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After years of waiting, game rooms in Galveston County start to sign in

GALVESTON

Years after getting permission from the Texas Legislature to regulate game rooms in unincorporated areas, Galveston County has finally begun issuing permits to the controversial businesses.

The county April 1 began enforcing its rules for game rooms, including requiring the businesses to register, officials said.

As of last week, 10 game rooms had either been permitted or had permits pending, said Garret Foskit, the county’s nuisance abatement program supervisor.

Three of the game rooms are in unincorporated Alvin, in west Galveston County and three more are in Bacliff, in the east. Two are in San Leon and two more in Crystal Beach on Bolivar Peninsula.

Foskit, who has worked for the county for 24 years, is in charge of receiving and vetting game room applications, and inspecting them for compliance with the county’s rules.

It’s a completely new job within the county, Foskit said.

“The newness of the program makes this job challenging,” he said. “There are issues that come up that require research, coordination and consideration before acting on that delay the process.

“Every form and letter has to be created from scratch, which also takes time.”

In December, county commissioners approved new rules that required that game rooms — businesses that contain six or more electronic gambling machines — to apply for and receive permits, or else be fined up to $10,000 a day.

Applying for a permits costs $1,000 and game-room owners must submit to an inspection by the county. Game-room owners must also identify themselves to the county or else face more fines.

State lawmakers gave the county the ability to regulate game rooms in 2015, but it took more than four years for commissioners to hire Foskit and approve rules to regulate game rooms in unincorporated areas of the county.

The goal of the regulations is to reduce some of the nuisances that officials say are brought on by game rooms. County law enforcement officials have said for years that some of the businesses violate state gambling laws by paying out cash prizes, or that they attract other kinds of crime and bad behavior.

While officials denied the goal of the new regulations was to eliminate game rooms, it appears to have some effect on the number of businesses that are in operation. When the county approved the rules in December, there were 15 game rooms in the county.

Since the new rules went into effect, the county has not fined or seized property from any game room operators, Foskit said. To do that, the county would need to file criminal charges against the businesses though the Galveston County District Attorney’s Office, he said.


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Hospice program eases worries about pets at end of life

Hospice Care Team, the coastal Texas provider of end-of-life medical support and care, is expanding its mission to include family members that sometimes are overlooked: the pets of hospice patients.

“Hospice Care Team has decided to participate in the Pet Peace of Mind program as so many of our patients are devoted to their pets,” said administrator Joe Chapman. “We can now give the reassurance to our patients who worry about their pets that the care, love and needs will continue to be provided for their companion.”

Sometimes, pet owners simply need to be reassured that once the time comes when they can no longer care for their pet, someone will step in to provide that service.

Sometimes, people spending their last days at home before death don’t have the resources to care for their pets amid other personal and financial constraints.

And sometimes, a pet lover’s ability to let go and die is impeded by lingering concerns over what will happen to a pet companion once they’re gone.

In these and many other scenarios, hospice organizations in the past have had to do whatever they could, but not necessarily in a systematic way, hospice care providers said.

Ten years ago, Dianne McGill of Salem, Oregon, became concerned about this problem and took action, conceiving of and developing Pet Peace of Mind, a training and implementation program for home health care and hospice organizations around the country that were concerned about their patients’ pet care problems and how those problems affected end of life.

“I was running a large national animal welfare board and we got a call from a woman who was trying to help her dying friend with some pet care issues,” McGill said. “She said she’d called everyone she could think of and asked if we could help.”

McGill quickly found through her research that there was no one serving critically ill patients and their pets. She decided to develop a program that would do just that.

‘HE NEEDED SOMEBODY’

Hospice Care Team, headquartered in Texas City since 1983, has long been aware of patients’ pet care needs, but didn’t have a system in place to offer help.

Brenda Kinder, director of nursing for a team, a pet lover herself, took the reins and led the organization’s efforts to add Pet Peace of Mind to its programs.

One of Kinder’s staff caregivers, Amanda Ray, had a special passion for pets and soon found herself participating in the program in a way that helped a patient and her husband as well as her own family.

“We were working with a family, the wife was our patient, and both she and her husband were very elderly,” Ray said. “The husband was having a hard time being at his wife’s bedside and caring for their dog.”

Maggie, a golden retriever-yellow lab mix, loved to play and needed lots of attention. Ray, the single mother of Logen, almost 9, and Lainee, 2, had been looking for a dog for her young family.

“The wife was too far gone and the husband just cried; he needed somebody to take the dog,” Ray said.

She and her children met Maggie and brought her home. A neighbor who trains therapy dogs tested her and is now training her.

Maggie’s owner, the hospice patient, died and her husband moved away, Ray said.

“She fit my family perfectly,” Ray said.

“We took her when they needed help. I’ve been talking to patients about this now because I really have a passion for pets and can see how this helps both patients and pets.”

UNFINISHED BUSINESS

For too many patients, the need for either hospice staff or volunteers to help care for pets is urgent because of lack of resources and support, Ray said.

“It’s really sad to say that for many, their families don’t come to see them,” Ray said. “Some don’t have basic stuff they need, so it’s hard to get the care they need for their pets.”

For patients like these, Pet Peace of Mind can offer financial support for food and supplies, can provide trips to the vet, boarding or walkers, depending on how the program has been developed, officials said.

For some patients, a pet is a patient’s closest family member, a companion whose welfare is the greatest cause of concern at the end of the pet owner’s life.

Hospice Care Team signed on with Pet Peace of Mind earlier in the year and is just now determining what’s needed for their program and how they will staff it.

“Primarily, so far, it’s been us doing the pet care, but ultimately we want to engage volunteers,” said Rebecca Deaton, public relations spokeswoman for Hospice Care Team.

Sometimes, patients are near death by the time they begin receiving hospice care and die before there’s time to bring in a volunteer, officials said.

But other times, when a patient has received a terminal diagnosis and is beginning to receive hospice care with some time to plan, the need for volunteers is crucial, officials said.

“If we could enlist volunteers to work with more long-term patients, that would be ideal,” Deaton said. “A client in Freeport has a couple of pets and is real concerned about what will happen to them after he passes.

“It’s not that he needs help with them right now, but he will as things progress.”

Pet Peace of Mind provides an organization the tools it needs to develop and implement pet care, covering details like how to stay compliant with regulations surrounding home health care, how to staff the program and how to report it, McGill said.

When a program is in place, the national organization provides personalized training online to staff and volunteers.

“It’s not a brand-new idea, but Pet Peace of Mind solves a problem that all hospices face on an occasional basis,” McGill said.

Appreciating the importance of the pet-patient bond is key, McGill said.

“I know of countless patients who have said their pet is their lifeline,” she said.

“For many patients, keeping their pets near them during the end of their life journey and finding homes for their beloved pets after they pass is one of the most important pieces of unfinished business.”


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Crews continue work on barge collision

HOUSTON

Crews Sunday continued their work on two barges involved in a collision late Friday, unloading cargo and partially reopening the Houston Ship Channel to maritime traffic, officials announced.

About 3:30 p.m. Friday, a 755-foot tanker ship collided with a tugboat pushing two barges near Baytown, causing one barge to capsize and piercing another, causing it to begin leaking a feedstock blend called Reformate similar to automobile gasoline.

Each of the barges was fully loaded with about 25,000 barrels of the product, and about 9,000 barrels had leaked into the ship channel by Saturday.

The chemical can be flammable and toxic when inhaled, ingested or in contact with skin, League City officials said.

Officials also closed the Houston Ship Channel because of the collision, but by late Sunday it reopened to some traffic. About 47 outbound vessels and 48 inbound vessels are still waiting to travel through the channel, but one-way ship traffic and two-way barge traffic resumed by Sunday afternoon, according to U.S. Coast Guard officials.

Salvage crews also secured the two barges and worked Sunday to remove cargo, officials said. Once all the cargo is removed, the barges can then be moved.

More than 334 personnel from the U.S. Coast Guard, Texas General Land Office and barge owner Kirby Inland Marine, among others, have responded to the unified command post and crews have deployed about 20,550 feet of containment and absorbent boom, officials said.

Officials have also expanded the navigation safety zone around the barges to include the area from the western shores of lower Galveston Bay, extending south to San Leon and east up to but not including the Houston Ship Channel and then north up to but not including the Bayport Ship Channel, officials said. Boaters are prohibited from leaving Clear Creek into the bay, officials said.

People wanting to report fish or wildlife that might have been affected should call 979-215-8835, officials said.


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Sides await hearing in Friendswood park drama

FRIENDSWOOD

Ahead of a Wednesday hearing over a temporary injunction, both sides in a longstanding dispute over some parts of the Lake of Friendswood Park are claiming victory.

“Judge John Ellisor said that if the city can’t produce a written document that authorizes the placement of the structures on Tostado property, then he will probably deny the city’s request for a restraining order,” said Robert Clements Jr., an Alvin attorney representing Joseph Tostado in legal proceedings against the city of Friendswood.

Essentially, Tostado argues he inherited more than 5 acres south of the Lake of Friendswood from his father. But, Tostado contends, the city is using both its own property and his property for a park, and that officials have closed off roads around his land, limiting its usefulness, court records show.

But attorneys for the city disagreed with Clements’ characterization of Wednesday’s hearing, asserting they were close to having the case dismissed.

“The judge has asked us to include in the record the original dedication of the roadway easement from a long time ago,” said Bill Helfand, an attorney representing Friendswood. “Frankly, once we get that, it will probably dispose of the whole case. If he finds a valid easement across the roadway, that pretty much resolves the question of the original lawsuit.”

Attorneys for Friendswood first asked for a temporary injunction in the case shortly after Tostado gave the city until March 16 to address concerns about the parts of the park he argues are built on his land or else he’d remove the facilities himself, according to his attorney.

But Tostado has since taken a less aggressive stance while the lawsuit is pending, Clements said.

“We’ve made clear that even if the injunction is denied, we’re just going to put a fence up around Mr. Tostado’s property,” Clements said. “Then we’re going to go and try the case, and feel we’ll win. Then, we’ll talk to the city about damages.”

The city recently finished a $1 million park project at Lake Friendswood, which voters approved in a 2013 bond election. A 1-mile concrete path and boardwalk surrounds the park with benches, picnic tables and exercise equipment.

Tostado, however, wants the city to remove all the park benches, city signs, concrete sidewalks, a boardwalk, fences, a footbridge and all gates and obstacles obstructing access to Windmere Road and McFarland Drive, Clements wrote to Helfand the Feb. 18 demand letter.

Tostado first filed the lawsuit against the city in January 2018.

Tostado’s relatives in 1993 also went to court with the city of Friendswood over similar claims about land ownership, court records show.


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West End could use a dog park, residents argue

GALVESTON

Some residents are lobbying city leaders for a dog park on the island’s West End, a feature they say could enhance their quality of life.

The city has dog play areas at Menard and Lindale parks, but there are no public fenced areas for dogs to run and play on the West End, resident Bob Newding said.

“There’s a number of studies about the benefits of dog parks in communities,” Newding said. “It’s something we need.”

It’s a topic that’s long been a point of conversation for residents, said District 6 Councilwoman Jackie Cole, who represents the West End.

Along with lacking a dog park, there is generally less neighborhood park space on the West End than on the East End, she said.

“It’s sort of on people’s minds and it’s on people’s wish list,” Cole said. “It’s a matter of trying to find the place that would be the most advantageous.”

Some proponents of dog parks have suggested using airport property at least temporarily, but this could pose a problem if the city wanted to sell the airport land in the future, Cole said.

“The city cannot sell or dispose of park property without a vote of the people,” Cole said.

Some residents have also discussed turning part or all of Jones Park, Jones Drive and 71st Street, into a dog park. The city in 2017 proposed selling this property, which has been plagued with drainage problems, but voters declined the suggestion in a narrow vote.

“Why don’t we make the whole thing a dog park and have something we can brag about?” Newding said.

It’s a possibility the city is open to, city spokeswoman Marissa Barnett said.

“Certainly, nothing is final yet,” Barnett said.

Although city rules prohibit it, many West End residents let their dogs run off-leash on the beach, which has become a substitute for West End dog parks, said Jerry Mohn, president of the West Galveston Island Property Owners Association.

He’s not sure West Enders would use a dog park if they’re already accustomed to taking pets on the beach, and wonders whether some residents would complain about the noise of a dog park, he said.

But resident Bruce Reinhart argues a dog park could add significant benefit to the area, he said.

“I think it would be a good idea,” Reinhart said.

Determining where to put the park, on the other hand, would take some time, he said.

Without a specific design or location selected, it’s difficult for the city to estimate a cost associated with a dog park, Barnett said.

That cost might be the biggest hurdle to overcome, Cole said.

City officials have this year expressed concern about a bill moving through the state legislature to cap the city’s property tax revenue increases. City officials worry this bill could hamper growth.

“We always watch the budget, but with the tax cap that the state is putting on us it just makes it really impossible to think about anything other than public safety, streets and basic services,” Cole said. “There’s not going to be any gravy.”

The city hasn’t released a finalized plan for Jones Park, but has floated the idea of including a fenced dog area. A completed plan would need to go through a public comment period and be approved by the Galveston City Council, city officials said.