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Final early voting numbers show large increases


Galveston County Democrats and Republicans both voted in record numbers during early voting for this year’s primary election, according to vote totals from the Texas Secretary of State’s office.

A total of 21,592 people voted early in person or through absentee ballots this year. It is a 45 percent increase over early voting turnout in 2014 and a 97 percent from the 2010 primaries, when 10,942 people voted early.

Galveston County Democrats more than doubled their early turnout from 2014, sending 5,848 people to the polls early. During the last primary election, only 2,892 Democrats voted early.

Far more people voted in the Republican primary, with 15,744 casting ballots for GOP races. It was a 32 percent increase from 2014 primary election, when 11,953 people voted early, and a 130 percent increase from the 2010 primary elections.

This year’s primary election will decide a number of important local government positions, including who will be the next Galveston County judge and district attorney. No Democrats filed to run in those primaries, so none will compete in the November general election.

It’s possible that the number of early voters surpassed the number of people in the county that will go to the polls on Tuesday — given recent history in county voting behavior. During the 2014 primaries, 61 percent of the totals votes cast were cast early.

Early voting numbers were up across the state, as well. According to the Texas Tribune, more than 650,000 people voted early in the 10 counties with the most registered votes in the state.

In those counties, Democrats outvoted Republicans by 117,000 votes. in 2014, far more Republicans than Democrats voted early.

Early voting ended Friday. The last chance to cast a vote in the primary elections is Tuesday. Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. Voters from Galveston County can cast a ballot at any open polling place in the county, regardless of home address.

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Coast Guard service helps ships navigate channel, in fog or fair seas

From a control room inside a U.S. Coast Guard base near Ellington Airport, Alberto Hernandez and other controllers in the Vessel Traffic Service unit oversee about 280,000 marine vessel movements each year, officials said.

The scene inside the base is not unlike an air traffic control room. Controllers monitor ship movements from Houston all the way to Galveston, while others communicate with pilots and mariners on the radio as they journey along the area’s channels.

The Vessel Traffic Service is responsible for safety of marine traffic in the Houston, Galveston and Texas City ship channels, among others, said Steve Nerheim, the group’s director.

“Our sole duty is to advise mariners on what is going on, without being rear-seat drivers,” Nerheim said.

The controllers, working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, use a combination of radio, video, radar and tracking equipment to monitor conditions in the channels and prevent collisions, elisions, damage, pollution and injury, said Hernandez, a watch supervisor.

The group speaks directly to whoever is piloting the vessels, whether it be members of local pilot organizations or towboat operators, among others, Hernandez said.

While the group does not typically direct traffic, it is authorized to do so when necessary, Hernandez said.

“Just like traffic on the roads and there is an accident almost every day, there is an issue on the channels every day,” Hernandez said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean an accident, but an issue.”

Controllers early Thursday, for instance, spent time advising traffic in the Bolivar Roads region near Galveston because of heavy winds in the area, Hernandez said.

The issue of who closes parts of the channel to traffic has become a matter of interest in Galveston of late because cruise lines have accused the Galveston-Texas City Pilots Association of using fog as an excuse to delay vessels from coming in and out of the island’s harbor.

“The Coast Guard does not close the channel because of fog,” Hernandez said.

That decision, instead, is made by the Houston and Galveston-Texas City pilots associations, which operate independently of one another and make separate decisions, Hernandez said.

Controllers take action and notify ships when they are on course to collide with one another or other problems are imminent, Hernandez said.

The group oversees about 67 ships a day coming through the region’s channels, Hernandez said.

Of that number, the vast majority is bound for Houston — about 57 of them, Hernandez said.

Only about 10 per day are overseen by the Galveston-Texas City Pilots Association, Hernandez said.

Each ship must make contact with the service at designated checkpoints along the route, Hernandez said.

Depending on where the ship is bound, that travel time can vary dramatically, Hernandez said.

A ship’s transit up the Houston Ship Channel is usually about six hours, compared to a one hour journey into the Port of Galveston, Hernandez said.

League City Fire Department unveils new station concept


The city’s newest fire station, planned to start construction this summer, will bring upgrades to the city’s emergency response capabilities, while still maintaining some “old school” details.

The League City Volunteer Fire Department and Houston-based Natex Architecture recently met with a group of Hidden Lakes homeowners to unveil the architectural drawings and renderings for the city’s new fire station, planned to be built at 7503 South Shore Blvd.

Crews are expected to break ground later this summer and complete the project by summer of 2019, officials said.

The fire station will contain three bays and support 24-hour operations and also provide living quarters for four firefighters and two paramedics. It will cost about $5 million to build, according to the city’s capital improvement plan.

The Insurance Services Office recently awarded the League City fire department with its highest rating, Fire Chief Gary Warren said.

“League City has an ISO One now,” he said. “Now it’s time to come across with the goods.”

The Insurance Services Office organization provides statistical data on fire risk. A good rating can result in lower insurance rates for homeowners and businesses.

The new fire station concept originated after discussions on how to improve the city’s Insurance Services Office rating, Warren said.

“The ISO rating was a three, not the best, but it’s good,” he said. “In fact, it’s better than average.”

The fire department decided to take measures to improve their score, Warren said.

After asking officials what it would take to advance the fire department to a one rating, discussions formed over the coverage in the southeastern part of League City, Warren said.

“Coverage down there is a little tight,” he said.

Now with an improved rating, the department needs a new station to adequately cover the southeastern area of League City, Warren said.

“The water tower is not strategically located for the best response,” he said. “I think we are going to let bids for construction in June or July.”

The new building will be an improvement on past stations but also keep some classic features of a fire station, Warren said.

“It is going to have a community room downstairs,” he said. “It’s going to be the only station in League City with a pole, so that’s different. That’s old school.”

The new station will be another tool that will help the fire department excel at their job, Warren said.

“It’ll improve the response times on the southeastern area of the city,” he said. “Like the Hidden Lakes and Bayridge areas.”

The increasing population of League City requires better public safety, volunteer firefighter Craig Corder said. Since 2010, more than 18,000 residents have moved to League City, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. It is one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S.

“It’s an area that’s growing pretty rapidly, so in the aspect of public safety it’s going to give a quicker response time,” he said. “It’s really just more rapid protection.”

Department officials will make an additional presentation on the station to the Hidden Lakes homeowners association Tuesday.

Man survives shooting on isle beach during party


A 20-year-old man was shot on a Galveston beach early Sunday morning after a large party devolved into a firefight, police said.

The shooting happened about 2 a.m. on Sunny Beach, Galveston Police Department spokesman Capt. Joshua Schirard said. Sunny Beach is at 8 Mile Road, and is one of the first beach access points west of the Galveston seawall. It’s a popular spot for large gatherings.

The police department learned of the shooting about 2:30 a.m., after being called by doctors at a University of Texas Medical Branch hospital, Schirard said.

Officers interviewed witnesses at the hospital who said the shooting happened during a fight between two large groups of people at the beach, Schirard said.

As members of one of the groups were driving away from the beach at least one person fired a gun, Schirard said. It’s possible that more than one weapon was fired, he said.

No one called authorities at the time, and the shooting victim was taken to the medical branch in a personal vehicle, Schirard said. He underwent surgery on Sunday morning and was in stable condition at the medical branch on Sunday afternoon, officials said.

Police found the crime scene and launched an investigation, but no one had been arrested by Sunday, Schirard said.