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Historic live oak gets temporary reprieve

Advocates of a 100-year-old live oak named Mr. Elementree have until March 1 to raise about $200,000 to save it from being cut down in a planned rebuild of League City Elementary School.

After an outpouring of support to save the tree, Clear Creek Independent School District officials Wednesday approved waiting 30 days before moving ahead with its felling.

“It doesn’t impact our schedule, which is good,” said Elaina Polsen, spokeswoman for the district. “We worked out an agreement with the city to delay the demolition of that particular area to allow community groups to try to raise the private funding to move the tree.”

Rebuilding League City Elementary was one of the projects the district proposed in 2017 as part of a $487 million bond referendum.

The Clear Creek ISD board of trustees approved $46.9 million for the Fort Worth-based VLK Architects firm’s design of a new League City Elementary. The design is based on the recent McWhirter Elementary School rebuild project in Webster.

District officials in October 2017 moved students into the nearby and vacant Clear Path Alternative School building so that rebuilding could begin.

Before this week’s agreement to delay the tree’s removal, district officials had argued that the move was needed to accommodate a parking lot while several residents opposed the decision because of its historical significance.

“It’s a registered Butler live oak with a lot of historic value to League City and all of the kids at the school,” Councilman Greg Gripon said. “Many of generations of people went through League City Elementary and know and love that tree.”

Residents had feared the tree would be cut down before League City Manager John Baumgartner met with district officials recently and worked out the agreement, he said.

The tree had been set to be removed this week.

“This is a positive move,” Polsen said. “Citizens have been understandably passionate about Mr. Elementree. This gives them time and we support that.”

The city’s historical society and garden club are steering an effort to raise enough money to move the tree to another site at the elementary school, away from construction, Gripon said.

District officials estimate it should cost between $160,000 and $200,000 to move the tree, Polsen said.

“I think it’s good news,” said Leslye Mize, who was part of the group that started the League City Historical Society’s live oak registry.

Tree advocates plan to hold a candlelight vigil at some point to raise awareness of the tree and other fundraisers could be in store, Mize said.

The groups as of Thursday had raised about $1,400 to save the tree, Mize said.

KIM CHRISTENSEN/ For The Daily News file  

League City residents are concerned about a 100-year-old live oak tree being torn down to accommodate the rebuilding of League City Elementary School.

Kelsey Walling / KELSEY WALLING/The Daily News  

Kathy Tyree, middle, and Carol Coats wave their hands for Mardi Gras beads during the George P. Mitchell Mardi Gras Awards Parade on Friday. FOR MORE PHOTOS » A6

In Friendswood, developer opposes road extension


One man’s mission to stop the extension of Blackhawk Drive in Friendswood advances Monday to the city council.

Dan Rucker, who owns Friendswood-based Coastal Bend Property Development, wants the city to remove Blackhawk Drive from its major thoroughfare plan.

The plan maps out the city’s intentions to widen or extend the main routes for traffic, but extending Blackhawk north to Beamer Road is something Rucker wants to stop.

Rucker has plans for land his company owns in the northern panhandle of Friendswood he describes as a mixed-use project in the preliminary stages. Extending Blackhawk Drive to Beamer Road would interfere with his vision.

That part of Friendswood is in Harris County where officials are unaware of the road plan, Rucker said.

“It doesn’t marry up with Harris County,” Rucker said.

Precinct 1 in Harris County has no plans to expand or widen Beamer Road, spokesman David Ellison said. The only road construction planned is adding a left lane on each side at the intersection with FM 2351, Ellison said.

Most of Friendswood is in northern Galveston County and its population of more than 40,000 keeps growing and spreading, even into Harris County.

The city adopted the major thoroughfare plan in 2004 and last reviewed the document in 2011, City Planner Aubrey Harbin said.

Her office is recommending some administrative changes to take into account new roads leading to new subdivisions and classifying roads as major thoroughfares, boulevards and collector roads.

Also, the Texas Department of Transportation’s new proposed route for the Grand Parkway would go through the southern end of the city, and the city needs to reflect that in its plan, Harbin said.

Rucker spoke to the Friendswood Planning and Zoning Commission in October 2017 and again in January to request the city drop its plans for extending Blackhawk Drive. He also attended the Thursday commission meeting during which the issue came up again, but Rucker did not speak. He did listen.

At the Oct. 19, 2017, meeting, City Councilman Jim Hill addressed the commission.

“We just don’t have the money to build these thoroughfares,” Hill said at the time.

Commissioners asked city staff to reach out to nearby property owners to get their feedback on the extension.

Two property owners responded. James Gerland sent the city an email in favor of Rucker’s request.

Rucker has “grandiose plans I support,” Gerland’s email stated.

Rucker did not elaborate on what his mixed-use project would involve, but Rucker also developed Timber Creek Golf Club, which also is in the area where the Blackhawk extension would go through.

Developer Nick Deutsch owns a 10-acre tract in the same area that would suffer if the city went forward with extending Blackhawk, he said.

On Monday, Friendswood City Council will hold a joint workshop with the Planning and Zoning Commission regarding the major thoroughfare plan.

Rucker’s request will be the main topic.

Texas House members call for action on Harvey relief

A bipartisan group of Texas representatives on Friday sent a letter to the top leaders in the U.S. Senate asking for action on stalled legislation that would send billions of dollars to states ravaged by hurricanes and other natural disasters last year.

The letter pleads for the Senate to pass an $81 billion supplemental funding bill approved by the U.S. House of Representatives before Christmas and said ongoing failure to pass the legislation was hurting hurricane victims.

“We have constituents, who, after most six months, remain in transitional housing and homes that lack weatherization as Texas remains in the grip of an unusually cold winter,” the letter stated. “It is past time for Congress to act.”

The letter was signed by U.S. Reps. Pete Olson, Sheila Jackson Lee, Randy Weber, Filemon Vela, Brian Babin, Gene Green, Blake Farenthold, Al Green, John Culberson, Michael McCaul, Ted Poe and Kevin Brady. It was addressed directly to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

The bill would be the largest disaster recovery funding measure ever approved in United States history. Funds from the bill would go not only to Texas, but to Florida and Puerto Rico, which were struck by hurricanes Irma and Maria after Harvey came to Texas.

The money would also be sent to California, where wildfires destroyed tens of thousands of homes and businesses in December 2017.

But final passage has been delayed by other issues in Washington, most recently, conflict over funding the government that led to a showdown and a promised deal on immigration reform.

The congressional letter comes more than a week after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, California Gov. Jerry Brown, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and Florida Gov. Rick Scott sent their own letter asking for movement on the disaster funding bill.

“Its continued delay only exacerbates ongoing uncertainty in devastated areas,” the governors wrote. “Simply put, the communities devastated by these storms cannot be completely put back together until the federal government makes good on its promise to our citizens.”

No action has been taken on the disaster funding since it was initially read on the Senate floor Jan. 4.

Congress passed two disaster recovery bills following Harvey, which made landfall north of Corpus Christi on Aug. 25, 2017. Congress approved a $15 billion disaster recovery project in September 2017. That money went to Texas alone. In October 2017, Congress approved $36.5 billion for Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and California.

Abbott has asked for $61 billion for Texas recovery alone, and in November 2017 supplied Congress with a list of projects that could be completed in the state using federal disaster recovery money. In that request was a proposal for a barrier to be built along the coast in the Galveston area, among other local projects

Pit bull owner charged with felony after island attack


A week after a 65-pound pit bull attacked and severely injured a woman at an apartment complex on the island’s West End, police have arrested the dog’s owner and charged him with a felony.

Nicola Notarnicola, 59, of Galveston, was arrested and charged Thursday with attack by dog resulting in serious bodily injury. The charge is a felony under the Texas Health and Safety Code.

The attack happened Jan. 23 at the Club of the Isle apartments on Cove View Boulevard, according to a probable cause affidavit obtained by The Daily News.

A woman who lived at the apartment complex stepped out of an elevator and was charged by a tan and white pit bull, according to the affidavit. The woman was carrying her own dog, which she lifted above her head, according to the affidavit.

The pit bull, named Dominick, bit the woman’s thigh and calf, according to the affidavit.

A witness to the attack was able to distract the pit bull for a short time, but it attacked and bit her leg a second time, according to the affidavit.

A second witness, who was driving by in a truck, stopped and was able to get the woman and her dog inside his vehicle. That driver took the woman to the University of Texas Medical Branch.

The woman underwent at least two surgeries and is scheduled to have more, according to the affidavit.

A witness told police the pit bull’s owner came out of a nearby apartment after the attack and captured the dog. The owner said the dog had run past him when he opened the apartment door, according to the affidavit.

Police identified the man and reviewed previous police reports he had been named in, dating back to 2013. In one case, the pit bull had attacked another person; in another, the dog had attacked and killed another dog after breaking through a window, according to the affidavit.

The most recent previous attack happened on Dec. 27 at the apartment complex when the pit bull attacked another resident. The other incidents happened in Texas City, according to the affidavit.

Police went back to the Club of the Isle apartment complex on Jan. 26 and interviewed the pit bull’s owner. The man at first said “he had no knowledge of the dog being aggressive,” but later said he knew the dog was “dangerous” and had attacked humans and other dogs, according to the affidavit.

Galveston Police Sgt. Joel Caldwell, head of the city’s animal control division, said the pit bull was euthanized after the attack. The dog’s owner agreed to have the animal killed.

When police arrived to arrest him, Notarnicola was packing a moving truck, Caldwell said. While being taken into custody, police also found methamphetamine in the man’s pocket, Caldwell said.

Notarnicola also was charged with felony possession of a controlled substance, Caldwell said.

A person can be charged for their dog’s actions if they fail to secure the animal, if the attack is unprovoked and if they knew the dog was dangerous.

If convicted, Notarnicola could spend between two and 10 years in prison and be fined up to $10,000.

Notarnicola was held on $45,000 bond. He was in custody at the Galveston County jail on Friday afternoon.

Caldwell said he could recall only one other time when Galveston authorities had charged a person over a dog attack.

“This dog has a documented of history of unprovoked attacks and the owner should have known,” he said.