Local News Headlines–10/6/2015

Bryan police, responding to a report of cell phones being stolen, wound up discovering a suspicious looking piece of pipe yesterday afternoon. And, Officer Kelley McKethan says the pipe, under the bridge at Highway 47 and Villa Maria, affected traffic for more than two hours. Officers had tracked the G-P-S signal of a stolen phone to the area under the bridge where they found what appeared to be a pipe bomb which the bomb squad determined not to be a threat. Investigators believe there is no connection between the pipe and the cell phone thefts.

Bryan school district administrators are negotiating contracts for two more construction projects approved by voters last November.  The district’s construction director, Jeff Windsor, told school board members Monday a local firm, Dudley Construction, will do the $2.5-million facelift at Merrill Green Stadium which includes a new press box. Administrators picked an out of town company for the $6-million expansion of Davila Middle School. Balfour-Beatty is the same contractor hired for the $34-million expansion at Stephen F. Austin. Windsor says the stadium is $96,000 under budget and Davila is $22,000 under budget. The board will take final action later this month.

Texas A&M went to social media to release fall enrollment statistics. On A&M’s Twitter feed, an infographic reports more than 61,000 Aggies are on the campuses in Brazos County. That breaks down to more than 59,000 in College Station and another 2,600 at the Health Science Center. Compared to last year, that’s an increase of 3,300 on the main campus and 124 at the H-S-C. Adding in the Galveston and Qatar campuses, that boosts the overall number to 64,600. That’s up almost four-percent from last fall.

And, while Veterans Day is still more than a month away, those who served and their families are being asked now to find their dog tags. Bill Youngkin of the Brazos Valley Veterans Memorial says that will be a part of this year’s program. Youngkin says 101 names are being added to the more than five thousand on the memorial during next month’s program. The featured speaker is a former Aggie yell leader, Mike Beggs, class of 1968, who is a retired Marine.

Local News Headlines–10/5/2015

The move out of Cain Hall is underway as plans to demolish the building move forward. Various student services departments are moving to temporary locations on Texas A&M’s west campus where they will remain for three to four years. Executive Associate Vice President Dave Parrott says construction plans include a new facility to better serve students, faculty and staff. Parrott says the offices of the dean of student life, disability services, residence life and the school’s student counseling service will relocate to modular buildings across from White Creek apartments on Discovery Drive. A hotel, conference center and parking garage are also in the construction plans for the old Cain Hall, which was originally an athletics dorm.

It’s about five weeks from the start of the filing period for next year’s elections. Someone who was planning to retire but has reconsidered is Brazos County Sheriff Chris Kirk. Kirk, who will be seeking his sixth term, says his decision came in part after the murder of Constable Brian Bachmann. Kirk also says there are a variety of projects and programs he wants to continue in both the law enforcement and jail operations if he is re-elected. Kirk says something that is in the back of his mind if he is re-elected is looking for someone who will follow him in the year 2020.

The swearing-in of Navasota’s new police chief was a family affair with connections to Grimes and Brazos counties. Justin Leith, who was raised in Bryan, was pinned by his father, who is a lieutenant with the College Station police department. Leith was sworn in by Navasota’s municipal judge John LeFlore who noted he was sworn in as a peace officer in 1968 by Leith’s grandfather. A ten year member of the department, Leith takes over for Shawn Myatt, who became Navasota’s assistant city manager last October.

Local News Headlines–10/1/2015

Saturday marks the third Texas A&M home football game of the season. College Station mayor Nancy Berry says enforcement will continue for those who park illegally, with an emphasis continuing in residential neighborhoods where vehicles are not allowed in yards. The mayor says the new location of the Get to the Grid shuttle bus, between Momentum Plaza and Kyle Field, has been going well.

The process of how the city of Bryan will address development of residential, commercial, industrial, and recreational areas over the next 25 years is underway. Consultants hired by the city council have started meeting with several groups. Project manager Wendy Shabay invites residents and businesspeople to complete an online survey. The comprehensive plan takes into account Blinn College’s new west campus at FM 2818 and Leonard Road. The city’s planning administrator, Martin Zimmerman, says a new master parks plan will allow them to apply for matching state grants. Shabay also says the plan will need to address growth outside Bryan’s current city limits.

As expected, Congress kept the federal government in business for another two and a half months. Congressman Bill Flores of Bryan says the House version of a continuing resolution included a few conditions such as stopping the Iranian deal and stopping funding for abortions. The continuing resolution is proposed to fund the government through December 11th.

And, there is a new leader of the Saint Joseph Health System. Parent company Catholic Health Initiatives has announced Rick Napper as Saint Joseph’s market president. Napper will oversee the system’s five hospitals, two long term care facilities, more than 20 clinics, and one hundred employed providers. Napper, who starts November 2nd, moves to Bryan from C-H-I’s hospital system in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Local News Headlines–9/30/2015

The Bryan city council has given staff the go ahead with a $12-million expansion of its primary sports park. Improvements at BRAC, Bryan’s Regional Athletic Complex, would be done in six phases over multiple years. Funding would come from a combination of the hotel occupancy tax and the general fund of property and sales tax money. When completed, BRAC will have an additional 17 fields and courts and 1,500 more parking spaces.

The hammers are swinging again at Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center, this time to mark the beginning of its first Ronald McDonald House family room. Over a dozen donors and hospital staff donned hard hats and protective eye wear to start the process on the hospital’s third floor. Ronald McDonald House Charities spokeswoman Katy Scott says this project is an ideal fit for this community. Scott says the 600 square foot area will be a home away from home for families with critically ill children to have a free place to stay, cook meals, regroup, and “be normal.” Scott says even though the project was announced in May, they hope to be serving families by Christmas.

And, Aggieland Humane Society has expanded their microchip program. The Pitbull Wellness Package program is growing thanks to grant money from the Texas Animal Friendly License Plate grant. Leiha White says the extra funds allow them to offer free microchips to dogs in surrounding counties. You must bring your dog and proof of residence to receive a voucher. White says the free voucher is good for a spay or neuter procedure and a rabies vaccination. Starting tomorrow morning at Davidson Creek Park in Caldwell, they will be offering 25 vouchers to Burleson County residents.

Local News Headlines–9/29/2015

A Brazos County jail guard is on paid suspension following his arrest on a charge of domestic violence related aggravated kidnapping. According to the arrest report from Bryan police, 55-year-old Rene Estrada hit his wife with an ironing board as she was trying to leave their home. Then he’s accused of dragging her back inside the house, handcuffing her to their bed, and putting a handgun to her cheek and then her temple. He removed the cuffs about one hour later and she eventually drove out of town to a family member’s house. Police became aware of what happened from Estrada’s doctor after the victim called out of concern for the safety of her husband. Estrada was arrested last Friday and was released from jail after posting bond on Sunday. Sheriff Chris Kirk says an internal investigation is underway regarding Estrada’s employment status.

College Station police are investigating a failed drug sale that ended in gunfire. The incident occurred yesterday over the noon hour along Southwest Parkway near Southwest Park east of Wellborn Road. The person wanting to buy drugs told officers the seller pulled out a gun and took an undisclosed amount of money. The buyer then reported firing a shot. Police don’t know if anyone was hit.

Those inside one of College Station’s newest hotels had a scare yesterday morning. Multiple fire trucks responded to what was initially reported as a structure fire at the south LaQuinta Inn off Graham Road near the freeway. Firefighters saw no fire upon arrival and determined the alarm was due to a waterline break in one of the ceilings. No injuries were reported.

And, a tip to Brazos County Crime Stoppers led to the arrest of a man sought by College Station police on multiple charges. 28-year-old James Loftis of College Station, who had eluded officers four previous times this summer, was caught in Bee Creek Park Saturday afternoon. Lieutenant Steve Brock says several officers were involved in the capture. According to arrest reports, Loftis ran away from four detectives the week before after he and his girlfriend were spotted at the Dairy Queen at Texas and Brentwood. Loftis was also arrested for assaulting his girlfriend twice. The second time, over the Labor Day weekend, she said Loftis struck her in the forehead with a hammer then strangled her with the handle of the hammer. Loftis remains jailed on bonds totaling $178,000. In addition to all the pending criminal charges in College Station, online jail records indicate Loftis will be serving six months for a Robertson County court case involving non-payment of child support.

Local News Headlines–9/28/2015

The City of College Station is keeping a close eye on a water project in San Antonio. Last October, the San Antonio city council approved a contract, which will supply water from the same aquifer that College Station relies on for 99 percent of their drinking water. Water Services Director Dave Coleman says if the project goes through, they want to make sure all of the pumping that occurs is within the regulations so no damage is done to the aquifer. Coleman says they will continue to track the project to ensure the groundwater districts implement cutbacks if the water draw reaches its trigger limits. Coleman says he has no reason to believe regulations will not be followed and adds that groundwater is private property in Texas, so landowners are fully within their rights to sell the water under their property. Go online to brazosvalleygcd.org for more information.

A new gun study from Texas A&M challenges the notion whether concealed carry actually prevents crime. The study by Dr. Charles Phillips indicates that there was no change in the crime rate in Texas after the concealed handgun law was passed. In reaction, Larry Anderson of the Texas Concealed Handgun Association was quick to point out crime rates are dropping nationally. The study follows heated debate in the state legislature earlier this year, and administrators at A&M and elsewhere, determining how to implement new laws on their campuses.

And, it didn’t take long for the posturing to begin over who will replace John Boehner as U.S. House Speaker. Among those not interested is Congressman Bill Flores of Bryan. He says he is comfortable as chairman of the Republican Study Committee.  Flores says his role with the R-S-C is the reason he won’t make an endorsement or encourage anyone to run for Speaker. But he has told fellow Republicans he wants someone who will first and foremost unify them. Flores says the forces that led to Boehner stepping down will also have an impact on his successor. And, Flores says there’s still what he calls a weak Senate majority leader along with veteran Democrats in leadership roles in the House and Senate.

Local News Headlines–9/24/2015

The ink is now dry on the contract extension for Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp. The five year extension allows Sharp to stay until 2020, with the option of an automatic renewal through 2025 unless he or the Board of Regents give written notice in 2019. Sharp’s base salary rises from $507,000 to $900,000 a year. He will also receive another $200,000 as a retention bonus. And, the amount of Sharp’s deferred compensation was raised from $150,000 to $200,000 a year. The $1.3-million in total compensation, according to figures provided by the A&M System, would move Sharp from fourth to second among his peers in the state behind only UT Chancellor William McRaven at $1.9-million.

A member of the second generation of the Blue Bell family has died. Chairman emeritus Ed Kruse was 87. His funeral service is Saturday afternoon at 2:00 at Brenham High School. The 1949 graduate of Texas A&M went to work at Blue Bell full time two years later and worked full time for 42 years. After his retirement in 1993, he continued as chairman of the board until last year.

Those who drive Boonville Road and William Joel Bryan Parkway are being told to pay attention to reduced speed limits. Speeds on F-M 158 between Miramont and Villa Maria dropped five miles per hour as of this morning.

Following the November election, Art Hughes will step down after two terms as a Bryan city councilman. Hughes was asked what qualities he wants in his successor. Hughes says he hopes his successor will help the city council gives direction and let the staff manage the day to day affairs. Hughes says the city the right staff in place to execute what the council wants.

And, College Station is getting its first business where you can drive thru to buy a mixed drink or a cup of beer. That’s part of a conditional use permit approved on a split vote by the city council. Council member Blanche Brick failed in her attempt to block alcohol sales in the drive thru. Voting with Brick in opposition was Karl Mooney, who told business owner Tyler Stevenson the nature of his business “makes driving and drinking that much more likely.” The permit request received the unanimous support of the planning and zoning commission.

Local News Headlines–9/23/2015

Changes to the governing board of the Research Valley Partnership economic development agency have the support of two of the three major funding partners. The Bryan city council voted four to two to expand the overall board from 18 to 21. Al Saenz was one of two who wanted to delay action to add two people from Texas A&M and a third of the R-V-P’s choosing. Saenz repeated an argument made last week in College Station about diluting the influence of funding partners. The Brazos County commission previously approved the R-V-P request, while the College Station city council voted against the request last week in order to get a voting member on the agency’s executive board.

A two year investigation by Bryan police involving organized criminal activity resulted in six arrests. Officer Kelley McKethan says the group is accused of narcotics trafficking and criminal activity involving prison inmates and street gangs. And, yesterday at 2:30 in the morning, McKethan says a witness report led officers to the Z-Islander apartment complex on Wellborn where three men were caught with items stolen from four Chevy two-ton trucks. McKethan says most of the property was returned because they had serial numbers or could point out where they marked the items.

And, the local Better Business Bureau has announced its Torch Awards for Marketplace Ethics. B-B-B board chairman Tim Prater said there were a record 90 nominations, which were narrowed to 21 finalists. The anonymous panel of judges selected City Bank Mortgage among small businesses, Schulte Roofing for medium businesses, and The Bank and Trust among large businesses. 40 local businesses have been honored since 1997.

Local News Headlines–9/22/2015

The Bryan school board opened last night’s regular meeting with a moment of silence and a prayer to remember the late Tommy Bosquez. Board president David Stasny expects the at-large seat held by Bosquez until his death will remain vacant at least through the November election. Because Bosquez filed for re-election, state law requires his name to stay on the ballot. Stasny says if Bosquez wins the election, the board will make an appointment. Stasny says the board met in executive session, in part, to discuss with their attorney the importance of all members making future meetings until a successor to Bosquez is in place.

The Texas A&M System has announced a federal grant has been awarded to bring more passenger airline service in and out of Easterwood Airport. According to airport manager Josh Abramson, the $475,000 grant will be matched dollar for dollar with money from nine local partners to pitch new carriers to start and existing airlines to expand. Abramson says the earliest additional flights would be available would be a year from now. Abramson said their grant application noted the strong private-public partnership, improvements underway at the airport, and statistics showing the population has increased by more than 20 percent but passenger service has dropped by about one-third.

And, the construction of a convenience store became an inconvenience after a member of the building crew hit and broke a natural gas line yesterday. During the afternoon commute, Rock Prairie Road east of the freeway was shut down while Atmos Energy employees took care of the escaping gas. According to the city of College Station, two businesses across the street from the construction site were evacuated.

Local News Headlines–9/21/2015

A special meeting of the College Station city council is being held this afternoon.  Business includes whether to give TxDOT $1.2-million towards the more than $40-million cost of improving the intersection of George Bush Drive and Wellborn Road. Money left over from other projects would pay 10-percent of the expected $12-million cost of acquiring right of way. The council is also being asked to approve a $153,000 construction contract to improve four intersections for pedestrians and bicyclists. They’re located at George Bush and Dexter, George Bush and Timber, Holleman and Eleanor, and Holleman and Welsh. The council will also take final action on next year’s budget and tax rate. While the tax rate stays the same, Councilwoman Julie Schultz says that might not be the case next year after taking money from College Station Utilities to fund pay raises in the police department. College Station is gaining another $2-million in property tax revenue due to increased valuations on existing property and new homes and businesses being added to the tax rolls.

The process of filling cracks at the dam holding Lake Bryan that were noticed two weeks ago now includes lowering the lake level. B-T-U group manager David Werley says county and state officials have been notified water will be removed by pumps and moved into a dry creek bed for a couple of miles, before it enters Thompson Creek. Werley says lowering the lake will not impact power plant operations. And there continues to be no restrictions on recreational uses at the lake. Werley adds it will take seven to ten days to fill the cracks in a 600 foot area. Then there will be another evaluation to determine the next step of repairs.

More freeway construction began last night and will continue at night through the rest of the week. The TxDOT Bryan district office reports paving work will mean southbound traffic is reduced to one lane between Harvey Road and Southwest Parkway and the southbound University Drive entrance ramp will be closed between 6:30 in the evening until 6:30 in the morning.

And, the Chancellor of the Texas A&M University System is reportedly getting a pay raise of nearly $400,000. The Bryan Eagle newspaper reports John Sharp has signed a five year contract extension. His base salary goes up from $507,000 to $900,000 a year.