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Planning officials face a two-headed animal

Here’s the two-headed animal that economic development officials are facing in Galveston County.

Some large companies, such as, look at infrastructure items such as light rail, universal access to the internet and satellite data in choosing where to locate a headquarters.

But public support in Galveston County for those improvements is lukewarm, officials said.

While Amazon’s decision last week to go elsewhere to build its second headquarters was disappointing, it can also serve as a litmus test for how far the area has to improve to attract new industries and startups.

We can understand the difficulties these officials whose job it is to peer into a future with an eye to economic development, but also deal with the problems of here and now.

As for mass transit, three of the questions facing officials are funding, coordination with other counties and public support.

League City Mayor Pat Hallisey noted that the Interstate 45 and state Highway 3 corridor between Galveston and Houston never got serious consideration for a commuter rail line, he said.

“That, coupled with strategically placed park and ride locations with direct access to rail and bus lines, would go a long way to address mass transit concerns that Amazon or other corporations would have,” Hallisey said.

It would seem, judging by the daily, and historical, traffic jams in League City, improving mass transit would seem like a logical part of the solution. But with a significant number of League City commuters working in Harris County, it would take coordination with Metropolitan Transit Authority’s service area.

Last year, the authority began discussing regional bus and rail priorities. Where cities in north Galveston County stand remains to be seen, because authority officials are not expected to have updated plans until late this year.

And if those cities are in the plan, how much would it cost Galveston County? For the county to pay for the cost, it most likely would take support from taxpayers.

Certainly, a light rail system was not the only factor in League City being passed over.

Bob Harvey, CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership, told Houston Public Media, while the Houston-Galveston area has a deep pool of STEM graduates, it is not producing nearly enough in digital fields.

“I think this is going to provoke a conversation within the region,” Harvey said. “Do we have the number and depth of academic programs that are producing the specific kinds of graduates that these companies are looking for?”

Striking a balance between the needs of the here-and-now and of the future is a two-headed animal with which local and regional economic development officials are going to have to wrestle.

• Dave Mathews

A thanks to our readers

We owe each of our readers a big thank you for your gracious understanding about last week’s weather and an untimely mechanical issue a few days later that may have contributed to a delay of your home delivery.

Living on the Gulf Coast, we all know firsthand that Mother Nature is not one to be underestimated. With respect for potential dangers of ice covering roads, we chose to err on the side of safety and held our delivery of printed newspapers until after the sun came up and everyone could better see what the roads looked like.

Considering almost every business, school and organization either remained closed or was delayed in opening, we feel we made the right call. And the vast majority of those who called our office about late papers thought we did too. For that, we thank you for your gracious understanding.

Granted, all home subscribers also receive access to our full quiver of digital tools, we understand nothing beats sitting down with a newspaper in your hands and exploring your way through the pages.

But as soon as we had the ice behind us, we found ourselves bitten by a mechanical issue forcing us to be running equipment to our backup facilities. While I’ll spare you the details, I will tell you there were lots of people up all hours of the night working to get the process moving forward.

The team finally got issues resolved (and were driving back and forth across the Galveston Causeway with items) and papers cleared our docks by 7 a.m.

I share this because I want you to know how much we appreciate your interest in finding out about your home delivery of The Daily News. We deeply value the opportunity to serve you and the community. To those who were so understanding last week, thank you. Know that all of us here at The Daily News are proud to serve you. Thank you for your continued support.

Deer hunters come up with strange alibis

People who break the law, like students who don’t get their homework done, seem always to be creative in their excuses and their alibis.

That seems to be especially true of hunters and fishermen, who run afoul of the authorities, if we are to believe the periodic reports I get to read from news releases issued by the folks at Texas Parks and Wildlife.

I enjoy their magazine. I relish watching their weekly television program. And every once in awhile, I get a real laugh over some of the investigation reports of the game wardens. They are serious business, of course, but to me their jobs must be really fun.

For instance, the latest story comes from Cochran County, which is near the Texas-New Mexico border.

The officers made contact with occupants who were parked in a bar ditch just off the highway. They had a rifle sticking out the window of their truck and admitted to shooting at feral hogs, which they insisted was OK, because they were in New Mexico and the wardens were out of their jurisdiction.

Asked how they determined their location, the guys pointed to the yellow centerline of the highway, which they believed was the state line separating the two states.

Charges of hunting on a public roadway, in Texas, are pending.

Closer to home, the wardens in Harris County were monitoring a development property for illegal hunting. They met two individuals emerging from the woods, riding a UTV, carrying rifles, with blood on their clothes. Like their West Texas friends, they claimed to have hunted feral hogs.

They were questioned separately, and one was required to name the time of day the hog was killed.

He opened his cellphone to display a text message string with the other suspect, but while thumbing through texts, looking for the time, he scrolled upon a photo of a large 8-point buck his friend had sent him. At that time, both confessed to poaching a deer, with no tags, no license, and no permission to hunt.

Officers seized the head and meat and issued multiple citations.

All the modern gizmos famous on CSI are apparently also available to our game wardens.

A warden in Red River County was told by some men hunting on a road that they had shot a coyote.

The warden discovered blood, but no animal. He collected blood and tissue samples and sent them to the TPW forensic lab. The results came back for white-tailed deer. The case is pending for hunting deer at night, from a vehicle and with artificial light, all of which are illegal.

The moral of this story is twofold. Don’t hunt deer without the proper permission. And if you do, come up with better stories than these guys.

Isle city council should reconsider vote on Porretto Beach

The city council should not abandon Galveston’s rights of way on Porretto Beach and neighboring properties because they may be useful in the future, and because the city should encourage conservation or low-impact development on this vulnerable beach between the seawall and the gulf.

City officials have been overeager to accommodate these abandonments, at first pushing to allow them with no compensation to the city, now urging the city council to consider only whether the city has immediate plans to use them, ignoring all other aspects of the public interest.

Without taking the project before the planning commission, city staff issued a beach front construction certificate here for “a large-scale commercial development for five elevated commercial buildings,” with beach-level parking, 40 percent of which can be concrete.

The trustee of the Porretto bankruptcy estate has a contract to sell Porretto Beach to a developer who owns adjoining property for $6 million if the trustee can obtain the rights of way and include them in the sale; he has said the private property won’t bring more than a few hundred thousand dollars without the public’s rights of way, which is a condition to the sale.

Galveston appraises its rights of way as isolated, irregularly-shaped easements rather than according to the value they add to neighboring property. As a result, the sales price to the city won’t reflect their real value, and the Porretto bankruptcy creditors and the developer will receive a windfall from the public.

City officials claim that these rights of way can be of no future use, but municipal easements are much broader in scope than private access easements. They confer the right to install not only streets and alleys, but also utilities above and below ground, landscaping, beach walkovers, emergency access, sidewalks, lighting, handicapped access, bicycle lanes and more. For decades, this property has been operated as a private beach with no need of public infrastructure, but that may change now that a bankruptcy has forced the sale of the property. Once the city abandons its rights of way, it cannot recover them, whether this particular sale closes or not.

Large-scale developers and real estate speculators are not the only potential purchasers of Porretto Beach. Small-scale developers content with the current footprint, nonprofits who want to conserve the beach, and the city itself are all potential purchasers, none of whom have a need to acquire the rights of way.

There are influential interests that will benefit financially if the city abandons these rights of way. The estate’s largest creditor is a local law firm that stands to collect millions from a contingent fee contract if this deal closes. The prospective purchaser has tried unsuccessfully for decades to obtain the abandonment of rights of way on his property adjoining Porretto Beach.

The lawyers and lobbyists they have hired to persuade the council to abandon the city’s property are promoting private interests at the expense of the public interest. Tell your council member and the mayor to preserve your rights of way on Porretto Beach on Thursday.

Elizabeth Beeton

Leonard Woolsey