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

A NEW SCHOOL and a nearby development of up to 1,500 homes caused city commissioners to approve an engineering contract for a $4,300,000 sewer line on Wednesday.
The Texas City commissioners heard that a pressurized 16-inch pipe known as a force main is needed to service a junior high school and a neighboring subdivision in a “relatively undeveloped” area under their jurisdiction north of Dickinson Bayou.
The school, owned by Dickinson independent school district, is due to open for the fall 2018 semester and the Southlake subdivision, west of FM-3436, is expected to contain at least 1,200 homes when completed.
If the sewer line is to be ready in time, the city needs the engineering for the project to start immediately as it does not supply the development area with sanitary sewer service at present.
When hooked up, the force main will transport the area’s untreated wastewater from a point on FM-517 to one near the intersection of SH-3 and 25th Avenue North, from where an existing line will carry it to the city’s Bay Street wastewater treatment facility.
During Wednesday’s meeting, the city commissioners approved an engineering agreement with Houston-based ARKK Engineers, which will be responsible for the project’s design, permitting and coordination with outside entities, as well as bidding assistance and construction-phase services, for a total fee of $698,280.00.

Bangers and gnash

A FIREWORKS stand was once again the topic of discussion when Dickinson city council held a second public hearing on a land-annexation proposal on Tuesday.
The city is considering plans to annex 91 properties on unincorporated land to the north of downtown, in an area bounded on the west by SH-3, the north by Deats Road, the east by Hill Avenue and the south by Salvato Street.
During the previous public hearing, six people spoke against the annexation, three of them on behalf of a fireworks stand.
They feared the annexation would render the stand – Mrs Becky’s Fireworks Warehouse – illegal because the facility would be taken inside the city limits.
One of the stand’s owners, Johnny Pate, returned on Tuesday to make his voice heard once again, along with another of its owners, Rebecca Rodriguez, and employees Mary Abshire, Tracy Brown, Joann Gonzales and Jessica Thaji.
The employees’ common concern was that the annexation would result in the loss of the stand, which would cause the loss of a decent source of income for them.
Apart from the concerns about the firework stand, another resident was not sure whether the city’s police department would be able to handle the increased call volume he said would be caused by the annexation and two others said they want to remain in the unincorporated area to continue paying lower taxes than their incorporated neighbors.
During the discussion, mayor Julie Masters clarified a public misconception that the annexation would result in private properties being rezoned as commercial properties.
The city council’s first reading of the annexation ordinance will take place on April 3 and it is expected to hear the second reading and vote on the measure on April 11.

In brief …
• League City councilmembers have created a committee to assist with transportation projects and issues in the city.
• League City’s finance committee will meet tomorrow, Monday, at 4:00pm at 300 West Walker.
• League City councilmembers have created a “clean and green” committee to focus on keeping the city’s roads clean, especially during road construction projects.

New sports deal boosts county coffers

By Lora-Marie Bernard

A NONPROFIT dedicated to promoting student athletics is to pay the county more than $11,000 per month to operate the public sports complex at Jack Brooks Park.
The payment includes a profit share greater than any previously paid to the county for the right to operate the facility.
The county commissioners this week approved a contract with Westchase Express under which the Houston company will pay rent and a share of the facility’s profits for three years, with a two-year option to renew the agreement.
Westchase, which was the only bidder for the concession, will pay $11,400 rent per month in the first year, raising the figure by 3.5 per cent annually, as well as a 2.5 per cent revenue share this year, increasing to 3 per cent next year. It will also pay the electricity and water bills for the facility, its second endeavor since opening for business two years ago.
During their meeting on Tuesday, the four attending county commissioners unanimously approved county parks and cultural services director Julie Diaz’s recommendation to accept the bid after receiving a report in which she said she was impressed with the offer.
The report described the profit-share deal as a “very good option for the county” and “more than any other previous concessionaires”.
In the agreement Westchase will assign an event director to manage and maintain the property, organize its ball-game and meeting-room schedules, operate its lights and handle special requests.
The company’s proposal also includes plans to apply for funds from Major League Baseball’s Tomorrow program to upgrade the field’s lighting poles and other physical improvements.
Westchase, which has operated Houston high school Northland Christian’s sports facility since 2015, describes itself as a tax-exempt nonprofit dedicated to addressing confusion in student athletic competitions and empowering youth to graduate.
Under the agreement, Westchase will charge schools and nonprofits $15 per hour to rent the field; $10 per hour for lights and $50 for any special request. Youth programs will be charged $22.50 per hour for the field, $15 per hour for lights, $75 for special requests and a refundable deposit of $75.
Adult programs will be charged $30 per hour for field rental, $20 for lights, $100 for a special request and a $100 refundable deposit.
Youth leagues will be charged $17.50 per hour for field rentals, $10 for lights, $50 for field preparation, $75 for special requests and a $200 refundable deposit.
Adult leagues will be charged $25 per hour for field rentals, $15 per hour for lights, $100 for field prep, $100 for a special request and a $400 refundable deposit.
Tournament fees will be $65 per game, including all field services, $20 for lights for each game, a $75 advertising fee and gate fees from $5 to $10.
The meeting room will cost $15 per hour for schools, other youth programs and nonprofits and $20 for all others, with a $35 cleaning fee.
• Precinct-one commissioner Darrell Apffel was absent from Tuesday’s meeting.

Weber aims to end fish war

By Lora-Marie Bernard

RANDY WEBER is calling for temporary relief for recreational anglers to combat gridlock over access to Gulf red snapper.
The county’s US congressman last week introduced house resolution1382, dubbed the Give Our Fishermen Immediate Snapper Help, or GOFISH, act.
The bill calls for the expansion of recreational red snapper access from nine days per year to 62 days, a state regulation that has caused ire because, at the same time, it allows commercial fishing boats unrestricted rights to harvest the species.
Weber said the bill is a stop-gap measure that he hopes will spur discussion among the fishing industry that leads to resolution of the dispute.
Weber, left, said that, if passed, GOFISH will provide recreational fishermen with a 62-day red snapper fishing season in the Gulf of Mexico during July and August this year and next.
During a January interview, he gave notice of his intentions when he said: “Basically, what I am saying to all three of these guys – the commercial guys, the charter boat captains and the recreation guys – is, ‘Look, you have one session of congress to come to the table and hammer this out. Let’s get together and fix this’.”
A battle has raged for years about Gulf fishing access and management and Weber said he is ready to have the contentious battle settled.
He said: “It’s been a problem for our Gulf Coast fishermen. We want to be thoughtful about the fishing industry in Galveston. You might recognize it is large and an important part of our economy. We want to make sure that whatever bill is passed doesn’t create some more regulations that would actually do a number on the fishing industry.”
To push GOFISH through congress, Weber said will need help from a large number of house representatives and senators from Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Georgia as well as Texas as he admits its passage will be an uphill battle.
The five states have diverging perspectives on how to manage Gulf fishing but he said he hopes the warring factions – the commercial and charter-fishing industries and recreational fishermen – will agree that recreational fishing days can be expanded.
He said: “We have to talk to them about what is the best way and most thoughtful way to do this. Let’s at least get the recreation guys at least more than nine days because nine days is laughable.”
The bill has been referred to the house committee on natural resources.

Paying bills is such a blast

By Lora-Marie Bernard

THERE’S a welcome surprise awaiting hungry callers at one city hall in the county these days – once a week, they can grab a free snack!
A goodwill effort at Texas City’s governmental HQ has resulted in Popcorn Friday. At about 10:30am on the last day of ach working week, city employee Dominick Zavala hauls a popcorn machine, a jug of oil and a large bag of corn kernels into the lobby.
And then he pops bags of them until city hall closes at 4:30pm or “until it runs out”, he said.
Zavala, left, who works in the city’s media relations department, is regularly surrounded by a steady stream of citizens, all patiently waiting for him to serve them a bag because the machine can’t pop fast enough to keep up with the crowd.
While kernels burst into flavorful pops, he said members of city mayor Matt Doyle’s executive team came up with the idea.
He said: “They thought it would be a good thing for citizens so we do it every week. This is something the city commission liked.”
The idea has caught on over the past several weeks, he said. The aroma reaches city-hall visitors as soon as they open the door and then they become quizzical about a red-shirted city employee steadily filling a popcorn machine and bags with the tasty morsels.
When they realize they can approach him, Zavala asks if they would like some of the popcorn. He’ll pop two bags if they request it.
He said his “customers” fall into two groups, saying: “It’s mostly citizens who are paying their water bill or visiting for some reason. But we have others who hear about it and stop by.”
That’s because word of the giveaways has spread throughout the county.
Zavala said: “Every week, one guy from Galveston drives up to get a bag. He comes just for the popcorn.”

Weber calls for congressional awareness campaign

By Lora-Marie Bernard

THE FEDERAL government is unlikely to look favorably upon a Texas coastal barrier system without a major awareness campaign, according to the county’s US congressman.
But the strength of local industry has been noticed at the White House and presidential attention could mean that funding for the project, while still years away, could be given a higher priority than it carries today.
Texas’ 14th district congressman Randy Weber was speaking after about 200 leaders representing chambers of commerce throughout the county converged upon the Texas capitol on Wednesday last week to stump for a coastal spine protection system, the completion of which will require both state and federal support.
On Thursday, Weber talked about the status of the project on Capitol Hill, where billions of dollars will need to be approved before any project can be built. He said his recent appointment to the house transportation and infrastructure committee will be a boon to the project because it will help build awareness while local leaders craft details.

He said: “I don’t mind the starting of creating this discussion or dialogue, if you will, way in advance so that, if push comes to shove and, Lord forbid, we have another hurricane, for example, if they’ve been hearing me harp on this and talk on this, push for this month in and month out for a couple three years now, we finally do get a single plan, then we present to congress, it’s ‘Oh, yeah, that’s that thing Weber’s been talking about’,”.
On the same day that county leaders were stumping at the Texas capitol, Weber said the state’s general land office was meeting with him in Washington to discuss strategy and dialogue. The delegation also met with the Trump administration, which is expected to become more involved in the discussions as plans progress.
Weber said the rising standing of Texas’ ports and coastal industry has caught president Donald Trump’s attention.

“They’ve been able to make Trump’s group and President Trump understand how important Texas is”, he said.
To be able to begin the funding process, Weber said local leaders must come to a consensus on what the plan for the coastal spine, commonly called the Ike Dike, will be. In the meantime, he said, awareness efforts can only bolster the debate.
He said: “We’ve all got to get everybody on the same page and say, ‘OK, here is the best plan for coastal barrier protection’. We’ve got to settle on one plan and then and only then can we go to congress and say, ‘OK, here are the statistics, here is how we dodge the bullet, here is how important our district is to the entire United States – now, get this in the appropriations package’.”

Don’t forget our county, leaders tell Austin

By Lora-Marie Bernard

BUSINESS and government leaders from around the county descended on Austin on Wednesday in our community’s first en-masse lobbying trip to the state capitol.
The so-called “legislative day” put the county’s politicians and members of its chambers of commerce in prime position to showcase the county and its communities to Texas legislators.
Representatives from county and city governments and the chambers of Galveston, Texas City-La Marque, Santa Fe and League City-Bay Area were among some 200 people who signed up for hours of meetings with state lawmakers about projects that need their support, such as coastal protection and port improvements.
During dozens of meetings with house representatives and senators, chamber representatives presented each of their hosts with a coffee-table book about Hotel Galvez and a journal embossed with the county seal as they sought to influence opinion on their pet causes.
A measure of their success could well have been the fact that about double the traveling group’s number turned up for the organized trip’s end-of-day seafood party before a late-night bus ride home for the coastal-community lobbyists.
Several county luminaries voted the day a big hit.
Precinct-four county commissioner Ken Clark said the commissioners’ court had been having conversations for many years about conducting a countywide legislative day but the effort had always languished.
He described the milestone as an “open house at the capitol” because it had created ambassadors who raised awareness among legislators who knew little about the Galveston area.
He said: “It allows us to focus on issues that are specific to our county and gives us the ability to work together to achieve the ability to reach out to the representatives and the legislators and have a common message. It builds camaraderie and unity in the county when we do that.”
Santa Fe city manager Joe Dickson said his team had discussed coastal protection, medical-center funding and tax caps with half a dozen representatives and senators.
“They have a lot of issues they have to deal with so we will see how it all comes out in the wash”, he said.  Galveston resident and business owner Rusty Carnes was concerned about immediate coastal issues including a brewing battle about the cleaning process of a superfund site on the San Jacinto river that threatens Galveston Bay.
He said he wanted state legislators to learn the dangers of dredging the site’s waste pits, a process the federal government is proposing in order to rehabilitate them.
“The safest thing to do is to cap them because, once they start stirring them up, that stuff will be distributed all over the bay”, he said.
The county’s district 23 state representative, Wayne Faircloth, summed up the day, saying it had allowed the capitol’s elected officials to “see the rich resources and the incredible people that inhabit Galveston County and our importance to the state economy and our importance to education and jobs and the industry”.
He said: “For me, it’s wanting to shine the spotlight on our county and how important we are and allow the other members of the legislature to experience the people, the seafood and the different things that we have to offer”.