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Carnival ships polluting, despite court orders, report claims

GALVESTON

Carnival Corp. cruise ships repeatedly dumped waste into the ocean and lied to federal regulators about its actions despite being on probation for breaking environmental laws, according to a report published Tuesday by the Miami Herald.

The details of the dumping came from a monitoring report released by a federal judge overseeing Carnival’s probation for a 2016 pollution conviction.

U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz, of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida, has threatened to block Carnival ships from docking at U.S. ports because of its alleged actions during its probation.

The report has caught the attention of Galveston port officials, who say they expect to be briefed on what the consequences of Carnival’s actions might be for Galveston, a city Carnival calls a homeport.

The newly released data, which was collected and shared by the Miami newspaper, records more than 800 environmental compliance problems from April 2017 to April 2018, and includes incidents during which ships that sailed from Galveston dumped sewage, food waste or oil.

For example, the report asserts Carnival Freedom, a cruise ship sailing from Galveston since 2015, discharged 123,368 gallons of “treated black water/sewage” and 1,637 gallons of food waste in Bahaman waters in June 2017.

The report also details smaller incidents of dumping, including times when crew members and passengers dropped telephones, ID cards, radios, purses and boarding passes off the ships and into the water.

None of the reported waste dumping happened within the Galveston Ship Channel, according to the data. An incident in which a passenger dropped a boarding pass overboard did happen at the Galveston port, according to the report.

The environmental compliance report was written by a Washington D.C. attorney appointed to oversee Carnival Corp. after it pleaded guilty to illegal dumping and a coverup in 2016.

The company paid a $40 million fine and agreed to five years probation, according to Miami Herald.

All of the new dumping incidents were unintentional, according to the compliance report, which also stated the company had been cooperating with court-ordered restrictions.

But it also said the company’s investigation into environmental compliance issues was “critically flawed.”

In a statement to the Herald, Carnival Corp. CEO Arnold Donald said the company would continue to attempt to meet the terms of its probation.

“Our environmental responsibility has been and remains a top priority for the company,” he said. “Our aspiration is to leave the places we touch even better than when we first arrived.

“This is in the best interest of our guests, our company and the oceans upon which we travel. We look forward to clarifying any issues and demonstrating our commitment.”

Still, Seitz has taken a harsh tone with Carnival officials and as recently as last week said she regretted not being able to send executives to jail, according to the Herald.

She is set to decide in June whether the new report about violations means Carnival violated its probation. After that, she would decide whether to block Carnival ships from U.S. ports, the judge said.

One member of the Galveston Wharves Board of Trustees said she expected port Director Rodger Rees to brief the board about what Carnival’s travails might mean for Galveston.

Trustee Elizabeth Beeton said she expected Rees to deliver an update during the board’s next meeting, which is scheduled for Tuesday.

Three Carnival Corp. ships — the Freedom, Valor and Vista — travel out of Galveston to ports in the Caribbean, Mexico, Jamaica, Belize and Honduras.


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Some residents want to rein in horse plan for Galveston park

GALVESTON

As officials prepare to rebuild Galveston Island State Park, some nearby residents are worried plans to allow horses on the West End property could harm dunes.

The Texas Parks & Wildlife Department plans to close the Galveston Island State Park on July 15 for a massive three-year rebuilding project, Park Manager Hans Haglund said.

The 94-acre park, 14901 FM 3005, is being renovated with a $10 million state grant from the settlement money of 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

With both beach and bay sides, Galveston Island State Park offers such activities as swimming, fishing, bird watching, hiking and paddling, among others.

When it reopens, the park might have equestrian areas, though that isn’t definite, Haglund said.

“We’re still working through funding and everything like that,” Haglund said. “We don’t have anything firm right now.”

State officials have discussed renovations for about 10 years, but West End island resident Jerry Mohn only recently realized the plan included the potential for equestrian areas, he said. Mohn is the president of the West Galveston Island Property Owners Association.

“They do cause a lot of problems,” Mohn said of horses on the beach. “Besides making a mess, they cause a lot of problems to the dunes.”

Horses could damage the dunes when they try to access the beaches, he said.

Riding horses on the beach is very restricted and that’s for good reason, said Pete Alcocer, owner of Galveston Island Horse and Pony Rides.

Alcocer’s business operates on East Beach through a special permit from the beach manager, the Galveston Park Board of Trustees, he said.

“The only concern would be how many people are going to be riding on the beaches out west,” Alcocer said.

Heavy horse traffic could lead to problems like safety issues for people who aren’t accustomed to handling horses and it could also cause some mess, he said.

“The horses can’t do any damage to the beach other than the manure,” Alcocer said.

Allowing equestrian activities would probably increase traffic to the park, which people would also need to take into account, Alcocer said.

Building access points for equestrian access to the beach was included in the master plan because of public interest, Haglund said.

The cost of this access system is what staff members still have to deliberate, he said.

“You can’t just have them ride over the dunes,” Haglund said. “There has to be some kind of trail system.”

Horse riding on beaches is fairly restricted in Galveston, according to city ordinance.

People are free to ride horses between Beach Pocket Park 1, 11102 FM 3005, and Beach Pocket Park 2, 11745 FM 3005, according to city code.

Elsewhere, people can ride horses on beaches, except between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m. on Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, Labor Day and on Saturdays and Sundays between May and September, according to city code.

Announced in 2014, the renovation project is slated to replace nearly all the park facilities and includes new campsites, dune crossings and concession area, park officials said.

The beach side of the park is scheduled to close July 15 for the renovations, Haglund said. The portion of the park on the bay side is expected to remain open during construction.

Major road demolition in the area will likely begin in September, Haglund said.

Discussions about the equestrian activities will be ongoing, he said.


KELSEY WALLING/The Daily News  

Sen. Ted Cruz commends local leaders’ ongoing Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts during a news conference in League City on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018. Cruz came to receive an update about the county’s hurricane recovery efforts.


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League City officials worried about murky bond ballot language

LEAGUE CITY

Starting this month, voters will consider whether to approve the first bond propositions in 27 years, including proposals that would fund $145 million in traffic and drainage projects. But in the days leading up to early voting, city officials are busy explaining the third proposition to potential voters.

“The language on the third proposition makes it sound like it will be a 1.25 percent increase,” said Sarah Greer Osborne, spokeswoman for League City. “But it’s a quarter-cent.”

Proposition C would allow city officials to increase League City’s sales tax rate by .25 percent, or a quarter-cent. The state sales and use tax rate is 6.25 percent, but local municipalities can charge up to an additional 2 percent tax, City Attorney Nghiem Doan has said.

League City currently charges 1.75 percent sales tax, so it could increase it by the quarter-cent.

But the bond proposition phrases it differently because of state requirements, Greer Osborne said.

“The adoption of a local sales and use tax in the city of League City at the rate of one and one-quarter percent (1.25 percent),” the ballot measure states.

Council members are pushing the sales tax measure as a way to pay for the debt that would be issued through the other propositions without increasing the property tax rate, Mayor Pat Hallisey said.

If Propositions A and B pass, but not the sales tax increase, property owners in League City could see their property tax rate increase by about 1.4 cents on $100 of taxable value, which would cost a homeowner with an assessed home value of $250,000 with a homestead exemption about $28 more each year in taxes, according to the city’s calculations.

While previous sales tax measures have failed in League City, all extra funding would go exclusively toward drainage and traffic improvements, which residents believe are important, Hallisey said.

“Every day we put this off, is going to cost more,” Hallisey said of the three propositions. “This is just a reminder of how devastating Harvey was to us. When we asked residents what they wanted, they pretty overwhelmingly said drainage and transportation improvements.”

The approved ballot items will include options for voters to approve or reject $73 million for drainage projects and $72 million for streets and traffic projects, officials said. Drainage improvement projects include detention ponds at several subdivisions and a diversion channel, among other items.

“We have come up with the best program we could, trying to find the most cost-effective way to do this,” Hallisey said. “Now, it’s in the voters’ hands. I like to think they realize what’s at stake here.”


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Man gets life sentence for home-invasion slayings

TEXAS CITY

A Galveston man has been sentenced to life without parole for his role in the home-invasion slayings of a Texas City resident and his teenage daughter in 2011.

A jury late Tuesday found Broderick Dewayne Batiste, 40, also known as Big-O, guilty of one count of capital murder the same day that attorneys made closing arguments in the trial that lasted longer than a week, court records show.

Batiste is the second man to receive a life sentence for the home-invasion slayings. Dominique Alonzo Stokes, 39, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole after pleading guilty to capital murder in 2018, court records show.

A grand jury indicted Batiste in 2014 on capital murder charges in connection with the shooting deaths of Jorge Vargas, 33, and Miranda Vargas, 15, at the family’s home.

The Vargases weren’t a random target, police said. The home was a known drug distribution or holding point and was targeted because of the belief cash was inside, Texas City police told The Daily News in a February 2012 interview.

Vargas’ son escaped the shootings by running to a nearby fire station. The boy, then 11, banged on the door and firefighters called a police dispatcher.

Ballistic tests on a semi-automatic pistol in Stokes’ possession when Austin police arrested him in December 2011 matched the weapon used in the killings, Texas City police told The Daily News in 2012.

Batiste has already filed a notice that he plans to appeal Tuesday’s verdict, court records show.