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Susan Milligan holds her father’s hand in his room at the Meridian Retirement Community in Galveston on Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018.

Plan aims to standardize lights, save money


The city has begun work on a master plan meant to create a uniform system of street lighting to reduce monthly expenses with minimal cost to the city, officials said.

The plan aims to correct several problems with Galveston’s streetlight system, including inconsistent fixtures and wattages, light pollution and varying pole heights.

The city uses four different types of lights and a variety of light structures, which creates an inconsistent look while making repairs much more difficult, Pete Milburn, senior project manager, said.

The city aims to reduce light styles to just two types, decorative lights and a style called cobra, which arcs over the street and emits stronger light for high-traffic corridors, he said.

Officials also want to convert all light types to LED, Milburn said.

LED stands for light-emitting diodes. LEDs cost more than conventional bulbs, but last longer and use less energy.

“Approximately 80 percent of the CenterPoint streetlights are LED or they’re in the process of being converted to LED,” Milburn said.

The plan also calls for specific light placement based on a street’s traffic level.

During a Thursday Galveston City Council workshop, Milburn pointed out areas with unevenly spaced streetlights.

“You can see overlap and this is what we call our Galveston downtown,” Milburn said. “Here we can see a problem.”

Cities that convert to all LED lights saw savings of 40 percent to 60 percent annually, Milburn said.

In the 2017 to 2018 fiscal year, the city paid $580,389 to CenterPoint Energy, which maintains, owns and provides services to most city streetlights, according to city financial records.

About 80 percent of lights owned by CenterPoint have been or are in the process of being converted to LED, Milburn said.

Milburn wasn’t sure yet the exact cost of updating all the city lights, he said. CenterPoint will put lights on existing poles at no cost but purchase and installation of decorative lights costs between $3,000 and $3,500 he said.

Creating a better street light system also is a matter of safety, District 3 Councilman David Collins said.

“We’ve got some long blocks, like in Fish Village, where it’s dark as a tomb,” Collins said. “The residents would really like to have some more light to walk the dogs.”

Improved lighting is important to downtown businesses and shoppers, including at athletic apparel store FitTRIRun, owner Kimberly Bachmeier said.

“For improved safety period, whether people are exercising are not, getting better lighting is going to be so important,” Bachmeier said.

Seawall lighting has improved in recent years, but people familiar with the area still trip and hurt themselves in dark sections of street, she said.

Milburn’s staff gets notices daily of lights being out, though the number is dropping as more LED lights come online, he said.

The plan also aims to identify corridors appropriate for decorative lighting, which don’t provide as much coverage as the cobra lights.

A standard document would eliminate debate about where to place decorative lighting, City Manager Brian Maxwell said.

“Where we can start basing our decisions on an actual plan and not just political will,” Maxwell said.

A plan like this is key to creating a dark sky city and bird-friendly city, Conservation Director of Houston Audubon Richard Gibbons said.

“Any move toward less light pollution is excellent news,” Gibbons said. “Many bird species migrate at night using celestial cues to navigate.”

The city council plans to hear a more updated version of the master plan at its December workshop.

Growers fight coastal elements in pursuit of perfect pecan


It’s said pecans don’t do so well in Galveston County. The soil is too wet, the air is too humid and the hickory shuckworm, a sworn enemy of pecan growers everywhere, is known to make itself right at home.

For most anyone thinking about starting a commercial pecan business, hurdles like these would be a deal breaker. But for Jim Hall and his neighbors on 28th Street in Santa Fe, where dozens of pecan trees drop thin-shelled, hickory-brown nuts into their yards for harvesting each fall, the tough environment only gave members of the Galveston County Pecan Committee more motivation to breed a perfect pecan.

“We were trying to cut down on insecticide costs is what it was,” Hall, 86, said as he put on his jacket to give an unofficial tour of the pecan trees in his yard. “If we could find a way to make them less appealing to the pests then, we thought we could get something going.”

Out in the yard, where Hall has more than 30 pecan trees, descriptions of the committee’s pecan-breeding efforts hang from tree trunks on metal tags. The names of the different varieties of pecan trees that Hall has bred over the years — “Kiowa;” “Kiowa 82;” “Barton;” “Sioux” and a dozen more — are etched into each tag.

“There’s a Cheyenne, there’s a Desirable,” he said, pointing to different pecan trees and picking up a nut he proceeded to easily crack open with one hand. “Now, how many have you seen do that?”

Many of the trees are the result of grafting, Hall explained. Grafting is a breeding technique that involves taking part of one tree that produces pecans with desirable traits — more resistant to insects, for example — and attaching it to the base of another tree whose top has been sawed off. When the trees grow into one over the course of decades, the result can be a new variety of pecan.

“This one has a real good flavor but it takes quite a bit of time to crack,” Hall said, cracking open a pecan that had fallen from an experimental tree labeled “59100.” He frowned and tossed it away. “Not so good with fungus, though.”

Texas regularly produces more than 30 million pounds of pecans every year, which typically lands the state among the top-three producers in the nation, according to reports from Texas A&M University. The state’s soil and climate, especially in Central and West Texas, is excellent for pecan production, and commercial growers, who sell 1 pound of pecans for up to $1, are able to produce from 1,000 to 2,000 pounds an acre a year in well-managed orchards on good sites.

“Pecans require well-drained soil, which Texas has plenty of,” said William Johnson, who serves as the county extension agent for the Texas A&M Galveston County Agrilife Extension Service. “People who grow pecans in Texas can do it very successfully.”

About two decades ago, Hall and several others tried to join the ranks of those successful commercial pecan growers. A community pecan orchard near Hall’s house in Carbide Park had given the members of the pecan committee the grafts they needed to start their own orchards and breed a pecan sturdy enough to thrive in Galveston County.

After the trees grew, county conferences and contests followed — Hall’s neighbor, Melvin Davis, has a plaque declaring a pecan variety he grew as “Best in Shell, 1985” — but ultimately the price that came with growing pecans in an unwelcoming environment grew to be too much.

“We all had fun doing it, but we just couldn’t afford the costs of doing it here,” Hall said. “There are a few of us who are still pretty active, but just for fun now.”

Back inside his house, Hall fishes around a 5-gallon bucket full of pecans for a few seconds and pulls out what he considers to be one of the best nuts that can be produced locally. For a commercial operation it would be a top seller, but it also works just fine to give away to friends over the holidays, he said.

“A great pecan, in my opinion, is something like this Forkert,” Hall said, holding out a light-brown, thin-shelled nut — the genetically engineered product of two pecan trees he grafted together more than two decades ago. He cracked it open between his finger and his thumb and used a pocket knife to cut the bitter membrane out from between the two golden halves.

High in oil content, easy to crack and very resistant to insects and fungus, Hall had found his perfect pecan.

“You might say it’s just something that evolved,” he said.

Riders take to La Marque roads for rodeo rehearsal


Cowboys and chuck wagons took over city roads Saturday as a group of trail riders from around Texas arrived in the city to trot, gallop and meander on horses as part of a practice run for next year’s Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.

Almost 160 riders from the Texas Independence Trail Ride Association participated in Saturday’s trail ride, said Larry Myrick, a La Marque native and the trail boss for the event.

“It’s a carry on of a long tradition of the pioneers when they crossed this country on wagons and on horseback,” Myrick said. “It’s a tradition to keep that way of life alive.”

Saturday’s ride brought the association past city hall and other landmarks, where people waved and greeted the riders. Scouts clad in orange safety vests helped block streets and appease blocked drivers as the quarter-mile long caravan wound its way through town.

The association moved its annual ride to La Marque this year after spending the previous year in Angleton.

Saturday’s ride was a warmup for the premier event of the trail riding season, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, which will begin Feb. 25. During that event, the trail riders will take five days to ride between La Marque and Houston, ultimately joining hundreds of other people coming from different directions in the middle of the city.

“Everybody is testing their equipment, getting their horses ready and networking with each other,” Myrick said.

True to tradition, the group brings everything with them in wagons, from food and camping equipment, to speaker systems, barbecue pits and toilets.

The weekend ride also serves as a fundraiser for February’s event. The group camped over night at La Marque’s Highland Bayou Park, where some people participated in a karaoke showdown.

Many of the people participating in the weekend ride said they had been with the association for years, and have watched their children and grandchildren grow up with the group.

“It’s all about family,” said Kelly Hughes, of Needville, who was driving a wagon during the ride. She was joined by her 31-year-old son, Clayton, who had been going on rides since he was 2 years old. “When we come together, it’s a family from start to finish. We help each other.”

The riders will take to the streets again on Sunday on a ride that will take them up the feeder roads on either side of Interstate 45 in La Marque. The ride begins at 9 a.m.

kelseywalling / KELSEY WALLING/The Daily News  

Galveston County Adoption Day (copy)

Lorelai Akin plays in a colorful tube while waiting to be officially adopted on National Adoption Day at the Galveston County Courthouse on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018.

jenniferreynolds / JENNIFER REYNOLDS/The Daily News  

Dedrick Johnson, former Texas City commissioner, and his children Dariah, from left, Donovan and Dionne play at the Sanders Center in Texas City on Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2018.

kelseywalling / KELSEY WALLING/The Daily News  

MG Festival of Lights (copy)

The Razzmatazz Tap Group performs to Christmas music at the Festival of Lights at Moody Gardens on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018.