Local News Headlines–2/8/2016

The College Station city council has taken the next step towards eventually starting construction on extending Deacon west of Wellborn with a new railroad crossing. City engineer Donald Harmon reported the city will spend $171,000 on a pre-design report. Harmon says the county will hire a consultant and the city will share the cost. He also says the city is taking into account future school construction in the area. It will take another two years before the Deacon extension is completed. The project also includes closing the railroad crossing at Cain Road.

A Bryan man accused of two armed robberies two weeks ago was arrested following a standoff of more than three hours. The Bryan police department’s emergency response and crisis negotiation teams were sent to a home on Denise Street, south of the city cemetery, Saturday during the midnight hour. That home and two others were evacuated during talks that led to the surrender of 23-year-old Peter Olsen. Olsen is accused of armed robberies at the Auto Partners Insurance office and Pepe’s restaurant, then firing a gun at witnesses near the restaurant. Olsen is in the Brazos County jail on bonds totaling $575,000. That includes a hold from the west Texas town of Lamesa where is he wanted on a harassment charge while at the Dawson County jail.

A former office manager of a Bryan medical practice has started serving time in the Brazos County jail. 48-year-old Brenda Hobson of Willis was given two weeks to get her affairs in order, over the objections of the district attorney’s office. According to online jail records, Willis was booked last Thursday to start six months of what’s called shock probation. The judge will decide after that if Willis will do any more time for stealing a quarter million dollars over a three year period from Brazos Valley Periodontics. According to the d-a’s office, Hobson has repaid $150,000 and is scheduled to finish the restitution in April.

The TxDOT office in Bryan has one project starting today and a traffic advisory for a second starting tonight. Today is the first day of rebuilding Highway 21 west of Bryan, from the railroad underpass to Highway 47. The project is expected to be completed in May. Nighttime repaving on the freeway northbound between the Emerald Parkway and Southwest Parkway exits starts tonight. Lane closures between 6:30 pm and 6:30 am will continue through Friday morning.

Local News Headlines–2/5/2016

More than half of the violent crimes in Brazos County are related to domestic violence. That led to getting a grant where a number of agencies participated yesterday in training to prevent domestic violence homicides and serious injuries. Assistant District Attorney Jessica Escue, who heads the D-A’s family violence division, says victims are at the highest risk of being killed by their partner in the first two weeks after leaving the relationship. Local law enforcement and others who come in contact with victims, including those who work at shelters, participated in a training program yesterday that is being used in 34 states.

The week after a Bryan woman was placed on probation for her second drunk driving conviction, she’s in jail accused of her third D-W-I. College Station police arrested 40-year-old Robyn Dee Willis Tuesday afternoon following a three vehicle crash at Harvey Mitchell and Holleman. Last week, she was given two-years of probation and ordered to perform 100 hours of community service after pleading guilty to her second D-W-I that took place December 28th. A Somerville man spent four hours in jail before posting bond following his arrest for D-W-I with three prior convictions. Bryan police arrested 40-year-old Eric Jason Stewart following a traffic stop near Sue Haswell Park. That’s after a witness in College Station reported a pickup they were following was swerving and changing speeds on William D. Fitch and the freeway. A Bryan man who apologized to police for almost hitting a patrol car spent only 20 minutes in jail before posting bond for drunk driving with two prior convictions. Bryan police report the car driven by 36-year-old Vidal Barrera also ran two stop signs before coming to a stop on South College near South Main and the Texas Avenue bend. According to the arrest report, Barrera said he had drunk eight beers over a period of four-and-a-half hours.

A Bryan man out of prison for assaulting a family member and a public servant is accused of participating in an armed robbery two weeks ago. Bryan police have identified 23-year-old Peter Russel Olsen as the masked suspect in the holdup at Pepe’s restaurant.

And, as a divided Bryan city council resolves how much money has gone into the Traditions development, the newest councilman is a supporter of the west side housing and golf area. Buppy Simank says Traditions was the catalyst for what has followed on Bryan’s west side. Simank, who also supports the city’s contract diverting gray water to Traditions, doesn’t know of any plans to sell it to other parties.

Local News Headlines–2/4/2016

A little pain for a lot of gain is how the Texas Department of Transportation office in Bryan sums up the additional traffic congestion caused by construction on University that is affecting motorists from Tarrow to College. Spokesman Bob Colwell says there will be no adjustments to improve conditions for motorists during the next two-and-a-half weeks as a new center median is being built. After that, there will be daytime lane closures. TxDOT says the decision was made not to work at night or around the clock because the scope of the project did not justify increased safety risks and additional costs. Colwell also noted a lot of times with nighttime construction; they are not able to achieve the quality of workmanship that they would get during the day. Colwell says the inside lanes of University are currently being worked on weekdays from 8:30 until 4:00 so that construction vehicles are not impeding the traffic flow during peak rush hours.

The College Station school board at its last meeting selected a new general contractor to complete $8-million of projects from the $83.5-million bond issue voters approved in 2013. Executive Director of Facilities Jon Hall says $6.5-million is budgeted for renovating existing space. In the closing stages of construction are the new warehouse and purchasing center, Campus View High School and renovations at A&M Consolidated High School. Hall says the remainder is for deferred maintenance. That includes the exterior of South Knoll, the interior at Pebble Creek, and replacing some air conditioning systems around C-S-I-S-D.

It won’t be until the end of the month, at the soonest, before the College Station City Council considers a design contract for building a new police department headquarters. Construction is projected to be completed sometime in 2018. Mayor Nancy Berry wants to repurpose the existing P-D building into a new city hall. A council majority directed staff to design a two-story building that will accommodate a city population of 200,000. The 100,000 square foot building will be located next to Central Park on city owned land at Dartmouth and Krenek Tap.

Republican congressional leaders appeared at the conservative Heritage Foundation for a policy meeting. Panelists included Congressman Bill Flores of Bryan, who complemented Speaker Paul Ryan for his efforts to unite Republicans. The Associated Press reported Ryan said Republicans need to stop fighting angrily among themselves and not be distracted by hot button issues raised by the President. The gathering came the day after the speaker and Senate president had a rare joint meeting with the President. Flores was told the speaker and the President lectured to each other instead of having a meaningful discussion.

Local News Headlines–2/3/2016

Texas A&M police responded to a 9-1-1 call yesterday afternoon regarding an unconscious person in Hart Hall. First responders arrived on scene and located an 18-year-old woman dead in her dorm room. U-P-D says an investigation is currently underway and there are no obvious signs of foul play. The identity of the deceased is being withheld until family members are notified.

A Bryan man originally sentenced to die for a capital murder that took place nearly nine years ago will instead spend the rest of his life in prison. 28-year-old Christian Olsen was convicted of the beating death of a neighbor, 68-year-old Etta Jean Westbrook. Four years ago, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals threw out the death sentence. Initially, the Brazos County District Attorney’s office sought to reimpose the death penalty. But D-A Jarvis Parsons cited two reasons for changing his mind. One was the suicide of Olsen’s girlfriend, who was in prison serving time for soliciting him to murder her mother. Parsons says they also discovered D-N-A evidence that would have been used to argue for the death penalty was mishandled. Olsen agreed to waive all future attempts to be released from prison and oppose anyone who would attempt to do the same. The D-A says he will not refile a capital murder charge against Olsen in the death of his girlfriend’s mother. Geraldine Lloyd was killed in her home several months before Westbrook was murdered.

The first few days of street construction centered at University and Texas has clogged traffic in all directions. College Station traffic engineer Troy Rother says adjusting traffic signals would make things worse. Rother says this situation is different than the high volume when there’s a Texas A&M home football game because the time frame for sports events is very predictable where daily traffic flow is less predictable. Rother recommends against attempting detours through residential neighborhoods because of the narrow streets and frequent stop signs.

And, if you see Bryan firefighters in the downtown parking garage during the next few days, it’s for training purposes. The exercises started yesterday and will continue through at least tomorrow.

Local News Headlines–2/2/2016

The City of Bryan is holding a public meeting tomorrow to discuss the upcoming reconstruction of South College Avenue from Villa Maria to Sulphur Springs. Assistant City Engineer, Barney Williams, says the goal is to improve travel for pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists. Williams says they will start with an informal presentation of the project scope with time for questions from the public after. The meeting starts at 6 pm at the City of Bryan Municipal Office Building on Texas Avenue. Williams says the planned completion of design is September with construction starting by the end of the year. The project includes roadway reconstruction and signal replacement at Sulphur Springs.

Last week, the College Station city council approved up to $100,000 of financial assistance to a developer interested in seeking a federal grant to build apartments for low to moderate income elderly residents. Since then, the developer has withdrawn the request because another city is expected to get the $1.3-million grant. College Station’s Community Services Director, Debbie Eller, says cities around the country face the challenge of affordable housing. Eller says out of 13,000 apartments in College Station, only 100 units were vacant as of the end of last year. The proposal that was withdrawn included 105 income-based senior apartments on Victoria between College Station High School and Fitch offering rent as low as $350 a month. The $1.3-million in federal tax credits are expected to go to either Hewitt or Belton.

And, the city of Bryan will have something to say about what is built and where a proposed recreation center at Blinn College operated by the Houston Y-M-C-A is located. At the last city council meeting, Public Works Director Jayson Barfknecht said traffic and other studies would be submitted to the city. Blinn and the Houston Y are considering a center near the intersection of Villa Maria and Nash. Blinn students would be charged $50 a semester to finance the center.

Local News Headlines–2/1/2016

The College Station city council heard about proposals for two new apartment complexes south of College Station High School at its last meeting. The council agreed to spend up to $100,000 to help developer Mark Musemeche apply for federal tax credits that if approved, will mean 148 units for seniors, 105 on reduced income, on Victoria between C-S-H-S and Fitch. The $18-million dollar project is competing against eight others throughout central Texas where only one will be selected. At the southwest corner of Fitch and Victoria, another developer wants to double the number of proposed apartments, from 120 to 240, by dropping plans for office space. The council saw more than 30 opponents from the neighboring Castle Rock subdivision and heard from four. Concerns from Tom Kiske include a flooding risk from an increase in rain running into Spring Creek. The planning and zoning commission recommended approval, and is scheduled to go before the council on February 11th.

Hours of private and public meetings have not resolved differences in contested numbers on how much the city of Bryan has invested in the Traditions development. The week before last, a private meeting between Councilman Mike Southerland and the city’s top two financial officers resulted in no agreement. At last week’s council meeting, differences remain after almost 90 minutes of debate. On one side are Southerland, Rafael Pena, and Al Saenz. Mayor Jason Bienski says the discord threatens future prospects. Bienski says the city has invested $35-million dollars in the residential and golf course development, not the $73-million quoted by Southerland and Pena.

And, for the next two months, there will be traffic delays at University and Texas. That’s due to street construction that starts today. The TxDOT district office in Bryan reports will accommodate more vehicles at the intersection. The million dollar project includes rebuilding the center median on University from Texas to Tarrow. There will also be sidewalk and driveway work.

Local News Headlines–1/29/2016

The College Station city council is proceeding with a new police department campus next to Central Park at Dartmouth and Krenek Tap. Staff says C-S-P-D’s current building, at 29,000 square feet, is less than half of what it should be for the city’s current population of just over 100,000. Mayor Nancy Berry wanted the new building to handle a population of 200,000. Blanche Brick wanted to pursue purchasing three privately owned lots near the utilities office and municipal court. That, combined with what the city already owns, would provide a similar amount of space. The staff recommendation was to build next to Central Park. Construction would start next year with completion expected in 2018.

A crowded public hearing in San Antonio about an idea for a rollback on property taxes has the attention of local governments statewide. That includes Bryan Mayor Jason Bienski who says it’s good anytime to bring relief to property owners. According to a news release from the Senate Select Committee on Property Tax Reform and Relief, there was a standing room only crowd of 250. There was six hours of testimony from 50 people about tax relief and reform, and the appraisal process in Texas.

The Texas A&M vet school is going to have a presence on four sister campuses in the A&M system. Vet school Dean Eleanor Green says they are in the process of hiring two people to teach and do research at West Texas A&M. Similar efforts will take place at Prairie View, Tarleton, and Kingsville. A&M officials say it’s their response to recommendations made by the state’s higher education coordinating board six years ago. A study recommended increasing the number of underrepresented minorities entering the profession, and adding more vets in rural areas to better serve the livestock industry as well as deer and wildlife interests. Green says this coincides with the opening of their new $120-million complex this fall in College Station, which can handle another 20 to 30 students and is set up for distance learning.

And, H-E-B stores and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission have announced the recall of 41 thousand sets of cookware. That’s after seven reports of metal discs covering rivets connecting a frying pan to its handle popping off. No injuries have been reported.

Local News Headlines–1/28/2016

Former U-S Secretary of Defense and former Texas A&M President Robert M Gates was in Aggieland this week. Gates visited the George Bush Library and Museum yesterday to promote his new book, “A Passion for Leadership: Lessons on Change and Reform from Fifty Years of Public Service.” The book deals with his insight on operating and reforming major organizations. During his presentation Gates compared leadership to management. He says you can make someone a good manager through education, but leadership is more about the heart than the head. This publication comes only two years after his strikingly candid book, “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War.” Gates says this is also the first time he has written about his experience at Texas A&M.

While there are lots of reasons to be excited about last year’s economic numbers in Bryan and College Station, this year might not measure up. Speaking at the Chamber of Commerce Economic Outlook Conference yesterday, Dr. Jim Gaines, chief economist at The Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University, says depending on who you listen to, energy prices could still head in either direction. Gaines pointed to the state and local housing markets as big winners lately, but says this could be a transitional year. He says local home prices jumped 10 percent last year alone. Dr. Gaines also says the Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio metropolitan areas accounted for nearly 40% of the state’s job growth last year.

Texas’ highest criminal court has thrown out the death sentence for a man convicted of killing a woman at her College Station home in 2010. The Court of Criminal Appeals ruled 6-3 yesterday to return the case of 50-year-old Stanley Griffin to the Brazos County trial court for a new punishment hearing.

And, Sunday is the deadline for getting signed up for Obamacare at healthcare -dot-gov and Joe Ybarra with Enroll America says the fines for not signing up are steep. If you don’t sign up by the January 31st deadline you face fines of up to $2,100 which is taking right out of your 2017 tax return. Hundreds of volunteers are standing by at centers across the state to make sure all families are covered.

Local News Headlines–1/27/2016

The calendar is being a friend to taxpayers as the primary deadline for property tax payments arrives.  January 31st is typically the last day to pay property taxes, but because it falls on a Sunday, the day for payment is extended to Monday, February 1st. Tax assessor collector Kristy Roe says it is extended for payment in person and by mail. Roe suggests mailing it by this Friday to be safe. Other options include payment in person during normal business hours or using the secure night deposit in drive thru lane one. Roe says payments dropped off after hours this week or throughout the weekend will be credited as January payments. More information is online.

Texas university chancellors are in the process of updating lawmakers on how the new open carry law will be implemented on each campus. Many in the faculty of the state’s three big university systems have suggested banning guns in classrooms and faculty offices. The law isn’t set to take effect on college and university campuses until next fall. Final policy reports are due at the state capitol in September.

The wine industry in Texas is growing, and Texas A&M University is doing its part. The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service has hired four viticulture program specialists to help Texas’ grape growers. Doctor Justin Scheiner says each specialist is responsible for a different territory in the state, the High Plains and West Texas regions, Texas Hill Country, Gulf Coast region and the North Texas region. Dr. Scheiner says Texas is the fifth leading wine producing state in the nation with 380 wineries and vineyard acreage has more than doubled in the last decade.

And, Bryan Police are looking for a suspect in a credit card abuse case. Last month, several unauthorized transactions took place at seven different locations, including the Walmart on Briarcrest and the Target store in Bryan. Charges total approximately $360. Anyone with information is asked to contact B-P-D or call Crime Stoppers at 775-TIPS.

Local News Headlines–1/26/2016

A 16-year-old Bryan High School student was arrested around 1:30 yesterday afternoon for possession of an unloaded handgun, ammunition and several grams of marijuana. Superintendent Tommy Wallis says the student was in the office on an unrelated matter, but administrators suspected the student was in possession of stolen property. Wallis says the student refused to allow the search of his backpack, so his parent was contacted to come to the school. When the parent opened the backpack, she found a loaded magazine. At that time, a school resource officer was brought in to finish the search when an unloaded handgun and marijuana were found. Wallis says all parents were contacted through the school’s all-call system by Principal Lane Buban. He also commended the Bryan High School administration for how they handled the situation.

The campaign season is wrapping up for United Way of the Brazos Valley and president Alison Prince says it is final push time. Prince says they are at 65 percent of their goal, but corporation and individual contributions are still being accepted.

There are 90 percent fewer flu cases in Brazos County this year compared to last. The Brazos County Health Department reports 112 flu cases this year compared to 1,340 at this time last year. But according to Doctor Seth Sullivan, Brazos County Alternate Health Authority, it’s nearly impossible to predict when flu season is going to hit. Doctor Sullivan says it’s not a matter of if, but when the flu season hits. He says with students back in town, the risk of transmissibility increases. Doctor Sullivan says it’s still not too late to get a flu shot and recommends anyone who has not had a shot to get one. More information on getting a flu shot is available on the health department’s website.

And, the average price of a gallon of gas in Texas fell about seven-cents last week. Senior petroleum analyst Gregg Laskoski says gas prices in Texas will probably fall for another two or three weeks, then start to bounce back up. Laskoski with gasbuddy.com says the market is flooded with gasoline and oil partly because the mid-Atlantic blizzard has cut demand there to almost nothing.