tested 150 proteins and found one, named DDX39B, was “the master – because it had the biggest effect –” as it represses the body’s ability to perform the variant splicing that creates soluble IL7R.

Two independent analyses to test their case came back with the same result and Garcia-Blanco said: “At that point we knew we were on to something fantastic.

“We now know that this protein is not only functionally important but it must be important to the cause and to the association with the disease.”

He said the findings are important to the scientific community but also to the public because they could eventually help identify people vulnerable to multiple sclerosis and provide new treatments.