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Severe flooding caused ‘unprecedented crisis,’ Galveston Bay oyster destruction | Texas

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www.thecentersquare.com – By Bethany Blankley | contributor – 2024-06-16 09:35:00

(The Center Square) – In the first six months of this year, Texans have suffered from devastating natural disasters, from tornadoes in downtown Houston and central Texas, to the largest wildfire in state history in the panhandle, and severe flooding and heavy rainfall that has now wiped out the oyster industry in the Bay area.

In April and May, southeast Texas was inundated with torrential downpours prompting Harris and Montgomery counties to issue voluntary evacuations as the San Jacinto River flooded communities. The West Fork of the San Jacinto River flows through Harris and Montgomery counties to Lake Houston, joining its East Fork to empty into Galveston Bay in the Gulf of Mexico.

The National Weather Service warned of moderate to major river flooding across the eastern half of the state as hail, damaging winds, tornadoes and other inclement weather persisted. Rainfall also deluged the Trinity River, the third-largest in the state, starting in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, which flows south to Galveston Bay.

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On April 30, Gov. Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration for 29 Texas counties impacted by severe thunderstorms, excessive rainfall and flooding, and expanded the declaration to include 88 counties within a few days.

“The State of Texas continues working with emergency management and local officials to deploy any additional resources needed to provide ongoing support and protect our fellow Texans,” Abbott said.

Last month, more than 230 agencies were responding to catastrophic storms, flooding and power outages, The Center Square reported.

Severe rainfall impacted major river basins and historic releases from lake and reservoirs also contributed to major flooding for downstream rivers and tributaries, the governor's office explained when it warned residents living below reservoirs and along rivers systems to follow local emergency management warnings.

As they overflowed, the Trinity and San Jacinto rivers continued to move in only one direction: south to Galveston Bay. They brought a record amount of freshwater in a short amount of time, and with it, calamity. The fresh water desalinized brackish bay water and destroyed a staple in the food chain and socio-economic life in the bay: oysters.

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“Galveston and Chambers counties are facing an unprecedented crisis that threatens the livelihoods of many families and businesses,” state Rep. Terri Leo Wilson, R-Galveston, said in a statement. “The extensive freshwater influx and resulting low salinity have devastated our oyster beds, with both Galveston and Chambers counties reporting close to 100 percent mortality in oyster leases. This disaster will cost millions in losses and severely impact our economy,” adding that the entire region would need state support “to help our communities recover.”

Both Galveston and Chambers counties were included in Abbott's April 30 disaster declaration.

Galveston County Judge Mark Henry issued a disaster declaration in May in response to the flooding and again in June in response to the destruction of oysters. He said more than 150,000 cubic feet of water from the rivers had been released into the bay, changing the pH level that caused “significant mortality on public reefs and private leases.”

Oyster reefs have also played a critical role in coastal protection from storm surges. With the bay's oysters killed off, environmental preservation losses are profound.

One oyster can filter 50 gallons of water a day of pollutants and help prevent erosion along the shorelines, the Galveston Bay Foundation notes. The foundation has created multiple initiatives to advance restoration of the bay's habitat, including creating new oyster reefs using over 1,000 tons of recycled oyster shells.

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Economic losses are also great. The Texas Department of State Services estimates an initial $15 million in losses due to it closing all areas of the Galveston Bay to oyster harvesting.

The Texas oyster industry accounts for 15% of the total oyster harvest in the U.S. and has a $50 million impact on Texas' economy, according to Texas A&M University at Galveston. Texas produced nearly 6.2 million pounds of oyster meat in 2000, with Galveston Bay accounting for 70% of the total production, it says.

According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Texas oysters take 18 to 20 months to reach the legal market size of three inches. Texas oysters are larger than most because of the warmer Gulf temperature and other conditions compared to other habitats.

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The Center Square

Patrick to CenterPoint: ‘A freight train is coming, you better be prepared’ | Texas

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www.thecentersquare.com – By Bethany Blankley | contributor – 2024-07-15 11:50:00

(The Center Square) – Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick issued a warning to CenterPoint Energy, the largest utility provider in the Houston area.

Patrick, who leads the Texas Senate, did so as more than one million people in the Houston area are still without power one week after Hurricane Beryl made landfall. Nearly three million were without power in the immediate aftermath, with power restoration taking nearly a week for most residents.

“I know everyone at CenterPoint who's in an air-conditioned office is watching,” Patrick said at a Sunday conference alongside Gov. Greg Abbott. “A freight train is coming. You better be prepared. Whether you're at the top, or any part of management who oversaw this response or preparation, everybody's job should be on the line. We will not, and cannot, tolerate this.”

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CenterPoint “totally failed in preparation and in response and they have lost respect from the city of Houston and the surrounding areas that they service,” Patrick added.

He said the immediate need was to restore power for people who are “suffering out … in 100-degree heat that have not had power, and won't have it, for another day or two or more.”

But a reckoning is coming, he said, after the state legislature holds hearings in August, following up on warnings he issued last week, The Center Square reported.

“Does CenterPoint still look at Houston as a priority of their business?” Patrick said would be one of his first questions at the hearings. “They're a different company than they used to be. Is it all about the bottom line … and not about human life?” he asked.

Patrick was referring to concerns Abbott raised about allegations that CenterPoint was “penny pinching and cutting corners in ways that slowed the recovery process.” The allegations will be investigated, Abbott said, adding, “We must know if CenterPoint is protecting Texans or was it protecting its own pocketbook.”

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Patrick said CenterPoint not delivering electricity can lead to people dying, adding that CenterPoint was “not prepared. They did not think this was going to be a serious storm. They didn't think it was going to hit Houston, it's obvious by their preparation.

“CenterPoint has to understand, as does every utility company on the coast, that anytime there's a tropical storm in the Gulf, whether it's predicted to be a hurricane or not, you have to prepare as if it's going to be the worst storm to hit Houston where the biggest population is or any area they cover.

“The state of Texas has to pray for the best and prepare for the worst. CenterPoint did not prepare for even the least. That's why we are here. This is not tolerable.”

In addition to listing extensive failures and demands he made of CenterPoint, Abbott expressed concern for linemen's safety who are working to restore power and being attacked by enraged Houstonians.

There are linemen “across this area who are being physically threatened, sometimes attacked by people on the streets, endangering their lives and discouraging them from even going out into the field and getting the power back on,” Abbott said.

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“There is no reason why anybody here should ever be threatening the life of anybody else. If you're angry about the lack of power, you're taking it out on the wrong person. If you're wanting to get the power back on, your actions that intimidate or threaten the linemen or whoever is trying to get the power back on, you're not speeding up the process of getting the power back on, you're slowing that process down.”

Patrick said there was one attack by gunfire on Thursday, one attack on Friday and another on Saturday.

He said the legislature would be looking at increasing the penalties for crimes committed against energy workers and “ratchet it up.” He said some of linemen who came “from states all over the country, they turned around and went home. Who's going to come to Texas and help you if you are shooting at them? That must stop.

“There will always be idiots. There will always be people who've had too much to drink and people have had too much anger for whatever reason. There is no excuse no matter how much you've been sweltering in the heat for criminal behavior and to attack someone who is trying to help you.”

He said the legislature “is going to stop that” and perpetrators “are going to face a long time in in jail if you ever do that.”

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Abbott said if CenterPoint doesn't comply with his demands, the state may have “to reconsider the territorial region that CenterPoint … is … mismanaging. … It's time to reevaluate whether or not CenterPoint should have such a large territory.”

Patrick said CenterPoint “better respond” or the Senate would be “looking at the territory you represent now.”

On Monday, CenterPoint said it had “restored power to more than 2 million customers and expect to reach approximately 98% restoration by the end of the day on Wednesday, July 17. We are repositioning crews and equipment to address areas with significant structural damage to restore those without power.”

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The Center Square

Texas Democrats condemn assassination attempt of Trump as ‘political violence’ | Texas

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www.thecentersquare.com – By Bethany Blankley | contributor – 2024-07-14 14:44:00

(The Center Square) – Republican and Democratic leaders in Texas are condemning the assassination attempt of former President Donald Trump.

While Republicans have referred to it as an assassination attempt and used it as a rallying cry to support Trump's reelection bid for president, members of Texas' Democratic congressional delegation have described it as “political violence” and most don't mention President Joe Biden in their remarks.

One congressional Democrat appeared to blame Trump for the shooting and a Democratic state senator used the shooting as an opportunity to advance his anti-gun position.

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The Democratic Party of Texas had yet to issue a statement as of 2 p.m. Central on Sunday, but nearly all Democrats in Texas' congressional delegation condemned the attack Saturday night.

None described what happened as an assassination attempt. Nearly all expressed concern for the wellbeing of Trump, his family, and those attending the rally.

U.S. Reps. Jasmine Crockett of Dallas, Henry Cuellar of Laredo, Joaquin Castro of San Antonio, Veronica Escobar of El Paso, Sylvia Garcia of Houston, Vicente Gonzalez of Brownsville and Lizzie Fletcher of Houston issued separate statements condemning the act of “political violence.” They said, “political violence in all forms must be condemned,” “has no place in our country,” is “absolutely unacceptable,” is “never acceptable” is “never the answer” and “has no place in our country.”

U.S. Rep. Greg Casar of San Antonio agreed with a statement of Biden's expressing concern for Trump's wellbeing and said, “political violence – against Trump or anyone else – has no place in our politics or our country.”

U.S. Rep. Shelia Jackson Lee of Houston, said, “The violence that occurred today at a political rally is deeply disturbing and goes counter to everything the United States represents as the world's oldest democracy. Political violence has no place in the United States. This incident should be a catalyst for renewing our commitment to not allow violence to infect the political life of our nation.”

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U.S. Rep. Al Green of Houston called for unity. Referring to the civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., he said, “Dr. King was right, we must learn to live together as brothers and sisters or perish together as fools. My thoughts and prayers are with you @realDonaldTrump, the family of the life lost as well as those who were injured.”

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Austin appeared to blame Trump for Saturday's attack. He said, “Violence begets violence, whether directed at Trump or inspired by him. I strongly condemn all acts of violence and hope that with quick law-enforcement action, all are safe at the Trump rally and he has suffered no lasting damage. In America, we must make our voices heard by ballots, not bullets.”

Doggett was the first Democratic member of Congress to call for Biden to step down and not run for reelection.

Commentors on X, formerly known as Twitter, criticized Doggett's statement, saying, “it was a trash statement by a coward” and Doggett is a “horrible human being.” Others said his comment was “horrendous,” “ghoulish,” “disgusting,” and called on him to “resign in shame.”

U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth appears to be the only Democrat in the Texas congressional delegation who did not issue a statement.

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One state senator used the shooting as an opportunity to express his support for gun control.

State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, said, “Guns have no place at political rallies. Or in elementary schools. Or churches. Or grocery stores. It's time to stop this madness America.”

While the majority of Democratic state senators don't appear to have issued a statement, state Sen. Cesar Blanco, D-El Paso, did, expressing concern for Trump and those at the rally. He also condemned the shooting as “political violence,” saying, “there is no place for [it] in our democracy.”

The chair of the Texas House Democratic Caucus, state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, has yet to issue a statement. The caucus' first vice-chair, state Rep. Gene Wu, has yet to issue a statement but on the day of the shooting shared a social media post referring to Trump as “convict, a rapist and a cheater.”

General Counsel for the caucus, state Rep. Gina Hinojosa, expressed concern for Trump and condemned political violence. She said, “I hope Donald Trump is ok and the shooter is caught and anyone responsible is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. We forfeit our democracy before the election even happens if we don't condemn violence and do what is in our power to keep violence out of our politics.”

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The Center Square

Forecast, polls show Trump, Cruz leading in November | National

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www.thecentersquare.com – By Bethany Blankley | contributor – 2024-07-12 11:35:00

(The Center Square) – A new forecast and poll show that former President Donald Trump and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, are ahead of their opponents in their respective races in November.

Latino's also favor Trump in Texas, with border security a top issue, according to a new poll out of Houston.

A new Decision Desk HQ and The Hill model predicts that Trump has a 56% chance of winning the presidency.

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Trump “has matched his best odds of winning the 2024 presidential race since” Decision Desk HQ and the Hill launched its forecast in May. Among its model's eight predicted toss-ups, Trump is slightly favored to win in the wing states of Nevada, Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Despite his widely criticized presidential debate performance two weeks ago and ongoing misstatements, including referring to Trump as his vice president at a conference Thursday night, President Joe Biden maintains a slight edge over Trump in Michigan, Minnesota and Maine.

Biden won each of these eight states in 2020. Trump would need to win four of them to gain the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency.

Biden remains defiant that he is not stepping down after a growing number of Democrats, elected officials and news editorial boards have called for him to do so, citing his declining cognitive abilities. Since the first presidential debate this year, when Biden lost his train of thought and couldn't complete sentences, “Trends in our key battleground averages have all moved in Trump's direction over the last two weeks,” the forecast says.

It also notes that Trump already has 235 electoral votes to Biden's 226 in states that heavily favor either candidate.

In Texas, a new University of Houston Hobby School of Public Affairs poll has Trump leading Biden by 9 points, with 49% of Texas likely voters polled saying they plan on voting for Trump and 40% for Joe Biden.

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The poll is evenly divided along party lines with each side saying they will vote for their party's candidate.

More Texas likely voters hold a favorable view of Trump (50%) than of Biden (44%) and more hold an unfavorable view of Biden (55%) than of Trump (49%).

Notably, 45% of Texas Latino likely voters intend to vote for Trump, compared to 41% for Biden, according to the poll.

The top issue for Trump voters in Texas is border security (72%), followed by the economy (55%) and inflation (52%). The majority of Biden voters say “the future of U.S. democracy” is the most important issue (43%), followed by abortion (38%) and climate change (32%).

The findings are consistent with a recent The Center Square Voters' Voice Poll, conducted in conjunction with Noble Predictive Insights, which found that 84% of Trump voters would vote for him in November even if he was convicted of a felony before the election. The poll was conducted before he was found guilty of 34 felony counts in the New York City hush money case. Multiple polls conducted after the verdict show that Trump continues to lead Biden, The Center Square has reported.

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In Texas' U.S. Senate election, incumbent Cruz is leading his Democratic challenger U.S. Rep. Colin Allred, D-Dallas, by 47.6% to 41.5%, according to the Decision Desk HQ and The Hill forecast.

Cruz is leading Allred by three points, according to Hobby's latest poll, which states its findings are weighted with “an oversample of Black Texans,” who overwhelmingly vote Democrat. The poll's forecast is significantly tighter than that of a University of Texas/Texas Politics Project poll, which has Cruz leading by 11 points. A Remington Research Group poll also has Cruz leading by 10 points.

The findings were published as fundraising for the Texas Senate race broke records in the second quarter of 2024. Cruz reported $12.6 million raised compared to Allred's $10.5 million, according to the most recent campaign finance reports.

Allred raised slightly more than former U.S. Rep. Robert (Beto) O'Rourke's record $10.4 million in the second quarter six years ago when he ran against Cruz and lost.

“The 2024 Texas Senate race is a test of the state's shifting political landscape,” Decision Desk HQ and The Hill state. “Analysts expected the Republican incumbent Ted Cruz to be a slight favorite but the Democratic candidate Colin Allred to be close behind and within striking distance. Texas's rapidly growing and increasingly diverse electorate presents challenges and opportunities for the candidates. The ability to mobilize key constituencies and appeal to a broad range of voters will be crucial factors in determining the outcome of this race.”

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