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updated 7:27 PM UTC, Sep 16, 2018

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District Attorney Cloy removed from office

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WOODVILLE – A jury decided on Monday, Aug. 20 to remove Tyler County District Attorney Lou Ann Cloy from office.

Cloy, who has largely been absent from office, since winning election in 2014, was put on trial following a petition filed by a citizen which cites incompetency and official misconduct as reasons for removal from office.

Cloy did not appear at her trial, which was presided over by K. Michael Mayes of Montgomery

County. Cary Kirby, the elected County Attorney for Angelina County, served as special prosecutor. 

Following Kirby’s approval of the judgment to remove Cloy, she was removed on Tuesday.

Anne Pickle, who served as Assistant DA, was appointed interim DA following a May 25 hearing, which suspended Cloy from her position. Pickle will serve as DA until Lucas Babin is sworn-in on Jan. 1, 2019.

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Lake Amanda: A Phoenix without ashes

Officials and Lake Amanda property owners break ground on the dam reconstruction project last Friday. CHRIS EDWARDS | TCB)Officials and Lake Amanda property owners break ground on the dam reconstruction project last Friday. CHRIS EDWARDS | TCB)

 

By Chris Edwards
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COLMESNEIL – A vital part of Tyler County’s culture is set to experience a rebirth.

Lake Amanda is coming back. A groundbreaking ceremony was held on Friday, Aug. 10, for property owners and officials to enjoy fellowship and celebrate getting the dam back. County and state officials, along with members of the Lake Amanda Water Control and Improvement District No. 1, broke ground on the west side of the dam.

Kirwin Drouet, LAWCID president said that when the dam was lost during the Memorial Day flood of May 2016, he and other property owners did not know how they would fix the catastrophic loss.

The events of May 27, 2016 caused a complete collapse of the dam, which led to severe flooding and a 100-foot section of it to wash downstream. Amanda’s sister lake, Frog Pond, escaped harm due in part to a horizontal concrete spillway that was a few feet lower than its dam and prevented water from spilling over it.

Instead of seeking grant funding for the project, Drouet, Heyward Fetner and other Lake Amanda property owners started a water district, which was ratified in Nov. 2016. Along with the ratification of the district, voters also approved $1 million in bonds to repair the dam.

Last May, voters overwhelmingly approved a half-million dollar increase to the bonds and in June, the Texas Water Development Board approved LAWCID’s application for a 30-year loan of $1.5 million. LAWCID received the proceeds from the loan on Aug. 3.
Drouet said that once an engineer was enlisted, he designed “the Taj Mahal of dams” and designed the new dam. Structurally, the new dam’s design should prevent another disaster, Drouet said.

HC Oilfield Services of Chester won the bid to rebuild the dam at a cost of $980,263. Drouet said that the rebuilding process can begin as soon as the TWDB finishes reviewing the contract and LAWCID can award it to HC Oilfield Services. “It’s a matter of days” until the contract is finalized, Drouet said.

Once construction begins, the projected timetable for its completion is 120 calendar days. Drouet said the property owners were glad to award the contract to a local firm and spoke of HC’s expertise in building dams.

“It’s been two years, but this is moving really fast. You’ve got to take it one step at a time,” Drouet said.

In his remarks before the officials and property owners broke ground, Drouet noted that there are dozens of lakes in Texas that incurred similar damages, but their dams were not repaired due to lack of funding. “We didn’t realize how underwater we were, so we went to work,” he said.

Kathleen Jackson, board member of TWDB was on hand for the event. She called the dam project “truly a tribute to the commitment of local leadership.”

“The TWDB is providing the low-interest financing, but it is the community that is investing in itself. This important water infrastructure project will benefit families in East Texas for years to come,” she said.

Locals look forward to seeing the fellowship that Lake Amanda has facilitated since it was developed in 1959 with its history of weekenders coming in to host parties, relax and engage in some prime fishing. The lake’s namesake, Amanda Haralson, was on hand to celebrate the dam project coming to fruition. She is also contributing the clay to fill the hole left where the dam collapsed. Her father, the late Jim Haralson, envisioned a mecca for outdoorsmen when he developed the lake on his family’s homestead.

After the words were spoken and the ground broken, there was a get-together at Haralson’s cabin, where officials and Lake Amanda property owners shared in the joy of seeing the dam rebuilt over a home-cooked meal, courtesy of Haralson.

“It was wonderful to meet so many caring and talented people who have worked so hard to make this project a reality,” Jackson said.
It will be some time before Amanda Haralson and other property owners on the lake bearing her name see a return to the vibrancy of parties, family reunions and fishing, but like the Phoenix, that mythical Greek symbol of resurrection, Lake Amanda is poised for a rebirth.

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County audit, investment reports presented

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By Chris Edwards
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WOODVILLE – Tyler County Commissioners Court received the annual audit report for the county at its meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 1.

Darla Belt Dear and Sunny Gardner of Belt, Harris, Pechacek were present to give their audit findings. The opinion letter from the firm states that Tyler County has an unmodified opinion for its 2017 audit, which is the highest level of assurance one can receive, Dear said. “There were no material misstatements and all disclosures have been made in your audit, so great job,” Dear said.

The total revenues for the county for the last fiscal year were $9,368,422 while the county’s expenditures amounted to $11,881,721.

Dear noted some transfers from other funding sources, with the county using about $257k from those and a net change in the county’s using fund balance of $2,770,501. The ending fund balance was $2,797,458. Tyler County Judge Jacques Blanchette pointed out that the county contributed of about $2.8 million toward the county’s account with Texas County and District Retirement System.

Blanchette said it was important to let the public know about the TCDRS contribution due to the deficit between the county’s revenues and expenditures as presented in the audit.

County treasurer Sue Saunders presented the commissioners and Blanchette with the county’s quarterly investment report.

Saunders made note of the county’s account with Neches Federal Credit Union, which with maturation, is getting close to the $250k limit for secured funds. She said the amount of $245k will be renewed in the account and the excess will be moved into the treasurer’s account and noted as an interest

income.
Saunders said she was given the go ahead to move $1 million from the county’s general fund into its Texas Class account, which as of Wednesday’s meeting was earning 2.2% interest. “Next quarter you’re going to see that the earnings have gone up quite a bit,” Saunders said.

“All in all our investments are earning quite nicely,” she said.

Possible temporary relocation of DA’s office

Pct. 4 Commissioner Jack Walston said he was given authority to see whether or not the Wheat Building, located at 300 W. Bluff, could be leased to house the district attorney’s office on a temporary basis. Walston said the current DA’s office needs some remodeling work due to safety and security concerns.

“It was built for a tax office [originally], so it’s not really user-friendly for the DA,” Walston said. “We’re talking about remodeling that building.”
Blanchette said the lack of a rear entrance/exit in the current building is a “significant liability” for safety and security reasons.

Other Business
Commissioners also accepted the resignation of Tommy Weaver from the Tyler County Hospital Board.

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Concerned Citizens group hosts event at Eagle Summit

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By Chris Edwards
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WOODVILLE – “You are not welcome here!” yelled Sal Baldovinos, from the stage at Eagle Summit in Woodville on Saturday evening.

The comment, which drew applause from the crowd, was directed toward East Texas Packing Company, LLC.

Baldovinos, the spokesman for Concerned Citizens of Tyler County, served as host for the group’s educational forum. Baldovinos spoke about the meat processing facility ETPC plans to open north of Woodville and the potential environmental risks opponents believe the facility poses.

The keynote speaker at the event, James Simpson, an author who frequently writes on immigration and refugee resettlement, gave a presentation focusing on the use and exploitation of refugee and undocumented immigrant labor in the meat processing industry.

Simpson, who travels across the country to speak at events, acknowledged the amount of resistance and “pure, unadulterated hate” he has encountered for “just trying to tell the truth as I see it.”

Simpson’s presentation used a series of statistics to illustrate the socioeconomic impact slaughterhouses have had on cities such as Greeley, Colo.; Sioux Falls, S.D. and Amarillo. Many of the statistics Simpson used also broke down crime rates among immigrant and refugee populations in these areas.

Simpson explained the workings of the government’s Refugee Resettlement Program, which is jointly run by the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State and Health and Human Services. Along with statistics showing economic impact of refugee resettlement on rural areas, Simpson also presented statistics with federal budget allowances for grants and aid put toward the resettlement effort.

Baldovinos’ opening remarks primarily focused on the environmental impact that slaughterhouses and confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) have had on rural areas, and the possible impact ETPC could have on Tyler County’s “pristine East Texas environment.”

“One of the largest environmental concerns associated with slaughterhouses is wastewater and water contamination,” Baldovinos said. He mentioned several effects of wastewater contamination, including birth defects. He also said that a slaughterhouse could invite other types of large industry to Tyler County that could potentially negatively impact the environment of the region.

The event also featured a video presentation by Dr. John Ikerd, who writes and speaks on issues related to sustainability with emphasis on economics and agriculture. Ikerd’s speech dealt with industrial agriculture operations and the economic and cultural effects they had on rural areas.

In his closing remarks, Baldovinos cited a lack of transparent information from ETPC to Tyler County citizens. He said Concerned Citizens have requested an environmental impact study be conducted immediately as a method to “ease the minds of those concerned due to the environmental reasons” as well as “rebuilding trust with the citizens,” if the results are positive.

Baldovinos read an email from Greg Gray, owner and operator of ETPC, written to State Representative James White (R-Hillister) and Concerned Citizens group member Neil Alderman. Gray’s email stated that he, a Tyler County resident, “would not bring anything harmful to our community” and confirmed that multiple legal and environmental protections are in place for ETPC’s eventual operation.

Neither Gray nor any of the investors were present at the event, but the Booster reached out to him and he provided the following statement on behalf of East Texas Packing:

“It was implied again and again during the summit meeting Saturday night that ETPC will be a catalyst for a surge in immigration and refugee populations in Tyler County. As previously stated, the facility will hire local citizens and already has several locals working for the company currently,” Gray said.

Gray also stated that ETPC will not operate a feed lot on or offsite.

“We have discussed possibly contracting with several local ranchers and auction barns to hold roughly 200 livestock each for a couple of days at a time before processing. None of these would fulfill the traditional definition or potential concerns associated with an industrial CAFO,” Gray said.

He also responded to the comparisons of ETPC to larger operations made by Baldovinos and Ikert.

“The companies they are unfairly comparing ours to are exponentially larger … one they mentioned has 3,000 employees versus our estimate of around 200 employees after new shifts are added.”

The statement also said: “No immigrant employment or refugee employment options will be extended by East Texas Packing LLC., because ETPC’s goal is to benefit the current populace and economy.”

Baldovinos urged attendees to contact White and demand he take a stand on the issue.

“The role of government is to protect the people,” he said.

White was only available to attend a portion of Saturday’s meeting due to other scheduled appearances in the distict. Baldovinos read an open letter to him from his group addressing several of their concerns related to ETPC at the conclusion of the event.

“We are vocal, we are organized and you, sir, are on notice. We demand you take the demands of your constituents seriously today or face the consequences on election day,” he said. “It’s time to take a side.”

White viewed a video of the event on the Concerned Citizens’ Facebook page and replied to the Booster with the following statement: “A public servant, though also enjoying the constitutional rights of free speech, must make sure that s/he is not using the public office which the people have loaned to him or her for a period of time as an instrument of oppression or a tool to seek inappropriate advantage.”

White also said that ETPC has not violated any Texas statutes and that it “seems on legal thin ice” for an elected public servant to persuade or coerce a company not to conduct business.
Gene Hall, Director of Communications for the Texas Farm Bureau, issued a statement on ETPC. Hall said several people have visited with him about the matter.

On behalf of Texas Farm Bureau, Hall said that the Farm Bureau “expects all laws, rules and regulations that apply to the operations of the facility be observed if this project moves forward.”

“All citizens have the right to expect environmental regulations are followed to the letter and that all appropriate steps are taken to protect water, air quality and the land,” Hall said. “This is true for Tyler County and all of Texas.”

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